Leafs Summer Eerily Quiet

TORONTO (Sep. 6) — News over the Labor Day weekend that goalie Frederik Anderson would miss roughly four weeks with an “upper–body” injury generated barely a ripple in this hockey–crazed market. Which thoroughly jibed with one of the quietest Maple Leaf summers in recent memory.

There isn’t a shred of angst over the Blue and White heading into training camp later this month. Which doesn’t particularly jibe with followers of a 30th–place team. Andersen’s apparent shoulder ailment — sustained during an Olympic qualifying event in Belarus on Friday — will prevent the Danish netminder from participating in the World Cup of Hockey tournament here in town. This didn’t seem to alarm anyone; coming, in fact, as welcomed news to Maple Leafs (and Team Canada) coach Mike Babcock. “He is getting some extra rest to get ready for the Leafs and is doing really good,” said Babcock on Monday in Ottawa. “He will be ready to go for training camp (which opens Sep. 22). We do not expect any setbacks. It’s unfortunate he didn’t get to represent his team and build confidence in this tournament. But it’s also a good situation for us; we can work with him every day. He will be very fit and ready to go when we are ready to go.”

There appears to be undiminished confidence in the Maple Leafs as the club heads into its Centennial season with an array of tantalizing prospects. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are solid bets to make the team. Not since the early–to–mid–1980’s, when such young players as Russ Courtnall, Gary Leeman, Al Iafrate and Wendel Clark came into the National Hockey League, has there been quite so much potential. Unlike 30 years ago, when ownership and management disarray impeded progress, the Leafs are moving forward with the respected and much–proven triumvirate of president Brendan Shanahan, general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Babcock. If anything, there is underlying fear that the club may start to win “too quickly.” At least one more prime lottery pick would be in the Maple Leafs’ best interest, yet an influx of talented youth and the addition of a proven goalie could mitigate such an objective.

All of which adds up to this summer’s tranquility.

Toronto, Canada - September 21 - Toronto Maple Leafs' coach Mike Babcock behind the bench during NHL Pre-season hockey action against the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on September 21, 2015. Cole Burston/Toronto Star
THERE HAS BEEN A SINGULAR LACK OF NOISE IN LEAFS NATION DURING THE SUMMER OF 2016 AS THE CLUB MOVES INTO ITS SECOND SEASON UNDER HEAD COACH MIKE BABCOCK. TORONTO STAR PHOTO

The Leafs, it would seem, can do no wrong. If the young players rapidly develop and the team moves up in the standings, it will be viewed as inevitable progress. If the club stalls once again and Babcock merely spots his talented newbies, that coveted lottery pick comes back into view. Barring a career–threatening injury to Matthews, Marner or Nylander, there appears to be no “worst–case” scenario for the Blue and White.

Such a claim, of course, is bound to generate a snicker. “Hey, Howard, you’ve been around the Leafs long enough to know better.” Which, perhaps, is true. But, I’ve also witnessed too many summers of budgeting for playoff dates at the Air Canada Centre. And, the knee–jerk response to merely qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament — future–be–damned. For as long as most of us can remember, “making the playoffs” has been the Leafs’ desultory objective. Until recently. Shanahan came aboard in 2013 and reportedly sold the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Board on a contemporary, post–2005 lockout stratagem: Bottom out and build through the draft. To this point — three years later — the requisite tolerance appears to be prevailing.

It says here — perhaps foolhardily but with abundant confidence — that Shanahan, Lamoriello and Co. will continue to stay the course. Such a plan obviously guarantees nothing with respect to Stanley Cup contention. But, the Leafs had no chance of moving forward until ownership and management put its head together and adopted this conventional blueprint. Now, there appears to be legitimate hope.

And, much serenity during the off–season.

NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK
Evolution and History in Photos

In an age when digital availability of published work is increasingly prevailing, the National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book soldiers on in Portable Document Format (PDF)… and in print.

Before the end of this month, the 2016–17 edition of the Guide (with Sidney Crosby triumphantly lifting the Stanley Cup at San Jose last June on the cover) will be available in bookstores on both sides of the NHL border. The cover–price remains unchanged — $34.95 — for 675 pages of history and information. The Guide can also be ordered on–line with this link: http://www.nhlofficialguide.com/. My friend Dan Diamond and his associates (Eric Zweig, Ralph Dinger, Paul Bontje) have again handled the enormous project.

“This is the 32nd one we’ve done since the opportunity to redesign the old NHL Guide came my way early in 1984,” Dan said. “The first cover I did showed Wayne Gretzky hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time. Mario Lemieux won the Calder Trophy that season (1984–85), so he and I ‘broke in’ at the same time.”

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THE NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK SINCE THE TURN OF THE CENTURY… ON MY OFFICE SHELF.

Through the end of the 1983–84 season — and as you’ll discover in the following history — the NHL Guide was the dimension of a pocket–book (7 x 5 inches). The re–design under Dan produced a much–larger volume (11 x 8½ inches) that has nearly doubled in pages (352 to 675) since 1984–85.

“Each year, we get the green light from the league by early–December to gear up for another printed book,” Dan explained. “We start to gather player and goaltending statistics from all levels of hockey as regular seasons end in April and May. We track everyone who has ever been drafted or signed as a free agent to the age of 16 — even 15, if possible — and that means we are extracting numbers from youth hockey; various tiers of junior, high school, college and minor–pro, along with all levels in Europe. It means we have to be alert, as an example, for [a player known as] Tom in one league; T.J. or Thomas in another. It’s a 300,000–piece jigsaw puzzle of moving pieces being put together against the ticking of a [deadline] clock.”

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COVER OF THE 2016–17 NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK — STANLEY CUP NO. 2 FOR SIDNEY CROSBY.

The most intense work occurs in the wake of the NHL draft. “It’s like the firing of a starter’s pistol for us,” said Dan. “In one swoop, we have 211 new guys who need everything corroborated or filled in — from statistics to the correct spelling of their name; birth date; birthplace; shooting side; height; weight and phonetic pronunciation. There’s always a Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced “Buff–lin”) or two in every draft.”

Despite the arduous process, it remains a labor of love for Dan and his group. “The great thing about the Guide is that after all the years of doing it, we are still proud to work on the book and sweat the details,” he said. “We are always looking to improve the book — from content to photo–selection to typography. I am pleased to say the 2017 edition is the best we’ve produced, and I hope the 2018 book will be better still.”

LOOKING BACK: 1961–2016

In my collection of hockey cards and memorabilia, I have copies of the official NHL Guide for each of the past 55 seasons — dating to 1961–62. Among local hockey fans, that year is remembered for the Toronto Maple Leafs winning their first of three consecutive Stanley Cup titles under Punch Imlach. Here is a pictorial review of the Guide and its evolution over the past half–century:

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AMID SLIGHT VARIATIONS, THE NHL GUIDE COVER IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 1960’s (ABOVE AND BELOW) REMAINED CONSISTENT — WITH THE LEAGUE COLORS OF BLACK AND ORANGE.

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FROM THE NHL’s GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY — AND FINAL YEAR OF THE SIX–TEAM LEAGUE.

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FOR THE FIRST TWO YEARS OF EXPANSION, THE NHL KEPT ITS GUIDE COVER CONSERVATIVE. INSIDE THE 1967–68 EDITION (BELOW) WAS THE EXECUTIVE AND FIRST SCHEDULE OF THE 12–TEAM LEAGUE.

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THE FRONT–COVER OF THE 1969–70 NHL GUIDE FEATURED AN ACTION PHOTO FOR THE FIRST TIME (BOSTON at MONTREAL), WHILE THE BACK–COVER WAS SPONSORED.

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GORDIE HOWE AND NHL PRESIDENT CLARENCE CAMPBELL CELEBRATED A QUARTER–CENTURY OF NHL SERVICE ON THE 1970–71 GUIDE. HOWE RETIRED FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTERWARD. THE 1971–72 NHL GUIDE FEATURED THE FIVE PLAYERS WITH 50 GOALS IN A SEASON TO THAT JUNCTURE IN LEAGUE ANNALS (TOP ROW, LEFT–TO–RIGHT: MAURICE RICHARD, BERNIE GEOFFRION, BOBBY HULL. BOTTOM ROW: PHIL ESPOSITO, JOHNNY BUCYK). AS OF TODAY, 90 DIFFERENT PLAYERS HAVE SCORED 50.

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ALONG WITH HOWE, THE GREAT JEAN BELIVEAU RETIRED AFTER THE ’70–71 SEASON, BUT NOT BEFORE HELPING LES CANADIENS TO A COMEBACK STANLEY CUP VICTORY OVER CHICAGO. THE ’71–72 NHL GUIDE FEATURED A SPECIAL SECTION (ABOVE) FOR EACH PLAYER. THE INSIDE FRONT–COVER WAS SPONSORED (BELOW) BY HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA, WITH ITS ICONIC LOGO FROM THE 1970’s.

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HOW SYMBOLIC THAT THE 1973–74 NHL GUIDE HAD AN ORANGE COVER GIVEN THAT PHILADELPHIA WOULD BECOME — THAT SEASON — THE FIRST EXPANSION TEAM TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP. THE ORANGE–AND–BLACK–CLAD FLYERS WON AGAIN IN 1974–75, AS THE GUIDE FEATURED A COVER–PHOTO FROM THE ’74 CUP FINAL AGAINST BOBBY ORR, PHIL ESPOSITO AND THE BOSTON BRUINS.

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IT WAS WITH REGRET IN SOME QUARTERS, AND A SIGH OF RELIEF IN OTHERS, THAT CLARENCE CAMPBELL GAVE WAY TO JOHN ZEIGLER AS NHL PRESIDENT TO BEGIN 1977–78; CAMPBELL’S 31 YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE LEAGUE HONORED ON THE COVER OF THAT SEASON’S GUIDE.

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THE WAYNE GRETZKY ERA BEGAN IN 1979–80, AS THE NHL ABSORBED THE REMNANTS OF THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION — ITS FOUR SURVIVING TEAMS (EDMONTON OILERS, HARTFORD WHALERS, QUEBEC NORDIQUES AND WINNIPEG JETS) AMONG THE NOW–21 TEAM LOGOS ON THE GUIDE COVER. GRETZKY APPEARED ON THE 1980–81 GUIDE AFTER A PHENOMENAL FIRST NHL SEASON AT 19 YEARS OF AGE. HE AND MARCEL DIONNE OF LOS ANGELES RECORDED 137 POINTS, BUT DIONNE WON THE ART ROSS TROPHY BY OUTSCORING GRETZKY 53–51.

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IN A PRECURSOR TO EXPANDING THE SIZE OF ITS PUBLICATION, THE NHL SPLIT THE GUIDE AND RECORD BOOK INTO SEPARATE ITEMS (ABOVE) FOR THE 1982–83 AND 1983–84 SEASONS. THE LEAGUE INCURRED A MAJOR EMBARRASSMENT IN THE ’82–83 GUIDE. WITH GRETZKY POSING IN FRONT OF A LIGHT–BLUE BACKGROUND (TOP–LEFT) — AND COMING OFF A RECORD 92–GOAL, 212–POINT SEASON — HIS NAME WAS SOMEHOW MISSPELLED (BELOW) IN THE STATS SECTION.

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FIRST EDITION OF THE RE–DESIGNED AND LARGER–IN–DIMENSION NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK — DAN DIAMOND & ASSOCIATES TAKING ON THE PROJECT AFTER WAYNE GRETZKY AND THE EDMONTON OILERS WON THEIR FIRST STANLEY CUP IN 1984. THE 352–PAGE VOLUME FEATURED CARDBOARD DIVIDERS (BELOW) FOR EACH OF THE SEVEN SECTIONS.

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THE 1988–89 GUIDE (TOP–LEFT) FEATURED GRETZKY’S TRADE FROM EDMONTON TO LOS ANGELES AND MARIO LEMIEUX’S FIRST OF CONSECUTIVE ART ROSS TROPHIES — INTERRUPTING A SEVEN–YEAR ROMP BY NO. 99. A JUBILANT LANNY McDONALD RAISED THE STANLEY CUP ON THE 1989–90 GUIDE AFTER CALGARY WON ITS LONE NHL CHAMPIONSHIP TO DATE.

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SUPER MARIO GRACED THE COVER OF THE NHL’s 75th ANNIVERSARY GUIDE.

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LEMIEUX AND A YOUNG JAROMIR JAGR CELEBRATED THE PENGUINS’ SECOND CUP TRIUMPH ON THE COVER OF THE 1992–93 GUIDE. PATRICK ROY AND MONTREAL FOLLOWED IN 1993–94 AS THE LAST CANADIAN–BASED TEAM TO WIN THE NHL CHAMPIONSHIP.

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AFTER THE EXCITEMENT OF THE NEW YORK RANGERS ENDING THEIR 54–YEAR STANLEY CUP DROUGHT, THE NHL LOCKED OUT ITS PLAYERS UNTIL JANUARY OF THE 1994–95 SEASON. A 48–GAME SCHEDULE WAS DRAWN UP AND TEAMS PLAYED ONLY WITHIN THEIR CONFERENCE.

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NEW JERSEY WON THE STANLEY CUP AFTER THE LOCKOUT–SHORTENED 1995 SEASON AND IT PROVED NO FLUKE. SCOTT STEVENS WOULD RAISE THE TROPHY TWICE MORE IN THE NEXT EIGHT SPRINGS. JOE SAKIC AND THE COLORADO AVALANCHE GRACED THE 1996–97 GUIDE AFTER RE–LOCATING FROM QUEBEC CITY AND SWEEPING FLORIDA FOR THE NHL TITLE DURING THEIR FIRST YEAR IN DENVER.

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MARK MESSIER LEFT THE RANGERS TO SIGN WITH VANCOUVER IN 1997, BUT THE MOVE WOULD NOT BE AS TRIUMPHANT AS MESSIER’S POSE. STEVE YZERMAN AND THE DETROIT RED WINGS ENDED A 42–YEAR CUP FAMINE IN ’97 AND REPEATED AS CHAMPION IN 1998 WITH A FOUR–GAME ROUT OF WASHINGTON. NO TEAM HAS SINCE WON THE STANLEY CUP IN CONSECUTIVE SEASONS.

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BY THE START OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM, THE NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK HAD BLOATED TO 608 PAGES. DALLAS BEAT BUFFALO TO WIN THE 1999 STANLEY CUP AND WAYNE GRETZKY HUNG UP HIS SKATES AFTER AN UNPARALLELED CAREER — OUTLINED IN A SPECIAL SECTION (BELOW).

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TORONTO VETERANS MATS SUNDIN AND ED BELFOUR APPEARED ON THE LOCAL EDITIONS OF THE GUIDE IN 2002–03 AND 2003–04. UNDER THE LATE PAT QUINN, THE LEAFS COMPILED A FRANCHISE–RECORD 103 POINTS IN THE ’03–04 SCHEDULE, BUT SUCCUMBED TO PHILADELPHIA IN THE SECOND ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS. TORONTO HASN’T SINCE QUALIFIED IN A FULL, 82–GAME SEASON.

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THE 2004–05 NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK REMAINS A COLLECTOR’S ITEM, FOR THERE WAS NO SEASON. AN OWNERS’ LOCKOUT LED TO CANCELLATION OF THE ENTIRE 82–GAME SCHEDULE (BELOW) AND PLAYOFFS. TAMPA BAY DINED ON ITS LONE CHAMPIONSHIP FOR TWO CALENDAR YEARS.

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THE NHL RETURNED IN 2005–06 WITH A NEW MEGASTAR IN SIDNEY CROSBY AND A SHOOTOUT TO DECIDE GAMES STILL DEADLOCKED AFTER FIVE MINUTES OF OVERTIME. THE “NEW” LEAGUE WAS OUTLINED (BELOW) IN THE INTRODUCTION PAGE OF THE GUIDE & RECORD BOOK.

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CAROLINA AND ANAHEIM WERE FIRST TIME WINNERS OF THE STANLEY CUP IN 2006 AND 2007.

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SIDNEY CROSBY WAS STILL 21 WHEN HE LIFTED THE 2009 STANLEY CUP AT JOE LOUIS ARENA IN DETROIT. AFTER THE HOME TEAM WON THE FIRST SIX GAMES OF THE FINAL, THE PENGUINS — ON A PAIR OF GOALS FROM MAX TALBOT — PREVAILED 2–1 ON THE ROAD IN THE DECISIVE SEVENTH MATCH.

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CHICAGO ENDED THE LONGEST STANLEY CUP DROUGHT (49 YEARS) IN 2010 AND THEN FORGED ITS OWN MINI–DYNASTY — WINNING THREE NHL TITLES IN SIX SEASONS. AS SUCH, BLACKHAWKS CAPTAIN JONATHAN TOEWS BECAME A FIXTURE ON THE NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK.

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THE COVER OF THE 2011–12 GUIDE MAY HAVE FRIGHTENED SOME CHILDREN, BUT ZDENO CHARA WAS TRULY A MONSTER FOR THE BRUINS IN THEIR FIRST CUP VICTORY SINCE 1972.

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LOS ANGELES WON TWO OF THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS — BEGINNING IN 2012 WITH AN IMPRESSIVE, 20–GAME ROMP THROUGH THE STANLEY CUP TOURNAMENT (BELOW).

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EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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