Leafs Have Earned Playoff Shot

TORONTO (Mar. 22) — The math will sort itself out over the next 18 days and nights, finally determining whether the Toronto Maple Leafs partake in the Stanley Cup tournament for the first time in 13 years after a full National Hockey League schedule. Should that come to pass — by way of an Eastern Conference wild card or a Top 3 finish in the Atlantic Division, and by whatever points margin — it says here the club will have unequivocally earned its ranking. In other words, there is nothing at all fluky, accidental or fortuitous about the 2016–17 Maple Leafs’ ascent from the NHL basement.

Whether or not such designation leads to accomplishment during the playoffs is another matter. As it stands, the Leafs can reasonably encounter any of five opponents in the opening round: Washington, Pittsburgh or Columbus in a wild card scenario; Montreal or Ottawa in a division battle. The Capitals, Penguins and Blue Jackets have all attained 100 or more points in the Eastern Conference; a fierce scramble among the teams (currently separated by two points atop the Metropolitan Division) will determine final positioning. If Toronto wins the second wild card berth, it will face the No. 1 club in the East. Should the Leafs overtake Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, they will match up with the second–place team; currently Ottawa, which trails Montreal by three points. This would be a more appealing scenario, given the prospect of a provincial showdown with the Senators or a first playoff clash with the Canadiens since 1979.


Neither Montreal nor Ottawa is likely to overtake any of the Top 3 in the torrid Metro Division, thereby increasing Toronto’s chance of an opening–round victory. That potential, of course, would blatantly depend on whether the Leafs can end their long winless streak against the Canadiens — an 0–9–5 blight that dates to Jan. 18, 2014. Toronto and Ottawa haven’t met in the post–season since 2004, which concluded a streak of four playoff match–ups over five years (beginning in 2000), all won by the Maple Leafs.

Tonight’s Toronto–Columbus game at Nationwide Arena (Sportsnet, 7 p.m.) could prove rather beneficial to the Leafs, should they prevail over the surprise club of the 2016–17 season. It would give the upstart team a major boost of confidence — having been drubbed, 5–2, in its only other game against the Blue Jackets (Feb. 15, also in Columbus). Toronto would leapfrog idle Boston by a point into third place (and guaranteed playoff territory) in the Atlantic Division. And, if combined with a victory by the New York Rangers against the Islanders at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. start), it would increase the Maple Leafs’ margin to either four or five points over the Islanders for the second wild card berth.

Only the first night in more than two weeks of NHL nail–biting to follow, before Apr .9.

MORE BOOKS


In a blog two weeks ago, I posted images of my oldest hockey books — those dating from 1950 to 1975.

Today, I present 40 more–recent publications, including a dollop of baseball.

  
IN 1981, THE PUBLICITY DIRECTOR FOR MAPLE LEAF GARDENS — STAN OBODIAC — PUBLISHED A 50–YEAR HISTORY OF THE ARENA (TOP–LEFT). JUST MORE THAN 18 YEARS LATER, A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT RESULTED IN A FINAL COMMEMORATION OF THE GARDENS, TO COINCIDE WITH ITS LAST NHL GAME: CHICAGO at TORONTO (FEB. 13, 1999), WHICH THE BLACKHAWKS EASILY WON, 6–2.

  
THE INVENTOR OF HOCKEY BROADCASTING ON RADIO — FOSTER HEWITT — DIED AT 82 YEARS OF AGE ON APR. 21, 1985. SHORTLY THEREAFTER, VETERAN SPORTS COLUMNIST AND AUTHOR, SCOTT YOUNG, BEGAN WORK ON HEWITT’S BIOGRAPHY, WHICH CAME OUT IN OCTOBER OF THAT YEAR. HEWITT CALLED GAMES OF THE TORONTO ST. PATS AND MAPLE LEAFS FROM 1923 TO 1976.


TWO OF THE GREATEST ALL–TIME LEAFS PLIED THEIR TRADE THROUGHOUT THE 1970’s BEFORE RELEASING AUTOBIOGRAPHIES. DARRYL SITTLER COLLABORATED WITH AUTHORS CHRIS GOYENS AND ALLAN TUROWETZ ON HIS LIFE STORY, RELEASED IN OCTOBER 1991. AT THE SAME TIME, BORJE SALMING TEAMED WITH SWEDISH WRITER GERHARD KARLSSON ON A BOOK THAT WAS TRANSLATED TO ENGLISH. SITTLER AND SALMING ARE MEMBERS OF THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME.

  
WHEN WILLIAM HOUSTON OF THE GLOBE AND MAIL INFORMED HAROLD BALLARD OF A PENDING BIOGRAPHY, THE IRASCIBLE LEAFS OWNER CLAIMED HE WOULD “CUT THE THROAT” OF THE HOCKEY WRITER. MORE THAN THREE DECADES LATER, HOUSTON IS STILL AMONG US WHILE BALLARD DIED IN APRIL 1990. THIS SUPERB LOOK AT THE ONE–TIME CZAR OF MAPLE LEAF GARDENS — RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER 1984 — QUICKLY BECAME A BEST SELLER ACROSS CANADA.

  
THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS FIRST–EVER GAME (APR. 7, 1977 AGAINST THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX AT EXHIBITION STADIUM) IS QUICKLY APPROACHING. AS MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ARRIVED IN OUR CITY, GLOBE AND MAIL WRITER LOU CAUZ PENNED A DETAILED HISTORY OF THE SPORT IN TORONTO — FOCUSING ON THE MAPLE LEAFS OF THE OLD INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE. TOWARD THE END WAS A MARVELOUS PHOTO (BELOW) OF THE BALLPARK AT THE CANADIAN NATIONAL EXHIBITION THAT WOULD BE HOME TO THE BLUE JAYS FROM APRIL 1977 TO MAY 1989. THE IMAGE, SHOWING THE PRESS BOX AND SEATS BEHIND HOME PLATE, WAS SNAPPED IN THE DEAD OF WINTER (FEBRUARY 1977).


  
IF YOU REMEMBER THE WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION, OR WISH TO LEARN ABOUT THE NHL’s RIVAL BETWEEN 1972 AND 1979, THESE TWO BOOKS ARE A MUST. AT LEFT, AS ADVERTISED, IS THE ENTIRE WHA STORY IN STATISTICS, WITH SCORES FROM EVERY GAME IN THE REGULAR–SEASON AND PLAYOFFS; A HISTORY OF, AND COMPLETE STATISTICS FOR, ALL 26 TEAMS. ORIGINALLY RELEASED IN MARCH 1995, IT WENT TO FOUR PRINTINGS (THROUGH OCTOBER 1999) AND IS THE ONLY–SUCH ITEM EVER PUBLISHED. AUTHOR MURRAY GREIG OF TRAIL, B.C. PENNED AN ANECDOTAL HISTORY OF THE WHA (RIGHT) FOR THE AUTUMN OF 1997. NUMEROUS PLAYERS ARE QUOTED ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES IN THE “REBEL” LEAGUE.

  
KUDOS TO LONG ISLAND RESIDENT BRAD KURTZBERG FOR HIS PHENOMENAL SERVICE TO ARGUABLY THE NHL’s LARGEST CULT–FOLLOWING. HAD THE CALIFORNIA SEALS ENJOYED SUCH POPULARITY DURING THEIR NINE–SEASON TENURE IN OAKLAND (1967–68 TO 1975–76), CHANCES ARE THEY WOULD STILL BE IN EXISTENCE… AND, THERE WOULD BE NO SAN JOSE SHARKS. AS IT WERE, THE SEALS FOUNDERED ON THE ICE AND IN THE SEATS, RARELY DRAWING MORE THAN 5,000 PEOPLE TO THE OAKLAND COLISEUM–ARENA, BEFORE RE–LOCATING (FOR TWO YEARS) IN RICHFIELD, OHIO AS THE CLEVELAND BARONS. KURTZBERG DID EXHAUSTIVE WORK AND SPOKE TO VIRTUALLY EVERY MAN THAT DONNED THE SEALS JERSEY. INCLUDED ARE IMAGES FROM THE EXCLUSIVE COLLECTION OF FORMER OAKLAND TRIBUNE PHOTOGRAPHER RON RIESTERER. THE BOOK CAME OUT IN 2006. ORDER IT HERE (http://amzn.to/2nZPB7L) FROM AMAZON.COM.


IN 1973–74, THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS BECAME THE FIRST EXPANSION TEAM TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP. FROM 1979–80 TO 1982–83, THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS WERE THE FIRST EXPANSION DYNASTY (AND THE LAST CLUB, AS OF NOW, TO WIN FOUR CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUP TITLES). JACK CHEVALIER OF THE OLD PHILADELPHIA BULLETIN, WHICH CEASED PUBLICATION IN JANUARY 1982, WROTE A HISTORY OF HOCKEY IN THE CITY, CULMINATING WITH THE FLYERS UPSET OF BOSTON IN THE ’74 STANLEY CUP FINAL. THE BOOK IS VERY DIFFICULT TO FIND. AMAZON.COM HAS COPIES THAT RANGE IN PRICE FROM $89.54 TO $186.40 USD. TIM MORIARTY OF NEWSDAY TEAMED WITH PHOTOGRAPHER JOE BERESWILL ON A HISTORY OF THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS AFTER THE CLUB’S FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP, IN 1980. IT CHRONICLED HOW THE ISLES WENT FROM THE WORST EXPANSION TEAM AT THE TIME (A 12–60–6 RECORD IN 1972–73) TO CUP WINNER EIGHT YEARS LATER (ON BOB NYSTROM’S OVERTIME GOAL AGAINST PHILADELPHIA AT THE NASSAU COLISEUM).


OFFICIALS GOT INTO THE BOOK–WRITING ACT IN THE 1980’s. THE LATE VERN BUFFEY WAS AMONG THE NHL’s MOST–RESPECTED REFEREES THROUGHOUT THE 1960’s. HE JOINED THE RIVAL WHA AS ITS FIRST REFEREE–IN–CHIEF FOR THE 1972–73 SEASON. HIS 1980 AUTOBIOGRAPHY FEATURED POSSIBLY THE BEST TITLE IN HOCKEY PUBLISHING ANNALS. MY OL’ PAL, BRUCE HOOD, OFFICIATED IN THE NHL FROM 1963–84. AMONG HIS PLAYOFF ASSIGNMENTS WAS THE BOSTON GARDEN AFFAIR OF MAY 10, 1970 WHEN BOBBY ORR SCORED HIS ICONIC STANLEY CUP OVERTIME WINNER AGAINST THE ST. LOUIS BLUES. HOOD’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY CAME OUT IN SEPTEMBER 1988. NOW 81, BRUCE IS MISSING HIS BEST PAL, FELLOW NHL REF RON WICKS, WHO DIED OF CANCER NEARLY ONE YEAR AGO (APR. 1, 2016).

  
IN ONLY THEIR THIRD NHL SEASON, THE BUFFALO SABRES — FUELED BY THE “FRENCH CONNECTION” LINE OF GILBERT PERREAULT, RENE ROBERT AND THE LATE RICHARD MARTIN — MADE THE PLAYOFFS ON THE FINAL NIGHT OF THE NHL SCHEDULE WITH A 3–1 VICTORY OVER ST. LOUIS AT THE OLD MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM. IT WAS FOLLOWED BY A SIX–GAME LOSS TO EVENTUAL STANLEY CUP–CHAMPION MONTREAL IN THE OPENING ROUND. AS THE HABS SKATED WITH A 4–1 LEAD IN THE THIRD PERIOD OF GAME 6 (APR. 12, 1973), CERTAIN TO MOVE ON, THE APPRECIATIVE FANS AT THE AUD BEGAN A CHANT OF “THANK YOU SABRES!” THUS, THE TITLE OF THIS 25–YEAR RETROSPECTIVE, WRITTEN IN 1997 BY SAL MAIORANA OF THE ROCHESTER (N.Y.) DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE.

  
THE TWO GREATEST PLAYERS IN HOCKEY HISTORY HAVE BEEN THE SUBJECT OF NUMEROUS BOOKS. AMONG THEM (ABOVE) WAS AN INSTRUCTIONAL VOLUME IN 1974 BY BOBBY ORR AND SPORTS ILLUSTRATED HOCKEY EDITOR MARK MULVOY. A FULL 25 YEARS LATER — AFTER WAYNE GRETZKY’S RETIREMENT FROM THE NEW YORK RANGERS IN APRIL 1999 — CAME A SPECTACULAR CAREER RETROSPECTIVE ON THE GREAT ONE BY EDMONTON SUN COLUMNIST TERRY JONES. IT DEALT, PRIMARILY, WITH GRETZKY’S STANLEY CUP YEARS (1984–88) AS AN OILER AND HIS SHOCKING TRADE (AUG. 9, 1988) TO THE LOS ANGELES KINGS. THE BOOKS, BELOW, WERE PUBLISHED IN 2012 (GRETZKY) AND 2013 (ORR). THEY CONTAIN ALL STORIES FEATURED IN SPORTS ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE ABOUT THE TWO PHENOMS DURING THEIR PLAYING DAYS. THESE, IN MY OPINION, WILL BECOME VALUABLE AS COLLECTIBLES. TRY AND FIND THEM NOW, IF YOU CAN.


  
TOP–LEFT: BOOKS CREDITED WITH BRINGING DOWN NHL PLAYERS ASSOCIATION CZAR ALAN EAGLESON. CHIEF AMONG THEM WAS RUSS CONWAY’S 1995 MASTERPIECE. NO ONE DID MORE GROUNDWORK ON THE SO–CALLED “CORRUPTION OF HOCKEY” THAN THE DILIGENT REPORTER FOR THE EAGLE–TRIBUNE IN LAWRENCE, MASS. (30 MILES NORTH OF BOSTON). DAVID CRUISE AND ALISON GRIFFITHS BROKE GROUND ON THE SUBJECT WITH THEIR NOW–ICONIC NET WORTH, RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER 1991. NO FORMER PLAYER SPENT MORE OF HIS TIME AND MONEY ON EXPOSING EAGLESON THAN DEFENSEMAN CARL BREWER OF THE 1960’s MAPLE LEAFS. BREWER DIED IN AUGUST 2001 AND HIS ODYSSEY, WITH LONG–TIME PARTNER, SUE FOSTER, CAME OUT IN THE FALL OF 2006. ALL GREAT WORKS. TOP–RIGHT: BETWEEN 2000 AND 2003, ST. CATHARINES, ONT. JOURNALIST CRAIG MacINNIS EDITED THE “REMEMBERING” SERIES, WITH NHL LEGENDS BOBBY ORR, PHIL ESPOSITO, BOBBY HULL AND TIM HORTON. ALONG WITH MacINNIS, WRITERS INCLUDED FRANK ORR, ROSIE DiMANNO, STEVE SIMMONS, DOUG HEROD, MITCH POTTER AND INGRID RANDOJA.

  
DAN DIAMOND, PUBLISHER OF THE OFFICIAL NHL GUIDE & RECORD BOOK, EDITED THESE COFFEE–TABLE VOLUMES FOR THE LEAGUE’S 75th ANNIVERSARY SEASON IN 1991–92. THE NHL WAS FORMED IN 1917, BUT THE STANLEY CUP HAD BEEN COMPETED FOR SINCE 1893, THUS THE “CENTENNIAL” DESIGNATION (TOP–RIGHT). AMONG THE CONTRIBUTORS WAS LEGENDARY AUTHORS AND EX–PLAYERS BRIAN McFARLANE, TRENT FRAYNE, MILT DUNNELL, GEORGE GROSS, RED FISHER, DICK IRVIN, FRANK ORR, JEAN BELIVEAU AND MIKE BOSSY. THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE BOOK (TOP–LEFT) FEATURED A STRIKING COLLAGE OF NHL JERSEYS (BELOW) ON ITS INSIDE–COVER.



IN THE 1970’s AND 80’s, BROOKLYN, N.Y. SPORTSWRITER ZANDER HOLLANDER EDITED HIS “COMPLETE HANDBOOK” (POCKETBOOK) SEASON PREVIEWS OF THE FOUR MAJOR NORTH AMERICAN PRO SPORTS: BASEBALL, BASKETBALL, FOOTBALL AND HOCKEY. THESE ARE AMONG THE HOCKEY ISSUES I’VE KEPT THROUGH THE YEARS. HOLLANDER DIED AT AGE 91 IN APRIL 2014.

  
LONG BEFORE I BEGAN LUGGING AROUND MY TRUSTY NIKON — IN FACT, BEFORE I WAS BORN — THE LATE BILLY HARRIS CARRIED AN INSTAMATIC CAMERA WITH HIM WHILE PLAYING CENTER FOR THE LEAFS. IN 1989, HE COBBLED TOGETHER PHOTOS OF HE AND HIS TORONTO ‘MATES WHILE ON A PRE–SEASON TRIP TO CALIFORNIA AND DURING THE STANLEY CUP CELEBRATIONS OF 1962–64. HARRIS DIED IN SEPTEMBER 2001, BUT LEFT BEHIND THIS WONDERFUL MEMOIR. WHILE ON A TRIP TO ANAHEIM WITH THE LEAFS IN THE LOCKOUT–SHORTENED SCHEDULE OF JANUARY–MAY 1995, I VISITED THE TEAM STORE AT WHAT IS NOW THE HONDA CENTER AND PICKED UP THE TRADE–PAPERBACK ITEM (TOP–RIGHT) THAT CHRONICLED EVERY MOMENT OF THE MIGHTY DUCKS’ FIRST NHL SEASON. PUBLISHED BY THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER OF SANTA ANA, CALIF., IT FEATURED THE GAME–STORIES OF HOCKEY WRITERS EARL BLOOM AND KAREN CROUSE.


IN 1986, THE MONTREAL CANADIENS TOOK ADVANTAGE OF WAYNE GRETZKY’S ABSENCE FROM THE STANLEY CUP FINAL TO WIN A SURPRISE CHAMPIONSHIP. GRETZKY AND THE EDMONTON OILERS — CUP WINNERS IN 1984 AND ’85 — WERE UPSET BY CALGARY IN THE SECOND ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS. MONTREAL BEAT THE FLAMES IN THE FINAL. AFTER THE UNEXPECTED TRIUMPH (LARGELY AS THE RESULT OF ROOKIE NETMINDER PATRICK ROY), CHRIS GOYENS AND ALLAN TUROWETZ TEAMED TO WRITE A HISTORY OF THE MONTREAL FRANCHISE (TOP–LEFT). NO “LION” IN CANADIENS HISTORY WAS AS FEROCIOUS AS THE ORIGINAL NHL ENFORCER, JOHN FERGUSON, WHO PENNED HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY WITH STAN AND SHIRLEY FISHLER IN 1989. A WONDERFUL MAN OFF THE ICE, FERGY DIED OF CANCER IN JULY 2007. 


HARD TO BELIEVE IT’S BEEN NEARLY A QUARTER–CENTURY SINCE THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS PACKED UP AND LEFT FOR DALLAS (IN 1993–94). THE NORTH STARS WERE AMONG SIX TEAMS ADDED BY THE NHL IN THE “GREAT EXPANSION” OF 1967–68. AND, NO PLAYER WAS MORE SYNONYMOUS WITH THE CLUB IN ITS EARLY YEARS THAN LOU NANNE, WHO TEAMED WITH BLOOMINGTON, MINN. AUTHOR BOB SHOWERS ON THIS COMMEMORATIVE IN 2007. “SWEET LOU FROM THE SOO”, AS NANNE IS STILL KNOWN AT AGE 75 (HE WAS BORN IN SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT.), PLAYED FOR MINNESOTA FROM 1968–69 TO 1977–78; AND THEN MANAGED THE TEAM UNTIL 1988. IN THIS WONDERFUL BOOK IS A PHOTO (BELOW) OF THE ORIGINAL NORTH STARS. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SECOND ROW, WEARING NO. 19, IS BILL MASTERTON, THE ONLY PLAYER IN NHL HISTORY TO DIE (Jan. 15, 1968) AS THE RESULT OF AN INJURY SUSTAINED ON THE ICE.


  
THIS COFFEE–TABLE BOOK FROM 2002 FEATURED A PAIR OF ICONS: AUTHOR BRIAN McFARLANE AND TEAM CANADA 1972. IT HAS NOW BEEN NEARLY 45 YEARS SINCE THE GROUNDBREAKING SERIES BETWEEN THE BEST CANADIAN–BORN PLAYERS IN THE NHL AND THE TOP “AMATEURS” FROM THE OLD SOVIET UNION. THREE DECADES AFTER THE EVENT, McFARLANE (OF HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA FAME) TRACKED DOWN THE MEMBERS OF TEAM CANADA FOR THIS RETROSPECTIVE.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

2 comments on “Leafs Have Earned Playoff Shot

  1. Reading your blog of a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of the time in Gr. 10 when I signed out Punch Imlach’s Hockey Is a Battle from the school library. When my geography teacher (and football coach) assigned us a reading from our textbook, I cleverly hid Imach’s book inside of the geography text, and pretended to be doing the assigned reading while actually reading something far more interesting. I should have pretended to be turning the pages on the text book, and was totally oblivious to my teacher standing behind me watching me. Fortunately, he was a big Leaf fan too, so when he saw what I was reading, all was forgiven.

    Thanks for the memories. I love reading your blog.

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