TORONTO (Feb. 13) — With less than 12 days until the National Hockey League trade deadline, fans of the Maple Leafs wonder if rookie general manager Kyle Dubas will make another revision to his strong club.
There are whispers that Dubas is looking for added depth in goal, which makes abundant sense. Frederik Andersen should be in a better place to begin the Stanley Cup tournament this spring, given the rest he incurred at mid–season (appearing in only five games between Dec. 23 and Feb. 1). He did, however, sustain a groin injury, which can be aggravated without warning. And his back–up, Garret Sparks, has never stepped on the ice in a playoff game at the NHL level. As such, the addition of a stopper with some post–season experience would allow Mike Babcock to breathe a bit easier down the stretch and into the Cup tourney.
Michael Hutchinson, currently with the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies, has 111 regular–season NHL games on his log… but not a single playoff match (with Winnipeg from 2013–18 and Florida last season).
THE LEAFS MAY BE LOOKING TO PROVIDE SOME GOALTENDING ASSURANCE FOR FREDERIK ANDERSEN IN THE PLAYOFFS THIS SPRING. ANDERSEN’S BACK–UP, GARRET SPARKS, HAS NEVER APPEARED IN A STANLEY CUP GAME. SEVERAL NHL VETERANS ARE AVAILABLE. GETTY IMAGES/NHL
There are, however, several playoff–tested goalies the Leafs may be looking at: Jimmy Howard (Detroit), Semyon Varlamov (Colorado) and Cam Talbot (Edmonton) are all unrestricted free agents this summer and could therefore be acquired for minimal return.
Howard, 34, appeared in 48 playoff matches for Detroit (winning 21) between 2009 and 2016, with a 2.58 goals–against average. He beat the Leafs in overtime (2–1) at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 1. Varlamov, still only 30, has 26 games of playoff experience with Washington and Colorado (2.57 GAA), but none since 2014. He was in goal at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 14 when the Avs upset the Leafs, 6–3. Talbot, 31, performed strongly for Edmonton in the 2017 Cup tournament, as the Oilers beat San Jose in the first round and took Anaheim to seven games in Round 2 before bowing out. He’s had a poor season this year (10 wins in 31 starts / 3.36 GAA / .893 SV%), losing his No. 1 role to Mikko Koskinen. But, again, it was only two springs ago that Talbot nearly guided Edmonton into the Stanley Cup semifinals. He could thrive if called upon.
SUDDEN CURE? One game, against the 28th–ranked penalty–killing team (76%) in the NHL, and the Maple Leafs powerplay woes are over. So it says all across the World Wide Web today, after the Leafs raked Colorado for three extra–man goals in last night’s 5–2 victory at Denver. Not to rain on the Pepsi Center parade… but, might we pause just a bit longer before declaring a cure (or even remission) for Toronto’s three–month struggle with the man advantage? Perhaps wait just four measly nights to observe how the Leafs fare on the road against the No. 6 P.K. unit (Vegas, 83.13%, on Thursday) and the top–ranked club (Arizona, 85.19%, on Saturday). Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am continuously astounded by the rush–to–judgement among so many otherwise–bright people that cover the Maple Leafs in 2018–19.
TORONTO BEAT COLORADO WITH THREE POWERPLAY GOALS ON TUESDAY.
20 YEARS AGO TONIGHT
at Maple Leaf Gardens
For those of us that attended and covered the event, it is unfathomable that two decades has passed since the final National Hockey League game at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks closed out the arena on this date in 1999 — a Saturday night — thus ending more than 68 years on the corner of Church and Carlton for the Blue and White. Among Leaf fans, everything but the game is memorable, as Chicago romped to a 6–2 victory. Ex–Toronto captain Doug Gilmour scored for the Blackhawks early in the second period; the visitors building a 3–0 lead. Derek King recorded the Leafs’ final goal at the Gardens (8:14 of the middle frame), while the late Bob Probert notched the last tally for all players at 11:05 of the third.
I had the privilege of covering the game in my role as Leafs beat–reporter for The FAN–590, Canada’s first all–sports radio station. I held that job from 1994 to 2011 and have terrific memories of my time around such franchise legends as Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Pat Burns, Mats Sundin and Pat Quinn. Though beat–reporters were furnished with a season–long pass in October, the considerable demand for credentials to cover the historic match of Feb. 13, 1999 necessitated that individual–game passes (top–left) be distributed. Also handed out to reporters was a 178–page program (cover, top–right) from the event. As always, my seat in the Gardens press box was reserved with a media card (bottom–left). The final hockey season on Carlton St. required a logo (bottom–right) which is still adorned on a banner that hangs in Scotiabank Arena.
On the cover of the media notes package (top–left) was the Toronto and Chicago line–ups. Gilmour (bottom–left) wore his familiar No. 93 for the Blackhawks. Sundin donned the No. 13 Leafs jersey (bottom–right) on his 28th birthday (yes, the “Big Weed”, as he was known to teammates, is 48 today). Also handed out to reporters, in the days before on–line distribution, was the 16–page NHL THIS WEEK booklet (top–right), which featured the closing of the Gardens and opening (the following Saturday) of the Air Canada Centre.
NABBING ANOTHER SOUVENIR As I was leaving the press box 20 years ago tonight, I removed a copy of the seating plan taped to a wall. I was perched in Chair 67 next to my FAN–590 colleague, Barry Davis, who would go on to bigger and better as a reporter for Sportsnet on Toronto Blue Jays telecasts. You will notice media names that are far–more–legendary than mine. It was a privilege to work amid all of them.
I had my video–cam with me for the final game at the Gardens. Here are some still images. Prior to the match, and while standing at the visitors’ bench (top–left), I recorded the gold, red and mezzanine–blue seats behind the north–end goal. Spectator locations aren’t nearly as proximal to the ice in the newer NHL arenas. I then turned around and saw the most–expensive seats in the Gardens (top–right), near ice–level.
Views (above) from the press box at Maple Leaf Gardens — located high on the east side of the building.
Looking down from the press box (top–left) at the north–end seats again shows how remarkably close they were to the action. And, a view (top–right) during the Leafs–Blackhawks pre–game warm–up.
The FAN–590’s beat–reporter carried nearly 20 extra pounds in February 1999 than he does today. That’s chubby me (top–left) with columnist Cam Cole of the National Post. And, with my long–time pal, Chris Mayberry (top–right), then with the Canadian Press. I wasn’t missing any meals in that era, huh?
Cover of the 1998–99 Maple Leafs media guide (top–left). And, cover of the program (top–right) from Wayne Gretzky’s final NHL game at the Gardens (Dec. 19, 1998). Toronto beat the Rangers that night, 7–4.
10 YEARS LATER…
While on a Leafs trip to Tampa for The FAN–590 — Feb. 11–12, 2009 — I called Ken Dryden, the Hall–of–Fame goalie with the Montreal Canadiens (1971–79) and president of the Leafs when the Gardens closed to hockey 20 years ago tonight. Ken recalled the event, as only he can, 10 years later… and 10 years ago. I wrote a story for the National Post (below) that ran on Page 2 of the Sports section and was featured in a banner across the top of the newspaper. In the blue banner was a photo (from Feb. 13, 1999) of the only surviving Leaf to have played in the first game at the Gardens on Nov. 12, 1931. Defenseman Red Horner was 89 years of age. He died here in Toronto on Apr. 27, 2005, one month before his 96th birthday.
A FEW OTHER “LASTS“…
While at The FAN–590, I had the honor of working some other “final–time” events. Such as (top–left), the last Major League Baseball All–Star Game at Jack Murphy (now Qualcomm) Stadium in San Diego (1992). And the last All–Star Game (top–right) at old Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh (1994).
I covered the final hockey game played at Chicago Stadium — on Apr. 28, 1994 — as part of the Leafs–Blackhawks first–round playoff series. The credential (top–left) is from Game 3. Toronto won the series in Game 6 and the Blackhawks moved into the United Center for the lockout–shortened 1994–95 season. It was a great privilege to be in Madison Square Garden (top–right) for Wayne Gretzky’s last NHL game (Pittsburgh at New York Rangers)… also, and unbelievably, nearly 20 years ago (Apr. 18, 1999).
I was at the old Pittsburgh Mellon Arena (top–left) when the Penguins were eliminated in Game 7 of the playoffs by Montreal on May 12, 2010. The second–round series closed out the Penguins’ original home; the club moved across the street to the Consol Energy Center (now PPG Paints Arena) in October 2010. And, I attended the Toronto Blue Jays final game at their original digs — Exhibition Stadium — against the Chicago White Sox on May 28, 1989 (program cover top–right; starting line–ups below). I had been, as a fan, at the first Blue Jays game, also against the ChiSox, on Apr. 7, 1977.