“… and the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls…
and tenement halls… and whispered through the sound… of silence.”
— Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, 1965
TORONTO (May 22) — If not for those elongated types, it would be perfectly quiet in this sports city right now. It’s difficult to imagine how quiet were the Toronto Raptors not within two victories of encountering the Golden State Warriors for the National Basketball Association title. The people that normally make the most noise around here couldn’t be more chagrined. Fans of the Maple Leafs have been smacked with a worst–case scenario: Boston vs. St. Louis in the Stanley Cup final. The division nemesis that has toyed with the Leafs since 2013 against the last holdout for the “longest” current Stanley Cup drought.
EX–TORONTO TEAMMATES TYLER BOZAK AND AUSTON MATTHEWS BATTLE FOR THE PUCK AT SCOTIABANK ARENA ON OCT. 20, 2018. THE BLUES BEAT THE LEAFS, 4–1. TORONTO STAR PHOTO
Of course, any person with a shred of mathematical wisdom would know the Maple Leafs own the Cup famine outright. If not for a couple or three cheerleaders in the local media that should make themselves heard before the final begins at TD Garden on Monday, there would be no argument. These folks will again try to sell you on the notion that the Leafs and Blues share the longest Cup drought because neither club has won since 1967. In so doing, the time elapsed between zero and one will again be eliminated. To wit: the Blues had not yet drafted a roster of players on May 2, 1967, the night Toronto defeated Montreal to win its last Cup. As part of the six–team expansion for the 1967–68 season, St. Louis cobbled together its first club nearly five weeks later, on June 6. Then played its first regular–season game (against the Minnesota North Stars) on Oct. 11, 1967 — five months and nine days after the Leafs upended Montreal. The Blues weren’t eligible to start competing for the Stanley Cup until Apr. 4, 1968, when they blanked the Philadelphia Flyers, 1–0, at the Spectrum. Or… 11 months and two days after the last Toronto championship.
But, local flag–wavers will again insist the Maple Leafs and Blues own the identical Cup shortfall.
What cannot be debated is that St. Louis leads Toronto 4–0 in Cup final appearances since 1968. In the first three years of expansion, National Hockey League owners in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto threw the incoming teams a bone for their $2 million entrance fee: the playoff champion of the newly–created West Division (California, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) would clash with the winner of the established East Division for the silver mug. In all three springs (1968–69–70), Scotty Bowman’s Blues scaled the West mountain and played for the NHL title. Not surprisingly, the fledgling Missourians went 0–for–12 against Montreal (twice) and Boston… though six matches were decided by one goal; four of them in overtime, including the last St. Louis Cup final appearance — on Mother’s Day 1970 at Boston Garden — when Bobby Orr slapped Derek Sanderson’s behind–the–net feed past Glenn Hall and went flying horizontally for one of the most iconic images in all of professional sport.
DEREK SANDERSON OF THE BRUINS SKATES NEAR ST. LOUIS GOALIE JACQUES PLANTE AT THE BOSTON GARDEN DURING THE 1970 STANLEY CUP FINAL. BRUCE BENNETT GETTY IMAGES
So, Leafs fan, what to do?
Throw your support behind Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and the Causeway St. bunch that has made life miserable for more than six years? Or, the other Vladdy (Tarasenko), Tyler Bozak and the Blue Notes to indisputably yield your club the longest current drought? It’s like being offered the choice between a plate of liver or a bowl of Brussels Sprouts. Boston, now leading Toronto 8–0 in Cup final appearances since 1967, will try to win its fourth title during that time. A St. Louis victory would cover all the original expansion clubs from ’67 — the California Seals and Minnesota North Stars both “cousins” of the 1999–champion Dallas Stars; Los Angeles (2012–2014); Philadelphia (1973–1974) and Pittsburgh (1991–1992–2009–2016–2017). Even the worst team in National Hockey League annals — the first–year Washington Capitals of 1974–75 (8–67–5 for 21 points) — has twice graduated to the Stanley Cup final: losing to Detroit in 1998 and defeating Vegas last spring. Heck, the godforsaken Kansas City Scouts have won multiple Cups… though not until a third reincarnation, as the New Jersey Devils (nee Colorado Rockies), in 1982.
St. Louis upending Boston would leave the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, original Winnipeg Jets (now Arizona Coyotes), San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators (post–1992), Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, current Winnipeg Jets (formerly Atlanta Thrashers), Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild and Vegas Golden Knights as teams that have yet to raise the Stanley Cup. Of that group, only Winnipeg, Columbus and Minnesota have not made Cup–final appearances. Which means that 22 of 26 expansion teams since 1967 have played for the Cup since Toronto’s last appearance. Ouch! On the flip–side, Toronto hockey sufferers can take comfort in knowing the New York Rangers have but one Stanley Cup title (1994) in the past 79 years; the Leafs, four in the past 57. If not for little miracles.
Amid the hockey silence in our town, can you even comprehend the noise had the Maple Leafs equaled the St. Louis turnaround of this season? It is truly among the most–remarkable stories in modern NHL history — the Blues sitting dead–last in the overall standings on Jan. 2 (15–18–4, one point behind Los Angeles) only to rise up and become the Western Conference champion. What followed was a 30–10–5 record (Jan. 3 to Apr. 6); then playoff triumphs over Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose. Again… remarkable.
BLUES ROOKIE SENSATION JORDAN BINNINGTON WILL PLAY FOR THE STANLEY CUP. ESPN PHOTO
Or, how about this? What if the Leafs, on Dec. 16, had traded Frederik Andersen to St. Louis for Jordan Binnington? Can you imagine riotous fans outside Scotiabank Arena chanting “WHO is Jordan Binnington?!” Just more than five months later, there’s no way the Blues would agree to such a swap; not after Binnington compiled a 24–5–1 ledger (Dec. 16 to Apr. 6); a 1.89 goals–against average and .927 save–percentage.
For the record, Binnington was born just north of Toronto, in Richmond Hill, on July 11, 1993 — seven weeks and three days after Wayne Gretzky sliced–open Doug Gilmour’s chin at the Los Angeles Forum. 😛