TORONTO (Jan. 3) — Though I’m inclined to agree that the Maple Leafs have a good chance, all things being equal, to finish among the top four teams in the Canadian (or North) Division of the National Hockey League this season, thereby making the playoffs, I am not surprised about the Toronto media getting carried away. Yet again. We’ve come to expect partisan tidings from those that write about the Leafs for team–owned TSN and Sportsnet, but those unaffiliated with the Blue and White are cheering a bit too voraciously.
A Toronto Sun story this week, as an example, referred to T.J. Brodie as a “top defenseman.” In my view, any such characterization is a synonym for a Norris Trophy candidate. If T.J. Brodie and Norris Trophy have been used in the same sentence prior to this, I’m not aware of it. The same article “bet” that training camp will be “the start of something good” for Frederik Andersen. This has more of a chance, given Andersen’s otherworldly career mark against Canadian teams: 53–11–14 in 78 games. That’s bonkers. If it somehow continues, Toronto will run away with the division. More than likely, however, the Leafs No. 1 goalie will share ups and down with established North rivals Braden Holtby (Vancouver), Jacob Markstrom (Calgary), Mike Smith (Edmonton), Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg), Matt Murray (Ottawa) and Carey Price (Montreal). The all–Canadian division is very strong between the pipes. It’s a given that no stopper will earn 76.9% of available points — Andersen’s career number, thus far, against opposition from north of the border.
Neither, as I repeatedly contend, will there be much relevance to Andersen’s regular–season performance… unless he bottoms out and the Leafs do not make the playoffs. Which isn’t likely. Any assessment of the 31–year–old netminder must pertain, almost solely, to the Stanley Cup tournament. Andersen has come up small for the Maple Leafs in every clutch circumstance during four post–season efforts. His penchant for allowing soft, killer goals has destroyed any chance of the Leafs advancing beyond the opening round, while contributing to a winless streak in his past eight clinching playoff starts. It’s the reason I was adamant the club needed to move away from Andersen after the qualifying loss to Columbus last August. That Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas felt differently can be legitimized only by Andersen carrying the Maple Leafs deep into the Cup tournament this season. Another playoff flop in goal will reflect abysmally on management.
In spite of another off–season makeover, the Leafs will rise or fall, once again, on the merits of their core group up front. Much has been made of the $40–plus million being gobbled up by John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Much more will be said about this if the gifted quartet comes up lame for a second year in Stanley Cup toil. Only the astounding, late eruption in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets — Nylander, Tavares and Zach Hyman scoring in the final 3:57 of regulation to wipe out a 3–0 deficit and keep Toronto alive — reflected the club’s capability. That the Leafs twice got blanked in the play–in series, including 3–0 in the decisive fifth match, was an indictment of those expected to lead. Neither can we accurately predict whether it was a one–off, or if the club simply does not have the appropriate blend of talent. We’ll know a lot more after May 8, when the abbreviated, 56–game schedule concludes.
One thing we can tell you for certain: If the Maple Leafs fall short of expectation yet again, heads will roll.
No individual — Shanahan, Dubas or head coach Sheldon Keefe — will be immune to dismissal by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Nor should they be in Year 7 of the so–called Shanaplan.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH IN THE NORTH DIVISION
1. Winnipeg 2. Vancouver 3. Toronto 4. Montreal 5. Edmonton 6. Calgary 7. Ottawa
CANADIAN TEAM MEDIA GUIDES
The largest element of my sports collection is roughly one thousand media guides from National Hockey League teams, olden and current. Given these items haven’t been widely published in the past decade — clubs choosing, instead, to offer digital versions — they are likely to increase in memorabilia value.
This blog centers on the seven Canadian teams in the NHL for the 56–game, 2021 schedule.
As such, here are several historic images from my collection:
MONTREAL WAS IN THE MIDST OF ITS “LOST DYNASTY” — THE FOUR STANLEY CUPS IN FIVE YEARS (1965–66–68–69) — WHEN THESE GUIDES (ABOVE AND BELOW) WERE ISSUED. THE LONE BLEMISH WAS IN 1966–67 (TOP), WHEN UPSET BY THE MAPLE LEAFS IN THE FINAL. OTHERWISE, THE CANADIENS WOULD HAVE MATCHED THEIR LEAGUE–RECORD FIVE CONSECUTIVE TITLES (1956–60). AS MENTIONED IN PRIOR BLOGS, THE SIGNATURE OF STAN OBODIAC (BOTTOM–RIGHT) APPEARS ON SEVERAL IN MY COLLECTION. BEFORE HE DIED OF CANCER IN 1984, THE LONG–TIME PUBLICITY DIRECTOR OF MAPLE LEAF GARDENS GENEROUSLY GAVE ME A NUMBER OF OLD GUIDES FROM HIS OFFICE.
I HAVE THE FIRST–EVER MAPLE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE (TOP–LEFT), PUBLISHED AFTER THE 1962 STANLEY CUP VICTORY, WITH A TRANSPOSITION OF CAPTAIN GEORGE ARMSTRONG HOLDING THE SILVER MUG (THE LEAFS WON THE ’62 CUP IN CHICAGO AND WERE WEARING THEIR ROAD–WHITE UNIFORMS). DAVE KEON GRACED THE COVER OF THE 1966–67 GUIDE, IN CANADA’S CENTENNIAL YEAR… AS IT TURNED OUT, JUSTIFIABLY. KEON WON THE CONN SMYTHE TROPHY AS PLAYOFF MVP WHEN THE MAPLE LEAFS KNOCKED OFF CHICAGO AND MONTREAL TO WIN THEIR MOST–RECENT STANLEY CUP.
THE LEAFS ENJOYED THEIR FIRST BIT OF POST–EXPANSION SUCCESS IN THE MID–TO–LATE–70’s WHEN LED BY FUTURE HALL–OF–FAME PLAYERS DARRYL SITTLER, LANNY McDONALD AND BORJE SALMING. THE 50th ANNIVERSARY MEDIA GUIDE IS AT TOP–LEFT. THE 1977–78 TEAM (TOP–RIGHT — PICTURED, CLOCKWISE, SITTLER, McDONALD, SALMING AND IAN TURNBULL), UNDER ROOKIE COACH ROGER NEILSON, WOULD BECOME THE FIRST SINCE 1967 TO MAKE THE STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALS.
THE 1981–82 LEAFS GUIDE (TOP–LEFT) CELEBRATED THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, THOUGH THE CLUB (20–44–16 FOR 56 POINTS) WAS AMONG THE WORST IN FRANCHISE HISTORY. IT WAS A DIFFERENT STORY IN 1998–99 (TOP–RIGHT). AFTER TRANSITIONING, IN FEBRUARY, FROM THE GARDENS TO THE NEW AIR CANADA CENTRE, PAT QUINN’S TEAM ELIMINATED PHILADELPHIA AND PITTSBURGH IN THE PLAYOFFS BEFORE LOSING TO BUFFALO IN THE STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALS.
VANCOUVER RE–ENTERED THE NHL IN 1970–71 WITH THE CANUCKS (FIRST MEDIA GUIDE, TOP–LEFT). THE OLD VANCOUVER MILLIONAIRES WERE STANLEY CUP RUNNERS–UP IN 1921 AND 1922. CALGARY CAME ABOARD FOR THE 1980–81 SEASON (TOP–RIGHT) IN A RE–LOCATION OF THE ATLANTA FLAMES.
OF COURSE, WAYNE GRETZKY WAS ON THE COVER OF THE FIRST TWO EDMONTON OILER GUIDES, AFTER THE TEAM JOINED THE NHL IN THE 1979 EXPANSION/MERGER OF WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION SURVIVORS. ON THE INAUGURAL GUIDE (TOP–LEFT) THE GREAT ONE IS PICTURED BENEATH VETERAN GOALIE DAVE DRYDEN. ON THE SECOND–YEAR GUIDE (TOP–RIGHT), HE STANDS NEXT TO FELLOW ALL–STAR (AND LINE–MATE) BLAIR MacDONALD IN DETROIT’S JOE LOUIS ARENA.
AS WITH VANCOUVER, THE CITY OF OTTAWA RETURNED TO THE NHL (INAUGURAL GUIDE, TOP–LEFT) AS AN EXPANSION TEAM IN 1992–93. THE ORIGINAL OTTAWA SENATORS WON THE STANLEY CUP FOUR TIMES (1920–21–23–27). THE SECOND–YEAR GUIDE (1993–94, TOP–RIGHT) FEATURED RUSSIAN STAR ALEXEI YASHIN (LEFT) AND 1993 FIRST DRAFT–PICK FLOP ALEXANDRE DAIGLE.
WINNIPEG ALSO RE–JOINED THE NHL WHEN THE ATLANTA THRASHERS MOVED NORTH FOR THE 2011–12 SEASON (CAPTAIN ANDREW LADD ON THE FIRST–YEAR COVER). THE ORIGINAL JETS (1979–96) HAD COME ABOARD WITH EDMONTON AND QUEBEC IN THE 1979 WHA EXPANSION… AND RE–LOCATED TO PHOENIX (AS THE COYOTES) IN 1996–97. WINNIPEG AND VANCOUVER ARE THE LONE CANADIAN TEAMS TO NOT HAVE WON THE STANLEY CUP. BOTH CLUBS SHOULD BE STRONG IN 2021.
If they disappoint again Dubas will again point to whatever success (real or imagined) he can see in the “process”.
We’ll get platitudes about how they will learn from it and how the core must grow together.
He’ll reinforce how much he believes in the group and Sheldon Keefe.
And at some point, perhaps as much as a year later after another disappointment MLSE will have Shanahan fire him and Keefe.