TORONTO (Nov. 1) — The Maple Leafs are enjoying some relative quiet after consecutive (and unimpressive) victories over Chicago and Detroit, using a three–day lull between games to tell their fans, courtesy of veteran Jason Spezza, that the club is not emotionally fragile. Hmmmm.
The same hardly applies to a large rank of Leaf followers that are convinced the team can, in fact, carry five contracts worth $48,005,616 beginning next season. That’s the accumulative cap burden involving John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner — the total inflated by Rielly’s $7.5 million annual salary in an eight–year extension signed last week. Upon insisting, in a follow–up blog, that Rielly’s pact will spell the end of the Leafs’ Big 4 forwards after this season, I was inundated angrily by mathematic geniuses that showed me (via email) precisely how the club will get away with five skaters hauling the majority. Leaving roughly $34 million for the other 18 roster positions. And, with a starting goalie to sign. “Phil Kessel’s $1.2 million ‘dead’–cap figure is off the books. Trade Alex Kerfoot ($3.5 million) and — poof — the problem is solved,” suggested these scholars. None of whom were able to process the difference between the Leafs “making room” for the Big 5… and being able to win anything of note with comparative minor leaguers filling out 70% of the team.
This is how silly, blind emotion impedes what is, primarily, an educated fan base.
Yes, the Leafs can accommodate all five players. And, given management’s addiction to a core than is incapable of winning a playoff round, it probably will find a way. Unless, of course, there’s a replacement at general manager… or the current GM is somehow prodded from his destructive obstinacy. At this point, I wouldn’t wager a lot on Door No. 2. As I wrote in my last blog, Kyle Dubas has a pathological dependence on the gifted, but marginally competitive, nucleus he’s assembled. It’s likely he’ll go down with the ship rather than changing course.
The Maple Leafs do have other commitments on the horizon. If Jack Campbell proves worthy as a No. 1 stopper, he’ll surely triple his bargain, $1.6 million stipend. If not, the Leafs will have to find another $4 to $5 million–dollar goalie. Pierre Engvall has made himself useful early in the season and will seek, as a restricted free agent, at least double his $1.25 million salary. And, defenseman Rasmus Sandin comes off entry level restriction. If Dubas contends that Sandin’s puck skill is of value, long term, the young blueliner will eat up another $3.5 million of cap space. That’s roughly an additional $10.8 million. Leaving perhaps $23 million for 15 skaters.
Beer leaguers will be encouraged to apply.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: No team in the National Hockey League with Stanley Cup aspiration can spend nearly $50 million on five players. It’s been proven, beyond much doubt, that the Leafs erred by engorging Tavares, Matthews, Marner and Nylander with more than $40 million. How can the club improve by extending that approach, as with Rielly’s multi–year deal — smartly negotiated though it was?
Someone has to go. Even while myopic fans of the Blue and White bust out their calculators.
TSN MISSED IT — COMPLETELY: It was one of the most astonishing gaffes you will ever see from a professional football coach. Ryan Dinwiddie of the Toronto Argonauts is fortunate to still be employed after a bewildering sequence in the last minute of a home game, Saturday, against the B.C. Lions. A partially blocked field goal that would have given B.C. the lead was returned from the end zone to the Toronto 13–yard line with 44 seconds left, apparently salting a 23–22 Argos victory. Dinwiddie, on first down, ordered quarterback McLeod Bethel–Thompson to take a knee. Clearly, the Argo coach overlooked that the Lions still had a time out, which they immediately used. Only three seconds had elapsed. Now, the Argos had to try for something — ideally a first down to cement the win, but any yards at all to help out their kicker. Inexplicably, Dinwiddie had Bethel–Thompson take another knee, creating a third–down with still 37 seconds to play. Everyone in the stadium and on the Toronto sideline comprehended the grievous mismanagement. The players were screaming at Dinwiddie as the offense remained on the field; ran down the clock to 17 seconds and called time out. For the first (and, likely, last) time, a club having twice gone into “victory” formation had to punt the ball from seven yards deep in its end zone.
Boris Bede’s kick was returned to the Argo 38, with seven ticks left. Boos rained down from the fans around me on the west side of BMO Field, behind the Toronto bench. Dinwiddie, understanding he had almost surely cost his team the game, stomped around in disgust, cursing himself. If the Lions had anything that resembled a field goal kicker, the visitors would have prevailed on the final play. As it were, Jimmy Camacho missed again, from 37 yards — the ball sailing through the end zone for a single point that tied the score and necessitated overtime.
ARGOS COACH RYAN DINWIDDIE STARES IN DISBELIEF AFTER MANGLING THE PLAY CLOCK IN THE DYING SECONDS OF SATURDAY’S HOME GAME AGAINST THE B.C. LIONS. TSN IMAGE
From my perspective, even more astounding than the coaching mistake was that the TSN broadcast crew of Marshall Ferguson and Matt Dunigan completely ignored the situation. Dunigan, the former great quarterback, ranks among the most–astute football observers on either side of the border. Yet, there wasn’t even a mention of Dinwiddie single–handedly destroying his own team. Instead, the TSN duo talked wistfully about how Camacho “may yet get another chance”… totally disregarding the reason why. This was not a matter of conflict–of–interest getting in the way. Yes, the Argos are owned by Bell Canada, which also owns TSN. But, the outspoken Dunigan would never allow such a crossover to govern his commentary. He simply got carried away with the remarkable sight of B.C.’s inept kicker trotting back onto the field. Only after the miss, and game–tying single, did Matt say “you’ve got Dinwiddie in disbelief that they’re in [this] situation.” A long–after–the–fact understatement.
The Argos prevailed, 31–29, in the extra session to clinch a playoff berth. And, Dinwiddie, talking afterward with reporters, called his decision a “brain fart” while admitting he apologized to his players in the dressing room.
HISTORIC TORONTO WEEKEND — 50 Years Ago
The newspaper landscape in Toronto changed as never before during this three–day period a half–century ago. And, the Toronto Maple Leafs — for the first of only two occasions in the post–expansion era of the National Hockey League (beginning in 1967–68) — played games on three consecutive nights. First came the demise of the Toronto Telegram, a broadsheet newspaper published since 1876. With the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, the Telegram was among three local dailies (the Globe being a national entity). A strike, in July 1964, of the International Typographical Union began the demise of the Telegram, owned by John Bassett, a part–owner of the Leafs and sole proprietor of the Toronto Argonauts. The paper hemorrhaged red ink, losing $635,000 in 1969 and $900,000 in 1970. It was moving toward an identical shortfall in 1971 when Bassett folded the paper on Oct. 30. The final edition (two copies, below) featured a red ’30’ on the cover: in newspaper parlance, the end of a story.
The Maple Leafs began the 1971–72 season stoically, with a 2–3–3 record in their first seven games. The home opener against Detroit on Oct. 13 was postponed after owner Stafford Smythe died in the morning. It was re–scheduled for Nov. 1, a Monday night. With a Saturday home game against Minnesota and a Sunday match in New York, it necessitated the Leafs playing three games in as many nights. This has occurred only once in the ensuing half–century: on Feb. 12–13–14, 1977, owing to a blizzard that paralyzed Buffalo and upstate New York.
The Leafs game at Memorial Auditorium of Feb. 7 was postponed and re–scheduled for the following Monday. As such, Toronto hosted Washington on Saturday night (a 10–0 victory); lost 8–3 to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, then got hammered, 7–2, by the Sabres in the make–up game on Monday. The three–game weekend of 1971 began against the Minnesota North Stars. I still have the program, below, in my collection. On the cover is an autograph from veteran forward Dean Prentice (Oct. 5, 1932 – Nov. 2, 2019) of Minnesota.
The North Stars, beginning their fifth NHL season, came to town blazing hot, with a 7–1–2 record in the West Division. And, they earned another point in a 1–1 tie with the Leafs. Dave Keon beat Gump Worsley for his first goal of the season midway through the second period. Murray Oliver scored on Bernie Parent to even the match early in the third. Oliver and Keon had been linemates in Toronto from 1967–68 to 1969–70. Referee Wally Harris had an easy night, calling only one minor penalty: against Leafs defenseman Bob Baun (for holding) late in the middle frame. Harris worked with linesmen John D’Amico and Terry Pierce. Minnesota outshot the Leafs, 32–26.
Parent was back in net the following night in New York and earned another draw, this time 3–3 with the Rangers. Third–period goals by Keon (shorthanded) and Jim Harrison (powerplay) dug the visitors out of a 4–2 hole created when New York scored three times in the opening frame. Ed Giacomin was in net for the Rangers, who held a 31–28 edge in shots. John Ashley officiated the game with linesmen Claude Bechard and Malcolm Ashford.
That same Sunday, many of the old Toronto Telegram employees moved down the street to work on the city’s first tabloid newspaper. And, the inaugural Toronto Sun appeared 50 years ago this morning — Nov. 1, 1971 — with Hamilton Tiger–Cats quarterback Joe Zuger on the cover (bottom–left). Zuger had been tackled near the sideline the previous day at the old CNE Stadium during Hamilton’s 23–15 victory over the Toronto Argonauts. Felled by Argo linemen Jim Stillwagon and Jim Corrigall, the veteran pivot separated his shoulder and would not dress for the upcoming CFL playoffs. The rear cover of the first Sun featured a rather–affordable (by today’s standards) turntable stereo system, available at the the Simpsons department store (1858–1991).
The first two pages of the inaugural Toronto Sun Sports section (above) focused on the Hamilton at Toronto football game. All Canadian newspapers in that era published scoring plays from CFL games, such as below.
The Sun’s first sports editor, George Gross (Jan. 23, 1923 – Mar. 21, 2008), penned an introductory column (above). And, the first hockey page (below) featured stories from the Leafs weekend games: Paul Rimstead covering at home against Minnesota; Eaton Howitt traveling to New York for the 3–3 draw with the Rangers.
Game summaries from the weekend ties against the North Stars and Rangers.
On Monday, hours after the first Toronto Sun hit the streets, the Maple Leafs played their third game in as many nights, the make–up encounter from Oct. 13. Despite weary legs, the Leafs hammered Detroit, 6–1, dropping the atrocious Red Wings to 3–9–0 after 12 games. Ron Ellis scored three goals to lead the home side. Paul Henderson (with two) and Dave Keon had the others. Henderson’s first goal, at 6:09 of the second period, stood up as the game winner. Tim Ecclestone scored a powerplay goal for Detroit early in the third. Jacques Plante stopped 27 Detroit shots for the win; former Leaf Al Smith took the loss at the other end.
The referee was Lloyd Gilmour; the linesmen, Ron Ego and Dave Shewchyk.
AND, 50 YEARS LATER…
THE FRONT AND REAR COVERS OF TODAY’S GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY SUN ISSUE.
TODAY’S 50th ANNIVERARY SPORTS FRONT, APPROPRIATELY RESERVED FOR VETERAN HOCKEY SCRIBE LANCE HORNBY.