TORONTO (Apr. 20) — The numbers are more impressive than ever, but this is largely a “been there, done that” season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Which is evident in nearly all the right places amid mainstream media.
Yes, Damien Cox wrote last week in the Toronto Star that this is a “different” Maple Leafs club than the first–round playoff fodder of the past half decade (he could be right). And, we had typical embellishment at team–owned Sportsnet with this flowery headline after Tuesday night’s home–ice win over 29th–place Philadelphia: MAPLE LEAFS’ MOST SENIOR TRIO DEFY TIME WITH FLASH OF WELL–AGED BRILLIANCE. “Three 1,000–game players. Three locals. One vintage game–winning goal. Tic–tac–toe. Old–older–oldest. Beauty–beauty–beauty”, wrote an ecstatic Luke Fox about Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza and Mark Giordano (a trio of well–past–their–prime vets that isn’t likely to contribute much in the post season) combining for the decisive tally against Martin Jones in a 5–2 victory. Otherwise, business starts on May 2 for the club with the longest Stanley Cup drought.
The playoffs are on the horizon and bold predictions are justifiably scarce. A more–contained and qualified headline accompanied Lance Hornby’s article in the Toronto Sun: PLAYOFF–READY CAMPBELL REACHES 30 WINS AS LEAFS DEFEAT FLYERS. “In their second game without injured star Auston Matthews, the Leafs needed the poised [Jack] Campbell to be stingy with rebounds. He made 37 saves in a 5–2 victory, securing his 30th win, plus his 50th as a Leaf, just the 20th goalie in franchise history to do so,” offered the dean of Toronto hockey writers.
Campbell’s story is paramount to any designs the Leafs have this spring.
The best Toronto goalie since Ed Belfour, he lapsed into an inexplicable funk after the All Star break; then spent nearly a month recovering from a purported “rib” injury. Whether it was partly (or largely) an emotional hiatus matters not anymore. The Maple Leafs need Campbell to resemble the Top 3 netminder of the first half of the schedule. Otherwise, the club has virtually no chance to upend Boston or Tampa Bay in the opening playoff series.
But, the approach is decidedly businesslike in a hockey market with too many disappointments to recall, including the most gut–wrenching of the salary cap era (beginning in 2005–06) — last year’s monumental collapse against the Canadiens in the first Toronto–Montreal playoff clash since 1979. The Leafs are a near–perfect 11–1–1 in their past 13 games, erasing franchise marks for wins (49) and points (105) in a full, 82–game schedule. Yet, there is no dancing in the streets. The denizens of Leafs Nation understand that no matter how spectacular the numbers look (51–20–6 for an all–time club high 108 points), it is merely a dress rehearsal; a prelude to the only business that matters. Despite a season in which Auston Matthews (102 points) and Mitch Marner (95 points) are threatening the franchise–record 210 points amassed by Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk in 1993–94, neither man has been able to lift the Maple Leafs beyond the opening round of Stanley Cup toil. Fans have seen the movie all–too often. Sequels are no longer valid. As such, anticipatory eyes around here look toward the first week of May.
Not in recent memory has there been a more–muted celebration of accomplishment by the Blue and White.
Nowhere, for example, is there an outcry over resting Matthews the past couple of games, evidently because of a minor ailment. Matthews has already topped the franchise mark for goals in a season (with 58). If the Leafs are merely offering him some load management in the last fortnight of the season, they need not fabricate an injury excuse. Again, it’s an example of how this mostly ill–fated hockey market appears to be maturing. In prior years, fan and media attention would have zeroed in on Sheldon Keefe limiting the opportunity for Matthews to become the first 60–goal shooter in the National Hockey League since Steven Stamkos of the Lightning, a decade ago.
Today? Not a peep. The Big 3 records (team wins, team points, individual goals scored) have been eclipsed.
Soon, the time will come to eradicate the 55–year famine. And, with it, lots of opportunity for hysteria.
Right now, there is a dearth of hockey noise here in the Big Smoke. It’s rather remarkable.
50–WIN NHL SEASONS
This is the 51st National Hockey League season since the Boston Bruins of 1970–71 became the first team to record 50 victories. In all but eight full seasons (80–84 games), at least one club has reached the 50–win mark. The Maple Leafs became the 30th team, in total, to accomplish the feat. In 15 of the seasons, as indicated in blue, the Stanley Cup champion won at least 50 games. As you can see near the bottom, the frequency of 50–win seasons increased beginning in 2005–06, when shootouts were introduced to eliminate ties. Here is a chronological list:
Season Stanley Cup Champion No 50–win Team
1970–71: Boston (57). 1971–72: Boston (54). 1972–73: Montreal (52), Boston (51).
1973–74: Boston (52), Philadelphia (50). 1974–75: Philadelphia (51).
1975–76: Montreal (58), Philadelphia (51). 1976–77: Montreal (60).
1977–78: Montreal (59), Boston (51). 1978–79: Montreal (52), New York Islanders (51).
1979–80: None. 1980–81: None. 1981–82: New York Islanders (54). 1982–83: Boston (50).
1983–84: Edmonton (57), New York Islanders (50). 1984–85: Philadelphia (53).
1985–86: Edmonton (56), Philadelphia (53), Washington (50). 1986–87: Edmonton (50).
1987–88: None. 1988–89: Calgary (54), Montreal (53). 1989–90: None. 1990–91: None.
1991–92: New York Rangers (50). 1992–93: Pittsburgh (56), Boston (51).
1993–94: New York Rangers (52).1994–95: None (48–game schedule). 1995–96: Detroit* (62).
THE DYNASTIC MONTREAL CANADIENS WON 229 GAMES OVER FOUR STANLEY CUP YEARS (1976–79).
1996–97: None. 1997–98: None. 1998–99: Dallas (51). 1999–2000: St. Louis (51).
2000–01: Chicago (52). 2001–02: Detroit (51). 2002–03: Ottawa (52). 2003–04: None.
2004–05: None (season canceled by owners’ lockout).
2005–06: Detroit (58), Dallas (53), Ottawa, Carolina (52); Buffalo (52).
2006–07: Buffalo (53), Nashville, San Jose (51); Detroit, Dallas (50). 2007–08: Detroit (54).
2008–09: San Jose, Boston (53); Detroit, New Jersey (51); Washington (50).
2009–10: Washington (54), Chicago (52), San Jose (51), Phoenix (50).
2010–11: Vancouver (54). 2011–12: Vancouver, New York Rangers (51); Pittsburgh (51).
2012–13: None (48–game schedule).
2013–14: Anaheim, Boston (54); Colorado, St. Louis (52); San Jose, Pittsburgh (51).
2014–15: New York Rangers (53), St. Louis, Anaheim (51); Montreal, Tampa Bay (50).
2015–16: Washington (56), Dallas (50).
2016–17: Washington (55); Pittsburgh, Columbus, Chicago (50).
2017–18: Tampa Bay (54), Nashville (53), Winnipeg (52), Vegas (51), Boston (50).
2018–19: Tampa Bay* (62), Calgary (50).
2019–20: None (teams played 69–71 games in first season of COVID–19 pandemic).
2020–21: None (teams played 56–game season, shortened by pandemic).
2021–22: Colorado (55), Florida (55), Toronto (51), New York Rangers (50).
LAST SEASON THAT CANADIAN TEAMS WON 50 GAMES:
TORONTO (2021-22); CALGARY (2018–19); WINNIPEG (2017–18); MONTREAL (2014–15);
VANCOUVER (2011–12); OTTAWA (2005–06); EDMONTON (1986–87).
BAD, BAD LEROY BROWN…
The story has been told. And, re–told. Yet, it’s still underplayed.
Imagine growing up in Toronto in the late–1990’s and early 2000’s amid so many proud Italian–Canadians watching the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs with your fellow sports fanatics. Then, at age 28, becoming the undisputed closer of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. With your family and friends watching from the seats. Pretty cool, huh?
Today, Markham native Jordan Romano has evolved into kind of a folk hero among the locals. When scruffily decked in beard and mustache, he looks (for those of vintage) like the twin–brother of 1970’s folk–music icon Jim Croce (“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown / Time In A Bottle / I Got A Name”). When he goes to the mound in the late innings with an ornery scowl, Romano offers the Blue Jays near perfection. On Apr. 11, he broke the team record of 25 saves in as many opportunities, held by Tom Henke of the 1992 World Series champion. “Growing up it was starters like Roy Halladay, even Ricky Romero, that I was a really big fan of,” Romano said after eclipsing Henke.
“I didn’t watch the bullpen guys too much. But, now, I’m one of them.”
TORONTO BLUE JAYS CLOSER JORDAN ROMANO, BORN NORTHEAST OF THE CITY IN MARKHAM, IS A DEAD–RINGER FOR JIM CROCE (LEFT), THE COUNTRY MUSIC ICON WHO LOST HIS LIFE AT 30 IN A PLANE CRASH ON SEP. 20, 1973.
Romano leads the Major Leagues with six saves, one more than Daniel Bard (Colorado), Josh Hader (Milwaukee) and Taylor Rogers (San Diego). His potential impact on the Toronto sports scene, as a local, could be unparalleled. Virtually all of the great former Leafs, for example, were born elsewhere, save for Charlie Conacher (1930–38). Look at the names (and birth places): King Clancy (Ottawa), Syl Apps (Paris, Ont.), Ted Kennedy (Port Colborne, Ont.), Turk Broda (Brandon), George Armstrong (Skead, Ont.), Tim Horton (Cochrane, Ont.), Johnny Bower (Prince Albert, Sask.), Frank Mahovlich (Timmins), Red Kelly (Simcoe, Ont.), Dave Keon (Noranda, Que.), Bob Pulford (Newton–Robinson, Ont.), Norm Ullman (Provost, Alta.), Darryl Sittler (Kitchener), Borje Salming (Kiruna, Sweden), Lanny McDonald (Hanna, Alta.), Rick Vaive (Ottawa), Wendel Clark (Kelvington, Sask.), Doug Gilmour (Kingston, Ont.), Dave Andreychuk (Hamilton), Curtis Joseph (Keswick, Ont.), Mats Sundin (Bromma, Sweden), Phil Kessel (Madison, Wisc.). Among the current Leaf stars, Morgan Rielly is from Vancouver; Jack Campbell from Port Huron, Mich.; William Nylander from Calgary and Auston Matthews from San Ramon, Calif.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is represented only by John Tavares (Mississauga) and Mitch Marner (Markham).
No wonder so many local eyes are on Jordan Romano.
FROM THE VAULT
Random items from my hockey collection…
IT’S BEEN AWHILE SINCE POCKET BOOKS SOLD FOR $1 and $1.25. THESE INFORMATION VOLUMES — LONG BEFORE THE INTERNET ERA — WERE PUBLISHED IN 1970 (LEFT) AND 1971.
PUBLISHED BY THE NHL AFTER THE PLAYOFFS, THESE ITEMS CAME OUT IN 1963 AND 1965.
NHL PREVIEW POCKET BOOKS THAT DATE NEARLY HALF–A–CENTURY.
MAPLE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE FROM THE 1966–67 STANLEY CUP SEASON. AND, THE FIRST OF TWO MEDIA GUIDES PUBLISHED BY THE CLEVELAND BARONS, WHO MOVED FROM OAKLAND IN 1976 AND LASTED ONLY TWO YEARS IN OHIO BEFORE MERGING WITH THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS.