TORONTO (May 19) — Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard, Steve Stavro, The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, Rogers Communications, Bell Canada, Larry Tanenbaum: Companies and individuals that have primarily owned the Toronto Maple Leafs since the club, in 1967, played for and won its most–recent Stanley Cup.
George (Punch) Imlach, Jim Gregory, Imlach (again), Gerry McNamara, Gord Stellick, Floyd Smith, Cliff Fletcher, Ken Dryden, Mike Smith, Pat Quinn, John Ferguson Jr., Fletcher (again), Brian Burke, David Nonis, Lou Lamoriello, Kyle Dubas: Men that have generally managed the Maple Leafs since 1967.
George (Punch) Imlach, John McLellan, Frank (King) Clancy, Leonard (Red) Kelly, Roger Neilson, Floyd Smith, Imlach (again), Dick Duff, Joe Crozier, Mike Nykoluk, Dan Maloney, John Brophy, George Armstrong, Doug Carpenter, Tom Watt, Pat Burns, Nick Beverley, Mike Murphy, Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice, Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle, Peter Horachek, Mike Babcock, Sheldon Keefe: Men that have coached the Maple Leafs since 1967.
George Armstrong, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Rob Ramage, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin, Dion Phaneuf, John Tavares: Men that have captained the Maple Leafs since the spring of 1967.
A total of 77 goalies — from Johnny Bower to Jett Alexander.
What do these corporations and individuals, many brilliant and accomplished, dubiously share? They have all contributed — one way or another — to the longest Stanley Cup drought in history: 56 years… and counting.
Today, the Leafs parted ways with their most-recent GM, Kyle Dubas.
LEAFS PRESIDENT BRENDAN SHANAHAN ADDRESSING REPORTERS EARLIER TODAY.
We now await the next holder of the keys to the Bay St. castle; inarguably, the most–important such person in modern franchise history. For, the 15th general manager of the Maple Leafs since 1967 must very quickly determine a path that may, or may not, include Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander — triangle cornerstones of the best regular–season clubs in Toronto hockey annals… and the teams that have most–glaringly underachieved when it matters: in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Presumably, and essentially, that individual will have no emotional attachment to the nucleus of the current roster, thereby forming an objective assessment. He will come to Toronto with a demonstrated record of achievement in the National Hockey League (not necessarily at the management level), as the era of placing a neophyte in the big chair must, at least, take a pause. His gargantuan task will clearly; perhaps dramatically, determine the immediate future of hockey’s most–disappointing team.
In a blog here on Mar. 6 (https://bit.ly/3ZMvP1s), I made it clear — and I reiterate — that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment should procure the two biggest winners in modern NHL history, both of whom are still connected to the game. If best pals and former teammates (in Edmonton and New York) Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier (a combined 4,744 regular–season points and 10 Stanley Cup titles) cannot put their heads together and find a way out of this 56–year morass, it likely will not happen. Toronto is viewed, by many, as the most–intense hockey market on the planet. MLSE is a multi–billion–dollar corporation. The Leafs need to stop recycling and experimenting.
It is time to proceed as hugely as possible, with two of the top five names in the modern annals of the sport.
Look at the progress of such other Hall–of–Fame players as Joe Sakic (Colorado), Steve Yzerman (Detroit; he largely constructed Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup roster) and Ron Francis of the second–year Seattle Kraken, which improved by a colossal 40 points this season and posted seven playoff victories this spring (two more than the Leafs) before bowing out in the decisive match of the Western Conference semifinals, against Dallas. As owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux has overseen a trio of Stanley Cup victories to go with the consecutive pair (in 1991 and 1992) he won as a player. So, the practice of deploying NHL legends after their careers is hardly novel. Neither Gretzky nor Messier are anyone’s fool. The next GM must barter aggressively with the Matthews’ camp to ensure the Leafs are not laundered by the perennial playoff disappointment, soon to gather all the negotiating cards with a no–movement clause in the final year of his contract. The current cast at MLSE will likely roll over for No. 34… and that’s not the blueprint of a winning and progressive team. Some may argue the Leafs went “big” with Brian Burke and Mike Babcock, to no avail. But, they also went comparatively “small” with John Ferguson and Dubas. If I’m going to fail, it will be alongside those that are most–affiliated with triumph in the NHL.
You cannot, in that realm, find a more–prolific duo than Gretzky and Messier.
These appointments obviously could not occur if Brendan Shanahan remains in his current position.
It is puzzling, to say the least, that MLSE continues to hitch its wagon to Shanahan, whose role in such decisions as hiring and firing Lamoriello; elevating Dubas; hiring Babcock; pushing for Tavares to sign a cap–choking, seven–year deal has borne virtually nothing beyond the regular schedule. Shanahan is a good person, solely responsible for the long–overdue practice of retiring the jersey numbers of Leaf superstars; of creating the splendid and elegant Legends Row outside Scotiabank Arena and for ending the 40–year estrangement between the hockey club and distinguished veteran Dave Keon. Brendan spoke candidly and graciously about Dubas at the start of today’s 3 p.m. gathering with reporters. But, the NHL is a business of winning. And, winning occurs in the Stanley Cup playoffs. To that end, Shanahan’s nearly decade–long tenure has not been a success. I don’t have confidence in the Mimico, Ont. native overseeing the appointment of another GM, particularly one that must tackle the monumental chore of the Matthews negotiation. There is too much history between president and player.
Whoever is put in charge of the Leafs must change the long–standing culture that surrounds the team. Hero worship from the local media, almost all of which is controlled or literally owned by the Leafs, contributes immeasurably. There is a near–complete absence of critical observation. It poisons the vulnerable fan base and leads directly to the maddening indifference heard from the players in their exit interviews with reporters on Monday. It also worsens over time. The early 2000’s group — dubbed, by Damien Cox, the Muskoka Five — evidently had it quite easy in and around town. But, that era was San Quentin compared to the current environment. At least the core of Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe won a few playoff rounds, advancing to the Stanley Cup semifinals in 2002. These guys couldn’t score in the Playboy Mansion after the regular season.
It says here, unequivocally, that the culture and dismal playoff record of the Leafs cannot change if Matthews remains the franchise kingpin. I would trade him before July 1, when he assumes unjust control over the team.
C.C.’s 4–OVERTIME ODYSSEY
What an astounding performance it was by Chris Cuthbert and Craig Simpson during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, which began around 7:15 p.m. on Thursday… and concluded at 1:53 a.m. on Friday. Matthew Tkachuk of the Florida Panthers finally ended the match with 12.7 seconds left in the fourth overtime period. It was the sixth–longest game in Stanley Cup history. Also on the mark were the behind–the–scenes people at Sportsnet — the TV replay and camera–switchers, who didn’t miss a beat. I emailed Cuthbert on Friday and asked for a few lines from Raleigh about his Game 1 odyssey. Generous as always, C.C. sent these remarks:
It was at least my fourth broadcast of such length. The most memorable was the five–overtime game in 2000, at Pittsburgh, between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. It remains the longest hockey game in the history of television and third–longest of all time. Keith Primeau won it for Philly at 12:01 of the fifth extra period. That game was more taxing because I ran out of water in the press box at Mellon Arena after the third overtime. I also called the San Jose at Dallas playoff marathon in 2008. Brenden Morrow scored on the powerplay at 9:03 of the fourth overtime and the Stars eliminated the Sharks. That game featured the best goalie save I’ve ever seen live — Evgeni Nabokov of San Jose robbing Brad Richards just before Morrow’s winner. After the game, I regretted not saying “Brenden Morrow… and there will be no tomorrow for the Sharks.” Anyway, the Florida at Carolina game on Thursday (and Friday) had the feel of a long overtime game from the second period, on. In fact, off the air, we joked it had the feel of a triple–overtime midway into regulation time. Sergei Bobrovsky was absolutely brilliant and has made 113 saves in the past two games. Our broadcast location was low inside the blue line, so we had a great perspective on many of his best saves. A lot of fans started to leave after the third overtime but the atmosphere in the arena at Raleigh is off the charts. Like always in the playoffs. It was a great way to start the series — the longest–ever game for both franchises. I get the feeling it won’t be our last multi–overtime game.
You had bigger fish to fry with all the news back home in Toronto.