TORONTO (Dec. 21) — There is no question anymore that Auston Matthews is the greatest sniper in the 107–year history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To these eyes, in more than half–a–century watching the team, only Lanny McDonald could propel the puck with such velocity and laser–precision. As with all players today, Matthews holds an advantage over the stars of yesteryear with the composite–material sticks that are veritable slingshots compared to the old wooden items. One can barely comprehend the scoring numbers of Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Brett Hull and others had the lightweight models been conceived earlier.
Matthews leads the National Hockey League with 25 goals after 28 games, putting him on pace for 77. If achieved, that number would represent the fifth–highest total of any player in one season, trailing only Gretzky (92 goals in 1981–82; 87 goals in 1983–84), Hull (86 goals in 1990–91) and Lemieux (85 goals in 1988–89). Alexander Mogilny (Buffalo), Phil Esposito (Boston) and Teemu Selanne (Winnipeg) each recorded 76 goals in a season. Barring a lengthy slump or injury, Matthews will comfortably surpass his team record of 60 goals (35th, all time, in one season), registered in 2021–22. He has twice won the Rocket Richard Trophy for topping the NHL.
But, folks, I think you know where this is going.
In the first two paragraphs, I deliberately broke my self–imposed rule of lauding Matthews (and the Leafs) for regular–season accomplishment. That went out the door, in this space, after the playoff debacle against Montreal nearly three years ago… and wasn’t even considered when Matthews failed to show in the second Stanley Cup round, last year, against Florida (he finished tied for goals, in that five–game series, with Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll). Sadly, I remain on an island. There is still way too much emphasis, in the mainstream media, on what Matthews can achieve between October and April. Disdained, nearly across the board, is the subject of comparative playoff efficiency, as if seven years of virtually nothing in the Stanley Cup chase is a side–note to his career. At least Noodles McLennan had the mettle to speak up on TSN’s Overdrive Wednesday night. While Bryan Hayes and Jeff O’Neill were immortalizing No. 34, McLennan interjected, “yeah, but isn’t it about winning? Shouldn’t we be talking about how it relates to the playoffs?” A rhetorical question, but one that sorely needed to be posed. As it should in multiple attempts (print and electronic) to lionize Matthews yet again.
Look, I was in the 24–hour, all–sports cycle for nearly two decades at The FAN–590. Though a reporter, not a host, it wasn’t always easy to come up with a fresh angle. Barring an addition to the team, I never — and I mean NEVER — took the easy way out and filed a story on that day’s forward lines, as do today’s reporters after virtually every practice and morning skate. Want to get home in plenty of time to rest before dinner, do a story on lines. Looking for a unique angle requires some actual work. In our current environment, where the Maple Leafs are owned by the two sports–TV networks, the editors and directors mainly ensure that their pundits aren’t too hard on the home team. The Leafs continue to receive fluff coverage nearly every day. Even when they lose decisively, as against New York on Tuesday, it was “bad bounces” that caused the defeat. Talking about another hollow (if impressive) scoring feat by Matthews perfectly suits media executives, whose salaries are paid by the Leafs (TSN and Sportsnet control 75% of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment). I wouldn’t have lasted three days in my old job: covering the Leafs with a critical eye. The FAN–590, during my years (1992–2011), was owned by Telemedia Communications (Montreal); then Rogers here in town. Neither company had a stake in the club until 2013.
As another Howard once said, it was easier, back then, to “tell it like it is.”
Still, there is way too much glorifying of Matthews. Yes, we know he can score; that’s why the Maple Leafs took him first overall in the 2016 NHL draft. We also know, repeatedly, that he can die like a dog when the stakes increase, as most glaringly against Florida last spring. With the cross–pollination of media/team ownership, it’s unlikely the local pundits will ever grow tired of celebrating regular–season success. While welcoming back, with open arms, the same failed nucleus after each playoff calamity. Want to know why MLSE ranks among the laziest ownership groups in the NHL? Just look around. Acceptance of failure, when it most matters, has become routine.
MORE BASEBALL CAP LOGOS
From my collection, teams you know of, remember, and may never have heard about:
They played for only two seasons in the old International Hockey League, but the Minnesota Moose filled a void between the NHL North Stars and Wild. They also crafted (above) one of the great sports logos. The franchise moved from St. Paul to Winnipeg and played as the Manitoba Moose until 2011, when the NHL returned to the ‘Peg with the relocated Atlanta Thrashers.
I realized, this week, that I have three Hartford Whalers caps. Including the above item.
This cap was among the media souvenirs at the 2001 NHL All–Star game in Denver, which I covered for The FAN–590. A few months later, I’d be back at the Pepsi Center for the Stanley Cup final, in which Raymond Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche defeated the New Jersey Devils.
Some great old logos from the NHL’s early expansion era. Above: Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. Below: the Minnesota North Stars, Buffalo Sabres and Atlanta Flames.
Another splendid logo (above) from the International Hockey League. The Houston Aeros adopted the name used by the old World Hockey Association team and played in the Compaq/Toyota Center from 1994 to 2013. For eight Major League Baseball seasons (2004–2011), the Toronto Blue Jays sported a completely different color scheme and look (below). Gone was the familiar white, red and blue combo, replaced by silver, graphite, black and light blue.
This Blue Bombers cap could be my favorite, purchased in bone–cold Winnipeg while covering the 1991 Grey Cup between the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders.