Again, Leafs Fans, There’s Only One

TORONTO (May 13) — I’m going to begin by asking a question for which there is no logical answer: Why would the Maple Leafs, in their pursuit of a coach to replace Sheldon Keefe, look anywhere but in the direction of Joel Quenneville? There is only one person out there with the second–most wins in National Hockey League history. By blunt comparison, any other quest will be underwhelming. Whether it’s for Craig Berube, Bruce Boudreau, Gerard Gallant… or even Scotty Bowman, given the all–time leader in coaching victories recently turned 90 (not that he couldn’t still teach a lesson or two). According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Berube was in town over the weekend and met with the Leafs about their vacancy. Craig’s a good man… but he’s not Coach Q.

Yes, I can hear the sanctimonious echoes reverberating off my computer screen. I know… Joel was a bad boy 1½ decades ago. He looked the other way in the Kyle Beach sex assault case that involved an assistant (Brad Aldrich) with the Chicago Blackhawks. And, trust me, I am not here to make light of that appalling circumstance. Rather to suggest that perhaps Quenneville has done his time. And should be eligible to step back behind a bench in the NHL. This mandatorily involves the blessing of commissioner Gary Bettman… which should not be a given.

As mentioned, this was serious stuff. Quenneville needs to convey that he comprehends, as best he can, the severity of his cavalier mindset toward the barbarity that occurred partially on his watch. And… that he covets a second chance. As would any of us. Given what I know of Bettman, even if superficial, I’m convinced he would sign off on such a genuine proposal. Some may contend that the “erudites” in the high office at 60 Bay St. would not wish to be associated with an “incorrigible” figure. And, if so, it only substantiates the umbrella accusation toward Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — that vying for the Stanley Cup is secondary. The time for a stuffed suit to determine any part of the hockey club’s future has passed. Every effort and ambition from Keith Pelley, Brendan Shahanan and Brad Treliving should be toward finding the absolute best aspirant to coach the Leafs.

After 57 years, if a serial killer is the prime candidate, you take him.

I’m sure Joel would be thrilled with that analogy. But, I submit: Were he to somehow handclasp more out of the Corpse–4 in the playoffs, whatever needs to be forgiven by Leafs Nation will occur very quickly.

The best is potentially available. Just go out and get him.

Others will snarl “yeah, Berger, you said the same thing about Mike Babcock in 2015.”

So did everyone else.

Go back and find me one dissenting voice as it pertained to Babcock joining the Leafs. Even Mike Commodore, if memory serves me correctly, didn’t issue an all–points warning about his favorite hockey soul. I remember that afternoon so vividly. Billboards were instantly decorated with WELCOME MIKE messages. Toronto hockey fans, on the cusp on a degrading 2014–15 season, were euphoric. Hey, folks, it didn’t work out. Babcock hardly came as advertised by his formative years in Anaheim and his Stanley Cup adventures with Detroit in 2008 and 2009. Turns out the “pain” he referred to that day would be afflicted by him. Which clearly wasn’t the plan. But, neither does it mean you stop trying. Hypothetically, what if Quenneville and Babcock had been available at the same time? In May 2015, Joel was about to annex his third Cup as coach of the ‘Hawks. Would Babcock, by comparison, have appeared quite as luminous? Methinks not. Now, nearly a decade later, both men are again available.

Yet only one — as in 2015 — is best person for the job.

Of course, it begs the question: Do the Leafs particularly care if they hire the best man? A glance at the list of Leaf coaches since the 1967 Stanley Cup is hardly overwhelming… in spots. Even if extensive. Have a gander:

1967–69 George (Punch) Imlach / 1969-73 John McLellan / 1973–77 Red Kelly / 1977–79 Roger Neilson / 1979–80 Floyd Smith / 1980–81 Joe Crozier / 1981–84 Mike Nykoluk / 1984–86 Dan Maloney / 1986–88 John Brophy / 1988–89 George Armstrong / 1989–90 Doug Carpenter / 1990–92 Tom Watt / 1992–96 Pat Burns / 1996 (playoffs) Nick Beverley / 1996–98 Mike Murphy / 1998–2006 Pat Quinn / 2006–08 Paul Maurice / 2008–12 Ron Wilson / 2012–15 Randy Carlyle / 2015 Peter Horachek / 2015–19 Mike Babcock / 2019–24 Sheldon Keefe. At least there’s been a hint of stability with only two men guiding the club since 2015. In the late–80’s and early–90’s, the Leafs went through coaches like a whale gobbles sardines. There aren’t many tough acts to follow for whoever is next man up — the 23rd since 1967. Why shouldn’t the Maple Leafs step beyond their comfort zone and pursue the top name to guide them into the next quarter–century of this millennium (wasn’t it, like, yesterday that we were gripping over Y2K? Where does time go?). Joel Quenneville is that man. Undoubtedly. If Pelley doesn’t go after him, he’ll be coaching somewhere else in the NHL. Which would oblige the Maple Leafs to settle for second–best.

A franchise trademark in the post–expansion era.


Bob Pulford. Frank Mahovlich. Dave Keon. Brian Conacher. Pete Stemkowski. Mike Walton. That’s it. Only six players now remain from the 21 pictured, below, in the 1967 Stanley Cup photo. Even the young bucks from that championship team are leaving us: Jim Pappin died on June 29, 2022. And, we lost ol’ “Chevy” this week when Ron Ellis passed away at 79. There are three former Leafs that have never received proper recognition by the hockey club. Two of them died recently — Ellis and Bob Baun (Aug. 14, 2023). The other is still very much among us: Rick Vaive, the first player to score 50 goals in a season for the Blue and White (he did it three times).

More on this topic in a later blog. For now, it’s about Ellis.

Ron may have been a victim of his own dignity and deference. He simply never created a fuss.

All he did was fly up and down his wing as one of the most–dependable, positionally sound and energetic forwards in Maple Leafs history. And, arguably, the proudest. He appeared in 1,034 games in the NHL, all with the Leafs, from 1964–81. Over the span of ten seasons (1966–78), Ellis scored a minimum 22 goals (he did not play from 1975–77). His career highwater mark of 35 occurred in 1969–70. Off the ice, Ron reminded me of my father. And, there is no higher compliment I can pay a man. Ellis was entirely devoid of ego. As with my Dad, he didn’t know how to treat one person differently from another. Like many of us in the media, we watched Ron play for the Leafs when we were kids… then got to know him during his time (1993–2017) as director of public affairs at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I was so honored, back in 2015, when attending an event at the Hall with Bobby Orr. Prior to which I said hello to Ron outside the HHOF’s video theatre. Later on, as I was gathering my stuff to leave, I heard someone say “Howard, just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog.” I turned around to see the smiling face of that man who wore No. 6 for the Maple Leafs. I was so touched and heartened by Ron’s kind words.

Sadly, Ellis was beset by anxiety and depression through most of his adult life. It’s the reason he stepped away from the game, at age 30, for two seasons. No one loved Ron more as a teammate and friend than Paul Henderson, the legendary hero of the ’72 Summit Series. Ellis and Henderson played on the same Leafs forward line (centered by Norm Ullman) from 1968–75. When Paul turned 80, a year ago January, I went to his house in Mississauga for my blog. Inevitably, the subject of Ellis arose: “Ron is the nicest human being I have ever known; just the salt of the earth, but he cannot shake the depression demon,” Paul said. “It tears me apart to see him suffer and I feel so helpless. All I can do is pray for him. He rarely ventures outside his home today. When we talk on the phone, he says ‘Paul, I have this cloud following me and it just won’t go away.’” Ellis Henderson and Bobby Clarke of the Philadelphia Flyers formed Team Canada’s most–effective line during the 1972 series. “I remember a time about 25 years ago when he was working for the Hockey Hall of Fame. My phone rang and it was Ronny. ‘I’m sitting in my car in the underground garage here, Paul, and I’m paralyzed. I don’t know what to do.’ Every so often the depression lifts to the point where Ron can feel better and socialize [Ellis attended most of the Team Canada ’72 reunions through the years]. But, then it comes back and he just fades into the background again.

“It’s so debilitating and so unfair.”

Speaking of wonderful people, my long–time friend and mentor, John Iaboni, sent this note about Ellis. John was an original staff writer at the Toronto Sun when it rose from the ashes of the old Toronto Telegram in late–1971. He covered the Leafs throughout the ’70’s, during the brief period in which the club rose to prominence with Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming and, yes, Ron Ellis, who returned in 1977–78 after a two–season hiatus.

Over to you, ‘Boni…

I covered Ron’s career starting in 1971 until his retirement, including his time with Team Canada 1972 for that team’s training camp and the first two games of the Summit Series. Team Canada would never have won the series had it not been for the line of Bobby Clarke, Paul Henderson and Ron Ellis. He started as No. 8 before Leafs legend Irvine (Ace) Bailey, who so admired him, offered to take his No. 6 out of retirement because he wanted Ron to wear it. Ron was, without doubt, my pick as the most consistent Maple Leaf of all time and because of that he was truly underrated for everything he provided. Meaning, what he brought each and every day — on and off the ice. Without a doubt, he was one of the most decent people I have ever met. That’s why news of his passing hit me so hard. When I last saw Ron, many years ago, I was able to tell him how solid and respected he was in my eyes because I don’t think he understood how everyone he touched felt exactly the same way. Ron was pure class and I feel blessed that I covered so much of his career, right up until the time he bid farewell the Leafs. I also watched him many an afternoon at Maple Leaf Gardens during his years in Junior with the Toronto Marlboros. I admired how he shadowed Bobby Hull when he arrived in the NHL. No small feat, for sure, but Punch Imlach was correct to believe that young Ellis could handle it. All his 20–goal seasons when that stat mattered…

I could go on and on. May he rest in peace.

As John mentioned, he was on hand, in January 1981, when Ellis and the Leafs parted ways:


20 comments on “Again, Leafs Fans, There’s Only One

  1. Berube is the best candidate for the Leafs. He many traits Keefe doesn’t have, both to his coaching style and personality. Will be refreshing to have him as coach. After hiring the new coach, Treliving’s first exercise will be spring cleaning of the player roster. Who to keep and who not to keep. Here’s the current roster minus ufas:

    Tavares Matthews Marner
    Knies Holmberg Nylander
    Robertson Kampf Jarnkrok
    McMann Dewar Reaves

    Rielly Liljegren
    McCabe Timmins


    $69.2 M are already committed and $4M are required to qualify the 4 rfas on the roster. That leaves approximately $14M with which to sign a minimum of four players to round out the roster.

    So who do we want to keep of the players that were here this season?

    As we can see, the forward group is complete without retaining Domi or Bertuzzi. We need help on defense and in goal.

    Lyubushkin and Edmundson did some nice work in the playoffs and slotted in well with their pairings and into their roles. They need to be retained.

    Samsonov played well at times and struggled at times. We can see he’s not a number one goalie but he is a tandem guy having played 40+ games the past three seasons, one of them in Washington. He can be re-signed.

    Those can should be signed at $3M each for Samsonov and Edmundson and $2M for the Boosh. That’s $8M and leaves $6M.

    They’ll need a right wing bottom six and another goalie. Another number two that can be relied upon in case of injury or poor play by either of the other two. $2M there and $1or$2M for the forward. Alex Steeves also needs to be resigned and there you have your team for next near with a little cap room. Not too bad. Not a cup contender but something to work with and build from.

    So, let Domi and Bert walk. They weren’t good enough and Leafs have a long way to go and need to bring up and play the youth. The big three are all in their primes and will remain there for the next four years. That’s the window, but with a lot of improvement required. Keep the draft picks and the prospects. Without them there is no future.

    This has been a fun exercise? Anyone else out there want to do it?

    1. Respectfully, if Treliving runs out the lineup you note he’ll be pushed off the same plank Keefe just walked.
      A team icing a defence that relies on Liligren, timmins, Edmonston and Lubushkin is going to be hard pressed to make the playoffs, not to mention Holmberg as a 2nd line centre.

  2. Jeff Marek was saying Quennville may be reinstated 1 day but the league does not want to appear to be doing special favors for the Leafs.

  3. Feel the pulse of the Leaf fans and the ones who post are vehemently against hiring Joel Queenville. They all swear to disown the Leafs if the Leafs hire JQ.

  4. On the list of coaches, there are some good names but almost all of them were starting and learning with the Leafs soon to move on to be better. Only Burns and Quinn were real and good NHL coaches worth having.

  5. Joel Quenneville and other Blackhawk executives mishandled the case of a sexual predator within their organization. They couldn’t be bothered to do a proper investigation because they prioritized their playoff run ahead of the health and well being of members of their organization. In reading the detailed report regarding this sad affair it becomes clear that they decided he was kind of a bad guy that they wanted out of their organization. But they didn’t want to actually figure out the true facts. So Mr. Aldrich (predictably if you understand how predators work) went off to work for other organizations involved in youth hockey. Where he predictably abused other young people and eventually went to jail for his crimes. Some things are so serious that maybe you don’t get a second chance. I’m one of those sanctimonious hockey fans that think turning a blind eye to sexual predators and allowing them to repeat that behavior among vulnerable youth qualifies as serious enough.

    1. I understand and value your belief. At the same time, I’m partially of the belief that people who didn’t do any part of it should be given another chance depending on several factors such as their ability to speak up about the situation, their extent of knowledge about it, etc. I don’t know enough of the siuation to say whether Quennville should have done more.

  6. Quenneville is a pipe dream Howard. The corporation MLSE wouldn’t dare risk the hit or insinuations about their “morality” or ethics. Imagine the preachy, judgemental articles in the Star and Globe alone, not to mention the Athletic.
    Jeez, Damien Cox and Bruce Arthur ALONE would feast on his hiring for weeks or months, and it wouldn’t just be in the Star sports section. High dudgeon all around and here’s your branded torch and pitchfork free with a subscription.
    Honestly, I don’t think there is or has been a coach who could move the needle with these 4 guys. Rich beyond their wildest dreams before 30 years old, worshipped and apparently deified by the majority of fans and apparently all such models of leadership they warrant a captainship and assistant letters just to reinforce their near infallibility all acquired with a minimum of fuss, discomfort or accomplishment.

  7. Ron Ellis played with all his heart. Off the ice he was the consummate gentleman and so very much respected. God bless

  8. The passing of Ron Ellis is a real loss for the hockey world. It’s such a shame he was never properly honoured by the Leafs for his terrific career and presented with a Silver Stick, for playing one thousand plus NHL games – all with the Leafs. He carried himself with so much more class than the organization he played for.

  9. Howard it does not matter if the LEAFS want him they may have been told by BETTMAN that he will not reinstate him.

  10. Well said, Howard. I have believe Quenneville would be great for the Leafs; the Chicago issue is long in the past. He didn’t go to prison.

  11. I told Ron that my favorite hockey line was Ullman, Henderson & Ellis. The next time I saw him, he had a present for me. A framed sketch of the “HUE” line. What a gentleman. He invited me to an event he hosted to celebrate Vic Hadfield’s career. Last time I saw him. I am so, so blessed to have known him.
    It is is travesty that his name/# has not been retired by the Leafs.

  12. I know this will sound like a pipe dream, but you know who’d I like to see coach the Leafs? Doug Gilmour. Aside from being one of the greatest Leaf superstars ever, he’s coached at the minor league level, much the same as Keefe. But, unlike Keefe, he’s a local legend, loved by the fans and knows how to win. He’s only 60, young enough to rise to the challenge of coaching. But the Leafs’s top brass would never go for it. Instead…is Floyd Smith still around?

    1. Gilmour has only coached in the OHL and only 1 team for which he was shifted to GM then to President then out the door.. He has NOT coached or even been an assistantcoach of any AHL or NHL team. A player being good means little to whether they can be good as a coach, GM or President! Those are totally different skill sets from being a player.

  13. Howard
    You are 100% correct. IF you’re serious about making your core etc. accountable, Joel Quenneville is the ONLY name that pops into my head. The supposed frontrunners mentioned in the media are simply a tired rehash that will merely fill space and accomplish nothing. Same Old, same old. Can’t Tre see this? Say it ain’t so.

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