Edmonton Is Toronto’s Daddy

TORONTO (June 23) — There are conflicting emotional repercussions to the Edmonton Oilers in the 2024 Stanley Cup final. In the Alberta capital, nothing is sane at the moment. How could it be? The Oilers — Wayne Gretzky’s team — are on the cusp of equaling the greatest comeback in professional sports history. For, no matter what league, rebounding to win a best–of–seven playoff round after trailing 3–0 in games cannot be surpassed.

The odds of it happening are close to impossible. In the century–plus of North American professional sport, only five National Hockey League teams and the 2004 New York Yankees (against Boston in the American League Championship) have accomplished the feat. It hasn’t yet occurred in the National Basketball Association (formed in 1946). Neither has it taken place in the NHL since the 2014 playoffs, when the eventual–champion Los Angeles Kings boomeranged against the San Jose Sharks. So, yeah, northern Alberta is going rather berserk right now.

Here in the Big Smoke; the self–professed capital of hockey, circumstances aren’t so pleasant. If you listen closely, you can hear fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs moaning “that should be us!” How could a Canadian–based club with the “best player in the world” be idle now for nearly two months? While the second–best player, from that hick town out west, imitates Gretzky during four playoff rounds in the same year? Yes, I’m being facetious. Maybe even obnoxious. But, oh, is it tough, right now, in this beleaguered hockey market. Watching a national rival not only vie to become the first team since 1993 from north of the 49th to win the championship… but only the second in Cup final history to pull off a complete reversal. After the 1942 Leafs. And, I don’t think Toronto is still dining on that one. Were Auston Matthews, not Connor McDavid, the actual “best player in the world”, it might be the Maple Leafs coming back against Florida this spring. But, that storyline only exists in the local, club–owned media… and only while No. 34 tears it up in the regular season. When it begins to matter each spring, he is largely a non factor.

McDavid, conversely, is the fourth–best hockey player I’ve seen in my life, behind only Bobby Orr, Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. With some clutch goaltending by Stuart Skinner and the remarkable evolution of Evan Bouchard (32 points in 24 games) into a Norris Trophy type, the Oilers are finally supporting McDavid (42 points in 24 games) and Leon Draisaitl. Both players (McDavid and Bouchard) are five points shy of equaling Stanley Cup records — McDavid for most points in one year (Gretzky had 47 in 1984–85) and Bouchard trailing Paul Coffey, who had 37 points in that ’85 Stanley Cup run by the Oilers. Matthews has 48 points in 55 career playoff games.

So, this truly is a remarkable story. Even if somewhat anticipated, for no player in professional sport can be among the all–time greats until he wins a championship. McDavid obviously has the physical gifts — only Coffey, in my life, has skated as fluidly — but he’ll move into the reserved pantheon with a Stanley Cup ring. And, will undoubtedly win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP… unless, perhaps, the Oilers get hammered in Game 7.

Otherwise, Connor’s name is already being engraved.

As I watched Game 6 from Rogers Place, my mind briefly flashed to the night of Apr. 18–19, 1987 and the “Easter Epic” at the old Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. Stayed up past 2:30 a.m. in my first bachelor pad to see the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals play the longest hockey game, at the time, in the history of television (which, in 1987, spanned only 35 years). Game 7 of the Patrick Division semifinals. Won by Hall–of–Famer Pat LaFontaine on a low, spin–around shot that fooled Bob Mason at 8:47 of the fourth overtime period.

My Lord, the intermissions just kept coming and coming that night.

After the second overtime period, TV viewers understood they were witnessing a special event.

As so many of us feel, today, during this improbable Oilers comeback. Monday’s decisive match should generate the largest TV audience in Canada for a hockey game since the gold medal showdown at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. When Sidney Crosby scored for the home side in overtime to edge the United States. Or, as a wise guy at work put it, “the highest viewership numbers since Game 2 of the Leafs–Boston series in May.”

Chris standing up holding his daughter Elva
McDavid went to Edmonton as the first pick of the 2015 NHL draft. Matthews joined the Leafs, first overall, the following year. For a long while, their careers ran parallel, as neither man enjoyed playoff success. Then the Maple Leafs folded against Montreal in the pandemic tournament of 2021, blowing a 3–1 series lead. A year later, as Toronto was losing in the first round to Tampa Bay, McDavid tore off a playoff–leading 33 points in 16 games, anchoring the Oilers to a berth in the Stanley Cup semifinals, where the club lost to eventual–champion Colorado. In 2022–23, Connor whizzed by all others on the planet with a Gretzky/Lemieux–type season: 64 goals, 89 assists, 153 points; all league–leading totals. Now, McDavid is one victory shy of helping to author the greatest Cup final rebound in 82 years. While Matthews and his legion of never–doubters settle for goals between October and April.

God only knows how even the most–zealous Leaf supporter can get excited over another regular season… as he or she comprehends what is now certain to follow. Big deal if Matthews has a streak of 12 goals in 10 games next March? Haven’t we seen it before? Yet, every year, the excitement mushrooms in Leafs Land, only to watch the same cast of players wither in the clutch. Somehow, that continues to work in this marshmallow–soft market and (as I’ve written several times) is therefore a brilliant business model for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment; one that appears failsafe. Insist you’re going to win, but never threaten to actually do it. The media is paid (most by MLSE) to offer a silver lining for any Leafs situation. The poor fans simply need to endure.

And, hockey endurance around here is rather gut churning at the moment. Not only has Edmonton left the Maple Leafs in the dust among Canadian NHL teams; not only has McDavid put the silly “best–player” argument to bed, but a homegrown chap Toronto allowed to walk as a free agent is sitting on 16 goals, six more than anyone else in the Stanley Cup tournament. Methinks Zach Hyman isn’t pining uproariously for his Maple Leaf years, even if he grew up north of the city. Imagine the Leafs giving away 70 goals (54 in the regular season). For nada. Bupkis.

As the club will likely part with nearly 100 points after next season. Also for nothing. When Mitch Marner flees.

Of course, McDavid could nicely fill the void… two summers from now (nudge, wink).

SEAN OF THE BLUE JAYS: The man calling the play for ABC in the Stanley Cup final has a unique Toronto connection. Sean McDonough, today, is 62. When he was 30 and 31, McDonough called the consecutive Blue Jays World Series triumphs for CBS. Including Joe Carter’s walk–off home run against Philadelphia, at SkyDome, in 1993. A year earlier, at the old Atlanta Fulton–County Stadium, McDonough announced the initial conquest by saying “for the first time, the World Series flag will fly north of the border… the Toronto Blue Jays are champions of 1992.” Sean’s late father, Will McDonough, was a sports broadcasting legend in Boston, who made a name, nationally, as a reporter on NBC’s NFL Live pre–game show from 1991–93. The elder McDonough died in 2003.


Went to the Toronto–Edmonton football game Saturday night at BMO Field with my close pal, Joel Colomby, who has been dumping his sports memorabilia… into my hands. Not that I’m complaining. I drove Joel home after the game and he asked me to wait in my car. He went inside and returned, moments later, with these items. ESSO pocket schedules (above) for NHL seasons from 1968–69 to 1973–74. And, three Argo media guides I didn’t have in my collection (below): from the years leading up to Leo Cahill’s arrival as coach in 1967. Once belonged to writer Al Sokol of the Toronto Telegram, forerunner to the tabloid Toronto Sun, where Joel has worked since 1981. 


There’s lots of work to be done on defense, which usually rounds into form as the season progresses. And, not much time to improve given the Grey Cup–champion Montreal Alouettes are in town on Friday. Cody Fajardo will have a field day against the Argo secondary if the proper adjustments are not made. With the ball — and an unproven quarterback — the Boatmen have been just fine through the first two games of the season, scoring 74 points, including Saturday night’s 39–36 triumph over the Edmonton Elks at BMO Field. The turning point occurred with no time left on the clock when Lirim Harjullahu kicked a 37–yard field goal. It was a bounce–back game for the veteran kicker, who missed two converts in the season opener against B.C. But, the defense yielded gobs of yardage to former Argo pivot McLeod Bethel–Thompson, who performed superbly and tossed four touchdown passes. Strangely, after harassing fleet Lions quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. in the first game, the Toronto defense barely laid a finger on MBT, who resembles a statue in the pocket. Given time, however, McLeod can pick out open receivers with precision. He had that time for most of Saturday’s game. As such, the Edmonton slotbacks were able to execute the most–basic sideline patterns. Bethel–Thompson threw smartly for 342 yards in the loss.

Cameron Dukes was quietly effective under center for the home side. Again, he did nothing spectacular, but completed 18 of 21 passes for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His arching, 36–yard strike to Damonte Coxie at 5:25 of the fourth quarter gave Toronto a 36–29 lead, capping a six–play, 84–yard drive. Dukes had a clean game, after fumbling for a touchdown against B.C. So did the coaching staff, save for a ridiculous call in the third quarter when Ryan Dinwiddie ordered running back Deonta McMahon to throw an option pass from deep in Argo territory. The ball was easily intercepted. Otherwise, the Argonaut ground game proved decisive in this match, led by Ka’Deem Carey, who rushed for 104 yards and a TD on 19 carries. Play of the game might have been Toronto’s first touchdown when McMahon scored on a pretty 44–yard run, scampering toward the left sideline before cutting back into the middle. The Argos are 18–2 in their past 20 regular season games and have prevailed in 11 straight at home. Montreal is here at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Big, early season test between undefeated East Division teams.


4 comments on “Edmonton Is Toronto’s Daddy

  1. Look at what Tampa Bay is doing today. That’s good management. Rebuilding while contending. And the Leafs? Nothing.

  2. Zach Hyman is Kyle Dubas’s daddy. Connor Brown is alongside Mr. Hyman. In 2021, the Leafs beat the Oilers three straight in Edmonton. Hyman was huge in that stand. Ken Holland said I’m going to sign that guy and he did. Without competition from the home team. Kyle Dubas had no talks with Hyman. Just didn’t want him. Had no use for him. If the Leafs have a window it’s how long till they trade anyone who is any good and how long will those players take to win their cups with their new teams.

    1. Related to your point, I too think it illustrates the constant failing of the leafs, but in a different way.
      I have long believed that the attention the team receives from full buildings, healthy tv ratings, media attention and a legion of fans plays on the ego’s of those in the front office (and on the ice). For the gm’s in particular, there is no other market where they get the attention they do here. They’re recognized everywhere and are treated like celebrities with (arguable) influence well beyond the rink.
      I think eventually this sinks in, and the executive becomes convinced they’re the star of the show, leading to dubious trades and signings, obstinance in the face of the obvious, and carefully cultured phrases delivered in borderline theatrical press conferences, such as “We’re old-school, black & blue, truculence”, and “We can and we will.” They become focussed on proving their plan or belief is absolutely the right one, even though it’s going against the grain like Fletcher’s belief in free agency, Ferguson’s expectation of every potential star becoming available after their first contract, Burke’s truculence and Dubas’s analytic-driven hockey-smart smurfs.
      A HEALTHY ego is a critical art of a successful person, but when it gets unjustifiably inflated it becomes an issue. I hope Brad is different and that he can deliver what has been missing for too long.

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