Friday, December 19, 2008

I'm so sick of Goodbyes

The man with the bad hair on the left is Darryl Sittler. He was a first round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1970 and was named captain in 1975 (after the Leafs asked Dave Keon to give up the C. You stay classy Toronto.)

Sittler was the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs for five years. During that time he would play for Team Canada, make numerous all-star teams, set a record for most points in a single game (10), tie the record for most goals in a playoff match (5), and come third in the NHL scoring race with 117 points - finishing behind Guy Lafleur and Brian Trottier. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989.

After a series of odd moves by Harold Ballard and Punch Imlach (including suing the NHLPA over Sittler's involvement in promotions and trading away Sittler's best-pal and line mate Lanny MacDonald) Sittler stripped the "C" from his jersey.

Re-appointed Leaf captain in 1980-81, the conflict between the players and management did not abate and the team finally asked Sittler to waive his no trade clause. Sittler agreed, but the trade talks were so protracted and ugly that Sittler was advised to take a leave of absence from the Leafs mid-season. The final trade still took two more weeks to be completed.

An all-star, first round pick, captain and good guy dealt for spare parts.

The guy on the far right (next to a young Steven Perry?) is Rick Vaive.

A former first round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, he was acquired by the Leafs in a trade that sent Bill Derlago (the Steve Perry look-alike) to the Leafs for Jerry Butler and Dave "Tiger" Williams.

Vaive was the captain of the Leafs from 1981 to 1985.

In 1982 he became the first Leaf to break the 50 goal mark. I may have been 10 at the time, but I distinctly recall that approximately 42 of his 54 goals were scored on booming slap shots from the top of the circle as he cruised down the right side of the ice.

Vaive led the Leafs in scoring (1982, 83 and 85), goals scored (1982-1985) and penalty minutes in 1981. He is the all-time highest scoring right wing in Leafs history.

In 1985 Harold Ballard thought it would be a good idea to strip Vaive of his captaincy when he was late for practice one day (you stay classy Toronto).

The Leafs dealt Vaive and Steve "Stumpy" Thomas to Chicago before the start of the 1987 season for Bob McGill, Al Secord and Ed Olczyk.

As the bottom of the card says, the man on the left in Leaf blues is Rob Ramage.

A first round pick of the Colorado Rockies, Ramage came to Toronto in 1989 via the Calgary Flames for a second round pick (interesting note: the Flames used that second round pick to select Kent Manderville, who would later be re-acquired by the Leafs as part of the Doug Gilmour mega-deal).

Ramage would play D for the Leafs for just two season before the Leafs left him unprotected in the 1991 expansion draft (you stay classy Toronto) where Ramage was claimed by Minnesota.

The man laying a beating on Bob Probert over there on your right doesn't need much of an introduction or a write-up.

Wendel Clark was a first round pick of the Leafs and one of the few bright spots for the organization in the 80s.

He wasn't a very good skater and was hurt more often than he was healthy (he averaged just 51 games a season for the Leafs) but he could fight, hit and score like no other Leaf before or since.

He had a laser for a wrist shot and anvils for fists.

Clark would captain the Leafs from 1991 to 1994, but in a stunning move, Cliff Fletcher traded Clark to the Nordiques, along with Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and Toronto's 1st round choice for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and Philadelphia's 1st round choice.

Wendel would have three go-rounds with the Leafs.

He was re-acquired along with Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith for Darby Hendrickson, Sean Haggerty, Kenny Jonsson and Toronto's 1st round pick, only to walk away from the Leafs as a free agent just two years later, signing with Tampa Bay.

After being released by Chicago, Clark would quietly finish out his career playing in twenty games for the Leafs in 2000 and then six playoff matches where he managed to show a few sparks of his former self.

This is Doug Gilmour, arguably one of the most popular all-time Leafs.

He was acquired by Cliff Fletcher in what might be the all-time greatest trade in Leaf history.

A contractual hold-out in Calgary, Gilmour arrived in Toronto and instantly made this team a contender. He put up 49 points in his first 40 games with the Leafs and followed that up with 127 point season - the most points ever scored by a Leaf. He finished fourth in NHL scoring the following season with 111 points.

It was in the playoffs that Gimour established his legend. His wrap-around goal in double OT against Curtis Joseph and the Blues may be one of the most iconic goals scored in modern Leaf history. While the Leafs didn't make the finals that year, Gilmour would finish second in playoff scoring with 35 points.

By 1996, Leafs ownership was in turmoil and contracts were being dumped. Mike Murphy was clearly out of his element behind the Leafs bench as he took the team from perrennial playoff contender to last place (a .377 record in the first half of the season. The team would finish an ugly 30-44-8).

It was clear that Gilmour's time with the Leafs was over.

This was an awkward time for Gilmour and the Leafs. He ripped the club and his teammates after a bad loss to Vancouver that January. His play was inconsistent (the media took to calling him a "spectator"). Leaf officials called him out publicly - stating he didn't work as hard as the fans thought he did. He demanded a trade, denied demanding a trade. There were allegations that Dougie was using trade talk to fish for more money from the Leafs. And then, as the trade deadline approached, he publicly asked for a contract extension (despite having his worst year as a Leaf and an owner who was dumping salary) so he could retire a Leaf.

On February 26, he was dealt to New Jersey, along with Dave Ellet for Alyn McCauley, Steve Sullivan and Jason Smith.

Mats Sundin was named captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs on opening night 1997. He was the second longest serving captain in the NHL behind only Joe "snowblower" Sakic.

He is the Leafs all-time goal scoring leader, all-time points leader and is second on the Leafs in all-time assists.

He has the Leafs longest home-game point streak and he led the club in scoring in all but one season that he wore the Blue and White.

Eight All-Star game appearances, named to the second-team all-star team twice, the first player to score 500 goals as a Leaf. He was the captain of the Swedish Olympic gold medal winning team.

He is ranked 22nd all time in career goals (555); 34th all time in career assists (766); 30th all time in career points (1321) in the NHL.

Sundin holds the record as the longest serving European captain of an NHL franchise, he is the first Swedish player to score 500 goals and among Swedish players, Mats has the most points, goals and assists in the NHL.

Many would argue he was the greatest Leaf ever.

* * *

Something to think about on this snowy afternoon: not since George Armstrong in 1970 has a Leaf captain retired with the club.

**Addendum: Down Goes Brown brought up an interesting point in the comments about captains retiring with their team. I just happened to have this list handy as I had prepped it about a year ago for a blog post that never was. I looked at every NHL team over the past 20+ years to see how many teams had their captain retire. It's a short-list:

  • Stevens in New Jersey
  • Yzerman in Detroit
  • Al McInnis in St. Louis
  • Steve Smith in Calgary
  • Paul Laus in Florida
  • Messier (in his second tour) with the Rangers
  • Mellanby in Atlanta.

That's it.

Every where else is a long list of buy outs, trades, and free agency. Note, I didn't include injuries in the list like Primeau in Philly and Lemieux (the first time round) in Pittsburgh


  1. Something to think about on this snowy afternoon: not since George Armstrong in 1970 has a Leaf captain retired as a Leaf.

    Well, not as a Leaf captain. Gilmour and Clark both retired as Leafs.

    But the point is taken. This comes up a lot, and I really wonder if it actually tells us that much. How many captains retire with their teams? Sure, there's always an Yzerman or a Stevens or a (presumably) Sakic, but I'd be willing to bet that there are other teams who have had few or no captains retire with the club.

  2. It's a pretty rare thing for a captain to retire. I've updated the blog with a short list of those who managed to pull it off.

    Even Modano moved over for Morrow, I presumed he'd go down wearing the Star's C.

  3. Wow.

    I expected the list to be short, but that's ridiculous. Especially when you consider that Laus and Mellanby were basically veteran guys on expansion teams, and I don't even remember Smith playing for Calgary.

    When guys like Cox criticize the Leafs for never having their captains retire, they're talking about long-time guys like Clark and Sundin. Your list shows that that's only actually happened three times in 20 years (four if you count Messier).

    So what exactly are we bashing the Leafs for, then?

  4. Anonymous12:02 pm

    I'm glad you mentioned all that nonsense that Gilmour pulled in his last season. I still don't understand why fans have almost universally forgiven him but still hold a grudge against Sundin. Sundin is vilified for not wanting to leave the team, but Gilmour is loved despite the fact that he orchestrated his own departure. Unbelievable.

  5. DGB - I've never understood the unbridled criticism about the way the Leafs have handled their captains. Yeah, I suppose exposing your captain to the waiver wire isn't ideal, but it's not out of line with the actions of other NHL teams.

    Montreal, the alleged paragon of class in the NHL, traded Chelios, Carboneau, Muller, Keane, Turgeon and Damphousse.

    Boston traded Bourque, Allison and Thornton.

    Ottawa traded Boschman, traded Lamb, let Dineen walk as a UFA, waived Shaw, bought-out Cunneyworth, traded Yashin.

    And on and on...

    For me it's a lament and not a complaint. I don't know that Sundin could ever have retired as a Leaf Captain, but it would have been nice. Same goes for Sittler, Clark and Gilmour too.

  6. Paul - I loved what Gilmour did with and for the Leafs, but I'm astounded at how few people remember just how bad his last year with the Leafs was.

    The team was pretty much dead last all year, Mike Murphy sucked, ownership was goofy and Gilmour certainly didn't help his cause with his trade-me, don't trade me mixed messages.

  7. Paul - It's a fair point, but I think it illustrates that Leaf fans will forgive. Time heals all wounds in this town, and it will heal the Sundin stuff too. Just not right now.

    I'd also argue that the Gilmour situation is a great counter-point to those who think Sundin got some sort of rough ride in Toronto. Compared to Gilmour's final months, Sundin has been treated with absolute kid gloves this year.

  8. Anonymous8:32 pm

    Just a note, MacInnis and Stevens were not immediately forced to retire due to injury but they were both injured for an extended period of time (much of 03-04 and the lockout) and did not play after being injured before hanging up the skates, if I remember correctly.

  9. It occurs to me that if you loosen the definition a little bit -- if you talk about captains retiring with their teams (but not necessarily while wearing the "C") -- then the Leafs may actually lead the league in that category.

    Funny how that doesn't make it into Cox columns.

  10. Anonymous12:25 pm

    great stuff man. looks like i need to bookmark your blog.

    i remember the day they stripped rick of the captaincy. i'm pretty sure they had a sunday afternoon game in buffalo. i was at my grandfather's house watching the game with him, and they announced it in the pre-game show. i was 8 or 9 and i was crushed, ricky was my favourite leaf at the time.

    oh, and mats is, in fact, the greatest leaf of all time.