Earlier this month, I was asked to contribute in a small way to a Leaf-related exercise that was a little unusual. The comprehensive and widely read Maple Leaf Hot Stove web site was undertaking a project as part of a wider effort by the “Puck Daddy” Yahoo hockey blog. I don’t know all the details but from what I have gleaned Puck Daddy was asking writers/blogs from the thirty NHL cities to identify who they felt were the “best” all-time players from those particular franchises—by nationality.
There could certainly have been arguments for any number of other all-time Leaf greats (from Syl Apps and 'Teeder' Kennedy to Frank Mahovlich and Doug Gilmour) but someone had to be chosen, and Keon was that player.
This kind of “decision” may have more to do with when you are at apex of your fanhood, if I can call it that. Some real old-timers may feel King Clancy (who of course later became a Leaf coach and lifelong executive) or Babe Pratt, the high-scoring defenseman of the 1940s, were the best ever-Leafs born in Canada. Maybe others would say Charlie Conacher, who played with Clancy in the 1930s. (Those individuals were before my time.)
If you were just falling in love with the Leafs in the ‘60s, maybe it was Johnny Bower or Tim Horton. We could all add a lot more names. But in my lifetime and in my mind, Keon was—and remains—the guy. So I support the choice.
(I also collaborated on another short piece on Peter Ihnacak, the fine ‘80s Leaf center from Slovakia, who had a nice though much shorter and less impactful career than someone like Keon.)
If you’re interested, check out the MLHS overview, or go directly to the Yahoo site for details and the full Leaf write-up.
"All-time" selections are always fun, but I realize that they can also trigger some emotional debate. I’m certainly not ready to impale myself over the choice I was asked to write about, as I can see a lot of reasons to consider any number of players for the prestigious number-one slot—especially when it comes to players born in Canada, because there have been so many great “Canadian” Leafs.
Feel free to opine on the process, the selections or who you feel have been the best Leafs from the various countries listed…