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10 years of Vintage Leaf Memories…

I believe it was 10 years ago (end of September, 2009) that I first started writing stories for my Vintage Leaf Memories blog. As is clear by the infrequent posts over the last two or three years, I don’t write as often as I used to. But it’s a project I’m still glad I tried, because for a time, there was a fair bit of traffic on this site, and lots of thoughtful and interesting commentary from many of those who followed the site on a regular basis— when I posted almost daily, even in the summer time. There was always something to talk about when it came to the Leafs, past or present.

The site began as almost exclusively my articles about Leaf players and teams from when I was much younger, especially the late 1950s and into the 1960s and ‘70s. It sort of naturally morphed into a mix of commentary around the then current teams while often still looking back at players, games, teams and moments that have meant a lot to me in my six decades plus of being a Leaf fan. 

In the last ten years, we’ve seen the Leafs get closer and closer to being really good, having teams with talent that looked as though they may be ready to make some noise, only to fall out of the playoffs or not quite finish the job when they have reached their reward for succeeding to some degree in hockey’s grueling 82 game regular-season marathon.

While playoff success has been elusive, there have been a lot of hard-working Leafs that we’ve talked about here over the past decade, guys who were clearly proud to wear the Leaf jersey, and who maybe even understood a bit about the franchise’s legacy, history and heritage dating back to the days of Conn and Stafford Smythe.

(Management and maybe even ownership has woken up as well over the past few years, finally retiring the numbers of some great Leafs, including Apps, Broda, Teeder Kennedy, Keon, Sundin, Salming, Bower and Kelly. For many the acknowledgement came too late for them to be part of the festivities, but it was a good thing for the team to do—something many of us had waited a long time to see.)

And now, as we look to the 2019-’20 NHL season, we have a very talented Leaf team under Mike Babcock, one that, every year at this time, now seems poised to not only compete well but do something that hasn’t been done here since 1967— win a championship.

I do have a few lingering thoughts/questions as the Leafs get ready to enter Year 5 of the Babcock regime:


  • With regard to coach Babcock himself, is he really as good a coach as so many thought he was when he left a declining Detroit squad to take over the Leafs several years ago? He may yet help take the Leafs to the promised land, but other coaches have done more in less time than he has with a Leaf team that has benefitted from some very high and talented draft picks. It’s not, to me, a matter of whether his job is on the line. It’s about whether he is having the required positive impact to get this team to a championship level— which as of now, is four playoff-round victories in one spring more than they have achieved with him so far after all the money spent and all the happy talk about how good the team has been with all that young talent.
  • Do the Leafs have the veteran (and younger) leadership needed to win against the best NHL teams when it matters in May and June?
  • Now that he has got the contract he wanted, will Mitch Marner continue to be the player we all are so fond of— or will we be talking about a “bad contract” in three or four years’ time?
  • Given the fairly significant roster shuffling with important players coming and going during the off-season, will the Leafs have a defense corps that can help them win a title?
  • The new Leaf captain has obviously been decided—just not named quite yet. That should happen in the next few days.  Rielly? Marner? Tavares? I think captains do matter—especially in Toronto. There should always be a captain of the Maple Leafs. This choice by management is long in coming.

Of course, there are a gazillion other questions that Leaf supporters are asking or things they are wondering about, and that’s part of the fun of pre-season, training camp and all the speculation that goes with it. 

Inevitably, the NHL season breaks down into segments like this: everything pre-season; the first 10 to 20 games of the season (everyone is hyped up on opening night, but that one game doesn’t necessarily tells us anything…); the long grind through the middle part of the never-ending regular season; the playoff push for real and wannabe contenders in March/early April; and of course, the playoffs. The whole cycle begins anew each June with the off-season— kicked off by the entry draft and free agency.

Each part of the year’s cycle matters, but assuming the Leafs continue to be a highly competitive squad, the last part will be the one that matters most— what they actually do come playoff time. It is indeed time to win in Toronto, not just talk about it.

**

I’ve long realized what I have loved most about being a Leaf fan is not the current era, but rather those long gone days of my youth, when names like Eddie Chadwick (right), Bower, Mahovlich, Duff, Baun, Kelly, “Army”, Pulford, Stanley and Shack meant the world to me. Eventually new names like Walton, Pappin, McKenny and Dorey became part of my Maple Leaf memory bank. Then players like Sittler, McDonald, Lanny, “Tiger”, Turnbull, Salming and Palmateer became part of the Leaf 'furniture'. With some difficult seasons interspersed here and there, those were mostly wonderful times to follow—and care about—the Leafs.

That's why I’ve written the two eBooks I have, the first of which detailed how I became a Leaf fan and my memories of so many of the players that I loved to watch play on Saturday nights when I was young. The second book focused on the old-time Leafs, too, but also my recollections of the great players I watched, followed and sometimes hated but always ended up respecting and admiring as I grew older, individuals like Howe, Hull, Orr, Beliveau, the “Rocket” and many others.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my memories and reflections in those books and here over the years, but time moves on and other things take precedence.  I don’t love the current hockey era at times, with its focus on analytics, regular-season overtime/shoot-outs and the absurdity of ridiculously expensive contracts and ticket prices. (I wish the owners and players of this era in all professional sports would take a bit of their respective good fortune to share with players from years ago, who built the game into what it is today—many of whom are struggling and facing difficult times in their last years…)

On the subject of ticket prices, I count myself fortunate that I managed to afford Leaf season tickets up in the nosebleed greys at Maple Leafs Gardens for a couple of seasons back in the mid 1970s, when greys were only $4 a ticket. Wonderful times.

**

 I’ll aim to post again at some point through the season, but I’ll be a bit of a doubter, I think, until the Leafs begin to show me they can win in the spring— much like that outstanding Pat Burns, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and “Felix the Cat” squad of the spring of ’93, or the Pat Quinn, Mats Sundin, Cujo playoff run in May of 2002. We should have been in the finals both those years. 

It still stings.

Thanks to all those who have posted here over the years and to those who may still check in here from time to time. I’ll do the same.






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