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Vintage Leaf: Quick Hits Tuesday

Some quick thoughts, past and present:

 We all understand the Maple Leafs are moving slowly but surely toward making Jonas Gustavsson the number one guy in goal. That’s as it should be. He is old enough and has enough previous experience in Europe that, by next season, he can be relied upon to play 60 games…Wayne Gretzky said it many years ago—the one thing that beats hard work is—talent and hard work. The Leafs clearly need more high-end talent to make their hard work have the impact it should be having…As much as I admire Tomas Kaberle’s ability to make that ‘first pass’, his longstanding deficiencies in front of his own net mean he is not an elite NHL defenseman…I wrote weeks ago that, if the Leafs were to make the playoffs, Phil Kessel may find it difficult handling the extra attention he would receive. As the lone Leaf ‘gunner’, he is facing that some nights already.

 It was good to see our Vintage Leaf Memories web site highlighted in a recent blog column by the well-regarded and long-time Toronto Star Sports Media columnist Chris Zelkovich. Zelkovich mentioned Vintage Leaf Memories in his December 30, 2009 Toronto Star Sports Media Watch blog.

 “Classic games” on Leafs TV is a great opportunity to look back at some of the most famous games in Leaf history…they show some wonderful contests, like Game 7 of the 1959 semi-finals in Boston…Game 3 of the ’59 finals when Dick Duff scores in overtime against Plante…high-scoring Game 5 of the 1962 finals against Chicago, some outstanding tilts from the ’63 and ’64 finals against the Red Wings… Game 3 of the Leaf-Montreal semi-final in 1965 when Dave Keon scored in overtime… several games from the 1967 playoffs…just to name a few. The piece the station did over the holidays with Mike Ulmer and Leaf TV host Monika, looking back at some old-time Hockey Night in Canada in-between-period interview segments, was good stuff.

 My first “favorite” player was a guy who lived just down the street from me in Essex County in the late 1950s. Defenseman Marc Reaume (link to earlier story…) played for the Leafs, Habs and Canucks in his NHL career (the Red Wings, too). He was a really nice individual who also had an outstanding minor-league career… I wish I remembered more about the Cullen (Brian and Barry) brothers who played for the Leafs in the late 1950s. I was just getting to be old enough to really follow the Leafs when they played in Toronto. I remember them, but was too young to appreciate their talents. I do remember their younger brother, Ray, when he played with Minnesota in the early expansion years. Barry’s son John was a gifted offensive player in his own right, and played with the Leafs in that great 1992-’93 season.

 Brian Burke has made it clear he knew exactly what he was giving up by way of draft choices—possible franchise players—when he went after Phil Kessel. Most Leaf fans will give Burke a pass if Kessel, already a player at 22, becomes a long-time Leaf, like Mats Sundin. The trade can be rationalized as getting a young, already established “for sure” piece in return for uncertain draft picks. But if Kessel does not become an all-around player, or butts heads with Wilson, fans will grow weary and frustrated over what might have been- and that draft pick playing in Boston. The question is: Can Wilson, as coach, convince Kessel—like Steve Yzerman or Mike Modano before him—to become a complete player sooner rather than later?

 Another question to ponder: If Leaf fans are frustrated with the team’s lack of “top six forwards” and their low-scoring offense, where would the team be without Kessel?

 The Leafs need to build strength down the middle. No team will contend seriously in this league without top-quality centers, at least two of them.

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