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The Leafs/Sens snoozer—and Dave Keon and retired numbers

I’m pretty sure the Leaf-Sens game is not one we’ll be talking about forty years from now, but two points is two points, even against a wounded opponent.

The Senators sure looked like they miss Karlsson, and understandably so.  He is an irreplaceable presence on any team’s blueline.  But the Leafs did what they have to do at home.  McLaren scored his first as a Leaf from where he needs to be—in front of the net.  Scrivens made all the saves against an admittedly struggling Ottawa offense.  (The Senators missed the net—a lot.)  The Bozak goal is one that I think would not have counted when I was a kid (nowadays we talk about “kicking motions”, but I don’t believe you could “re-direct” the puck as he did on the Phaneuf shot in the old days; maybe I'm remembering incorrectly...) but it was all part of an evening that was more about results than aesthetics.

Kudos to Phaneuf, who again—and you could tell he changed his mind at the last second—avoided his instinct to simply blast the puck.  Instead shot it where Bozak could re-direct it behind Anderson.  Orr played almost 13 minutes and was a bowling ball out there at times.  He took one for the team with an important shot block when it was still a one goal game.  And he was on the ice in the dying seconds to help preserve the Scrivens shutout.

Exciting?  I’m guessing the members of the ’63 Cup team on hand were sleeping through part of it.  I wanted to, and I’m younger than those guys.  But we won.


It was wonderful to see those great former Leafs on display Saturday night as the organization feted the best Maple Leaf squad I’ve ever seen—the 1962-’63 team that won the Stanley Cup, but also accomplished something no Leaf side since that time has:  they finished first in the regular-season standings.

So many players were integral to that team’s success.  I remember them all so well;  Horton and Stanley and Baun and Brewer on defence; Kelly, Pulford, Billy Harris in the middle.  A superstar in Frank Mahovlich; the captain George “Chief” Armstrong; tough and talented Bobby Pulford  and critically important ‘pluggers’ like river skater Eddie Shack, smooth Ron Stewart and steady Eddie Litzenberger.  I think that was the year Kent Douglas was an 'old' (he was maybe 26) rookie defenseman, just like Mike Kostka is this season.

That was the year of the team’s second Cup in succession—the sandwich year, because the Leafs went on to win again in 1964.  Johnny Bower, “The China Wall”, was our stalwart in goal and he was on hand Saturday night along with teammates like Bob Nevin (the versatile winger who part of a recent “Leaf Matters” podcast)  Eddie Shack and fellow Bower Hall-of-Famers Bobby Pulford, George Armstrong and Dickie Duff. Lesser-known Leafs like Larry Hillman (who was huge in the '67 Cup win) and Johnny MacMillan were on hand as well.

(For those who have only started recently to follow VLM, there are columns here on a number of these guys.  Just click on their names.  Bower was magnificent, of course.  I wish Duff  had always stayed a Leaf.  MacMillan was almost involved in a rare hockey achievement. Pulford may have been the most under-rated player in that early '60s era.  Armstrong was the quiet, practical-joking team leader.)


Dave Keon was at the ACC, too, on Saturday night.  Now Keon is certainly not the only former Maple Leaf who deserves to be honoured by having his number retired, but he is one whose name has continued to be bandied about through the almost forty years since he left the organization.  That he left unceremoniously in the summer of 1975 and was essentially shoved out the door by then Leaf owner Harold Ballard was the beginning of a sadly sour relationship between the ex-Leaf captain and the organization that seems to exist to this day.

I’ve written on this subject here before, and do not intend to go on at length about my feelings today.  Suffice to say I have long felt it was not Keon who kept this simmering “dispute”, if I can call it that, alive.  It is the media (and MLSE, frankly) that has pursued him to comment on the reasons for his absence at Leaf-related events through the years.  And when he has responded as honestly as he could, he is portrayed as a bitter, curmudgeonly old man.

I’m not sure that characterization is fair.  Somehow the media, many of whom were likely fans of Keon many years ago, were perhaps hoping for the fairy-tale ending and it isn’t going to happen, no matter how much they ask.  So they have turned on Keon, unfairly, in my view, blaming him for the “impasse”.

For his part, Keon spoke graciously years ago when he was honoured by St. Mike’s in Toronto, the franchise he played junior hockey with before he joined the blue and white as a preciously talented rookie in the fall of 1960. (I've included a great old photo, left, of Keon scoring with less than ten seconds remaining in a late-season game against the Habs and Jacques Plante in March of 1963.  Keon is number 14.  That goal gave the Leafs a 3-3 tie at the Gardens on a Wednesday night, and clinched first overall in the regular-season standings.)  Keon no doubt felt the sting of Ballard’s classless way of handling the end of the Noranda native’s time in Toronto, and has not seemingly been much impressed with the Leaf organization since that time, for his own reasons.  One of those “reasons”, by all accounts, is the organization’s steadfast refusal to retire numbers of deserving players.  To say that Keon is deserving is an understatement.  Forget his “numbers”.  There were other players who were instrumental in the Maple Leafs winning four Cups in the 1960s.  Keon is not alone. But without Keon, the Leafs do not win those Cups.  Maybe any of them.  Full stop.  He was the energizer bunny, checking the other team’s best forwards when needed (Pulford was key in that regard as well), killing penalties and logging key minutes.  He was not physical as in handing out body checks but he led the team in take-outs every season. He played angles like few have in the history of the game.  And he almost never took a penalty, though he drew hundreds against the opposition in his career because of his speed and tenacity to give his team countless power-play opportunities.

My guess is Keon sees what the rival Montreal Canadiens have done to honour their legends—including retiring their numbers (both Richards, Beliveau, Lafeleur, etc.) and feels the Leafs have not measured up well against the Canadiens in this regard.

I’m with Keon.  I have no clue what legitimate reason there is not to retire numbers.  The Leafs have tried the short-cut of “honouring” numbers but still keeping them in circulation.  It doesn’t fly with me.

In any event, if you’re interested, here are a couple of links to some of the other Keon-related pieces I’ve penned here:

You may have some thoughts on this subject.  Let me know.  For the Leafs, it's on to Florida... 


  1. I was happy with the win. The Leafs won a game that they should win and have some breathing room for the tougher games. We didn't do that before.

    Expect that we will win more snoozers. Mark Fraser who played in NJ said Carlyle's defensive system is very much like NJ under Jacques Lamaire.

    I gained some more confidence in Scrivens. He looked more like the goalie from last year's AHL playoff run.

    Maybe Riemer/Scrivens will be ok for the long term.

  2. I'll keep saying it, DP- Leafs can make the playoffs in the East.

  3. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do think you indeed said it yourself a month or so ago, Michael, that these snooze-fests are what is needed to win in today's NHL. And absolutely correct too. Sometimes the kid in me wants to see high-flying offensive attacks, end-to-end rushes back and forth, and so on. But watching last season's playoffs, bored to tears as I may have been at times, told me that this is what it takes.

    I had almost forgotten that Liles played last night until he put in the empty-netter, which as we often say, is a good thing in the sense that good solid team defense means that your defensemen barely get mentioned. I don't know if it is Scrivens or the defense that deserves the credit more, but it did seem that he was able to see every shot from a distance, and every rebound he kicked out seemed far out of harms way.

    My two cents on Keon...he's a grown man who has certainly earned the right to say or do what he wants. From a fan's perspective, after 38 years, the only people left of this organization from 1975 are the fans, and we the fans I don't believe have ever turned our backs on him. I do hope that some day he is willing to embrace that.

  4. Michael,

    A nice game last night. Fairly uneventful, for the most part. They played well enough to get the win, and that is really all that matters. Wins and losses. There were a couple of things I would like to point out that I noticed from last nights game. Kessel is taking a lot of hard hits. I would love to see him deliver one, even if its just one. A full speed car accident kind of hit. Where the opposing player expects Kessel to break off and circle, like he always does. I want to see him finish someone. One time would be enough to send the message. Or Carlyle needs to play him with someone who will get him some space. Komarov, is the first candidate that comes to mind. Or, try to have Mark Fraser on the ice when Kessel is. What do you think?

    I never saw Dave Keon play hockey. Never saw him in person at any of the games I have attended. Probably been to the Gardens and the ACC more than 50 times total. I have no idea why he has stayed away from the team, and the fans. It all seems very petty to me. If this is primarily about whether or not someone like Matt Stajan gets to wear your number after you retire, then shame on Dave Keon. What an awfully small and childish reason to deny the fans the opportunity to thank you for the past 35 years. We always say that if it weren't for the fans, well you know the rest. It seems that some players get that, Bower for example, and some don't. Thats ok, it doesn't matter to me if these former players want to come back or not. I want to watch the game not another ceremony. The Ford ad was good though.

    Does anyone agree with Carlyle? Its time that this franchise be about today, and not the constant reminders of the good old days. As a fan I am tired of all the references to 45 years, by fans and haters alike.

    I was reading the Star this morning, came across this in an article by Dave Feschuk.

    “That was a silly thing (Keon) was doing,” said Bob Nevin, speaking of his former teammate’s long absence from Toronto games. “Who cares about Harold Ballard anymore? It’s the guys you went to war with you want to come back and see. We appreciate him coming and we hope he keeps it up.”

    I always wondered how his teammate's felt about all this. And now, I have an answer. I read your other pieces on Keon this morning as well. Nice work. I think players wear the sweater because, while Keon was a great player. He wasn't one of the generational talents. Gretzky, and Lemieux, for example. You will never see players wear those numbers in Pittsburgh, Edmonton, or LA for Gretz. The teams don't need to retire those sweaters, the players did that all on their own. Perhaps, thats the point.

  5. Great point on Liles, and what it means in a broader context, Pete.

    Well said on Keon. I think the vast majority of fans (at least those of us who remember him) are happy whenever he return to the city of his most memorable hockey achievements. It may be, though, that time has passed for any kind of real reconciliation with the organization.

  6. You may be right, Jim, that one of the things happening with Kessel is that he faces tough checking every night and there is no one on the ice with him to make the other guys keep their head up. That not Bozak or van Riemsdyk, really. Komarov would spice things up, for sure. There is no modern-day Gary Roberts on his flank (as good as Lupul is) to achieve what you're talking about.

    Whether Kessel will ever be pushed to want to hammer someone himself, I don't know. But if he did, it may well make him a bit less of a mark if the other team knew he would fight back.

    As for Keon, I've had my say. Some former teammates are frustrated with him, no doubt. (I remember comments from Pete Stemkowski many years ago, for example). But I'll simply say again, it's not Keon who has sought this attention. The media and MLSE approach him. We don't really know what happened that created wounds. Only Keon does. His "absence" doesn't change my views on him and how he represented this city.

    Carlyle isn't wrong. Celebrations of the past are nice. Respect the past. Celebrate our history But the present matters now.

  7. I remember watching Keon(TV)and while he was not as some have stated a Gretzky or a Lemieux, that was an entirely different era. Gretzky and Lemieux would not have been the same players then either. It was a much tougher game in those days, a more close checking game. Gretzky would not have had the room to play that he had in his era. Gretzky and Lemieux played at a time were the talent level was much thinner(much like today's game)and neither of them liked the tough going. Before expansion scoring 20 goals in a season was quite an accomplishment.

    I also agree that the team should retire the numbers of their past great players. This is one area were Montreal really outclasses the Toronto Maple Leafs, and as a long time Leaf fan(60+ years) it hurts like h--l to have to say that.

    I really enjoy your articles Michael.

  8. It was a different game in the '60s for sure, mrj. Goals were hard to come by in those days. And players like Keon and Pulford would have been outstanding in any era, because of all the little things they brought to the team that made them special.

    Thank you for the kind words, mrj. They are particularly nice to hear from someone who has followed hockey and the Leafs for so long.

  9. It was great to see the 62-63 Leafs all together again. This was the best Leaf team talent-wise that I have witnessed. They dominated the playoffs beating Montreal 4 games to 1 and Detroit 4 games to 1 to win the cup on home ice. I was fortunate enough to attend all the home playoff games. It was a thrilling and emotional moment when George Armstrong raised the cup.

    Dave Keon led the Leafs in scoring (7 goals and 5 assists in 10 games) and was a dominating presence both offensively and defensively. Unfortunately the Conn Smythe trophy was not awarded until the 63-64 season or Keon would have been the hands down winner.

    Keon is one of the all time great Leafs. He was the total package, a great two way centre who was also an accomplished penalty killer and a force on the power play. The Keon, Duff and Armstrong line is among the all time best Leaf lines. All three are Hall of Famers and each was accomplished in every aspect of the game.

    I was disgusted with Harold Ballard for many reasons but his treatment of Keon (and later Sittler and MacDonald) was reprehensible. They were players who were exemplary Leafs and should have retired as Leafs.

    It would be nice to see sweaters of outstanding Leafs retired but I don't think I'd want to be the one making the decision on which ones. Only Bill Barilko's #5 and Ace Bailey's #6 have been retired and even #6 was worn by Ron Ellis with Bailey's permission.I guess I'm okay with honored numbers. I just wish they would be a little more selective when issuing honored numbers.Colby Armstrong wearing #9 was a joke.

    I will gladly take the odd boring win. This game was a landmine and one that the Leafs would probably have lost in the Wilson years. Scrivens was solid and it was nice to see good contributions from Orr and McLaren. I just wish the forwards in particular would shoot when they have the opportunity rather than trying to make the perfect play.

  10. Thanks Pete Cam. I'm so glad to hear from someone who "was there" who can corroborate what players like Keon meant to the Leafs. I've often thought the same thing: if the Conn Smythe Trophy had been around before 1965, how many more might Keon have won? Then, modern-day Leaf fans might realize - and recognize - just how special he was. I always remember, during the awful 1972-'73 season, Foster Hewitt saying in a late-season radio broadcast- "where would this Leaf team be without Dave Keon". It was a bad team (WHA, thanks to Harold, had taken some of our best young players) yet Keon played brilliantly night in and night out, never giving up.

    Oh well, the time has passed for him, I guess, and for other deserving Leafs when it comes to retiring numbers.

    As for last night, yes, I think a lot of us would like to see them shoot the puck. Can't score if you don't shoot, eh? But we'll take the points.

    Thanks Pete Cam. I appreciate hearing from you.

  11. Well Michael, I agree with you the game against Ottawa was a snooze-fest. Probably one of the most boring Leaf games I can remember in some time. A win is a win, and thankfully they did, otherwise the fans and media really would have questioned the talent on the Leafs.

    I do like the idea of retiring numbers, but to be VERY VERY select in what numbers to retire. If not, a storied franchise like Toronto or Montreal will find itself void of numbers. Montreal has retired 15 numbers to date, and that is just too much. Sorry, but at least half of those could easily be honourees rather than having the prestige of their number retired permanently. The line has to be drawn somewhere.

    I enjoyed watching Keon as a player, and he was a very good center who mastered the use of a straight blade, and gave 100% every night. Was he worthy of having his name honoured, no doubt. Retired number? Not sure. I would argue that other players on the Leafs during that era, were equally worthy (Kelly, Armstrong, Bower, Mahovolich, etc.). Do you retire all their numbers as well? So many people will question just where to draw the line. Or, maybe you take the position that only one number can be retired per decade, and that number stays unavailable until the player passes on. Not sure.

    I agree with some of the earlier comments about Keon holding onto bitterness far too long. The fans and the players are the only ones still around from his era, and he's only hindering their full appreciation of him by still carrying this chip on his shoulder. Unintentional or not, he indirectly slighted Toronto Saturday by naming Toews as a player he admired. Toews is talented player yes, but ironically (or not) from a rival "Original 6" team, and a wealthy player who was very adamant and outspoken during the recent CBA negotiations.

    I'm not sure what percentage of the fans in attendance, or watching the game on CBC, had ever watched that 63 Leafs' team play. The numbers are rapidly dwindling I'm sure. These are Leaf heroes gone by. But it's equally sad to me that a Leaf hero doesn't embrace the team and its fans.

  12. Thanks Don (TML_fan). We see this one differently. I watched Keon very closely between 1960 and 1967. For me, he was not just a superb Leaf, but one of the five best all-around players of that era. He was that good. If you listen to those who played against him from that era, they will say the same.

    I interviewed the legendary writer, Red Fisher, not that long ago, and he thought Keon was the very definition of a great Leaf- a Hab-killer and a player that, without him, the Leafs would never have won all those Cups. (I think that interview is still available under the "Vintage Audio" section of this site, at least I hope it is.)

    I respect your view, but Keon was above all those Leafs you mention, in my mind. People don't seem to understand that it's not Keon "hanging on" to bitterness. He has never said he was bitter. He has been approached by media to comment, and he never seeks interviews. Never. MLSE has approached him. I totally respect his views. None of us knows why he feels as he does.

    I can't imagine he meant any insult to Leaf fans by mentioning Toews. He was just being honest, which is what we usually want from players, past or present. Toews is a brilliant player, no doubt someone Keon admires.

    I agree that the time has past for all this. No one cares about the '63 Leafs, except for the few of us who actually grew up watching that team. It's Keon who has moved on, long ago. Fans and media need to, as well. Thanks Don.