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It was almost worth the wait for the Leafs’ retired numbers decision…

Here’s the thing: ideally, the business of retiring the numbers of former players who brought distinction to the Maple Leaf organization would have been done properly decades ago. But that not being the case, it was very good to see current management, led by Brendan Shanahan, be decisive in determining that the 100th anniversary season would be the time to do it.

Let’s give credit where credit is—the Leafs have been trying since the days of Ken Dryden (as team President) to be more adept at doing the “right” things in terms of public relations and community awareness. Not to pin everything on Harold Ballard, but certain aspects of the organization seemed to fall short during his lengthy tenure as majority owner—except that he made a lot of money off the team.  Fair enough, I guess.

But I always wondered why the organization was so determined to be different than say, the Montreal Canadiens, when it came to retiring the jerseys of worthy players. The Habs were—and are—rightfully proud of their team’s legacy, whether we’re talking about Aurel Joliat, Howie Morenz, Butch Bouchard, The “Rocket” (right), Beliveau, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Jacques Plante, "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, Yvan Cournoyer or more (relatively speaking) modern era players like Lafleur, Robinson, Savard, Lapointe, etc.

We, as Leaf followers, can be just as proud of our history, though we obviously don’t have as many championship banners to raise to the roof as they do in Montreal.

The surprise announcement this past Saturday kind of makes amends, I suppose.  And credit to Lou Lamoriello and Shanahan.  Born in 1953, I was not around long enough or old enough to see guys like Syl Apps and Teeder Kennedy or King Clancy and Turk Broda. But appreciating the history of this franchise because of countless hours spent with my father talking hockey (though Dad was a passionate Hab fan, ugh), I have an understanding of what players like that meant to the franchise built by the legendary Conn Smythe.

I was fortunate to have seen players like Armstrong, Mahovlich, Keon, Bower, Tim Horton and Red Kelly in the Leaf blue and white for many years. Now, it certainly was not just those individuals who won those four championships in the 1960s—there were so many valuable contributors to those Cup-winning efforts.  But they were each unique players who were difference-makers on winning teams.

In more recent years, wonderful players like Salming and Sittler (left), Gilmour and Clark and of course Sundin thrilled fans across the country as Leaf greats.

Each in their own way made Leaf fans proud and created a lifetime of memories for all of us.

I know Leaf supporters of today are, understandably, most interested in talking about the team right now, not constantly harking back to the “old days”.  On that note, “right now” may well be the most truly hopeful Leaf supporters have been in well over a decade, because we may have more young talent here than there has been in the organization in about as long as I can remember. 

Yes, we have to see how all the “kids” do over time. But whether we’re talking about Rielly, Marner, Nylander, Matthews or some of the other youngsters beginning to make an impression, there are better days ahead. Finally.


  1. Wonderful piece, Michael. It reflects exactly how I feel. I never understood the shoddy treatment of old Leafs, and the apparent inability of each regime to change it. I was moved by seeing the reactions of so many of my childhood heroes as their banners were raised. And though I know it's open to discussion, Dave Keon will always be my #1 Leaf - his skill, his
    grace, his leadership by example, and his consistent competitiveness. Well done to Shanahan & Co.!

  2. Well said, as always, Gerund O'. I will simply echo your thoughts.

  3. michael, nice to see you writing again! i'm looking forward to the return of the usual-suspects in the comments: jim, gerund (hey gerund!), intimefor62, ralph, and all of the others... i really enjoy your articles (and the comments!).

    go leafs! (and, go blue jays!)

    1. Good to hear from you, Alex- yes, I too look forward to connecting with VLM'ers who have taken the time to comment so thoughtfully over the years. It just may be that the Leafs can make some noise this season!

  4. Hi Michael:
    Good to see you are back. With centennial, it should be a good year for VLM.

    I do not begrudge any of the players having their number retired, but I have a somewhat different perspective.

    1. Numbers should mean something. In today's hockey, they really have no meaning. In football, the numbers were representative of the position you played. In hockey, it used to be similar. #1 was goalie, #2-5 was defence, #6 - #19 was everyone else (no #13).

    2. You knew that the guy wearing #9 was a sniper, #7 was a playmaker and the single digit numbers were the best players. As a player, it was no compliment to wear #17-19 as it meant you were at the bottom of the lineup. You could tell this without a program.

    3. The number represented skill, not individualism. #9 was Howe, Richard, Kennedy, Hull, Bucyk, Bathgate in 6-team NHL.

    4. When you are asked a favourite number, it means one digit one to nine, not '82'. Numbers started to be multiples, ex. 44, 66, 77, 88, 99.

    In some ways, I like the "Honoured number" method. The problem for the Leafs was in the execution. Replacement players were allowed to wear these special numbers. However, these special numbers should be earned, not given because you wore it it Junior Hockey. Imagine a ceremony where Keon passes on #14 to a newcomer who has proven that he exemplifies his skill and character.

    Michael, I took the 1000 mile trip to Toronto this summer and visited the Hockey Hall of Fame. I had no problem with having my picture taken in Canadien's dressing room with multiple #12's. Had picture with Stanley Cup and went to ACC for picture with Legends Row. Neat - nostalgia.

    While I visit other Blogs, my favourite and the only one I participate in is still VLM. Thanks.

    1. I was nodding along with all of the points you raised, Ralph (RLMcC). And I agree, there was something to the notion of honouring numbers. (And yes, when we were "younger!", the number 9 had a specific meaning in hockey. Those great players you cited wore that number and it meant something to kids across Canada. (In reference to some of the photos you had taken, in Montreal, #12 was Cournoyer, and before that, Dickie Moore, right??)

      And I very much like your notion of Keon or whoever passing along the number 14 to a particular player. As with Broda and Bower, we could retire the same number twice, if the incoming players earns that kind of honour.

      Great to be connected again Ralph. Thank you for the kind words about the site. I appreciate hearing that. I look forward to you dropping by throughout the new season.

  5. Michael, I love your posts and have for years. Good to see you back
    -Chuck Diesel from PensionPlan

    1. Thanks for that, Chuck D- much appreciated. Please check in throughout the season!