October 20, 2012
Leafs legend Duff only wants the best
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - In the best season of Dick Duff’s Hall of Fame career, he earned $48,000 playing for the Stanley Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens.
And he made so much money, he actually went to general manager Sam Pollock and asked if he could defer some salary because it was too expensive to pay his taxes.
Duff was relating that story Saturday, after a day of the usual questions around town: The main one being, when will there be NHL hockey?
“It was so different for us,” said Duff, 76, who played 18 NHL seasons, most of it in Toronto and Montreal. “We had a salary, but we really made our money by winning. If you finished first or won the Cup you could really cash in. You could make 30% more because the emphasis was on winning. There was so much incentive to win.
“Today, everybody makes their money. I’m not one of those old guys who complains. Our pensions have gone up in the last few years. I’m pretty happy with my lot.”
What Duff misses the most is seeing the best play the best. With too many teams and too few great players, he said he misses “best on best competition. You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see teams like those Edmonton teams playing those Islanders teams. Those lineups were deep and full of talent.
“I think the league has reached the saturation point. Too many teams and you don’t know who enough of the players are. I know I’m one of the ancient guys, but I loved it when Toronto and Montreal were the best teams. The league revolved around those two teams. That’s when I liked it the best.”
THIS AND THAT
On one hand, that was noble of Tom Anselmi, the new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment boss, to lower Toronto FC ticket prices after yet another dismal season. On the other hand, has Anselmi set precedent for himself should his higher priced assets, the Maple Leafs and the Raptors, continue on their path to nowhere? Does he then follow suit with ticket reductions in those areas as well? ... Give the Surrey Eagles junior team some credit for creativity. Instead of running the usual 50-50 draw at every junior hockey game during the lockout, the Eagles have changed the permutation: They’re running a 57-43 draw and good for them for being clever ... The ridiculous aspect of the NHL lockout — other than the fact that is continues — is how close the two sides actually are to getting a deal done. If the NHL believed no deal could be made, games beyond November 1 would have been cancelled by now. But rhetoric and threats aside, the two sides are actually reasonably close to getting something done ... I love sportswriters, and not just because I happen to be one of them. I love our presumption. I love the fact we think if you give us a calculator and ten minutes we can solve the NHL lockout and just about anything else when the $8-million commissioner and his staff of lawyers and accountants can’t seem to come up with a solution that works for the $3-million union head and his history of operating the best union in all of pro sports.
HEAR AND THERE
About this player fight over the guaranteeing of all signed contracts, I wonder: Would Phil Kessell, at $5.4 million, be damaged if his salary were only $5.2 million? Or would Mikael Grabovski, who seemed to get by with a young family at $3.1 million, be fine earning $5.3 million instead of the $5.5 million he is expected to be paid. Really now, is this what the players are fighting about? ... I was touched, though, when Zach Parise insisted he will “fight for what’s right.” The same Parise who has already cashed a $10-million
signing bonus cheque for moving from perennial winner to perennial loser ... And not that I’m anti-player here. I’m anti-everybody. There’s enough money to make all sides happy here. And Gary Bettman’s lack of leadership, his inability to avoid a fight, his antagonistic ways, his clear path of getting a deal which more than anything is structured to protect his owners from his owners, is apparent ... Me, I’m pro-hockey and pro-fan and truly annoyed that by Saturday night ritual has been interrupted. And if they took away Chinese Food on Sunday, then I’d really be pissed ... One more unexplainable piece: The average salary in the NHL is $2.4 million. The average salary in the NFL is
$1.9 million. NHL revenue: $3.3 billion. NFL revenue: $9.5 billion. Wonder what the scrappy Parise thinks of that?
SCENE AND HEARD
You rarely hear anything negative about Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings owner who has the Detroit Tigers in the World Series again. Except from Brad Park, the former NHL star, who hardly has good things to say about Ilitch in his newly released book, Straight Shooter ... The Yankees have a $13-million
option on Curtis Granderson’s contract next season, so what do they do. Consider the 16 times he struck out in 30 post-season at bats for the worst hitting playoff team in history: Or do they look at back to back 40 home run seasons with more than 100 runs knocked in ... There can be no happy ending to the Alex Rodriguez story. He’s done and all that money has to be paid ... It was a lot easier to hate the St. Louis Cardinals when Tony LaRussa was managing ... ESPN has compiled a list of the Top 25 NHL players under the age of 25. Jonathan Toews was No. 1 on that list. Wayne Simmons was No. 25. Not a single Leafs player made the list ... The CFL’s television contract is up at the end of the season and ratings are going in the wrong direction. When an observer commented that the Thanksgiving game between Saskatchewan and Toronto did more than one million viewers, the TV executive said: “That’s one game. Saskatchewan used to do a million every game.” ... All the yards Chad Owens gets, the most in history, make for nice window dressing. But if he can’t hold on to the football, is he helping the Argos or costing them games?
AND ANOTHER THING
I read recently about what a failure David Braley has been as owner of the Argos, and I had to laugh: Everyone who owns the Argos basically fails. Braley hasn’t packed the place, but neither did Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon (whom Braley helped out financially), Sherwood Schwarz, the CFL, TSN Enterprises, Harry Ornest, Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy (they did it briefly). Seven different owners since 1990 is the most telling number of all ... On the other hand, the movie Argo happens to be terrific and is highly recommended here (there it is, a sportswriter stepping out of his wheelhouse once again) ... The Tigers beat the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series when lefty Mickey Lolich won three games for Detroit. Could Justin Verlander play the Lolich role in this Series, or will a modern day manager allow him to start three games? ... Bet you didn’t know that the CFL sent out of a memo to its teams following the Yunel Escobar situation with the Blue Jays. The short form of the memo was: Nothing is to be written on the black beneath the eyes of players .... And bet you didn’t remember that Todd McClellan has won more games in his first four seasons coaching the San Jose Sharks than any coach in NHL history? ... Happy birthday to Whitey Ford (84), George Bell (53), Jerry Garvin (57), Bill Berg (45), Brian Kilrea (78) and Willis McGahee (31) ... And hey, whatever became of Moe Mantha?
LOOKS LIKE LOOO A LEAF
When it became apparent that Roberto Luongo would be traded by the Vancouver Canucks, the Maple Leafs front office met on the subject. And there was a clear split: Those in favour of trading for Luongo; those who didn’t want to look in that direction. GM Brian Burke was one of those who had to be convinced, not necessarily because of the goaltender and his skill set but because of his personal dislike of the long-term contracts he believed circumvented the salary cap. Burke eventually agreed that Luongo was someone worth pursuing. And when the Florida Panthers, Luongo’s first choice of locations and teams, didn’t enthusiastically go after the goalie, it put the Leafs in position to make the deal. The assumption now is when the NHL next resumes playing, Luongo will be suiting up for the Leafs.
FREGOSI ON THE BALL
Bob Elliott related a Jim Fregosi story in a recent column that is worth repeating, just in case you missed first time around. It seems particularly significant in light of the Alex Rodriguez mess, involving flipping souvenir balls with messages on them to women at Yankee Stadium. When Fregosi, the former Blue Jays’ manager, took over managing the Anaheim Angels in 1978, he held a brief team meeting: “Signs were explained, players were told to be on time, play hard and were told there would not be any future meetings,” said Fregosi. The next day Fregosi called another team meeting to add one rule to his list. “Only the manager dates the manager’s wife,” Fregosi said, holding up the ball that one of his players had given to a bat boy to pass along to the pretty woman in the stands. The woman in this case: w. Fregosi.
CITO A FARRELL FACTOR
What part has Cito Gaston played in the Blue Jays’ willingness to trade manager John Farrell to Boston? Probably more of a role than he even knows. Farrell and Gaston didn’t get off to a great start when Farrell was hired to replace Cito and had some less than kind things to say about the way in which the Blue Jays played. He left the impression, upon his hiring, that his methods would be more modern, more technical, more successful. That was then. Gaston happens to take in most Blue Jays games, either from television or from his regular position in Paul Beeston’s box. Now, Beeston adores Gaston and holds him in very high esteem from the back to back World Series years. You have to wonder: How much has Gaston’s influence with Beeston altered the team president’s view of the outgoing manager?