Keon keeps distance

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

Dave Keon politely has declined yet another olive branch extended by the Maple Leafs.

Invited to the Air Canada Centre as part of a proposed celebration honouring Captain's Row -- an initiative acknowledging the nine living men who wore the prestigious "C" for the Leafs -- Keon told friends he just wouldn't be comfortable in that environment.

In town yesterday for the unveiling of the stunning Captain's Row portrait, featuring Keon, Ted Kennedy, George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Rob Ramage, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin, Keon grinned from ear to ear as he rubbed elbows with his illustrious peers.

Why, he was asked, are you so much more relaxed at this function than you would be in front of a packed house at the ACC?

"Because the Leafs aren't involved in this," Keon said.

To be fair, Keon will not completely shut the door on mending fences with the Leafs, an organization that alienated him during the Harold Ballard era of the 1970s.

But don't bet your Proline winnings on it happening.

"Well I would say never say never but it's highly unlikely," Keon said of a possible reunion with the Toronto organization.

"All I've ever said is that it's a business arrangement that didn't work out. So you move on with your life. I was a hockey player, I thought I could still play, so I had to go find a job somewhere else (other than Toronto)."

The Ballard era is long gone, so why continue to harbour ill-will toward the current Maple Leafs regime?

"They would like to say they are different, but they are all the same," Keon said, reiterating the comments he made to The Toronto Sun during the Captain's Row photo shoot at West End Studio back on June 16.

Keon's decision to separate himself from the Toronto organization over the years has spawned public pleas for him to have a change of heart, including web sites dedicated to getting the former Leafs captain to mend fences with the team.

"I'm aware of them and I appreciate it," he said. "But this has nothing to do with the people. Nothing at all."

So what does it have to do with?

Sittler yesterday suggested it might involve Keon's alleged wish that his No. 14 jersey be retired.

"We were at a golf tournament recently and he told me what the reasons were," Sittler said. "Whatever the case, David's doing it the way he wants to do it.

"On the other hand, there so many fans, so many players that played with and against him that are here now, that would love to see (the Leafs honour him). He was the best two way players, one of the best Leafs ever, won the Cup, Conn Smythe, captain ... forget the other stuff, he deserves to be acknowledged.

"Guys like Wendel and I get pats on the back out in the community. Fans are always saying: 'It's great to see you.' Fans would love that for David, too.

"But if he doesn't want it, he doesn't want it."

If he does have a change of heart, Leafs general manager John Ferguson last night repeated his long-time stance that Keon has an open invitation.

It doesn't sound as if Keon is in any hurry to take up the offer.

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LIKE IT? HERE'S HOW TO GET IT

Captain's Row, the limited edition print featuring the nine living Maple Leafs captains, can be purchased for $1,000 by going to the following websites: www.torontosun.com or www.frameworth.ca.

The project, spearheaded by the likes of Leafs trainer Scotty McKay and former captain Doug Gilmour, will help raise funds for various charities.

Only 1,000 editions have been created.


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