Burke plays numbers game

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

DENVER -- Had Brian Burke been at the helm of the Maple Leafs during the Doug Gilmour years, you would not be seeing the No. 93 honoured at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night.

Yes, there would still be a ceremony paying tribute to Gilmour's contributions to the Leafs, with banner and all.

But the number involved would be lower.

That's because Burke would not have allowed his players to wear such a high number.

Like the movers and shakers at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., Burke does not believe in retiring numbers.

Nor does he like seeing his present-day players wearing high ones.

As a result, should Mikhail Grabovski still be on the roster in a year or two, he likely won't be wearing No. 84.

And if Nik Antropov hasn't been traded by then, his trademark No. 80 might be obsolete.

"We are going to make it so that, eventually, all our numbers will be under 40," Burke said last night. "If you look at my teams, it has always been that way.

"High numbers are for training camp. If you stick around and make the team, you get a lower one. Corey Perry had 61 at camp, but once he was with the Ducks during the season, he was No. 10. Rob Niedermayer was the highest one at 44 but that's because he had it before I got there.

"I don't believe in numbers all over the board."

As for the retired numbers issue, Burke was drinking the MLSEL Kool-Aid long before he arrived in Toronto. He believes a great player is best honoured by continuing the tradition of his number, not storing it away in mothballs.

"I don't want to have 20 numbers dangling from the rafters that are unavailable to our players," Burke said. "By having people wearing the same ones that the (elite) players did, it allows the history of the franchise to be carried on."

Despite the push of those, such as yours truly, for the Leafs to follow in the footsteps of teams like the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers by retiring numbers, MLSEL president Richard Peddie reiterated yesterday that "we will not be (doing that)."

To date, only two numbers have been retired in franchise history: The No. 6 of Ace Bailey, whose career was ended by a blindside blow from Eddie Shore; and the No. 5 of Bill Barilko, who died in a plane crash.

But there are plenty that have been honoured, with Gilmour's No. 93 going up just two months after the No. 17 of his former teammate, Wendel Clark, went there as well.

Together, they join the banners of Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Walter (Turk) Broda, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, George Armstrong, Charlie Conacher, Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler, Clarence (Hap) Day, Leonard (Red) Kelly and Borje Salming.

Several years ago, Gilmour, during his columnist days with the Toronto Sun, said it was strange seeing modern-day players wearing Sittler and Mahovlich's No. 27, and Keon's No. 14. In his mind, those numbers should be retired.

We agree. Peddie and Burke do not.

It's their house.

The primary reason Keon has alienated himself from the organization, according to sources, is that the Leafs continue to hand out his number. That probably is an overreaction on his part but, at the same time, it's his right.

Sittler, on the other hand, has no problem with the way the Leafs do things now. Keep in mind, however, that he is employed as an ambassador by the organization.

"When I came out of junior, I was honoured when they gave me 27 because that's what Frank Mahovlich had worn," Sittler said last night. "I appreciated it. And I think now, when kids get numbers that have been honoured by the Leafs, they feel the same way.

"So I am fine with the way the Leafs are doing things."

Under Burke's watch, it will continue that way.

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REPLAY

FURTHER REVIEW

When instant replay determined that Milan Hejduk had scored early in the second period, officials were forced to add 53 seconds onto the clock. That's how long play continued after the play in question, a scramble in front of Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala.

TRICK HAT

Hats came fluttering out of the Pepsi Center stands when Hejduk appeared to score his third goal of the game at 6: 45 of the third period. Not so fast. The goal was waved off because Ryan Smyth was assessed a goalie interference penalty. It was a bad call. Smyth, in fact, was pushed into Toskala by Luke Schenn.

KILLER TRIBUTE

The Maple Leafs will host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre. A banner honouring Doug Gilmour's No. 93 will be hoisted to the rafters as part of a pre-game ceremony.

POINT-GETTERS

Toronto G A P

Dominic Moore 2 1 3

Jason Blake 1 2 3

Mikhail Grabovski 1 1 2

Alexei Ponikarovsky 0 2 2

Nikolai Kuleman 0 2 2

Niklas Hagman 0 2 2

Nik Antropov 1 0 1

Jeff Finger 1 0 1

Matt Stajan 1 0 1

Ian White 0 1 1

Tomas Kaberle 0 1 1

Lee Stempniak 0 1 1

Luke Schenn 0 1 1

Colorado

Milan Hejduk 2 0 2

Chris Stewart 1 0 1

John-Michael Liles 1 0 1

NEXT UP

Tomorrow -- 7 p.m.; Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins; CBC, AM 640.


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