|The Leafs will honour Gilmour's No. 93 prior to playing the Penguins on Saturday night. (CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
In looking back at the period of my career when I had the privilege of calling Doug Gilmour a teammate with the Maple Leafs, one thing will always stand out.
During the back-to-back seasons of 1992-93 and '93-94, when we made it to the conference final on each of those occasions, Dougie was more than just the best player on our team. He was arguably the best player in the entire National Hockey League.
That might be construed as a bit of a bold statement. But for me, looking back, I didn't see anyone better during those two seasons.
Offensively, he put up some really big numbers, collecting 238 points over those two seasons, including a franchise record 127 in '92-93. Defensively, he was as good as there was. And, mixed in with that, he was not afraid to get his nose dirty and stir up the pot when need be.
And don't forget. Dougie was not a very big guy, either.
During our 1993 playoff run, when we played three consecutive seven-game series, Dougie could not have been more than 175 pounds soaking wet. He would actually be hooked up to an intravenous line after games. We would laugh when we saw him hooked up to those tubes because, for the rest of us, pizza and beer served the same function.
But there was nothing laughable about the toughness of Gilmour. Don't let his diminutive size fool you.
During the 1994 playoffs, we had a first-round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. Dougie had a fractured foot at the time, but you would never hear this guy complain.
Before every game, they would freeze his foot to the point that he could not feel anything from his ankle on down.
To watch him take those needles and then go out there and play like he was 100%, well, that was inspirational. He didn't blink an eye. He didn't whine. He was right in there, getting in people's faces, chewing up ice time and being the offensive force he had been during the regular season. You would never have known he was playing hurt.
That, in essence, is what Doug Gilmour was all about.
As good as he was on the ice, he was just as much a quality guy off it. For all his talent and skill, he was just one of the guys. There was no aloofness whatsoever. Dougie treated everyone with the same respect, whether it be one of his teammates or the security guy at the Gardens.
When a player of his stature does that, it really is noticed and respected inside the dressing room.
That was the magical thing about our team during those years. We were a very close tight-knit group. No one was put ahead of any one else. There were no egos. And Dougie was the poster-child for that team-first attitude.
Along with playing against him a number of times, I had briefly met Dougie during a Team Canada tryout camp. So when he was traded to us as part of a 10-player deal with the Calgary Flames, he became the type of skilled player, in my opinion, that the Leafs had not had since Darryl Sittler.
At the time, Dougie was coming from a very good Calgary team to a rebuilding Leafs team.
No matter. He got along with everyone and fit right in from Day 1.
That's Dougie for you.
Two months ago, I had the honour of having a banner with my No. 17 go into the rafters. Tonight, Dougie's No. 93 will go up there too.
It is very well-deserved, Dougie. Congratulations.