November 10, 2012
Sundin at centre of great Leafs debate
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
If not Mats Sundin, then who?
Maybe Dave Keon. Maybe Syl Apps. Maybe Borje Salming. Maybe the rarely considered Frank Mahovlich.
The Maple Leafs aren't like the Montreal Canadiens. There is no Rocket Richard, no Guy Lafleur, no Howie Morenz in their history. It isn't so easy to determine who has been the greatest Leaf player of all time.
Sundin, without Stanley Cups, is in the running because of the high-end straight line that was his career. There was no off year. Over time, one season seemed to meld into the other. He never played on a great team, never wavered, rarely played with an equal on the wing, yet led the Leafs in scoring 12 of his 13 seasons in Toronto. No one has ever done that before. No one will ever do that again.
Darryl Sittler led the Leafs in scoring seven different times. Mahovlich did it five times; Keon three times. And for two and a half seasons of magic, no Leaf player was ever better than Doug Gilmour. But longevity disqualifies him from any meaningful debate about the top player in Leafs history. He had the top season.
But it's difficult, on this Hall of Fame weekend, on any scale, to find a Leaf greater than Sundin. Keon was the most complete player of the Stanley Cup years. Sittler the most explosive later on. Mahovlich the most talented.
Mats Sundin may not be the best Leaf of all ... the question is, who was better?
THIS AND THAT
When I think Pavel Bure, I think one game: The semifinals of the 1998 Olympic hockey tournament in Japan. He was never better than that day, scoring five times in a 7-4 win for Russia over Finland, at even strength, shorthanded, power play. He was a comet. You couldn't take your eye off of him. His speed and skill was ridiculous. Pure Hall of Fame ... Joe Sakic should have been a Leaf. You may know the story. He may not. In the 1987 entry draft, Leafs' chief scout Floyd Smith coveted Sakic and wanted the Leafs to choose him with the seventh pick in the first round. Coach John Brophy wanted a tough defenceman. Owner Harold Ballard intervened and went with his coach over his scout. The Leafs chose Luke Richardson. Eight picks later, Sakic went to Quebec. Sakic is the only '87 pick from the first round to make the Hall of Fame, although Brendan Shanahan should make it two next year ... Later in that same draft, though, the Leafs did draft Joe Sacco, who now coaches in Colorado where Sakic works in the front office ... Adam Oates isn't the first undrafted player to make the Hall but one of the few. Last year there was Ed Belfour and the year before that Dino Ciccarelli. Other undrafted players in the Hall include Peter Stastny, Salming and this guy named Gretzky.
HEAR AND THERE
When the NHLPA walks in to negotiating sessions with Ron Hainsey, Matt Darche, Kevin Westgarth, George Parros and Chris Campoli alongside Donald Fehr, do the owners ask: Who are those guys? ... The fact that Alex Anthopoulos' first draft pick as GM, Deck McGuire, has regressed since turning pro isn't as big a deal as it might have been because his supplemental first round picks from that 2010 draft, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard, are highly regarded all over baseball. One might wind up traded over the winter ... How proud the NHL and NHLPA must be: HRR is now a sporting term, just like RBI and ERA ... My speech for the Argos Sunday: "You're playing Kerry frickin' Joseph. You can't lose to Kerry frickin' Joseph." ... This paid political announcement is brought to you by me, career CFL lover and critic: Buy Argos tickets Sunday. Go to the game. Make it fun. Toronto has been losing for way too long. Try to experience a winner. That is all ... I thought Andre Durie had a shot at being named Top Canadian in the East and making the East all-star team. I thought wrong ... Weird as it may be, there could be a Calgary-Edmonton Grey Cup in Toronto. It's a long shot. But it's possible ... If you remove Morgan Rielly's name from the list, do the Leafs have a sure-thing prospect in the organization? Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne were AHL healthy scratches on Friday. Brad Ross is barely getting a sniff with the Marlies. Jerry D'Amigo hasn't scored a goal this year. Scouts tell me Tyler Biggs can't skate well enough at this point to be taken seriously as an NHL prospect. Which leaves what?
SCENE AND HEARD
I had a long talk with Bryan Colangelo before the season began and he talked about how much he liked this edition of the Raptors. "I like this team," he said, "so long as we stay healthy." And here we are, two weeks later, and Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields are out. The poor Raps never seem to get a break ... Ran into a New York Knicks exec in London at the end of the Olympics and asked about Fields. "Nice guy," he said. But what kind of player? I inquired. The wife of the exec answered: "Nice guy." ... Andrea Bargnani is starting to remind me of a reluctant race horse. When he's ridden hard, he's does just fine. When he isn't, he falls back to the pack ... I will give the NHL credit for this: When they leak information during the lockout, they do so in both English and French ... You can interpret the signing of Maicer Izturis one of two ways: 1) He's a cheap replacement at second base for Kelly Johnson at less than half the price: 2) He's an expensive replacement for Omar Vizquel at four times the price. PS: Bet you didn't know Izturis' first big league team was the Montreal Expos ... For those counting, that's 20 straight wins for McMaster's football team and another Ontario title. Very impressive, Stefan Ptaszek.
AND ANOTHER THING
This is crazy: Going into Thursday night's game, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning had thrown for the exact same number of yards, and led their teams to the same number of wins. Luck, by the way, has now thrown for 15 touchdown passes, one more than his father, Oliver, managed in a career where he mostly backed up Warren Moon in Houston ... If the Battalion are keeping their name on their move from Brampton to North Bay, let's hope they're not keeping those gawd-awful green uniforms ... There's a terrific job open at Wilfrid Laurier U with the resignation of longtime football coach, Gary Jeffries. Guelph defensive co-ordinator Kevin MacNeill, a former Laurier coach, would be a great choice to replace Jeffries as would Argos assistant Mike O'Shea ... And please don't tell me that Brampton not drawing junior hockey crowds is a reflection on Toronto, the hockey city. Who in their right mind would drive an hour in rush hour from Metro Toronto to watch a junior team you have no connection to? ... Born this date: Pie Traynor and Rabbit Maranville. And a happy birthday to Cowboy Bob Orton (62), Ken Holland (57), Albert Johnson III (35), Kevin Kunnert (61), Steve Young (51), Victor Cruz (26) and belatedly to Johnny Bower (88) ... And hey, whatever became of Rickey Foggie?
TALK ABOUT A LEADER, MATS WAS ALL THAT
During the 2003 NHL season, back when there were NHL seasons, I wrote a column about Leafs players losing faith in coach Pat Quinn.
One of the sources of the piece was a player agent who represented Leafs players and said: "Everyone is unhappy ... Listening to the players it was like listening to a bitch session, complain, complain, complain. This is a team with a lot of malcontents right now and some of them are their most important players."
Needless to say, among the least happy people to learn of the column was Leafs captain, Mats Sundin.
But rather than confront me publicly, which would likely happen in today's world, Sundin had his own ways of doing business. He arranged for a private meeting. When I got there, it was Sundin, Gary Roberts, Ed Belfour and Tie Domi, all in a room. Sundin ran the meeting.
He wanted to know where the story came from. He asked questions. His teammates asked questions. This wasn't public or loud or confrontational, which was how Sundin chose to conduct his business. The team, with him, always came first.
The conversation led to better relationships and a greater understanding between the Leafs leadership and this certain columnist.
TILLMAN TOO TALENTED TO BE GONE LONG
Eric Tillman traded away Ricky Ray and that, more than anything else, got him fired as general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos.
But should he have been fired? He took over an Edmonton Eskimos team that was 2-8 with Ray at quarterback and had a respectable 23-21 record. In fact, in the four-plus years before Tillman arrived in Edmonton, the Eskimos has an uncharacteristic 32-50 record with Ray as their starter.
The GM brought in the very capable Kavis Reed to coach (just as he had done with Kent Austin in Saskatchewan). Before Edmonton, Tillman should have won two Grey Cups except for that ridiculous last play too-many-men call. That would have equalled the number of Cups won by the Riders in their history. That has to be worth something.
Tillman is different. He does things his way. He didn't become part of the Edmonton community, which was a mistake. But Tillman has won Grey Cups in Toronto, Regina and Vancouver.
He may be running out of teams, but the Edmonton job won't be his last in the CFL.
AA'S WAYS MAKE ONE WONDER
Alex Anthopoulos did not put a public deadline on the hiring of a manager to replace John Farrell. He never does. But he did put something of a private deadline on the move. And that the deadline has basically passed, which makes you wonder: What's going on here? What kind of complications have crept in to the Blue Jays' attempt to hire a manager? Since DJ Farrell left for Boston (that's DJ as in dream job), Miami has added Jays' minor league skipper Mike Redmond as manager; Colorado has named Walt Weiss; Davey Johnson and Jim Leyland have signed new deals in Washington and Detroit and before that, Cleveland hired Tito Francona to manage. The Jays have seemed to plod forward: They should have their man soon. But you do wonder, what's going on and why has it taken so long?