Sunday, November 23, 2008

Legend


Once a year my best friend and I get out for dinner, pints and a Leafs' game. The tickets are always terrific, courtesy of the company he works for, and the games are generally memorable ones. Two years ago was the Pouliot penalty shot game, as it will forever be remembered in these parts. The 67 Cup team was feted before that game, Red Kelly made an amazingly politically incorrect comment during an interview shown on the scoreboard, and the Oilers fell just short in one of Ryan Smyth's last games in copper and blue. We were also shown on the broadcast a number of times apparently. (I was the handsome man in the cordouroy coat booing the Torontos).


Last year was an afternoon game that Hasek essentially handed to a badly outplayed Leafs' squad. Dan Cleary was also hit in the face by a slapshot and knocked out of the Wings' lineup for the rest of the regular season. Our seats were right near one of the gangways and we got to watch Elliott Friedman do his thing - interesting stuff.


Last night was a terrific game. Khabibulin, who apparently has been great this year, did his best to hand the game to the Leafs but the third period and short overtime were spent in the Leafs' end and the Hawks' comeback was pretty well inevitable. The Hawks are an entertaining team to watch, fast and skilled, anchored by Keith and Seabrook on D, featuring Kane, Toews and Patrick Sharp up front. They have a ton of balance and they are very young and they are hard on the puck - without Bob Pulford around to fuck things up it looks like this franchise may be finally turning the corner.


The Leafs, meanwhile, are long on hard work and short on talent. Toskela was mediocre again and unless he is very good they will lose on most nights. Jeff Finger, who Cliff Fletcher mistook for Kurt Sauer, was atrocious. Blake, who responded to a benching by having his best game as a Leaf against the Oilers, was a cipher once again and I cannot see how they will be able to move him at all. And Ian White was sporting a gigantic mustache which made him look especially douchy. We were thinking Movember but I'm sure he has sported it all season and White strikes me as a guy who would not raise a hand to help anyone and also one of those people who any form of irony would completely escape. I'm pretty sure he's just an idiot.


Of course last night was Wendel Clark night at the ACC and I have to admit that I have never seen a Leafs crowd act like that at any time ever. They roared and roared and would have kept on roaring if an embarassed Clark hadn't plowed through his speech despite the ovation. They settled quickly when they realized that he was going to keep on talking and then it was over with. Clark was one of the most exciting players of his era on the ice and one of the dullest off of it. His six or seven lines made Joe Sakic look like Winston Churchill rallying the Empire during the Battle of Britain.


Wendel Clark is an interesting cat and anyone trying to figure out the Leafs and their fanbase would have to start with him as a case study. He was a good but not great player who did three things very well. He had a terrific wrist shot. He was a punishing bodychecker, one of the best that I have ever seen. And he was a ferocious fighter. He came to the Leafs when they were wandering the wilderness and he immediately became THE fan favourite despite the fact that he was a poor playmaker, an indifferent two way player and a guy who never really led the Leafs anywhere. Gilmour was the far superior player, as was Sundin, who Fletcher traded Clark for in the classic sell high move. Clark had scored 46 goals, his career high, when Fletcher moved him to Quebec. His body was already breaking down and after he left Toronto his career swiftly declined. The player the Leafs received, Sundin, would perform at an extraordinary level for nearly fifteen years and yet when his day comes at the ACC the reception will be nothing like the one Wendel received.


I was at the celebration of the 67 team and the reception for that last championship Leafs team was nothing like what went on last night. The crowd was in a celebratory mood from beginning to end and even a loss did little to suppress the rowdy buzz.


Does that say anything about Leaf fans? Part of me would like to be smug and say yes but the truth is there are Leaf fans like the ones behind me last night who lamented the team's lack of a leader since Clarkie left, who booed Kubina and Antropov constantly, who went on and on about Luke Schenn and how awesome he is and who remarked that they could care less about winning as long as the team played hard and tough. And then there are fans who loved Clark and enjoy the change in atmosphere around the club these days but who hate the decades of poor ownership and mismanagement that have left this one proud franchise one of the least successful in the league over the last forty years. Every club has its dope fans (Trade Hemsky!) but I don't know that the Leaf fanbase has a greater share of delusionals then the Oilers. Its just that there is a lot more noise when it comes to the Leafs and that MLSE is such an incompetent bunch who still manage to make extraordinary profits despite their ineptitude. The Leafs' fans, for better or for worse, won't vote with their feet and as long as they don't (and Richard Peddie is in charge) the drought will continue, regardless of who comes in to take over the club.


So the fans here hang their hats on Clark and Gilmour and Domi (!?) to try and forget these decades of misery, while Sundin languishes outside of their affections. This allocation of loyalty, by the way, again is not solely a Leafs' storyline. Oilers fans, spoiled by their still relatively recent dynasty, find fault in nearly every player. Players of extraordinary skill like Hemsky and Visnovsky are not bloody minded enough, guys like Gilbert, Horcoff and Pisani too subtle. But Ryan Smyth, like Wendel, was the beloved face of the franchise for years. A far better player then Wendel Clark, Smyth lacked the big shot or the flashiness (qualities the new fan favourite Souray possesses in abundance), but made up for it with the greasiness along the boards, the resilience in front of the net, the steadfast reply to country's call, the so obvious love for the game.


Strangely enough though Smyth is now a villain amongst many Oiler fans which is more depressing then anything. As they lament the present club's inattention to detail, its failure to get its collective nose dirty, its go nowhere flashiness and slickness they forget that one day, not that long ago, they had a player who epitomized the qualities they miss and while the divorce was mutual it seems that Smyth and a few diehards are the only ones who remember what we once had.


Someday Ryan Smyth will probably receive some sort of honour from his original club. Hopefully the outpouring that night will equal what Wendel received last night but I would guess, sadly, that it will not.

34 comments:

Swabbubba said...

U know i could get behind most things. But Mr Mullet made a choice. He never returned the call. He could just said no thanks. But he made his choice. So Ryan too the roof please man. Then we would have to put Weight up too. I think the standards the Oilers have are different than the Leafs. If in 40 years we have not won a cup that is while away then we could take a player such as Ryan and put him to the roof.
Ryan was he an 1st team all star? has he won any trophies in Oilers colours? I was fan until I heard he did not return the call that dropped him down the rankings big time as he said he did not want to go... once gone he sure forgot pretty quick

mc79hockey said...

Pat -

Two things. First, you really are a hell of a writer. This was very well done. Two, I think that on Ryan Smyth night on the Rex, the crowd will go nuts. For one night only, it'll be everyone else who thought it was a good idea that he go.

Me, I'm saving my money for tickets to Pat LaForge night and a bag full of D cells.

cablevisionrags said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hunter1909 said...

Retiring Smyth's jersey would be wrong. These days it seems like every team retires jerseys as a PR exercise.

Might as well retire Doug Weight's while we're at it.

Now I'm starting to get paranoid. They aren't really thinking about retiring Lowe's jersey, are they?

PS: You are a good writer. My gf thinks your dog is cute too.

Black Dog said...

hunter - thanks, I appreciate that

Now, mind you guys I didn't say anything about retiring Smyth's number, did I? I think the Oiler way is a proper one - Hall of Famers, with the exception of Hamilton but he was a special case. I'm talking about a special night for the guy, a thanks for the memories type thing. He was the face of the Oilers for the longest time and deserves some recognition for that.

its like Naylor said today - one franchise honours a guy who won two Cups, the other honours a guy who never won anything - I'd prefer to be the former, of course but Wendel is loved here, there is no other word for it

swabubba - we won't get into that old argument, I think its been rehashed a million times, Smyth was stubborn but it wasn't 100 Gs as everyone says - the contract he did get shows what he would have left on the table

regardless you either blame him or blame EIG - its a polarizing issue - its just too bad the way it worked out

Jonathan said...

Nice post, Black Dog. Very, very nice.

Regardless of everything that went down when he left, Smyth played for this organization for better than ten years, and he fought every single night. He took the beatings when he had to, put himself in harms way time and time again, and is exactly the kind of player who - regardless of skill level- you're proud to see in an Oilers' jersey.

It would be nice if the Oilers honoured numbers - recognizing outstanding players without retiring the jersey. Smyth would easily qualify for that.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Ty.

I certainly hope that's the case.

I came to Toronto shortly after Wendel did and I was pretty ambivalent about him, mostly because of the hype about him, plus I hated the Leafs.

I can't say that I have ever experienced anything like last night, ever, at a sporting event.

I hope that if they honour Smyth that it approaches that. It was amazing.

re: Laforge - we'll fly out together and go halvsies on the Duracells

Pension Plan Puppets said...

Good post. Congrats on The Score pickup. I don't know that I'd include Domi within 100 yards of guys like Wendel and Dougie in terms of the fans' affections or that, until he decided that he wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do, Mats wasn't well on his way to reaching that level.

Then again, I don't know if I'd call success a generation past that recent ;)

Nice to see someone recognize that each fanbase has their idiots. Unfortunately, the Leafs' get prime air-time to show the rest of the country their worst.

The Leafs' fans, for better or for worse, won't vote with their feet and as long as they don't (and Richard Peddie is in charge) the drought will continue, regardless of who comes in to take over the club.

Maybe if the fanbase was many many many times smaller not going to the games might work but the reality is that the Leafs' make most of their money from merchandising and corporate sales. Only about 1/3 comes from ticket sales/game day sales.

The bright side is that Peddie is supposedly ready to hand over the hockey operations once a new president is brought in.

Pension Plan Puppets said...

Retiring Smyth's jersey would be wrong. These days it seems like every team retires jerseys as a PR exercise.

Might as well retire Doug Weight's while we're at it.


What's wrong with each franchise recognizing players that meant a lot to the club and to their fans?

Do you begrudge Ken Daneyko seeing his number retired by the Devils?

The Oilers are halfway to 40...

Tyler said...

The problem for the Oilers is that, as they've now retired numbers, honouring numbers is going to be seen as implicitly saying "He's good but not THAT good". Now that might be true, but it's still an awkward way to start honouring someone.

As far as Smyth goes, he's the face of a generation of Oilers. I've said before that I see this team has having had four eras: 1979-1992, 1992-96, 1996-2006, 2006-present. The 92-96 squad is going to have to live without a banner. I don't see the harm of one guy going up for the 96-06 gang and Weight doesn't have anywhere near Smyth's claim to that honour. My eras are about 10 years, give or take - the Oilers have 700 years until they'll be out of numbers, assuming that you give the teams that win Cups a few extra.

hunter1909 said...

Tyler - Please. leave Smyth where he is. He doesn't deserve to be up there next to the greats. Why? Because he wasn't one of them, not in any way shape or form.

I remember being in the Bell Centre a few years ago and was awed looking at the 8 names of former Habs hanging up there in the rafters.

Isn't that what it's supposed to be about?

I guess it's becoming an automatic, sexy, PR kind of a thing.

doritogrande said...

Re: Smyth.

The guy was an absolute warrior during his time here, especially during the cup run. Everytime I see his face I'm reminded of the mug that took a Pronger shot off the teeth, then came back to set up the game winner in triple OT. That's the Smyth I remember, and I'd be there to honour him for that singular play. He will always be Captain Canada to me. There will be no taking that away. He was a grinder, he was a scorer and played balls to the walls through it all. He was Oilers hockey.

If that's not good enough for a banner at Rexall, I don't know what is.

BD: Duracell may be brand name sure, but the cheapies they have at Canadian Tiger just throw so much better.

Black Dog said...

PPP - halfway to forty, yes, but at least we've been to the finals in this generation, hmmm ;)

you're right about Domi not being at the same level as the other guys but he certainly always had a weird outsized level of love from Leaf fans in respect to his contributions

as for Mats, I'm sorry but I can't agree - I don't know if its because he's a Swede or not Wendel Clark but it just doesn't seem its there for him and that's before the whole past year

as to the whole honouring/retiring numbers thing well I can see both sides of the argument - a guy like Daneyko or Clark, these guys stand out - are the Canucks planning on Linden this year? isn't Smyl a guy they retired too?

I can appreciate that

then of course you have the Avs retiring Bourque's number - that was goofy - and more and more guys who were not particularly special also getting their numbers raised to the rafters

now the Oilers have set a precedent and it is one I agree with but the fact is now there are thirty teams so Cup winners are hard to come by and the collection of talent they had will likely never be seen again

so what do you do - Hall of Famers only?

I wouldn't be unhappy if Smyth's number was retired. I know that he is no Hall of Famer and not in the class of the guys who are up there now but then again neither was Hamilton, right?

And Ty's point about having a "second level of honour" is right on - its kind of weird.

Swabbubba said...

Hall of Famers only for the roof. maybe a wall of honour or something for lesser known. I could get behind that for Smyth. But u know I go back to WHA days with this team so... I know the history.
So how does Ryan fit in with the lesser knowns of the Glory days? Krush , MacT, Tik, Hunter... u know it gets to be a slippery slope.

mc79hockey said...

I tell you what I'd be alright with - a ring of statues surrounding the rink. I don't know how much a statue costs (apparently, a life size statue of the Fonz costs $85K but that would be a very cool way to honour players. Easy to add to, doesn't pull numbers out of circulation.

spOILer said...

Re: The Love

In a word...

Lunchbucket.

And no these guys don't get their rags retired, althougn maybe they should.

And as for the price of statues, keep in mind Henry Winkler, The Fonz, was a Royal Short Person. Certainly shorter than any biblical David.

hunter1909 said...

I don't give a flying monkey what other teams do.

Canucks are a desperate loser team, through and through. I'm sure there are people who will give me an argument about that.

The Devils can do anything they like, because I remember the time Gretzky called them out. Cue the rushing to lynch hunter1909 mob here.

I'm starting to wonder what happens if Katz turns out like some of these people and equates retiring jerseys with his ego. That's the kind of shit that happens sometimes.

At the end of the day I have better things to worry about. Like my favourite subject. Me.

Black Dog said...

hunter - um, the Devils have won three Cups since the Oilers last one, right? emulating them might not be a bad thing ;)

swabubba's point is on the mark of course - there's Tikkanen and Huddy and Lowe as well (cue rage from many)

The way the Oilers do it is the best way I would say and while Hamilton is a precedent the fact is if Smyth's number were to be retired then you could argue for a whole bunch of other guys.

And if you have a secondary honour of some sort then what happens if say Lowe is there and then he gets put into the HHOF down the road?

Maybe they should just have a banquet or something. With roast beef and bread pudding. And good beers, not crappy ones.

Smytty would like that I think.

Tyler said...

Maybe they should just have a banquet or something. With roast beef and bread pudding. And good beers, not crappy ones.

Smytty would like that I think.


The bread pudding and beer maybe. I'm not sure he can eat roast beef.

Black Dog said...

Hey there, you can do anything with a food processor.

Pension Plan Puppets said...

as for Mats, I'm sorry but I can't agree - I don't know if its because he's a Swede or not Wendel Clark but it just doesn't seem its there for him and that's before the whole past year

I don't know about that. Things were certainly headed that way after he scored his 500th. It was never going to reach the level that Wendel reached for whatever reason (my guess is because he's a Swede and doesn't fight) but the last year showed how easily that was derailed.

as to the whole honouring/retiring numbers thing well I can see both sides of the argument - a guy like Daneyko or Clark, these guys stand out - are the Canucks planning on Linden this year? isn't Smyl a guy they retired too?

I can appreciate that


Exactly. Those are guys that meant a lot to the franchise and fanbase.

then of course you have the Avs retiring Bourque's number - that was goofy - and more and more guys who were not particularly special also getting their numbers raised to the rafters

Yeah, that's pretty brutal.

now the Oilers have set a precedent and it is one I agree with but the fact is now there are thirty teams so Cup winners are hard to come by and the collection of talent they had will likely never be seen again

so what do you do - Hall of Famers only?


Good points. What about a squad like Ottawa with Alfredsson? Do they retire his number? He was the first face of the franchise and first real captain. As much as I hate him if they don't I'd be disappointed.

Black Dog said...

PPP - well I think Alfredsson will likely be in the HOF I would say but even if not he's a guy whose number they retire for sure

What is your take on the whole 'honour but not retire' thing the Leafs do? Or am I misunderstanding it? This team has (had? ;)) such a rich history - why would they not do what the Habs do? So what if you have a bunch of guys wearing numbers in the the fifties and sixties? What's the story?

hunter1909 said...

In soccer they dont retire numbers.

It doesn't seem to make any difference to them.

Maybe the entire issue is getting overblown.

Black Dog said...

Overblown? Sestito's callup warranted sixty comments last time I checked. Nothing gets overblown on the Oilogosphere's corner of the internet.

Tom Benjamin had a post about this very issue recently and pointed to it as a money making exercise first and foremost - jersey sales and premium pricing on tickets - and of course it is a way for franchises with little history to try and lend immediate credibility to their decade old existence.

It depends on the club in each sport - what do the Jays have - a wall of honour or some such thing?

Its a polarizing debate though, just like the arguments over entrance into the Hall of Fame. Having been there Saturday night I couldn't argue with honouring Wendel Clark, regardless of his accomplishments.

mc79hockey said...

Its a polarizing debate though, just like the arguments over entrance into the Hall of Fame. Having been there Saturday night I couldn't argue with honouring Wendel Clark, regardless of his accomplishments.

Yeah, I wasn't there but I watched it on TV and I kind of came around to it. He really wasn't much of a hockey player though - I went back through his numbers and couldn't believe how poor they were. It's tough to think of a comparison for him in today's game though - he's a unique combination of goal scoring, fighting, hitting and injury prone. Maybe Scott Hartnell might be a good comparison, although Clark was probably a better goal scorer. He might be one of the great style over substance players ever. You could see why the fans loved him from that video they showed.

Black Dog said...

Well a couple of other things about Clark that helped the legend grow. He wasn't really that big a guy. And he was absolutely ferocious. The fights were just over the top vicious, he had that old WHL mentality where you were just fine running over a goalie and you might get a guy down but you didn't let up.

These were the days when Dave Manson and Scott Stevens got into a brawl that featured biting and eye gouging.

Crazy shit.

The Sun would run a rating every year by their writers and every year he was rated top LW in the game but I can't remember him getting picked for one best on best although he did get invites.

He wasn't all that fast on top of everything, kind of a lazy skater really.

Jay said...

I think it's important to remember that with every number retirement, the whole honour loses a little bit of meaning.

I tend to find the whole retiring of numbers thing fairly odd. If I remember right, it all started with the Yanks and Gehrig and eventually slithered on down to the Canucks retiring friggin Cliff Ronning in some sort of hokey "7th man" (like there is such a thing in the NHL) celebration.

Weird eh.

I'm a soccer guy, so as with most hockey things I'll compare the two. Liverpool has had several incredible #9's throught their long history, but there is no ruckus about Torres now wearing that number. People who are actually fans of the team will remember the players that have gone before, and that should be enough. It's insane to take a number out of circulation completely to honour, say Glen Wesley, or 2 months of Ray Bourque.

I became an Oilers fan right as Smytty was coming into his own as a bona fide NHL player. He is my favourite Oiler of all-time. But there is no way the Oilers should "retire" his number. I like Tyler's idea about a ring of statues or some such. Have a wall of honour in some part of the arena, or an Oilers Hall of Fame, and honour specific players there. It might even enhance the game-day experience.

But don't shitcan the number completely. Let's at least pretend that the NHL will be around for a long time, and act accordingly.

For those interested, here is a list of all retired numbers in the NHL.

Doogie2K said...

I tend to find the whole retiring of numbers thing fairly odd. If I remember right, it all started with the Yanks and Gehrig

Four NHL teams had already retired numbers by July 4, 1939: Toronto (Ace Bailey, #6, 1934), Boston (Lionel Hitchman, #3, 1934), Montreal (Howie Morenz, #7, 1937), and Detroit (Larry Aurie, #6, 1938)

Bruce said...

I'm a soccer guy, so as with most hockey things I'll compare the two. Liverpool has had several incredible #9's throught their long history, but there is no ruckus about Torres now wearing that number.

It's an honour for modern players to wear Liverpool's fabled #9 sweater or Brazil's storied #10 or whatever, and it is incumbent on them to add to the legend. The number is usually associated with a specific position although that standard has loosened somewhat in recent years. Whatever, it's a whole different mindset.

it is a way for franchises with little history to try and lend immediate credibility to their decade old existence.

I felt that way when Oilers retired Al Hamilton's #3 to tell you the truth. This practice was particualrly prevelant in the late 70s and early 80s after that rampant expansion period. Washington Capital's retired Yvon Labre's #7 for goodness sake. Here are Labre's career stats:

371 GP, 14-87-101, -94, 788 PiM

Black Dog said...

Bruce - that's too much. I remember Labre vaguely, I'm sure I had his hockey card.

Wow.

He must be the worst player ever to have his number retired, no?

RPK said...

What is your take on the whole 'honour but not retire' thing the Leafs do? Or am I misunderstanding it? This team has (had? ;)) such a rich history - why would they not do what the Habs do? So what if you have a bunch of guys wearing numbers in the the fifties and sixties? What's the story?

Not a leafs fan, but the story appears to be the two jerseys the leafs have retired had tragic associations, the premature ending of the Ace Bailey career and the subsequent creation of the All Star game to help with medical bills, and the death of Bill Barilko.
So to get retired, one has to have tragic consequences to the career seems like.

Black Dog said...

I actually commented on the same thing above and directed it to PPP but he has not responded to it

imo they should have a bunch of retired numbers and I am not sure why they do not, I guess there is a story behind it but I am not aware of it. Apparently it has something to do with Ballard but then again they never honoured guys long before Ballard took over

Primeau, Conacher, Jackson, Apps, Kennedy, Bower, Broda, Kelly, Sittler, Clancy, Hap Day, Armstrong, Salming, Horton, Mahovlich - these are all guys who could have their numbers retired (although Primeau and Jackson aren't even honoured so ...) - I don't get it.

Pension Plan Puppets said...

Sorry BD, I wrote up a reply and it seems that it didn't post.

Anyway, here's what I wrote before last season when they were going to do their triple honouring (which was a terrible idea).

Here's an explanation of why the Leafs took the approach that they did.

As for not retiring the numbers, it's similar to the soccer idea where the fans can remember the old players while seeing new ones making their own memories.

Even great football franchises like the Packers and Cowboys don't retire numbers but rather they put them up in a ring of honour.

As for the Leafs, would it be better if the numbers were handed out based on performance (ie Stajan can't wear Keon's 14 until he has earned the right)? Absolutely but it's still at least a well-thought out system.

Black Dog said...

Thanks for taking the time to put that together, PPP.

An interesting way of doing things but more because of hockey tradition - as you point out soccer and American football go a different way.

No right or wrong of course. I'm a fan of the traditional hockey way of retiring numbers because that is what I grew up with but some teams do tend to cheapen it of course.