Maple Leafs News: Home Opener, JVR and the Rookies

Honouring a century of tradition is no easy feat to pull off.

The logistics involved with creating such a huge event are staggering. The Maple Leafs had to create videos, prepare the players and banners and make sure everyone was in their seats and ready for the ceremony. It was a great deal of work for all those involved, from Brendan Shanahan all the way down to the game crew.

Despite the challenge, the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled it off almost flawlessly.

The Ceremony

When you’re a franchise that has been around as long as the Maple Leafs, you’ve seen a lot of celebrations and ceremonies. This one, however, blew those out of the water. All the previously honoured numbers were retired on Saturday night, along with Dave Keon’s iconic number 14.

The move caught just about all of the alumni in attendance off-guard. It was a surprise to be sure, but thankfully a pleasant one. The Maple Leafs actually followed in the footsteps of the Montreal Canadiens, an organization with as much history as the Leafs. The Habs retired the numerous numbers of the legendary players who have worn the blue, white and red. Some of those names include Serge Savard, Ken Dryden and Larry Robinson.

If the Habs could do that for their own hundredth year, why couldn’t the Maple Leafs do the same?

It was an extremely classy move that left many players choking back tears or completely speechless. They weren’t told ahead of time that this was happening. They were informed literally an hour before the festivities began.

The only player who wasn’t completely surprised was the man who was voted the greatest Maple Leaf of  All-Time. Dave Keon had long been at odds with the Maple Leafs. That goes back to the time of Harold Ballard and how the former owner came to be at odds with the superstar.

After the 1974-75 season, Ballard refused to offer Keon a new contract. He called him a weak captain and as a result thought he was undeserving of a new deal. That was a tremendous insult to Keon, who at the time was considered one of the best two-way players of the day.

After leaving for the World Hockey Association for six seasons, Keon made his way back into the NHL in 1980. The Islanders were looking for a veteran player to help their core stabilize. Keon was a perfect choice and was a free agent to boot. Ballard saw this unfold and stepped in because he still owned Keon’s NHL rights. After demanding compensation, the Islanders went another route and traded for Butch Goring instead.

Many Leafs management regimes have tried and failed to bring Keon back into the fold. Brendan Shanahan was the latest man who set out to repair the damage done in the past. And he was the one to succeed in mending the rift.

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A major sticking point was retiring the previously honoured jerseys. The idea was passed on to Keon after a discussion about his statue on Legends Row. Keon loved the idea and the rest is history.

The Maple Leafs made the very astute decision and retired all the previously honoured numbers. It was a fantastic way to ring in the Centennial season and bring a beloved captain back into the organization. The Leafs have an amazing history and retiring the numbers of the best players to ever wear them is the perfect way to start off the year.

James van Riemsdyk Jersey Change

While the decision to retire the numbers came as a huge shock to many, to current Leafs forward, James van Riemsdyk, it was all part of the plan.

He was given a call over the summer by Shanahan. He initially thought he’d been traded. But the call was simply about changing his jersey number. Borje Salming, one of the Leafs’ legendary defensemen and van Riemsdyk shared a jersey number.

With the retirement, the former second-overall pick would have to change his number. He did exactly that and donned the number 25. He scored his first goal of the season not long after. He was also tasked with keeping the secret of his number switch until opening night. He was true to his word and that made the ceremony even more special for all those involved.

The Maple Leafs’ Rookies

The Maple Leafs’ talented rookies have arrived with much fanfare. Auston Matthews, the most recent first overall draft pick, was a marvel for the Leafs in their season opener against the Ottawa Senators. The rookie scored all four of the Leafs’ goals and put the NHL on notice with his performance. Matthews was also recently named the NHL’s second star of the week for his efforts.

The home opener against Boston was a little bit different. This time, it was a couple of other rookies stealing the show as Connor Brown, the former Erie Otter, potted his first of the season. Not long after, it was Mitch Marner’s turn to rip a wrist shot past Anton Khudobin for his first career NHL goal.

Scoring is one thing, but the other rookies have looked equally impressive as well. Nikita Zaitsev has settled right into the Leafs’ blueline and appears to be a productive and contributing member. William Nylander and Zach Hyman have both been good, with Hyman standing out with his hard-nosed style of play.

The home opener really changed people’s perception of the Maple Leafs. It’s a different era for the team that is now young and skilled. There’s optimism in the air and if you take a second and really listen, you can hear the shift as the team prepares for present and future success.