When Don Cherry talks, people listen. Not everyone agrees, but Cherry has a platform as large as his life. And, bombastic as I sometimes find him, I do tune in to watch him hang out with Ron MacLean on Hockey Night in Canada. It’s a good shtick. I enjoy it. And, it’s always worth a quote or two.
Speaking of quotes, recently, I read that Cherry believed the Toronto Maple Leafs needed more hometown, Ontario “boys.” Specifically, Cherry finger-pointed: “Strange, Toronto coach Mike Babcock says guys from Ontario play harder in Toronto, and that is so true because of family and friends watching, but yet four of the five first Leafs picks, never mind born in Ontario, they were born in another country.”
Are the Maple Leafs Ignoring Hometown Guys?
So, is it true? What is the current status of hometown, Toronto-raised hockey players on the Maple Leafs? Are there more or fewer hometown guys now than when Babcock came to town?
Babcock’s Arrival: 2015-16
When Mike Babcock left the Detroit Red Wings after many good seasons and a Stanley Cup victory and signed to become the Toronto Maple Leafs’ coach in 2015-16, there were three players on the Maple Leafs’ roster from the Toronto area. In alphabetical order, Brad Boyes (then 33 years old) was from Mississauga, while Frank Corrado (then 23) and Peter Holland (then 25) were from Toronto.
Boyes played for seven NHL teams – the Maple Leafs were his seventh. He played only the 2015-16 season in Toronto, then was out of the NHL. Corrado played for two seasons for the Maple Leafs (2015-16 and 2016-17), moved around the NHL, and now still plays with the Toronto Marlies. Holland played with the Maple Leafs for parts of four years (2013-2017), also moved around the NHL, and now still plays with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Babcock’s Current Roster
Currently, the Maple Leafs’ roster has five hometown guys. (As a note, Nazem Kadri grew up down the road in London, Ontario, but for right now I am only focusing on closer-to-Toronto players.)
First, this year’s season-shaping signing (and team leader with 20 goals), center John Tavares (28 years old), is from Mississauga; young, offensive-minded defenseman Travis Dermott (age 21) is from Newmarket; elite right winger and Maple Leafs’ points leader (eight goals, 35 assists, 43 points) Mitch Marner (age 21) is from Markham; left winger and top-six mucker Zach Hyman (age 26) is from Toronto; and right winger, and Babcock-favorite Connor Brown (age 24) is also from Toronto.
This Year’s Hometown Guys Better Than the 2015-16 Group
When you compare the 2015-16 group of three Toronto-area, Maple Leaf players (Boyes, Corrado, and Holland) with the 2018-19 group of five Toronto-area, Maple Leaf players (Tavares, Dermott, Marner, Hyman, and Brown), there is really no comparing the numbers and the quality of hometown guys currently on the Maple Leafs’ roster. Boyes had a long and decent NHL career, and Corrado and Holland are still playing in the minors – I hope because they love playing.
On the other hand, Tavares and Marner are both young elite players – we sometimes forget that Tavares is only 28 years old, he seems to have been a great player for such a long time. Marner is having a breakout season this year, and shows signs of becoming very special. And, there’s nothing wrong with Hyman, Dermott, and Brown. Hyman seems to understand his role: Dermott and Brown are still finding theirs.
Don Cherry was Wrong on This One
Clearly, Cherry didn’t get this one right. The evidence suggests that, instead of ignoring hometown guys, the Maple Leafs are gathering a greater number of players (quantity) and better players (quality). Now, let’s hope Babcock is right about Ontario players playing harder in Toronto because it’s home for them.
And, not to forget Kadri – really not a hometown guy, but an Ontario guy nonetheless. Here’s saying that – like him or not – no one questions Kadri’s work ethic.