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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: Not Maple Leafs forever. Time for some big changes
Ross Robinson reflects on the NHL of the past, when Maple Leafs jerseys were simple and didn't have advertisements emblazoned alongside team logos. ROSS ROBINSON

“Great Clips, the official hair salon of the NHL.”

That ad was on the Scotiabank Arena boards during Game 4 between the big bad Boston Bruins and the uh, high-scoring Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whatever happened to Beehive Corn Syrup and Imperial Oil? And to Wheaties, the Breakfast of Champions?

Back in the day, there was rarely an ad on the boards surrounding an NHL ice surface, and only the home team’s proud logo at centre ice. No ads cluttered up the rink and the red line was checkered to distinguish it from the two solid blue lines.

This was back in the days of black and white TV and, yes, I am aging myself.

NHL team sweaters had a team logo proudly emblazoned on their front and only Swedish team outfits had advertising logos.

Now, the Leafs advertise “Milk” on their sweaters. Milk?

No, not their jerseys, their sweaters. Roch Carrier wrote the bestseller “The Hockey Sweater, Le Chandail de Hockey.” Not “The Hockey Jersey.”

I mean, maybe Labatt or Molson would be OK on the sweaters. But Milk? Sheesh!

And every game now features dozens of gambling ads, from Bet 360 to Fallsview Casino Niagara, often touted by obscenely rich players like Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.

And is Wayne Gretzky in a bespoke suit supposed to entice old-timers like me to join the excitement of same-day parlays and over/unders?

How about McDavid and the Great One having a Zamboni race? And some fast-talking dude named Taxi rapidly listing the ridiculous prop bets, just in case the actual game gets boring.

Can’t I just watch the hockey game in peace, without gambling ads? Please, I don’t even know how to play poker or euchre.

Back to the good old hockey game. Toe Blake convinced his multiple Stanley Cup-winning Montreal Canadiens teams that even the fastest skater couldn’t keep pace with a well-passed puck.

Get the puck, look for an open teammate ahead, and pass the puck. Short, quick passes and watch the opponents struggle to regain possession. Firewagon hockey, it was called.

In Game 4, in the third period alone, Toronto’s wealthy winger William Nylander tried three solo full-length rushes up the ice. Each one ended in frustration at the Boston blue line — and it was back to square one.

Punch Imlach knew that a Stanley Cup winner needed at least three solid and dependable lines, four competent defencemen and a great goaltender.

Wearing his urbane fedora and trenchcoat, Imlach pulled the strings and was admittedly a bit of a psychological tyrant with his skaters.

Hey, they were getting paid forty or fifty thousand bucks a year. Suck it up, guys, and get back on the ice.

In goal he had old guys, brave and wily veterans named Sawchuk or Bower to count on game after game. My goodness, they didn’t even wear artistically painted helmets and took more than the odd shot off their foreheads. Stitch up the cut and get back between the posts.

Nobody from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has asked me, but I think it’s time to totally blow up this under-achieving edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the value of top scorer and last year’s MVP Auston Matthews is highest, take a deep breath and blow up Brendan Shanahan’s so-called the Shanaplan. Yes, get rid of the president, the general Manager and the coach.

And trade the league’s Most Valuable Player for a whole array of talent.  Get a great goalie, a star forward, two “top four” defencemen, three solid third- or fourth-line skaters and a few future draft choices.

And negotiate hard, after the deal is done, nickel and dime them for a bucket of frozen pucks.

Indeed, brave actions, but the Leafs are going nowhere with what they put on the ice now.

Even the four (not two or three) talking heads admit this, while pontificating between periods. Whatever happened to Ward Cornell and Brian McFarlane in the Hot Stove Lounge. (Incidentally, Brian’s dad was Leslie McFarlane, who wrote many of the Hardy Boy novels.) Betcha didn’t know that.

Ah, the Leafs. Another first-round exit. Just the other morning in front of the Court House, an older gentleman walked by wearing a Leafs ball cap. I gently said, “Sorry about your team.”

His rejoinder?  “Don’t worry about us. We’re used to it.”

But I ramble.

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