Editor's Note: Wendel is risen! 1967ers amazing series continues with one of the greatest days for Leafs fans.
Nov 21-23, 2008 - Wendel Clark (Wendel Returns)
The Leafs went backwards after the Clark/Sundin trade. They had too many centres in 1994-95 and nobody really performed up to expectations. The new kid, Mats Sundin, led the Leafs in scoring as a point-per-game player, but nobody else was really right. The Leafs made the playoffs, but did nothing.
I spent most of that season trying to follow Wendel's play in Quebec. For the most part, he went point-for-point with Mats until the inevitable injury hit. He still finished OK, but Quebec really wasn't going anywhere that season either. I got a card of him in a Nordiques jersey. It just looked wrong - sort of like a bad OPC airbrush job, but it was for real.
In the summer, there was a contract holdout (from Wendel? Where'd THIS come from?) and a trade to the Islanders. Again, he put some points on the board, but it became clear (to me, anyway) that Wendel minus the Leafs simply wasn't Wendel.
The Leafs, for their part, weren't right either. They had got off to a much better start in 1995-96 and were a .600 team at Christmas. Then the wheels simply came off. A long-anticipated trade for Kirk Muller did nothing to rectify the situation (I was at his first game with the Leafs and got stuck but good in the eye - a story for another day.) and things got worse and worse and worse. With the Leafs sub-.500 in March, the unthinkable happened. Pat Burns was fired as head coach. The era that had begun with so much promise in 1992 was over.
Another long-rumoured trade (not as poorly-kept a secret as the Muller deal, but close) was that the Leafs might want to bring Clark back. There was talk that it could be Kenny Jonsson, the Leafs' sophomore defenseman, or a first, or maybe Sean Haggerty, a kid off the farm who was one of the few prospects we were looking forward to at the time. Cliff had made so many deals at that point that I couldn't imagine this one saving the ship, and I hated the idea of trading away the future to save this particular season. I loved Clark, but this deal was sounding pretty pricey.
Two deals came down on March 13, 1996. Dave Andreychuk, who couldn't recapture the 50-goal form and had been hearing it from the fans, went to Jersey for a second and a third. And then there was the Clark deal, and it was bigger than we'd heard. Jonsson, the first-rounder, kids Darby Hendrickson AND Haggerty for Wendel, Mathieu Schneider and some kid named D.J. Smith. This was huge. The message was that it was about winning now, with this club. It had to be, because Cliff had just given away a ton of the future. The reaction to this deal was mixed, at best.
(In hindsight, this deal really gets worked over because the Islanders turned that pick into Roberto Luongo. The odds that the Leafs would have picked Luongo themselves are minimal to me. Potvin was still young and looked to be the #1 for a decade or more. Schneider, who I had no use for at the time, is still an impact defenseman and has since brought Karpovtsev, McCabe and now Van Ryn. Haggerty never went anywhere and Jonsson is retired. Looking at this as Clark for Jonsson, Schneider for the first and a swap of kids, this really isn't as bad.)
All in all, though, it was nice to have Wendel back in the fold. His first game was going to be on TV, so I was going to be able to watch it.
Five minutes in, Gilmour found Clark alone in front of the net. Wendel roofed it. Paul Morris, with the passion one normally used for announcing a grocery list (I miss him terribly), intoned "Toronto goal scored by number seventeen, Wendel Clark...." You couldn't hear the rest of it. MLG had gone nuts.
I had been wrong. It wasn't nice to have Wendel back. It was magic. The price paid, the pick, none of it mattered. A great wrong had been made right. Wendel was back where he belonged. The world was as it should be again.
Wendel would chalk up 8 goals, 7 assists and a plus-7 in the 13 games he played that season. The Leafs turned it around somewhat and finished near .600 under Nick Beverley, but made a first-round exit again.
1996-97 really just continued the problems that had been seen the previous year. There was still a lot of turnover in the lineup and near the trade deadline, Doug Gilmour and Dave Ellett were sent to New Jersey for a bunch of kids. The experiment to save the team was over. It was time to rebuild.
Wendel gave us another 30-goal season in 1996-97, but his 1997-98 season was ruined by injuries again. The Leafs as a whole weren't very good and nobody's play was particularly inspired. Coach Mike Murphy would be let go at the end of the season and there would be wholesale changes before September.
One of the changes prior to 1998-99 was that Wendel Clark was not resigned. New GM Mike Smith was putting together a younger, faster team. There was a new goaltender, Curtis Joseph and a new coach in Pat Quinn. Unlike in 1994, there was less anguish this time. Wendel found a role as a leader and veteran presence on the Tampa Bay Lightning and it seemed to suit him. He was Tampa's representative at the all-star game. He was picked up by Detroit for their playoff run. Cheering for Clark in red and white was an interesting experience, to say the least.
The Leafs found new life under Quinn, which made Clark's loss more bearable. They made the third round for the first time since 1994 and there were new names, new heroes.
For 1999-2000, Wendel joined the Chicago Blackhawks. It didn't work. His body was finally giving out and this was interpreted by the Hawks as lack of effort/desire. He was ripped publicly and finally released. A very ignoble end, or so it seemed.
After the New Year, though, the Leafs threw their fans a bone. Wendel was signed for his third tour. Spot duty, most likely, but for one more moment, he could be home again, and he could retire in the uniform he was meant to wear.
In his third tour of duty, Wendel didn't see a ton of action and it took him a while to score a goal. When it did come, in a game against Tampa Bay, there were two - the first was a shot that he deflected from out near the faceoff circle and this was followed by an old-fashioned Clark wrister that blew right through the goalie. I hoped this would get him going, but those were the last two regular-season goals he'd score.
In the playoffs, Clark had some pretty good energy on a line with Tucker. He picked up his last goal on a tap-in from the crease and had one assist in his six games. He also got a wonderful spontaneous tribute from the ACC. After a rush that ended with a shot off the goal post, the fans simply erupted. It was this purely-felt rush of emotion that fed off itself for minute after minute. One bemused onlooker commented later that he couldn't have imagined what would have happened had Clark actually scored on the play, but he missed the point. This had nothing to do with the play. This was an outpouring of thanks for everything, thanks for this great career.
Wendel Clark did not put up hall-of-fame numbers in his career. He was hurt far too often for that. If you look at the games he missed before turning 25, there was almost three seasons there. At his normal pace, he'd have added maybe 120-130 goals to his total and been nearer to 450 overall, which still is borderline for today's game.
Clark, though, wasn't the player you looked to to score lots of goals, he was the player you looked to for the big goal, to step up when it was needed most.
Leaf fans have always loved their blood-and-guts players. They react to them on an emotional level. I think this is what has always hurt Mats Sundin. Aside from the misfortune of having been traded for Wendel Clark, he always played with a kind of reserve and stoicism that in a lot of ways made him the anti-Clark. You rarely saw emotion get the better of Mats. Mats has been the kind of player who appeals to the mind, while Clark went straight to the heart. It's not a fair fight. In his last couple of seasons, Mats began to get the kind of love and support Wendel used to get all the time. His 500th goal celebration was one of those moments. He deserved it years sooner.
On Saturday, Wendel's number will join the others in the rafters of the ACC. When I first heard of this, it struck me as odd because while he remains my favourite player to this day, I wouldn't have thought of him as being one of the all-time greats. For a decade, though, he was the soul of this franchise, and Saturday will be a worthy tribute.
I'll be watching.
1982-83 Notre Dame Bantam Hounds SMBHL 27 21 28 49 83
1983-84 Saskatoon Blades WHL 72 23 45 68 225
1984-85 Saskatoon Blades WHL 64 32 55 87 253 3 3 3 6 7
1984-85 Canada WJC-A 7 3 2 5 10
1985-86 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 66 34 11 45 227 -27 10 5 1 6 47
1986-87 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 80 37 23 60 271 -23 13 6 5 11 38
1987-88 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 28 12 11 23 80 -13
1988-89 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 15 7 4 11 66 -3
1989-90 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 38 18 8 26 116 +2 5 1 1 2 19
1990-91 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 63 18 16 34 152 -5
1991-92 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 43 19 21 40 123 -14
1992-93 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 66 17 22 39 193 +2 21 10 10 20 51
1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 64 46 30 76 115 +10 18 9 7 16 24
1994-95 Quebec Nordiques NHL 37 12 18 30 45 -1 6 1 2 3 6
1995-96 New York Islanders NHL 58 24 19 43 60 -12
1995-96 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 13 8 7 15 16 +7 6 2 2 4 2
1996-97 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 65 30 19 49 75 -2
1997-98 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 47 12 7 19 80 -21
1998-99 Tampa Bay Lightning NHL 65 28 14 42 35 -25
1998-99 Detroit Red Wings NHL 12 4 2 6 2 +1 10 2 3 5 10
1999-00 Chicago Blackhawks NHL 13 2 0 2 13 -2
1999-00 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 20 2 2 4 21 -3 6 1 1 2 4
Leaf Totals 608 260 181 441 1535 -90 79 34 27 61 185
NHL Totals 793 330 234 564 1690 -129 95 37 32 69 201
WHL East First All-Star Team (1985)
NHL All-Rookie Team (1986)
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1986, 1999)
- Traded to Quebec by Toronto with Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and Toronto's 1st round choice (Jeffrey Kealty) in 1994 Entry Draft for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and Philadelphia's 1st round choice (previously acquired, later traded to Washington - Washington selected Nolan Baumgartner) in 1994 Entry Draft, June 28, 1994.
- Transferred to Colorado after Quebec franchise relocated, June 21, 1995.
- Traded to NY Islanders by Colorado for Claude Lemieux, October 3, 1995.
- Traded to Toronto by NY Islanders with Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith for Darby Hendrickson, Sean Haggerty, Kenny Jonsson and Toronto's 1st round choice (Roberto Luongo) in 1997 Entry Draft, March 13, 1996.
- Signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay, July 31, 1998.
- Traded to Detroit by Tampa Bay with Detroit's 6th round choice (previously acquired, Detroit selected Kent McDonell) in 1999 Entry Draft for Kevin Hodson and San Jose's 2nd round choice (previously acquired, Tampa Bay selected Sheldon Keefe) in 1999 Entry Draft, March 23, 1999.
- Signed as a free agent by Chicago, August 2, 1999.
- Signed as a free agent by Toronto following release by Chicago, January 14, 2000.
- Officially announced retirement, June 29, 2000.
the HHOF take on Wendel:
If there was a list of the most popular Toronto Maple Leaf players of all-time, one could be certain that the name Wendel Clark would be right near the top. The former Maple Leafs' captain was idolized by thousands of hockey fans, and held a status, which was nothing short of legendary during more than a decade of service with the blue and white.
Clark was selected first overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft by the Maple Leafs after playing two years with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL. For much of Clark's childhood, and through most of his playing days in Saskatoon, he was a defenceman. Due to his immense talent, he was used primarily on defense but also saw additional playing time on the left wing during his last year with the Blades, where he scored 32 goals and 87 points in 64 games. There was also a tenacious and at times nasty side to the way Clark played the game, as was evidenced by his 253 minutes in penalties. Clark's biggest accomplishment in his teen years was helping Canada's national team take the gold medal at the 1985 World Junior Hockey Championships.
Clark played rough and tumble hockey all his life; after all, he grew up on a farm in Kelvington and was good friends with his cousin Joey Kocur. Clark and Kocur took on virtually every tough opponent who stood in their way--everyone that is, except each other. Both vowed they would never drop the gloves and fight each other in the NHL, and they kept their word. Clark once joked they had done enough of that as kids in Saskatchewan. Another of Clark's cousins, Barry Melrose, also played in the NHL and was a successful NHL coach before turning his attention to broadcasting.
During his first season in Toronto in 1985-86, the coaching staff decided to move Clark to the left wing on a full-time basis. The change seemed to agree with him, as he scored 34 goals and 45 points while spending 227 minutes in the penalty box. He finished second in the rookie of the year voting for the Calder Trophy to Calgary defenseman Gary Suter. In his sophomore season Clark increased his totals to 37 goals and 60 points, while sitting in the penalty box for 271 minutes. Despite being only 5'11" and weighing about 200 pounds, Clark soon became known as one of the best bodycheckers in the league. Perhaps his most famous check was when he hammered St. Louis' Bruce Bell with a thundering clean hit behind the net which left Bell lying prone on the ice and unconscious for several minutes. However, it was his aggressive, pounding style, and penchant for the fisticuffs which resulted in him missing close to 200 games from 1987 through 1992, or the equivalent of nearly three NHL seasons. In the three years from the 1990-91 season through 1992-93, Clark twice appeared in over 60 games, but his offensive production and aggressive checking style had clearly gone down a few notches. It was often rumored that he was playing through injuries. In the playoffs, however, Clark seemed to kick it up into high gear, leading the Maple Leafs along with Doug Gilmour to the Western Conference finals where they lost a seven-game thriller to Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. In 21 post-season games, Clark scored ten goals and ten assists. With his back problems and nagging injuries seemingly behind him, Clark returned relatively healthy for the 1993-94 season, scoring a career-high 46 goals and 76 points. Although he still did not back away from the rough stuff, it was apparent that he had become more particular about when to battle. Clark led the Maple Leafs to their second consecutive Western Conference finals appearance where they were turned back by the Vancouver Canucks. On June 28, 1994, Leafs' general manger Cliff Fletcher stunned Leaf fans across Canada by sending Clark to the Quebec Nordiques in a six-player deal that saw the Leafs acquire Mats Sundin. In an emotional media conference, Clark thanked all the fans who had supported him during his years in Toronto. Clark joined the Quebec Nordiques for the shortened 1994-95 season, scoring 12 goals and 30 points. However, it was evident he was not happy playing for the organization and did not re-sign. Clark joined the New York Islanders for 58 games in 1995-96 before being re-acquired by the Leafs in March 1996. Fletcher opted to bring back the popular winger along with defenceman Mathieu Schneider, while giving up defenceman Kenny Jonsson and a first-round draft pick that turned out to be goalie Roberto Luongo.
Clark had a strong 30-goal output in 1996-97, but that individual success was tempered by the fact the slumping Leafs finished out of the playoffs. Once again, the injury bug bit Clark in 1997-98, limiting him to just 47 games. It became evident to the team, the fans, and Clark himself that he was not going to fit in with future plans so he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent in the summer of 1998. In what was a relatively healthy season, Clark tallied 28 goals and 42 points with Tampa before being picked up at the trade deadline by the Detroit Red Wings, who wanted Clark for the playoff run. He finished the season playing 77 games, scoring 32 goals and 48 points between the two teams, with only 37 minutes in penalties, compared with the 271 minutes he had playing 66 games in his second year in the league. Clark played well for the Wings in the playoffs but their run to the Stanley Cup came up short.
In 1999-2000, Clark signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for 13 games before returning for his third tour of duty with the Maple Leafs. He played 20 games, scoring two goals and four points before retiring after the playoffs at the age of 33. Clark played 13 of his 15 NHL seasons in Toronto. He played in 793 games, scoring 330 goals and 564 points with 1,690 penalty minutes. Clark also contributed 37 goals and 69 points in 95 playoff games.
12 goals scored, 6 were game winners. That's Wendel....
The Ballad of Wendel Clark - the Rheostatics: