Leaf of the Day - Dec 18, 2008 - Jan 3, 2009 - Dave Keon

Dec 18, 2008 - Jan 3, 2009 - Dave Keon

Every year, I pick a big name to take us through the holidays and every year the Leafs tank it.  Proving that I have learned absolutely nothing from this, I present Dave Keon.  Ron Wilson thinks Dave is the greatest Leaf of all time.  I tend to side with Syl Apps, but not having watched either of them, that's all just speculation anyway.

Dave wasn't the first Leaf captain to be sent packing.  Hap Day and Charlie Conacher both were dealt for their last couple of seasons, Jim Thomson was punished for being associated with the fledgling players association and sent to Chicago (he wasn't captain at that moment, though).  So there was a little history to it.

Dave's departure from Toronto contains some echoes of today.  He had no-trade clause in the contract he signed in 1972.  During the 1974-75 season Ballard began blasting his captain for a perceived lack of leadership and vowed that he'd never again sign a contract with a no-trade in it.  Keon wouldn't sign in 1975 without one.  The Leafs wanted to go with youth and Keon was basically cut loose.

He wasn't free and clear, though.  Ballard told him he could negotiate with any team he chose, but that the Leafs would demand steep compensation from whichever team that was (no such thing as a UFA back then, I guess).  Keon instead opted for the WHA.  There were opportunities to come back to the NHL, but they were always blocked by Ballard's demands for compensation.  His return finally happened via the NHL/WHA merger.  He scored a pair of goals in his return to MLG and got a huge ovation.

After Ballard's death, a number of olive branches were offered and accepted - the most notable of these would be Sittler.  Keon never came back, though, finding the Leafs new ownership merely an extension of the old.  He seemed happy instead in Florida, not really having contact with the hockey world.  He's not really after fanfare.  When he left the game, there wasn't even a press conference.  Just a note that, oh, by the way, Dave's done.

He was in Mississauga last week for the retirement of his number by the relocated St. Mike's Majors.  The Leafs would love to have a similar ceremony, but so long as the number remains in circulation, Keon won't be there for it.

Talking about an interview with Keon for the book 1967, Damien Cox said that he had these visions of Keon as this bitter, cranky old man.  Instead, he found Keon gracious, but principled and determined - really the same attributes that defined him as a player.  He wasn't the type to back down then, and he wasn't that type now, either.  Apparently, he's also very nice to any fans he runs into.  He just wants nothing to do with the organization.

A favourite moment for me was his appearance in 2007 to celebrate the 1967 team.  Keon got a huge ovation and it was really nice to see him in blue and white once more.  Odds are it was the last time.



1956-57    St. Michael's Buzzers    OHA-B    36    20    23    43    14                       
1956-57    St. Michael's Majors    OHA-Jr.    4    1    3    4    0                       
1957-58    St. Michael's Majors    OHA-Jr.    45    23    27    50    29        9    8    5    13    10
1958-59    St. Michael's Majors    OHA-Jr.    47    33    38    71    31        15    4    9    13    8
1959-60    St. Michael's Majors    OHA-Jr.    46    16    29    45    8        10    8    10    18    2
1959-60    Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen    OHA-Sr.    1    1    0    1    0                       
1959-60    Sudbury Wolves    EPHL                            4    2    2    4    2
1960-61    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    70    20    25    45    6        5    1    1    2    0
1961-62    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    64    26    35    61    2        12    5    3    8    0
1962-63    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    68    28    28    56    2        10    7    5    12    0
1963-64    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    70    23    37    60    6        14    7    2    9    2
1964-65    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    65    21    29    50    10        6    2    2    4    2
1965-66    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    69    24    30    54    4        4    0    2    2    0
1966-67    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    66    19    33    52    2        12    3    5    8    0
1967-68    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    67    11    37    48    4    +16                   
1968-69    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    75    27    34    61    12    +17    4    1    3    4    2
1969-70    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    72    32    30    62    6    -15                   
1970-71    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    76    38    38    76    4    +24    6    3    2    5    0
1971-72    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    72    18    30    48    4    +1    5    2    3    5    0
1972-73    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    76    37    36    73    2    +4                   
1973-74    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    74    25    28    53    7    +13    4    1    2    3    0
1974-75    Toronto Maple Leafs    NHL    78    16    43    59    4    +3    7    0    5    5    0

1975-76    Minnesota Fighting Saints    WHA    57    26    38    64    4                       
1975-76    Indianapolis Racers    WHA    12    3    7    10    2        7    2    2    4    2
1976-77    Minnesota Fighting Saints    WHA    42    13    38    51    2                       
1976-77    New England Whalers    WHA    34    14    25    39    8        5    3    1    4    0
1977-78    New England Whalers    WHA    77    24    38    62    2        14    5    11    16    4
1978-79    New England Whalers    WHA    79    22    43    65    2        10    3    9    12    2
1979-80    Hartford Whalers    NHL    76    10    52    62    10    -13    3    0    1    1    0
1980-81    Hartford Whalers    NHL    80    13    34    47    26    -31                   
1981-82    Hartford Whalers    NHL    78    8    11    19    6    -31                   
Leaf Totals    1062    365    493    858    75        89    32    35    67    6
NHL Totals    1296    396    590    986    117        92    32    36    68    6

Calder Memorial Trophy (1961)
Conn Smythe Trophy (1967)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (1962, 1963)
Second All-Star Team Centre (1962, 1971)

- Selected by Ontario-Ottawa (WHA) in 1972 WHA General Player Draft, February 12, 1972.
- WHA rights transferred to Toronto (WHA) after Ottawa (WHA) franchise relocated, May, 1973.
- WHA rights traded to Minnesota (WHA) by Toronto (WHA) for future considerations, May, 1975.
- Signed as a free agent by Indianapolis (WHA) after Minnesota (WHA) franchise folded, March 10, 1976.
- Traded to Minnesota (WHA) by Indianapolis (WHA) for Gary MacGregor and future considerations, September, 1976.
- Traded to Edmonton (WHA) by Minnesota (WHA) with Mike Antonovich, Bill Butters, Jack Carlson, Steve Carlson, Jean-Louis Levasseur and John McKenzie, January, 1977.
- Traded to New England (WHA) by Edmonton (WHA) with Jack Carlson, Steve Carlson, Dave Dryden and John McKenzie for future considerations (Dave Debol, June, 1977), Dan Arndt and cash, January, 1977.
- Rights retained by Hartford prior to Expansion Draft, June 9, 1979.

the HHOF take on Dave:


Dave Keon could be a dazzling offensive player, utilizing bursts of speed and deft moves around the net. He also had what is widely considered to be one of the best backhands in the game, a deceptive, often powerful shot that flummoxed opposing goaltenders. He used his agility to avoid opponents' hits and remained injury-free for much of his career. He also used his speed and maneuverability as a pesky penalty killer, covering a large portion of the ice and turning shorthanded situations into scoring chances for his own team. He set a league record for most goals while killing penalties with eight in the 1970-71 season, a remarkable total since the most any Toronto team had managed up to that year had been 14.

Had it not been for his mother, Toronto fans would never have had the chance to make Keon one of their all-time favorites. As a teenager in Noranda, Quebec, Keon was heavily courted by the Detroit Red Wings. His mother, however, objected to his moving so far away. He stayed in Noranda for another winter and was soon noticed by the Maple Leafs. The next year he went to St. Michael's College, as so many Leaf prospects did, and began to improve remarkably quickly. The Leafs informed him that he would be given a chance in the pro league in 1960, when he'd be 19. He was told by Bob Goldham and Father David Bauer, the St. Michael's coaches, that he could either learn how to play the defensive game - the game without the puck - in the summer or he could spend the next year in the minors working on it. He put in the extra time and effort and made the Leafs that Fall.

Keon won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie that year and was a Second Team All-Star the next. Along with Red Kelly and Bob Pulford, Keon provided the Maple Leafs with a solid stable of centers, a nucleus of talent that would play a large role in the Leafs' four Stanley Cup triumphs in the 1960s. Keon was the playoff MVP in 1967, the last year the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. Also in that span, he won the Lady Byng Trophy twice, in 1962 and 1963, as the NHL's most gentlemanly player. He had only two minutes in penalties each season, a remarkable total for such an effective forechecker and defensive player. At one time, Keon was the Maple Leafs' all-time leading scorer, overtaking Frank Mahovlich and George Armstrong, who had shared the record with 296 goals apiece.

Keon seemed to be always at odds with Toronto management when it came to contract negotiations but was able to smooth over differences before they interfered with his play. In 1972 the Ottawa Nationals of the World Hockey Association announced that they were going to do everything in their power to sign the productive center. Keon was trying out at the time for Team Canada, hoping for an opportunity to play against the Soviets in the Summit Series. He was kept off that team because of the possibility that he might leave the NHL. He was later convinced to remain with the Leafs by vice-president King Clancy and signed the richest contract the team had ever offered, but he did regret not playing in the 1972 series with teammates Paul Henderson and Ron Ellis.

Keon's leadership and productivity over his 15 years with the Leafs were all forgotten in the summer of 1975, at least by Harold Ballard, the cantankerous and headstrong owner of the team. He began to complain publicly about the lack of leadership Keon had shown to his younger teammates. Since Ballard was determined to rebuild the team with youth, Keon, the Leaf captain at the time, wasn't resigned. It was insult on top of injury and Keon, though a classy individual on the ice and off, has refused for years to have much to do with the team he was - and is - so strongly identified with.

He signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Fighting Saints and spent four years in the WHA with the Fighting Saints, Indianapolis Racers and New England Whalers. In 1979-80, he returned to the NHL with the Hartford Whalers. Very quietly, in the summer of 1982, Keon ended his 22-year professional career. There was no fanfare. Keon, at the time the NHL's oldest player at 42, informed Hartford director of hockey operations Larry Pleau of his decision and then declined to have a press conference, saying he'd like to end his career without formality.


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