Mar 24, 2009 - 1978-79 - Darryl Sittler
(Note: Mondays, unless otherwise pre-empted, we'll have players from the 1978-79 team, 30 years ago this year. They'll appear in alphabetical order.)
The first hockey player I ever knew by name was Darryl Sittler. Our school library had a book about the 1976 Canada Cup and there on the cover was Darryl, arms raised after beating Vladimir Dzurilla with the Cup-winning goal (unfortunately the only time he got to say that as a pro). Eventually I'd learn that the perpetually-overdue "Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins" was also a hockey book, but it was years before I even laid eyes on that one. Sittler was also the first card I ever pulled from a pack.
I almost never saw him, though. The Leafs, oddly enough, never seemed to play the Calgary Cowboys and we were fed a steady diet of Canucks games on TV, which came this close to costing Calgary an entire generation of hockey fans.
What I did manage to pick up, though, was that Darryl Sittler was the Maple Leafs. They were synonymous. Much as Guy Lafleur was the embodiment of the Habs of that era, Sittler was the Leafs. You could no sooner separate them that you could change the colours of the uniform. That's how it was to a kid far removed from the local news, anyway. In reality, there were pressures and tensions building for years. The return of Punch Imlach had led to direct confrontations with the captain, culminating initially in Sittler removing the 'C', and ultimately in the removal of Sittler himself.
Sittler had joined a team that still had Keon and Armstrong on it. His rookie season wasn't a whole lot to talk about, spoiled as it was by a broken wrist. His second season wasn't much better as he played behind guys like Keon, Ullman and Jim Harrison. When Harrison bolted for the WHA in 1972, ice time opened up for Sittler and he became a star. He hit for 77 points that year and would never finish below a point per game as a Leaf again. He'd be joined in 1973-74 by the likes of Lanny McDonald, Salming and Turnbull, and the Leafs rapidly turned over their team, letting go of Keon, Ullman, Henderson et al. The core of the Roger Neilson Leafs was together.
Sittler, with that team, led the Leafs to their best playoff runs since their last Cup in 1967, and the best until Gilmour would come in the 1990s. There were huge battles with the Flyers, year after year, Sittler matching up against Bobby Clarke. In 1967-77, Sittler set a team record with 21 post-season points and had a 5-goal effort against Philly. Gilmour would break that record in 1993, but it's worth noting that Sittler got those 21 points in only 9 games. Their deepest run was in 1978 when they made the semis.
The Neilson-era teams got close, but could never get past Montreal. They were a player or two short when Imlach took over, nine or ten players short by the time he left. Along the way, the relationship with Sittler was strained, and what we now see as the inevitable happened - the trade to Philly. This trade has forever soured me on the notion of 'Hey, let's trade our star for a bunch of prospects and picks!' The return on Sittler? Peter Ihnacak, Ken Strong, Rich Costello. Now, I liked Ihnacak, but that's beyond pathetic.
Sittler was an NHL all-star just once - the second team in 1977-78. Centre has always been the deepest position for NHL stars and Darryl was usually up against Esposito and Clarke in the early days, Trottier, Dionne and Gretzky in the later ones. He was the unquestioned star of these teams, though.
For a long time, Sittler's relationship with the Leafs seemed much like Keon's. Flecther managed to patch that one up, however, and Darryl has been back in the fold for a long time. Should never have left.
A quick recap:
A fuller recap:
|1966-67||Elmira Sugar Kings||OHA-C|
|1970-71||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||49||10||8||18||37||+3||6||2||1||3||31|
|1971-72||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||74||15||17||32||44||-4||3||0||0||0||2|
|1972-73||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||29||48||77||69||-11|
|1973-74||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||38||46||84||55||+12||4||2||1||3||6|
|1974-75||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||72||36||44||80||47||-10||7||2||1||3||15|
|1975-76||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||79||41||59||100||90||+12||10||5||7||12||19|
|1976-77||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||73||38||52||90||89||+8||9||5||16||21||4|
|1977-78||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||80||45||72||117||100||+34||13||3||8||11||12|
|1978-79||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||70||36||51||87||69||+9||6||5||4||9||17|
|1979-80||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||73||40||57||97||62||+3||3||1||2||3||10|
|1980-81||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||80||43||53||96||77||-8||3||0||0||0||4|
|1981-82||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||38||18||20||38||24||-14|
|1984-85||Detroit Red Wings||NHL||61||11||16||27||37||-10||2||0||2||2||0|
Second All-Star Team Centre (1978)
- Traded to Philadelphia by Toronto for the rights to Rich Costello, Hartford's 2nd round choice (previously acquired, Toronto selected Peter Ihnacak) in 1982 Entry Draft and future considerations (Ken Strong, May, 1982), January 20, 1982.
- Traded to Detroit by Philadelphia for Murray Craven and Joe Paterson, October 10, 1984.
the HHOF take on Darryl:
Born in 1950 in Kitchener, Ontario, one of eight children in the Sittler family, Darryl first played his way to prominence with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey Association. Sittler played a determined game and the Leafs made him the eighth pick overall in the 1970 Entry Draft. He saw limited action in his first pro season in 1970-71 and had an unremarkable sophomore year. In 1972-73, he began to establish himself as an offensive star, finishing with 77 points - a total he would better in all but three of his subsequent 12 seasons in the NHL. The Leafs were in a rebuilding phase early in his career and many veterans either retired or were traded. When Dave Keon moved to the World Hockey Association, the 24-year-old Sittler took over the captain's duties, becoming the second-youngest captain in Leafs history after Teeder Kennedy.
Sittler had an incredible year in 1975-76. On February 7, 1976, he produced the greatest offensive game in the history of the National Hockey League, guaranteeing his place in the record books even after Wayne Gretzky had come and gone. Toronto was hosting the Boston Bruins, a team on a seven-game winning streak. The Bruins had recently reacquired Gerry Cheevers, but coach Don Cherry wanted to give the goalie a rest before his upcoming Boston homecoming and started rookie netminder Dave Reece instead. The Leafs beat up the Bruins 11-4, but Sittler was the big story. He had two assists in the first period, three goals and two assists in the second and another hat trick in the third. The total of six goals and four assists set a league record for points in one game that had previously been held by Maurice "Rocket" Richard with eight.
The big night helped Sittler become the first Leaf to reach the 100 mark in scoring in a season, collecting 41 goals and 59 assists. But he wasn't finished. During the playoffs in April against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sittler scored five goals in one game, tying the playoff record. In September, during the Canada Cup in Montreal, Sittler would make headlines again with his scoring ways. This time it wasn't the quantity but the quality and the timeliness that made the impression. In overtime of the second game of the best-of-three finals versus Czechoslovakia, Sittler held onto the puck on a partial breakaway until Czech goalie Vladimir Dzurilla committed himself and an opening presented itself. The goal secured the championship and made Sittler an overnight hero in Canada.
In 1977-78, Sittler registered 117 points and was selected to the league's Second All-Star Team. The Leafs had their best playoff showing in years, making it to the semi-finals. But things began to fall apart, for the franchise and for its captain, in 1979-80 when cantankerous owner Harold Ballard replaced much of his management, bringing in Punch Imlach to run the team.
Sittler was represented by Alan Eagleson, a lawyer and agent who never saw eye to eye with Ballard or Imlach. Relations were strained to the point that Sittler took a pair of scissors to the "C" on his sweater before a game in late 1979 to protest, among other things, the trade of Lanny McDonald to the Colorado Rockies. Ballard then threatened to lock Sittler out before the beginning of the next season. The two men resolved some of their differences and Sittler returned as captain, but it was a tenuous reconciliation. Midway through the 1981-82 season, Sittler went AWOL and demanded a trade. He was depressed and worn out from his battles with management in Toronto. In January he was sent to the Philadelphia Flyers, a one-time nemesis but a team that nonetheless had a great deal of respect for Sittler.
After recovering from the nasty divorce with the Leafs, Sittler had a great season in 1982-83, netting 83 points and a spot in the All-Star Game. He was shocked when Philadelphia traded him to the Detroit Red Wings before the 1984-85 season. Unsure if he wanted to continue and move his family to yet another city, Sittler refused to report for five days. He did end up playing one year with Detroit, though at times he struggled to find a place in the lineup. He retired after the season. Darryl Sittler was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989. Two years later he returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs, this time working in the club's management in marketing and public relations.