Ever since I started to think what I would say about Rick Vaive, this has been stuck in my head. Now, thanks to the power of the internets, it can be stuck in yours, too:
The month of January, 1982 was a pretty eventful one in Toronto. Darryl Sittler's multi-year feud with management was finally coming to a head. A trade to Philly had been agreed upon in December but was taking forever to finalize. On January 5, he left the team. It would take another 16 days before the deal was completed.
On Jan. 6, 1982, 22-year-old sniper Rick Vaive was named captain in Sittler's place. He was the second 22-year-old captain the Leafs had ever had, the first being Ted Kennedy. (I don't have a definitive date on Kennedy getting the 'C', but if we assume training camp, 1948, Vaive would have been younger by a matter of weeks.)
Where Ted took to the role right away, it might not have been the easiest thing for Vaive. I think it was a case of personality. Rick was more of a free spirit, a guy who liked to have a good time. He was a 22-year-old hockey star in the middle of the first-ever 50-goal season a Maple Leaf had ever had. The world was basically his oyster. The captaincy really added to the expectations on Vaive, meaning he was expected to do a lot more than just produce on the ice, and I'm not sure how well that really ever worked.
The captaincy didn't hurt that on-ice production, though. Rick followed that first 50-goal season with a pair of others - in fact, his 157 goals between 1981-82 and 1983-84 were third best in the NHL, behind only Gretzky and Bossy - before a knee injury slowed him in '84-85. Hand and wrist injuries played a role after that. He didn't miss a ton of games, but you see it in his stats.
Joe Pelletier calls Vaive "the most overlooked Toronto superstar in [the Leafs'] long history." He likens Vaive somewhat to Wendel Clark - an emotional, physical player with a wicked shot who would hit, fight and score. There's a lot to compare there, I guess, though Vaive wasn't the devastating fighter Clark was. The difference in the way we recall them might really be a factor of timing. Wendel captained a team that was full of players able to get to the next level. Vaive's teams were full of kids. The potential for success just wasn't there the same way.
For whatever reason, too, Vaive always seemed to catch a ton of flack as captain. His whole line did, really. The team was bad and Ballard et al always seemed to unload on the top line, as though the team's best offensive weapons were somehow to blame for a team inability to play defense. They weren't the most diligent backcheckers, to be certain, but they were really the least of the Leafs' problems. Those Leafs were so inexperienced at so many positions that I'm not sure just what any leader was expected to do. Whatever it was, though, they didn't feel they were getting it in Vaive. This never struck me as particularly fair.
Prior to 1985-86, the Leafs broke up their top line - Anderson went to Quebec, Derlago to Boston. It couldn't have been easy on Vaive. Those guys were close friends and it must have rocked him to lose them. There were stories about his personal discipline and when he overslept and missed a practice on Feb. 22, 1986, he was stripped of the captaincy. The story I heard was that he'd caught up with one of Derlago or Anderson and was out till the wee hours. Given that the practice was in Minnesota, I'm not sure how true that is.
Without the added pressure of the 'C', though, I thought his play really improved. Instead of being looked to as the guy, he was now just a guy and I think he benefited from this. The team was changing, there was now Clark and a number of other new players around and though he never hit 50 again, he was a sound contributor on an improving team.
It wouldn't last, though. After 1986-87, Vaive, Steve Thomas and Bob McGill went to Chicago for Ed Olczyk and Al Secord. I was sad to see him go. I always thought he deserved better here and he never really got it.
He scored 43 that first year in Chicago, which I thought was some pretty good vindication. He lost most of 1988-89 to injuries, though, and never hit 30 again after that.
Between the NHL and WHA (he played one season with the Baby Bulls at 19), Rick Vaive scored 467 career goals. Remember that when talking about the best snipers of that era.
Rick doing the Jordan thing - tongue out - via www.legendsofhockey.net
|1975-76||Colonel Gray High School||High-PE|
|1979-80||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||22||9||7||16||77||-4||3||1||0||1||11|
|1980-81||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||75||33||29||62||229||-16||3||1||0||1||4|
|1981-82||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||77||54||35||89||157||+12|
|1982-83||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||51||28||79||105||-13||4||2||5||7||6|
|1983-84||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||76||52||41||93||114||-12|
|1984-85||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||72||35||33||68||112||-26|
|1985-86||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||61||33||31||64||85||-19||9||6||2||8||9|
|1986-87||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||73||32||34||66||61||+12||13||4||2||6||23|
|1993-1998||South Carolina Stingrays||ECHL|
|1998-2000||Saint John Flames||AHL|
|2001-02||Dundas Real McCoys||OHA-Sr.||5||2||2||4||24|
|2002-03||Dundas Real McCoys||OHA-Sr.||9||6||5||11||34||4||2||3||5||6|
QMJHL Rookie of the Year (1977)
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1982, 1983, 1984)
- Signed as an underage free agent by Birmingham (WHA), May, 1978.
- Traded to Toronto by Vancouver with Bill Derlago for Tiger Williams and Jerry Butler, February 18, 1980.
- Traded to Chicago by Toronto with Steve Thomas and Bob McGill for Al Secord and Ed Olczyk, September 3, 1987.
- Traded to Buffalo by Chicago for Adam Creighton, December 26, 1988.
- Signed as a free agent by Vancouver, September 2, 1992.
- Named Head Coach of Mississauga (OHL), July 20, 2000.
The HHOF take on Rick:
As an Ottawa native, Rick Vaive grew up with two stellar visions etched in his mind: play for the Leafs or Canadiens and win a Stanley Cup. Anything less would be great, but not the cigar he hoped to smoke.
Vaive launched his junior career as an offensive leviathan with the Sherbrooke Beavers of the QMJHL. After a stint with the Canadian National Junior team, he headed to the Southern U.S. to play for the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA. In his lone season as an 18-year-old "Baby Bull," he showed strong signs of becoming a power forward who corralled plenty of points and penalty minutes.
The Vancouver Canucks like what they saw and selected Vaive 5th overall in the Entry Draft. Then, after 47 games they decided that they didn't like him so much after all, sending him to the Leafs along with Bill Derlago in 1980.
Wearing the Blue and White, Vaive teamed up with his set-up man, Derlago, to give frustrated Leaf fans a little something to cheer about. Although his team was, for the most part, inept, Vaive used his booming slapshot to become the first Leaf in franchise history to score 50 goals in one season. He got 54 in 1981-82 followed by seasons of 51 and then 52. But for all of the personal adulation he received as a scoring ace, he admitted that his team's inability to win with consistency skimmed some of the magic off the top of his success. He once confided that he'd trade his 50-goal campaigns for a chance to hold Lord Stanley.
Vaive was rewarded for his strong play with the Leafs' captaincy, a post he held until his team launched another of its cyclical house cleanings, sending him along with Steve Thomas and Bob McGill to Chicago in 1987. There, Vaive continued his solid offensive production for a season and a half before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres where he completed his NHL service in 1992.
Since leaving the ice, he has worked as a minor-league coach in such diverse settings as Hamilton, Charleston, St. John, and Mississauga.