1967ers continues his excellent series "Leaf of the Day" with part two of his Wendel Clark post. Enjoy! - Chemmy
Nov 20, 2008 - Wendel Clark (Captain Clark)
Wendel Clark responded very well to becoming captain of the Leafs. Through his first two-plus games of the 1991-92 season, he had five goals and four assists and was leading the league in scoring. Then disaster struck. Continuing the pattern of the previous few seasons, there was a serious injury. Clark went knee-on-knee with Ron Sutter of St. Louis and was gone for a month with MCL damage. He came back, hurt it again within a week and was gone until New Years.
His return, though, was momentous for another reason. On Jan 3, 1992, Wendel returned to action to a very different team than the one he had left. That game also marked the debut of Doug Gilmour. Both Clark and Gilmour would score that night, and this was really the beginning of a new era for the Leafs. They'd make a late-season charge for a playoff spot, falling just short. A week-long work stoppage killed their momentum and they lost the last couple of games they needed. Wendel finished with 40 points in 43 games.
The team transformation continued in 1992-93 with a new coach in Pat Burns and a new sweater based on the 75th anniversary one they'd worn in 1991-92. (I was at the Gardens for the unveiling of the new sweater, but that's a post unto itself.) The '92-93 season was unlike anything Leafs fans had seen in decades. Every move Fletcher made worked flawlessly, Burns had them playing a hard-hitting team game and Gilmour was lighting it up.
Wendel Clark continued to play his game, but the offensive results weren't really there. He could change a game with a hit or a fight, but only had 17 goals and 39 points in 66 games, compared to 127 points for Gilmour. There were calls during the season for the captaincy to be given to Gilmour instead. Gilmour, for his part, downplayed that. He said that his job was to put up points, while Wendel's was to be the leader, and there was no question that he was doing that.
In the playoffs, though, Clark came through. 10 goals and 10 assists and a plus-15 in 21 games, memorable bouts with Probert and McSorley, and game seven heroics in each series. (As best as I can recall, in the four Game Sevens that the Leafs played between 1993 and 1994, Wendel had six goals and at least two assists.) There were no more discussions about the captaincy.
1993-94 was the best statistical year of Clark's career. 46 goals in 64 games (on pace for 60) around the inevitable injuries and another trip to the semis (another 9 goals and 7 assists).
Burns and Fletcher met after the loss to Vancouver and agreed that the Leafs had gone as far as they could go given the roster they had. On draft day, Cliff pulled off a shocker.
Wendel was gone.
Next: Wendel returns.
This is some mid-season action from 1993-94. Wendel scores back-to-back hat tricks, part of a 10-goal-in-8-games binge after returning from injury:
This is the list of Wendel Clark's absences from the lineup due to injury, as recorded by hockeydraftcentral (beware of possible malware).
Offered without comment:
Miscellaneous: Represented by player agent Don Meehan throughout his NHL career. ... Shifted from his natural position of defense to play primarily at left wing for Toronto as a rookie in 1985-86. He remained a left wing for most of his NHL career. ... Missed part of 1985-86 season with broken right foot, an injury suffered when he was hit on the skate by teammate Chris Kotsopoulos' shot from the point during the second period of Toronto's Nov. 26, 1985, game at St. Louis. Although he continued to play with, he could barely make it through the game's third period and post-game X-rays revealed a fracture. He did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 4, 1986, game vs. Los Angeles. ... Was runner-up to Gary Suter in voting for 1985-86 Calder Trophy. ... Scored four goals in Toronto's 5-1 home win over Buffalo on Oct. 11, 1986. ... Led Toronto with 15 power-play goals in 1986-87. ...Led Toronto with plus-8 rating in 1987 playoffs. ... Missed part of 1987-88 season with tendinitis in right shoulder and sore back, an injury suffered early in the season and re-aggravated for the final time during Toronto's Oct. 21, 1987, game vs. Montreal. He did not return to action until Toronto's Oct. 31, 1987, game vs. Chicago . ... Missed part of 1987-88 season with back spasms, an injury suffered during Toronto's Nov. 9, 1987, game at Montreal. He did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 2, 1988, game vs. Buffalo. He had two assists in that game. ... Missed remainder of 1987-88 season and most of 1988-89 season with re-aggravation of back injury, suffered during Toronto's Feb. 4, 1988, game at Philadelphia. He did not play again until Toronto's March 1, 1989, game at N.Y. Rangers. ... Missed part of 1989-90 season with re-aggravation of back injury, suffered during Toronto's Oct. 14, 1989, game vs. Winnipeg. ... Missed part of 1989-90 season with bruised muscle above left knee, an injury suffered during Toronto's Nov. 4, 1990, game vs. Philadelphia. He did not return to action until Toronto's Nov. 22, 1989, game at Minnesota. ... Missed part of 1989-90 season with re-aggravation of back injury, sore foot and sore right hand, suffered during Toronto's Jan. 3, 1990, game vs. Quebec. He did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 15, 1990, game vs. Chicago. ... Missed part of 1989-90 season with partial tear of MCL in right knee, an injury suffered when he was checked in the knees by Viacheslav Fetisov during Toronto's Jan. 26, 1990, game at New Jersey. He did not return to action until Toronto's March 31, 1990, regular-season finale vs. Chicago. He had two assists in that game. ... Played on line with Gary Leeman and Ed Olczyk for Toronto during 1990 playoffs. ... Missed part of 1990-91 season with separated left shoulder, an injury suffered during Toronto's Dec. 18, 1990, game at N.Y. Islanders. He did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 3, 1991, game at Minnesota. ... Missed part of 1990-91 season with pulled rib cage muscle, an injury suffered during Toronto's Feb. 6, 1991, game at Winnipeg. He did not return to action until Toronto's March 5, 1991, game vs. Boston. ... Considered jumping to start-up Continental Hockey Association's Saskatoon team during summer of 1991 while he was a restricted free agent, but opted to return to Toronto instead of joining league that never actually materialized. ... Played on line with Peter Zezel and Gary Leeman for Toronto in 1991-92. ... Missed part of 1991-92 season with partially torn MCL in left knee, an injury suffered in knee-on-knee collision with Ron Sutter during third period of Toronto's Oct. 7, 1991, game vs. St. Louis. At the time he got hurt, Clark was leading NHL with nine points and five goals in three games. He did not return to action until Toronto's Nov. 2, 1991, game vs. Los Angeles. He had an assist in that game. ... Missed part of 1991-92 season with re-aggravation (sprain) of MCL injury in left knee, suffered when he was checked by Craig Ludwig late in second period of Toronto's Nov. 6, 1991, game vs. Minnesota. He did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 3, 1992, game at Detroit. He scored a goal in that game. ... Suspended by NHL for three games during 1991-92 season for high-sticking incident with Bryan Marchment during third period of Toronto's Jan. 16, 1992, game at Chicago. Clark received a match penalty on the play for attempting to injure Marchment as he retaliated for hit in the face by slashing in the direction of Marchment's throat. The incident set off a brawl, and the match penalty required a disciplinary hearing with Brian O'Neill on Jan. 21, 1992. The following day, the NHL suspended Clark. As a result of the suspension, he did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 29, 1992, game vs. Quebec. ... Was Toronto's nominee for 1991-92 Masterton Trophy. ... Missed part of 1992-93 season with pulled groin, an injury suffered during Toronto's Oct. 22, 1992, game at Tampa Bay. He did not return to action until Toronto's Nov. 5, 1992, game at Chicago. ... Missed part of 1992-93 season with strained rib cage muscles, an injury suffered during Toronto's Jan. 17, 1993, game at Chicago. He did not return to action until Toronto's Feb. 20, 1993, game vs. Boston. He scored a goal in that game. ... Played on line with Rob Pearson and John Cullen for Toronto in 1993-94. ... Missed part of 1993-94 season with sprained right knee, an injury suffered when Shawn Anderson fell on him during Toronto's Oct. 13, 1993, game vs. Washington. He did not return to action until Toronto's Oct. 19, 1993, game vs. Hartford. He scored two goals in that game. ... Missed part of 1993-94 season with bruised right ankle, an injury suffered while blocking a shot during overtime period of Toronto's Dec. 22, 1993, game vs. San Jose. The injury kept him out of the 1994 NHL All-Star Game, and he did not return to action until Toronto's Feb. 5, 1994, game vs. Detroit. He had two assists in that game. ... Missed part of 1995 season with pulled hamstring, an injury suffered during Quebec's March 18, 1995, game at Montreal. He did not return to action until Quebec's April 12, 1995, game at Boston. ... Fined $1,000 by NHL for elbowing Alexei Kovalev in the face during third period of Game 2 of Quebec's first-round playoff series vs. N.Y. Rangers on May 8, 1995. ... Was playing for Quebec when franchise relocated to Colorado on June 21, 1995, but never played in Colorado, because he was traded away before the start of the 1995-96 season on Oct. 3, 1995. ... Missed part of 1995-96 season with back spasms, an injury suffered in N.Y. Islanders' Jan. 27, 1996, game at Vancouver. He did not return to action until N.Y. Islanders' Feb. 17, 1996, game vs. San Jose. ... Scored goal on first shot after re-joining Toronto in a March 13, 1996, trade with N.Y. Islanders. The goal came at 5:41 of first period of Toronto's March 15, 1996, game vs. Dallas. ... Missed part of 1996-97 season with broken right thumb, an injury suffered in fight with Shawn Chambers at end of second period of Toronto's Dec. 10, 1996, game vs. New Jersey. He did not return to action until Toronto's Jan. 22, 1997, game vs. Calgary. He had a goal and an assist in that game. ... Missed part of 1996-97 season with bruised lower back, an injury suffered during Toronto's April 2, 1997, game vs. Florida. ... Missed part of 1997-98 season with strained groin, an injury suffered during Toronto's Jan. 7, 1998, game at Tampa Bay. Toronto placed Clark on the injured list on Jan. 27, 1998, and he did not return to action until Toronto's March 28, 1998, game vs. N.Y. Islanders. ... Missed remainder of 1997-98 season with re-aggravation of groin injury, suffered during Toronto's April 6, 1998, game at Dallas. The injury required season-ending surgery in late April 1998. ... Signed with Tampa Bay as a Group III unrestricted free agent on July 16, 1998. ... Scored is 300th career NHL goal for Tampa Bay on Oct. 28, 1998, at Anaheim. ... Missed part of 1998-99 season with strained groin, an injury suffered during Tampa Bay's practice on Nov. 23, 1998. He did not return to action until Tampa Bay's Nov. 27, 1998, game vs. Florida. ... Missed part of 1998-99 season with re-aggravation of groin injury, suffered during Tampa Bay's Dec. 20, 1998, game at Philadelphia. ... Missed part of 1998-99 season with re-aggravation of groin injury, suffered in Tampa Bay's Dec. 23, 1998, game at Buffalo. ... Signed with Chicago as a Group III unrestricted free agent on Aug. 2, 1999. ... Missed part of 1999-00 season with groin injury, suffered in Chicago's Oct. 15, 1999, game vs. Toronto. He was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 19, 1999, after coach Lorne Molleken said he was benching Clark for his poor performance. Clark openly expressed his anger at the Blackhawks for scratching him from and Oct. 16, 1999, game at Pittsburgh and then for placing him on IR against his wishes. He finally returned to action for Chicago's Oct. 23, 1999, game vs. Detroit. He played eight more games for Chicago before the team bought out his contract and released him on Nov. 18, 1999. At the time of the release Chicago general manager Bob Murray said Clark had performed poorly and it had been a mistake to sign him. ... Signed tryout contract with Toronto as an unrestricted free agent on Jan. 9, 2000. He managed to make the team for the balance of the 1999-00 season, enabling him to retire in the city where he began his NHL career and where he had become one of the most popular players in Maple Leafs history.
Clark's Back Woes: In his third NHL season, Clark began to deal with what would become crippling pain and spasms in his back. After missing 23 games with back problems from Nov. 9, 1987, to Jan. 2, 1988, Clark appeared ready to return to the lineup at the start of the new year. However, one month later, Clark re-aggravated his back injury at Philadelphia -- an injury that would keep him out of action for more than a year. Because he had played through his back problems, Clark managed to displace muscles in the back and twist his spine. Despite multiple efforts to return to the Leafs, Clark's muscle damage forced him to remain out of action for month after month. During his time on the sidelines, Clark became the target of criticism from contentious Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard. In a Jan. 31, 1989, interview with the Toronto Star, Ballard suggested Clark was stalling his own recovery from the back injury out of sheer laziness. Ballard told the Star that "I sometimes think Wendel is swinging the lead. That would be a terrible thing to say if, indeed, he can't play. But I've never had a player let something disturb him for so long. I've had guys play for me with a broken wrist and a broken ankle. I think it's time Wendel tested the water." Although Clark had resumed skating in practice by this time, he declined to comment on Ballard's remarks and said he would not start playing in games again on anyone's timetable but his own. Finally, on March 1, 1989, Clark returned to the Maple Leafs lineup for a game at N.Y. Rangers. He had an assist in that game and went on to play very well over the remainder of the season -- scoring seven goals and adding 4 assists in only 15 games. Toronto, however, missed the final playoff berth in the Norris Division by four points.
Wendel and Marty, for old time's sake: