clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Wendel Clark


Some days the LotD is topical.  Some days it's a history lesson.  Some days it's an opportunity to admire some significantly bad hair.  Some days it's comfort food.

Normally, I don't go in for all the "it's always darkest before the dawn" stuff, but today I will, mainly because it lets me tell this story that has nothing to do with hockey.

My Grade 11 chemistry teacher used to spend the first five minutes of every class talking about whatever magazine article he happened to be reading.  On this day, he was telling us about a study of the human eye.  As it turned out, the eye was such a sensitive device that it would actually register a single photon of light.  It wouldn't be enough to see by, obviously, but the resultant brain activity showed that the eye recognized even that tiny amount of light.

A voice (no, not mine) chimed in from the back of the room, mental gears clearly churning:  "So... if there's no... light...(somewhat longer pause, grinding increases)... then... you can't... SEE!"

Well, I thought it was funny, at least.  And a big hello to any high school friends who lurk here and just figured out who it is that writes these things.

Anyway, the choice of Wendel Clark, a Leaf heavyweight in multiple definitions of the word, on the day the Leafs battle (again) for the NHL basement, should mean something.

Well, it does, but only to me.

On a broader level, I suppose it's a human reflex to reach for something comforting and familiar when things look dark and scary, when a train wreck is looming or when last place beckons.  

It was kind of like this in 1996, when the shine was off the Gilmour years, the team was falling apart and Pat Burns had just been fired.  The Leafs, who had been a .610 team a week before Christmas, had fallen completely off the rails, going 4-17-4 between January 11 and March 8, including both a 9-game and a 10-game winless streak.  

A lot of people have said in hindsight that the deal to reacquire Wendel Clark should never have been made.  A lot of people said that before it was made, too.  We didn't know all the terms of the deal, but Jonsson's name had been mentioned, and it was pretty clear that this deal was going to be really, really expensive.  When the final trade was announced, it was one of those slump-down-into-your-chair kinds of moments.  A floundering team, rather than rebuilding, had just sent four young pieces away for a pair of vets (and D.J. King - remember him?)

Personally, I've never believed that the Leafs would have picked Luongo anyway.  They had Potvin, who was still pretty young, and to my mind would more likely have grabbed a Dan Tkachuk instead. (Of course, they had given away Eric Fichaud the year before, so you never know.)  The loss of Jonsson hurt, and I certainly expected more than 1 extra career game from Haggerty.   Schneider was also never a favourite of mine, so I never liked that part of it.

Still, exhibiting the standard-issue Leaf fan ability to get with the program, I warmed to the idea.  And then on March 15, for one brief, wonderful moment, all was right with the world:


The Leafs went 8-5 with Clark (and those other guys) in the lineup, made the playoffs and lost in 6 to St. Louis.  (Mats Sundin and Larry Murphy were both -8?!?  Ye gads - can't say I remember that....)  Wendel would have a 30-goal season the next year, fight injuries again after that and then do another wander 'round the NHL before coming home for the last time - and you know, that one felt really good, too.

I suppose the moral of the story, if there is one, is that going for the comfort food in times of stress is ultimately a bad thing (my arteries would likely agree).  As such, choosing Wendel Clark as Leaf of the Day will undoubtedly cause the Leafs to have sole possession of last place this time tomorrow.  We know this because all bad Leaf performances are the fans' fault, primarily mine.

Tough beans, I say.  There are times in life where if you're not going to win, you might as well find some joy in the act of losing.

Besides, the choice of Wendel wasn't really comfort food.  It's about personal relevance.  Beyond that, Wendel Clark needs never be justified.  It's the right thing to do in any and all situations.

So there.  :)


Thankfully, DGB has recorded everything that ever mattered, though the audio never works for me.  Not sure why.

The sendoff:

The hat trick in the game that should have sent us to the Final:


And the best tribute in the known universe:

Wendel's stats:

 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."