The Toronto Maple Leafs’ relationship with Leaf legend Dave Keon has been a bitter affair for decades. Today, steps to mend those fences have been made.
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The Leafs’ third-leading scorer toiled in Hogtown for 16 seasons, participating in four Stanley Cup championships, including the last in 1967, claiming Conn Smythe honours that same year.
Keon’s divorce from the Leafs franchise has been a touchy subject for as long as anyone can remember. Refusing to participate in the closing ceremonies at Maple Leaf Gardens indicated that the strained relationship between Keon and his former club was apparently beyond salvaging. Until now…
So, what prompted the ill-will that has lasted for over thirty years?
Former Maple Leafs owner, the late Harold Ballard, was notorious for his sideshow antics and bullish disposition. Never one for subtlety, it was during the 1974-75 campaign that Ballard very publicly lambasted the highly-decorated future Hall of Famer, questioning his leadership. Upon the expiration of Keon’s contract that same year, Ballard made it clear that not only would he not offer to re-sign one of the most beloved players in Leafs history, but he would also be sabotaging his NHL future. During the 1975-76 season, the New York Islanders attempted to sign Keon as they ramped up for a playoff run, but Ballard blocked the transaction with his unreasonable compensation demands. It was a dirty, mean-spirited trick that kept Keon out of the league until 1979, when the NHL absorbed the Hartford Whalers organization of the WHA; for whom Keon played along with fellow legend Gordie Howe. While Keon was gracious enough to make periodic fan appreciation appearances over the years, his relationship with the franchise has been frosty, to say the very least.
Leaf fans will now have opportunity to join MLSE in giving this living legend the tribute he deserves, as the Toronto sports brand announced that a bronze image of the prolific NHL’er will join those of the greatest Leafs in history, along with fellow inductees Tim Horton and Turk Broda. Legends Row pays homage to the team’s greatest names by featuring larger than life size bronze sculptures of their likenesses behind a players bench of solid granite. Presently, Ted Kennedy, Syl Apps, George Armstrong, Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming and Mats Sundin are honoured at Legends Row, situated at Gate five at the Air Canada entre.
Both parties are to be congratulated in ending this age old standoff and allowing Leaf fans to celebrate the career and contributions of one of the most important Leafs players in the team’s storied history.