Last week, I had the chance to talk to legendary Toronto Maple Leafs right-winger Ron Ellis on the phone. He was introduced to me by Allan Stitt, who teaches at the University of Toronto Law School who saw my post on The Hockey Writers about how to negotiate with (now injured) Maple Leafs young star Mitch Marner.
Allan is also a corporate negotiator and arbitrator: that is, he’s hired to be a neutral voice when corporations cannot come to an agreement. And, he contacted me to tell me I had written the most thorough explication of good negotiating tactics he had read to this point. That was one of the nicest responses to a hockey post that I have had – but that’s another story.
Allan is also a great Toronto Maple Leafs fan, who has spent his lifetime collecting Maple Leafs memorabilia. That led to meeting Ron Ellis, and Ellis noted that Allan was his great friend. That led me to talk with Ellis about his days of playing with the Maple Leafs. Which led to me thinking about the 1967-68 season. And, that was the last season that the Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup.
First, Ron Ellis is a fine gentleman. He was easy to talk with and he had plenty of time for me. We had a really nice conversation. Inside that conversation, it was nice for an old-timer like me (72 years old) to talk with another old-timer like Ron (now 78 years old). We shared lots of memories of hockey in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Connection Between Ron Ellis & the Maple Leafs Being Removed from the Stanley Cup
During our conversation, one thing Ron told me that made him the most pleased about his career was that he had the chance to play in an NHL that included only the Original Six. He noted how different hockey was then, and he relived how hard it was – back in the day – to even break into the NHL.
I had not before considered how different life would be for hockey players when there were only six teams in the league, and maybe only 120 total players total. That means that, even to make it to the NHL, you had to be one of the best 120 hockey players in Canada (usually) or in the United States. In those days, there were few foreign players and even much knowledge about hockey globally was minimal. (As an aside, no wonder the NHL players who played the Soviets were surprised by their skills in the 1972 summit series.)
Today, the NHL has 31 teams and more than 700 players. Granted all these players have skills and are good, solid players. However, as Ron said about his own career, it meant something special to him to be one of the 120 players who were good enough to play in the league.
That conversation reminded of the Maple Leafs last Stanley Cup win. As all Maple Leafs fans know too well, it was during the 1966-67 season, which interestingly was the last season of the Original Six. The NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967-68.
The Maple Leafs Have 10 More Years to Win Another Stanley Cup
If you are still reading this meandering post, here’s my point. The next ten seasons are crucially important for the Maple Leafs as an NHL organization if they wish the team’s name to remain on the actual Stanley Cup. That’s because the next band on the trophy will be removed in the year 2030. And, that last band is important because it included the record of the Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win from the 1966-67 season. To put it succinctly, the Maple Leafs have 10 years to win a Stanley Cup before their name is removed from the iconic trophy.
The Hockey Hall of Fame announced last December that it had placed the latest band removed from the barrel-shaped cup — featuring 12 championship teams from the 1953-54 season through the 1964-65 campaign — on permanent display in the Hockey Hall of Fame. “On permanent display” means that it won’t be hoisted over any Stanley Cup winner’s head this season. It means it’s off the Cup.
The next band on the trophy will be removed in 2030 and replaced with a fresh one to allow for the engraving of future championship teams. That band – the one to be removed – includes the Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win from the 1966-67 season.
To me, that seems a tragedy.
It Might Be Time to for the Maple Leafs to Worry
When I first read the news that the Maple Leafs would be removed from the Stanley Cup if the team didn’t win it again within 10 years, I wasn’t worried. The team was strong and I thought they might win it last season (2018-19) or at least in 2019-20. But I am now thinking I might be worried. This 2019-20 team, so far and I know it might change, is underachieving. And, can the team ever achieve?
Given how things are going this season, what if this team isn’t good enough to make a Stanley Cup push? Could the Stanley Cup be truly representative of the NHL if the Toronto Maple Leafs victory were no longer etched in its visible memory? The Maple Leafs are, after all, one of Canada’s two great Original Six teams.
Come On Maple Leafs; It’s Time to Win
Of course, it’s logical that every 13 years, to make the Stanley Cup a “living” trophy, a ring is removed from the Cup to be “forever enshrined” in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But it seems wrong that the Maple Leafs might be on it.
Let’s ensure that the name of this historic NHL franchise will be re-etched on the Stanley Cup. You’re playing for history.