Inside Dave Keon’s reconciliation with the Maple Leafs

NHL insider Chris Johnston joins Shawn McKenzie to discuss just how significant it is that arguably the best Maple Leaf ever, Dave Keon, has ended his 40-year old grudge.

Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 22, 2016 prior to Dave Keon’s on-ice ceremony at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs will unveil statues of Keon, Turk Broda and Tim Horton on Thursday evening, adding them to their Legends Row monument.

Dave Keon, arguably the greatest Maple Leaf ever, is home again, right where he belongs. And he is happy. In a season when this Leaf franchise hasn’t had many wins on the ice, the biggest surely has come off it.

Dave Keon is back.

On Jan. 23, he will be honoured, along with the late Tim Horton and Turk Broda, the latest sculptures being added to Legends Row later in the year.

Leafs forever.

Keon, of course, was estranged from the Leafs for several years, after a nasty parting in 1975 because of former owner Harold Ballard, after which, Keon admitted in the interview, he never felt like a Leaf for many, many years and he rebuffed invites for various team functions.

In the past eight years, he finally returned to Toronto for a handful of celebrations – but they were always about team, not about Keon the individual.

That’s why this return feels so different and special and important.

Team is still what inspires him most, but in the interview, Keon reveals why the time was right now and the role that Leafs president Brendan Shanahan played in his return. And how, in many ways, this cements his legacy as one of the greatest Leafs ever, not the guy who has the nasty separation from the franchise he helped make great.

It could have happened much sooner, but it is happening now and that is what is most important.

Keon has always been of the opinion sweater numbers should be retired, not honoured. The Leafs have maintained the opposite. Guess what, neither has changed its stand. He is back, but he remains principled.

Regardless, the likes of Cliff Fletcher and John Ferguson Jr. and the current regime have understood how the Leaf greats deserve to be treated and that is a big reason why he has returned.

And while Keon says the statue is not a replacement for his number being retired, it was an honour he could not refuse, an honour he wanted to be able to share with his family, an honour that reaffirmed him as a Maple Leaf.

In so many ways, Keon remains a very humble man, who admitted he didn’t quite understand just how much he meant to Leafs fans dating back to the 1960s, when he was part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams, including the last one in 1967.

He never fully realized just how popular he was and has remained.

A bronze statue has driven the point home.

Hopefully, Leaf fans of a certain vintage will enjoy the interview and especially seeing the captain back at centre ice, and I urge Leaf fans of the current vintage to get to know about an important part of the team’s history, maybe the greatest Leaf ever, especially as the franchise is heading into its centennial anniversary.

And especially when he is here to join the celebration.