TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs turned the page at the outset of their centennial season, wiping away a long-standing policy of not retiring sweater numbers while dramatically sending Dave Keon’s No. 14 to the rafters at Air Canada Centre.
The changes were revealed during a ceremony before Saturday’s home opener against the Boston Bruins with a new set of banners unfurled.
In a surprising twist, the 10 honoured numbers belonging to 16 players were taken immediately out of circulation. It forced James van Riemsdyk to switch to No. 25 after wearing Borje Salming’s No. 21 for his first four seasons in Toronto.
None of the other suddenly retired numbers belonged to any current member of the team: No. 1 (Turka Broda, Johnny Bower), No. 4 (Hap Day, Red Kelly), No. 7 (King Clancy, Tim Horton), No. 9 (Ted Kennedy, Charlie Conacher), No. 10 (Syl Apps, George Armstrong), No. 13 (Mats Sundin), No. 17 (Wendel Clark), No. 27 (Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler) or No. 93 (Doug Gilmour).
Previously, only Bill Barilko’s No. 5 and Ace Bailey’s No. 6 had officially been retired by the organization.
That was part of the rift that had kept Keon estranged from the Leafs for four decades. He and former owner Harold Ballard feuded at the end of his playing days here, with Ballard refusing to re-sign him in 1975 and essentially forcing him to jump to the World Hockey Association.
Attempts to mend the fence with Keon in retirement were repeatedly rebuffed over the years, in large part because he felt the organization should retire his number like others would have. Miroslav Frycer, Dave Reid, Dave Thomlinson, Rob Cimetta, Dave Andreychuk, Darby Hendrickson and Jonas Hoglund were among the Leafs to wear No. 14 after him.
Matt Stajan was the last to do so in 2010.
A phone call from team president Brendan Shanahan to Keon in 2015 started to thaw relations and culminated with a bronze statue bearing his likeness being added to Legends Row earlier this week. Keon was also named the No. 1 Leafs player of all-time on Friday afternoon.
That set the stage for one final surprise in Saturday’s ceremony, when a banner carrying his name and number became the 19th hanging from the ACC roof.
Shanahan wants to have the future be a big part of the focus during the team’s 100th anniversary season, but first had to make some peace with the organization’s past. He kept his decision to eliminate the policy on retiring numbers secret until the last possible moment – only informing the honoured players of the switch minutes before they stepped on the ice.