Dave Keon (left) and Dick Duff
Hall of Famer Dave Keon, arguably the greatest player ever to play for the franchise, is being honored tonight with a ceremony, followed by a statue on Legends' Row in the spring. It's a good start.
As far as repairing the relationship between Dave Keon and the Toronto Maple Leafs is concerned, it’s a good first step. But that’s all it is.
With the player some think is the greatest ever to wear a Maple Leaf uniform due to be honored by the organization tonight, which will be followed in the spring with a statue on Legends’ Row along with Turk Broda and Tim Horton, some have characterized the proceedings as an indication that the prodigal son has come home, that Keon is ready to embrace and re-engage with the organization to which he has been estranged for more than 40 years.
That would be a little too optimistic and premature. If that’s what germinates out of this weekend, that would be great for all involved. But for all anyone knows, Keon might thank the Leafs for giving him a wonderful weekend, then go back to the stance he has had against the organization since 1975. Nobody really knows because nobody has broached the subject with him, not even Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Brendan Shanahan, who reached out to Keon.
Whenever these celebrations have occurred, the rare times that Keon has taken part he’s cautioned everyone against making it into something it is not. Shanahan has made inroads, but only time will tell whether there is traction. The festivities tonight are the result of a couple of phone calls between Shanahan and Keon and there has been no talk between the two surrounding the contentious issue of either honoring or retiring his No. 14.
“He and I haven’t even discussed it,” Shanahan told thn.com. “If it’s a conversation he’d like to have, I’m open to having that conversation. I think he’s right and we’re like-minded in that we want to enjoy what this (weekend) is. As far as using this weekend as an opportunity…I don’t want to do that to Dave and I want him to just focus on this event because it’s incredibly special.”
Keon did attend the Leafs morning skate and took part in a team meeting. The team had a stall with a nameplate set aside for him. “The players loved it and I think Dave loved it, too,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan should be applauded for his efforts. The rift between Keon and the organization has long been a festering sore, one the organization has tried to heal in the past without success. Even Shanahan admits it’s only a first step. But he is the same person who convinced the Leafs board of directors to commit to a real rebuild, then persuaded perennial winner Mike Babcock to join an organization that has no hope of winning for at least a couple of seasons, then convinced Lou Lamoriello to leave New Jersey. Given his track record, Shanahan could very well be the man who repairs on of the game’s all-time grudges.
“I haven’t had a real opportunity to talk to him, nor do I see a real urgency to do that,” Shanahan said. “I think there will be a time when we have a conversation. And if it happens, fine. And if he just wants to focus on this weekend, that’s great. And, you know, some people just enjoy their privacy and so long as the privacy isn’t motivated by ill will, I’m 100 percent fine and respectful of that.”
Before any fences are mended between the Leafs and Keon, he and Shanahan are going to have to meet face-to-face, something the two Hall-of-Fame No. 14’s hadn’t actually done as of Saturday afternoon.
“I think there’s a difference between opening your doors and welcoming your alumni and exploiting them,” Shanahan said. “And I don’t want to do the latter. I just want to make sure that all of our alumni, Dave included, always feel welcome.”
This weekend will represent a good step in that direction with Keon. At the age of 75 with so many layers of ownership and management between the Harold Ballard years, perhaps Keon is mellowing and is more accepting of his former team. If that’s the case, it would go a long way toward making the Leafs 100th season in 2016-17 something more to celebrate.