You all need to find a better way to spend your summer. Seriously. This isn’t healthy.
Bright and early on Monday morning, William Nylander decided to shatter the hockey world forever with news that he would be changing his jersey number from #29 to #88 for this coming season. Soon after, cities burned. Civil society descended into chaos. Genetically enhanced apes waged their centuries-long war against the human race.
Or none of that happened, actually. Instead, a faction of Greater Toronto Area Uncles – whose Twitter bios feature more hashtags than followers and whose dinner-table conversations consist solely of “if Coach had just put me in back in ’86, we would’ve totally won State” – decided to throw a little hissy fit.
Which, frankly, is a completely natural response coming from this particular group. I mean, we’re talking about a bunch of guys who view pulling parking lot doughnuts in their 2001 Chevy Silverados as the healthiest outlet for processing emotion. What more did you expect?
Monday was a rough day for the Uncles. Going purely off their collection of barely-legible rage tweets, these fellas (and make no mistake, they are ALL fellas) were flabbergasted by Nylander’s blatant disrespect for those who have donned that number in the past.
And what an illustrious list of names it is, folks! The “88 Club” is an exclusive fraternity, boasting a guest list littered with legends the likes of Eric Lindros and…that’s it. Literally just him. Lindros is the only Leaf to have ever worn #88 at any point throughout the Maple Leafs’ century-spanning existence.
But who cares? He’s a legend! Lindros, unlike Nylander, is a good Canadian Kid – one who played the game the right way and who entered into corners with no fear of sacrificing the perfect quaff in his hair, let alone his own wellbeing.
“Now THAT’S how hockey should be played,” bellows your Uncle Doug from his frayed reclining Lay-Z Boy in between sips of Cool Lager. It’s 2 PM on a weekday, and he’s already cracking open his third.
Don’t get me wrong, Lindros is hockey royalty. His story is defined by both his immense talent and never-failing persistence in the face of towering adversity, with Lindros managing to overcome the multiple injuries and concussions that plagued him during his time in the NHL to eventually put together a Hall of Fame career.
Unfortunately, for both Lindros and fans, that career didn’t include much time in a Leafs uniform. Wrist injuries limited Lindros to just 33 games for his hometown team during the 2005-06 season, as his tenure concluded with a still-impressive 22 points.
So, if Lindros’ 33 games are the standard by which we judge those who wear the various numbers of Leafs past, let’s take a look back at some of the marquee names whose tenures in Toronto managed to eclipse his.
How do they stack up?
Nick Spaling – 35 games
Points as a Leaf: 7
Jersey Number as a Leaf: #16
Famous Former Leafs with that Number: Darcy Tucker, Tim Horton, Gary Leeman, Nikolai Borchevsky
Hey, if we’re going off of what your Uncle Doug deems tweet-worthy to his 14 followers (two of which are his own burner accounts), then Nick Spaling should have been run out of town long before he even touched the ice.
Where does he get off, frankly?
The number 16 is a sacred distinction in Leafs Land, instantly thrusting the performance of any player who chooses it to right up alongside that of Darcy Tucker. Pfft, good luck with that. If you’re gonna slap #16 on your back all willy nilly like, you better be darn sure you can make Tucker proud. And that’s a tall task, my friend. The guy’s a legend.
Something tells me a total of 7 points in 35 games doesn’t quite clear that bar.
Which, to be fair, is not entirely Spaling’s fault. He was a casualty of the Leafs’ 2015-16 tank year – a throw-in to the Phil Kessel trade meant to provide roster-filler for a team that would struggle to actually ice one that season. And Spaling fulfilled that purpose, I guess. He definitely filled Toronto’s roster. Did he do it well? Well, no, but that wasn’t really the point back then, was it?
When it comes to crowning achievements as a Leaf, Spaling’s actually came off the ice. In a miraculous turn of events, a package of him and Roman Polak were enough to convince the San Jose Sharks to send not one, but two second-round picks to the Leafs at that year’s trade deadline – much to the utter bewilderment of all who saw.
Now THAT’S what I call asset management, baby! Good for Nick. Now I’m just wondering where all the outrage was when everyone’s favourite little troublemaker, Mitch Marner, selfishly grabbed Spaling’s number as a rookie?
Tim Gleason – 39 Games
Points as a Leaf: 5
Jersey Number as a Leaf: #8
Famous Former Leafs With That Number: Ron Ellis, Bob McGill, Aki Berg
Tim Gleason‘s tenure as a Toronto Maple Leaf, brief as it was, will never be forgotten. Not for his actual contributions on the ice, of course – of which there were very few. Rather, Gleason’s days in the blue and white left a lasting presence on the organization’s cap sheet for years; $1,333,333 annually, to be exact. Thanks to a buyout, this penalty spanned from 2014-2018.
Great stuff, Dave Nonis. Just superb.
Acquired mid-way through the 2013-14 season to bolster a Leafs playoff run that would ultimately never happen, Gleason found himself caught between hockey’s transition from one era to another. His playing style was the closest thing in a pre-Detective Pikachu world to “Metapod” personified – a Pokemon (for those of you who you were “cool” and “had friends” in elementary school and therefore don’t know) whose lone move, “Harden”, increased his defensive stats in battle just enough each round to let him die in the fifth rather than the fourth.
And that’s precisely what Gleason gave the Leafs: A prolonged death that was otherwise inevitable.
Let’s not be hasty, though. Gleason was not just a cap figure on some nerd’s spreadsheet. In fact, he began carving his way into franchise lore immediately after joining the Leafs, eventually earning the coveted distinction of “worst possession-driving defenceman in Maple Leafs history”.
Too harsh? Probably. But Gleason wound up leaving town with a 39.2% CF/60 at 5v5, a single goal, and even fewer completed outlet passes, all shortly following a season-ending stretch in which the Leafs lost 12 of their final 15 games. So, maybe I wasn’t harsh enough.
And, of course, who could forget the infamous “2014 Gleason Riots” which decimated the city of Toronto after Gleason so callously stole Aki Berg’s old number “8” without so much as even a courtesy phone call.
What? That never happened? I’m making all this up for dramatic effect? Wild.
Christian Hanson – 42 Games
Points as a Leaf: 9
Jersey Number as a Leaf: #20
Famous Former Leafs with that Number: George Armstrong, Ed Belfour
The son of one of the “Slapshot” guys? Now we’re talkin’ Uncle Doug’s language!
Christian Hanson was supposed to be the real deal, man. Signed during the Cliff Fletcher Part Deux era out of Notre Dame, Hanson’s combination of parentage and early roaring start with the Marlies formed a level of hype not seen around a Leafs prospect in quite some time. Hanson carried every desired moniker from that particular period of hockey with him, too; tall, heavy, a famous father, etc.
What’s not to like? He was the centre of the future; the bridge between reality and one of the most iconic hockey films of all time. Might as well be proactive and start stitching his banner right away!
Not to mention, Hanson was also the first Leaf to wear the number “20” since Ed Belfour‘s departure to Florida in the summer of 2006. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill (metaphorically speaking, of course). Despite being a Maple Leaf for all of three seasons, Belfour still stands as one of the franchise’s most successful goaltenders of the modern era. His first season in Toronto saw him earn a nomination for the Vezina, with Belfour ultimately going on to lead the Leafs to consecutive second-round playoff appearances in 2003 and 2004 – the last time the team would make it out of the first-round to this day.
Just like Belfour, Hanson’s time as a Maple Leaf lasted three seasons. Only, his three went a little differently. Whereas Belfour experienced terrific postseason success (by Leafs standards), Hanson spent his days bouncing up and down between the NHL and AHL, spending a career-high 31 games with the big club in 2009-10 in which he mustered a whole 7 points.
Surely Hanson violated some kind of players code when he nabbed Belfour’s old number before even making his NHL, debut, right? Where was the anger then? Where were the rage tweets? (Or rage smoke signals? I dunno, whatever we used back then before Twitter was invented)
Nowhere to be found, of course. You see, Hanson had the good (see: North American) kind of former hockey-playing dad, whereas Nylander’s is the bad (see: European). The goalposts are different.
Welcome to the NHL.
Igor Ozhiganov – 53 Games
Points as a Leaf: 7
Number as a Leaf: #92
Famous Former Leafs with that Number: Jeff O’Neil
Is Igor Ozhiganov the most forgettable Toronto Maple Leaf in franchise history? He just might be, although Par Lindholm would probably fight you on that one.
Either way, Ozhiganov’s 53 games in a Leafs uniform were not exactly groundbreaking. The KHL import was a below-average right-handed defenceman who, in his one season as a Leaf, barely managed to eclipse Connor Brown in average ice time before finding himself chained to the press box from the moment Jake Muzzin entered the fold.
Are you beginning to sense a theme here? Well, you should, because Ozhiganov pulled “a Hanson” of his own by claiming the number of a former Leaf great before even so much as setting foot on NHL ice. I’m talking about O-Dog, baby! The same guy Uncle Doug listens to on the radio every single afternoon instead of, you know, actually contributing to society.
“O-Dog is The Man! And since I lack any sense of originality, his opinions are what I form my own takes off of!”
Cool stuff, Uncle Doug. But where was the cyberattack against poor old Igor? Oh, there wasn’t one? You see, it’s almost as if the outrage you continually direct at Nylander for doing literally the exact same thing has nothing to do with jersey numbers and everything to do with the irrational hatred you harbour against one of the most talented and effective Leaf forwards in recent memory.
Not a single eye was batted within the trash heap of Leafs Twitter when any player mentioned above – who all have played more games in a Leaf uniform than Lindros did and, save for Ozhiagnov, saw their numbers claimed by a future Leaf upon their departure to similarly muted fanfare – co-opted some formerly-worn digits for themselves. B
But, of course, its Nylander who smacked the sanctity of hockey in the face by switching to #88. That makes total sense.
Perhaps we’ve all learned a valuable lesson from this absurdity. Perhaps it’s a wake-up call to all the Uncles out there – a plea for them to quit the parking lot doughnuts and actually learn how to process complex emotions without turning to outrage.
Or, honestly, just go outside. It’s summer. The weather is nice. You might even enjoy it.