However, a pall has been cast over the young season by ugly incidents involving fights in an exhibition game with Buffalo and the opening night game between the Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.
Violence is again a focal point in the hockey world, something that musician and sports writer Dave Bidini finds lamentable.
There are "wonderful moments when the game connects people,” Bidini told Michael Enright, the host of The Sunday Edition. “But those kinds of stories can’t be told anymore because the issue of fighting creates such white noise and so much interference that it corrupts the romance and the connection we have to the game. That’s one of the deeply sad aspects of this element of hockey.”
The Leafs, in particular, have a reputation for thuggery these days – something that stands in deep contrast to the subject of Bidini’s new book, Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs.
Dave Keon, who led the Leafs to its last four Stanley Cup triumphs in the 1960s, was one of the NHL’s most skilled and dangerous players. And he did it without fighting or taking penalties.
“I think Keon was the most complete hockey player,” Bidini said. “Harry Neale told me that if you were down by a goal, he was the player you most wanted out on the ice to score. If you were up by a goal, he was the player you most wanted out on the ice to protect the lead. He played a very tough, fierce game, but an honourable game.”
As beloved as Keon was by Leafs fans, however, he incurred the wrath of the Leafs mercurial former owner, Harold Ballard, and left the organization under a cloud in 1975. While he did return for a reunion of the 1967 Stanley Cup Champion Leafs team in 2007, Keon remains in self-imposed exile from his former team.
Bidini, who tells of his long quest to meet with the former captain in Keon and Me, attributes the long estrangement to the Toronto Maple Leafs organization’s persistent failure to do right by Keon.
Bidini also believes that the NHL could use a few players with Keon’s character today.
“He was celebrated for being a non-violent player, for playing the game the right way, and that’s antithetical to so many of our figures in hockey through today. People talk about Sidney Crosby and say, 'He’s gifted, but he’s tough.' Jarome Iginla’s gifted, but he’s tough. No one ever says, 'He’s tough, but he doesn’t fight.'"
You can hear Michael Enright’s full conversation with Dave Bidini this weekend on The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One.