He eventually learned more about Kennedy, one of the first Leafs legends to have his number honoured. The former captain and five-time Stanley Cup winner — who was known by his childhood nickname — will get a posthumous honour next month when he'll be one of the first three players to have statues unveiled in the Leafs' new Legends Row outside Air Canada Centre.
"What makes this unique for me and what I like the most is that in a team sport, we will have teammates immortalized," Shanahan, now the team's president, said Thursday steps away from the construction site. "A great opportunity from whatever decade you grew up being a fan of the Maple Leafs, you will be able to see your favourites but then you'll also learn about some people that you probably didn't get a chance to see play."
Kennedy and two other Leafs stars will be the first players set up in bronze on the 30-foot granite bench outside Gate 5 in Maple Leaf Square on Sept. 6 during the team's inaugural fan fest. Shanahan said fans will "just have to guess" the other two, who will be announced in September.
With the Leafs approaching their centennial anniversary in 2017, there's no shortage of choices, including Dave Keon, Johnny Bower, George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich, King Clancy and Darryl Sittler. When Kennedy had his No. 9 raised to the rafters in 1993, he only agreed to it when former teammate Syl Apps's No. 10 went up at the same time.
Kennedy's son, Mark, didn't want to weigh in.
"I'm just one of the millions of unschooled hockey fans who support the Leafs and each of us has an opinion," he said.
Over time, leading up to the centennial 2016-17 season and beyond, this could turn into something of an all-time Leafs team statue. But Shanahan was proud to be able to announce Kennedy as the first.
Kennedy was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens and began playing for the Leafs in 1942. Named captain in 1948, he was part of Cup runs in 1945, '47, '48, '49 and '51 and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1954-55.
The five-time all-star who had 560 points in 696 games retired at the age of 30 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. In 1993 he called having his number honoured the greatest achievement of his career, but his son figured being the first player on "Legends Row" would surpass that.
"I think he'd be overwhelmed by it all, but he would really love the fact that this isn't just about him," Mark Kennedy said of his father, who died exactly five years ago Thursday. "What they've planned here is a players bench, and there are going to be the top players from all the generations. So he would love that in that he's always a team-man first, so he would see himself as part of a team and find it such a blessing that he would be the lead guy, the first man on the bench."
Shanahan knows the identities of the other two men who will be part of the first phase but acknowledged that the process of picking the rest will be a tough job for the selection committee, fans and historical committee.
"It'll be rolled out over the next few years, and I think that there'll be a lot of speculation and a lot of fun and fan involvement and fan suggestions, as well," Shanahan said.
The statues will be created by American sculptor and artist Erik Blome, who also did Wayne Gretzky's statue outside Staples Center in Los Angeles.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version reported that Kennedy's number was retired.