TORONTO – There might be no better way to measure Doug Gilmour’s impact on the Toronto Maple Leafs than by having a conversation with one of his former teammates.
While others debate where Gilmour fits on a list of the franchise’s all-time performers, the men who played alongside him think he should be right near the top.
Start with Dave Andreychuk: “I’ve played with bigger players and maybe more talented players, but to me this is a guy that did everything he could to make the team win and to make people around him better. There was nobody better at that, that I’ve ever played with.”
Wendel Clark takes it even further. He thinks Gilmour might have become the NHL’s top player shortly after arriving midway through the 1991-92 season.
“That two years, I don’t know if there was anybody better playing in the game at that time,” said Clark. “Those two years he was unbelievable offensively, defensively, the tenacity, everything. All facets of the game.
“He played with real emotion.”
Expect some of that emotion to be on display when the Maple Leafs honour Gilmour’s No. 93 prior to playing the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. The short ceremony will see a banner raised to the rafters at Air Canada Centre, although Gilmour’s number won’t officially be retired by the team.
Still, can you imagine another Leafs player putting on No. 93?
Gilmour immortalized that jersey for a generation of fans who experienced the ups and downs of the 1980s. The fortunes of the franchise seemed to change almost the moment Gilmour arrived from Calgary as part of a massive 10-player trade.
It was felt right away in the dressing room.
“The trade gave us an identity,” said Mike Kitchen, the team’s assistant coach at the time.
The move to Toronto also helped Gilmour foster his own identity.
He’d already hit the 100-point plateau and won a Stanley Cup at that point in his career, but there was still more to accomplish on a personal level. His new teammates sensed that.
“He was part of a couple of teams before in St. Louis and Calgary where he wasn’t really recognized as being one of the go-to guys and the leaders,” said former Leafs forward Mike Foligno. “When he came to Toronto, I think it was his opportunity to put his stamp on that team for a couple years.”
Gilmour took advantage of the opportunity. During roughly six years with the organization, he amassed 452 points in 393 games, finished as a finalist for the Hart Trophy and was named team captain.
He also developed into a complete player – putting as much effort into backchecking and defensive zone play as he did into trying to score. In fact, some of his best play happened nearly 200 feet from the opposing team’s goal.
“He was terrific in his own end,” said Kitchen. “He would position himself in such a way where he could pick off a lot of passes.
“By doing that, he was able to get the puck – and who would you rather have the puck?”
Andreychuk was often the beneficiary of Gilmour’s noted passing ability and remembers scoring a lot of goals where he didn’t have to do much more than shoot into an empty side.
Those two found instant chemistry and were integral to the team’s success during its playoff run in 1993 – arguably the most lasting achievement of the Gilmour Era in Toronto. In 21 games that post-season, Gilmour had 35 points and the Leafs fell one game short of advancing to their first Stanley Cup final since 1967.
Everyone seems to have their own favourite Gilmour memory.
For Andreychuk and Mark Osborne, it’s the manner in which he carried the Leafs during the 1993 playoffs. For Kitchen, it’s the wraparound goal he scored in double overtime against Curtis Joseph and the St. Louis Blues. For Foligno, it’s the practical jokes he played. For Clark, it’s simply the way the team’s most talented player treated everyone inside the dressing room.
All agreed that there was more to Gilmour’s success than what happened on the ice.
“We were a lot better team when he was there and he was in our dressing room,” said Andreychuk. “He was a guy that everyone wanted to be around.”
Added Osborne: “You loved everything about Doug. He had a sense of humour, he liked to joke around. There was obviously a confidence and a courage and the leadership qualities too.”
Even still, some have questioned whether the team should even be honouring a player who suited up for several different teams and never actually delivered a championship to the city.
It’s a notion that former Maple Leafs scoff at.
“I think it’s a deserving honour after what he’s done for that organization,” said Andreychuk. “Those years he was there, he put them to the next level. He provided the excitement for the fans, for us as players, to watch him every day.
“Why shouldn’t they? I see no reason why they shouldn’t and I see thousands of reasons why they should.”