If the NHL club ever decided to honour Keon by retiring 14, however, Stajan says he’d readily give it up. Keon and most of his teammates from the 1966-67 lineup that was the last to win the Stanley Cup for Toronto are to be introduced prior to the Leafs-Edmonton Oilers game Saturday night (7 p.m. ET).
Keon’s participation – he’s flying in from Florida for the big night – ends an estrangement from the organization that dates back to bitter contract negotiations that saw the 1967 Conn Smythe Trophy winner leave the team. Keon is also said to disagree with the club’s policy to raise banners honouring certain sweater numbers rather than outright retiring the numbers.
“He was my dad’s favourite player growing up,” Stajan said after practice Friday.
For Mike Stajan’s 40th birthday 12 years ago, family members bought him a throwback Leafs sweater with Keon’s 14. It’s on the basement rec room wall where he watches hockey on TV.
Matt Stajan has never met Keon and was looking forward to the chance to shake his hand Saturday.
“I’ve heard what he’s done for the Leafs,” he said. “He’s one of the best players to ever wear a Leafs jersey so wearing his number, I feel privileged.
“I respect the guy. He did a lot for this organization when he played. There was a little falling out there but it’ll be good to have him back.
“It’s going to be great to see him back here along with his teammates. I’m sure there’ll be a nice ovation for those guys.”
It’s often presumed he chose 14 because of his dad’s preference for Keon.
“People think that’s the reason I wear it, but that’s not the reason I wear it,” he explained. “When I was young, my uncle (Robert) wore it.
“He was a big athlete. He passed away of cancer when he was only 22 years old. I was six or seven. I’ve worn 14 ever since then. It kind of stuck with me. It’s been kind of weird. Everywhere I’ve played the number has opened up because the person who wore it before me left the team. Here, Jonas Hoglund left the team.”
Stajan said he might have had trepidations about putting on 14 had nobody else worn it since Keon.
“I don’t think I’d have been the first one to put it on,” he said. “But there’s been probably six or seven guys who have worn it since he played here.
“If they said to me right now they’re going to retire it, I’d be more than happy to change my number.”
As it is, “Hopefully, I represent it well.”
Stajan and his teammates all are eager to see the oldtimers take their bows in front of a capacity Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,600, and it’s time the championship drought ended, he added.
“Toronto needs another Cup here,” he said. “It’s been 40 years.
“You don’t want to be celebrating (another) 40 years without a Cup. Hopefully, we can feed off them, enjoy the moment and get two points.”
The Leafs moved into a share of eighth place in the Eastern Conference with a 4-2 win in Philadelphia on Thursday. Now they aim to climb higher and claim one of the eight playoff berths. After that, anything could happen.
“It would be unbelievable,” Stajan replied when asked what he imagines it might be like if the city’s championship-started hockey community got to celebrate an NHL title after all these years without.
“Everybody’s hoping for it here in Toronto, including myself,” he said. “It don’t know what would happen.
“There’d probably be some riots. But it’d be great. It’s one of the most historic organizations and greatest fans. We’ve got to get a Stanley Cup here, that’s for sure. The fans are deserving. As players, we’re doing everything we can here.”