December 05, 2014

Dick Duff's Revisionist History

Dick Duff, see above with Jean Beliveau, had some very interesting comments in a recent Dave Feschuk/Toronto Star piece celebrating Jean Beliveau's beautiful life.

Montreal’s NHL franchise hasn’t produced mere legends — it has sent forth cultural forces, regal presences. There has been no such equivalent on the other half of hockey’s ancient two solitudes. On Wednesday, as Béliveau was remembered in countless conversations on TV and radio and street corners, a man who played for both the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs was asked why.

“(Montreal’s ownership) always showed respect for the key guys,” said Dick Duff, 78.

Duff would know. He played on two Stanley Cup-winning teams in Toronto before he found his way to Montreal, where he shared a line with Béliveau in the midst of a championship-soaked run that saw Duff win four more rings.

“(Montreal) always did it right. So the (players) go there and say, ‘This team respects me. And if nothing else, if we didn’t get all the cash in the world, we got respect,’” said Duff. “And here (in Toronto) they ignored that. I don’t want to be too (negative). But ... there were all kinds of guys who won (multiple) Cups in Toronto. There are all kinds of people in Toronto who don’t know who Harry Watson was, Sid Smith, Howie Meeker, Jimmy Thompson, Turk Broda — they won (multiple) Cups, for crying out loud.”

Duff certainly spins the accepted story, although it's not exactly true.

Many, many Montreal Canadiens' greats have departed from the Habs with fractured relationships. They have just done a better job repairing such relationships.

Rocket Richard, Mr. Montreal Canadiens himself, was forced off the ice and pushed into management where he was marginalized to the point where he just upped and left.

Jacques Plante and Doug Harvey were, for various reasons, seen as problem players who the Habs ultimately moved to other organizations.

Bert Olmstead was told by the team his knees were shot and he should retire. He later joined the Leafs and played four more years and won another Stanley Cup.

Larry Robinson wanted one last contract from Montreal. Now, in fairness, not too many teams were willing to match Bruce McNall's money in LA at that time, but Robinson left even though he really didn't want to. Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, the other two members of The Big Three, also finished their careers in weird looking uniforms.

Then there was Guy Lafleur, who retired prematurely rather than play the way Montreal, under the tutelage of coach Jacques Lemaire, wanted him to.

And I seem to remember Patrick Roy explosively leaving amid some sort of controversy, no?

We can add the names of Chris Chelios, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Gump Worsley and even the original great Howie Morenz who all left under less than ideal circumstances.

It was not until the last couple of decades that Montreal has really re-embraced a lot of these names. Why? Probably, through the incredible relationships Rocket Richard had with fans, because they realized it was good for business. They repaired many of these relationships with former stars while they were/are still alive.

Toronto, on the other hand, did not get the same chance. Too much of the 1970s and 1980s were spent under the ridiculous rule of Harold Ballard, where, with a few exceptions such as King Clancy, such nostalgia was never considered.

By the time Ballard finally exited the scene, the Leafs true glory days of the 1940s were too distant a memory. Plus there is no video of those guys anyway, How could the modern fan relate?

When Cliff Fletcher arrived in Toronto in the early 1990s he tried to repair such relationships, a path others have followed since. They tried to celebrate the 1960s dynasty teams, particularly the 1967 championship team. Johnny Bower has become the poster boy in Toronto, just like he was back in the 60s. For various reasons many others, notably Dave Keon and even Frank Mahovlich who were both chased out of town, have never been so receptive.

Jump forward to more modern times. The Leafs have forever re-embraced Darryl Sittler, and Wendel Clark and Dougie Gilmour too, but success has been too hard to find since 1967. Who else should they embrace? Borje Salming, sure. Lanny McDonald? He's a Calgary guy. Tiger Williams? He's Vancouver now.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are nowhere near as good at celebrating their illustrious history as the Montreal Canadiens. But the Montreal Canadiens have not always treated their heroes so well, either.

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