Among Maple Leafs' fans, there are few former players more revered than Hall-of-Famer Johnny Bower.
The iconic goaltender and World War II veteran was a key part of a Leafs dynasty that won three straight Stanley Cups from 1962 to 64. Since retiring in 1970, he's been a prominent presence at Maple Leafs games, but it's this year's team that has the 87-year-old legend particularly excited. So much so that he made a bold prediction to NHL.com.
"I think they're going to get into the playoffs this year," Bower told NHL.com. "They're a young hockey team and they're very entertaining. It looks pretty good. I certainly hope they keep them together without making any trades. But I'm just a bystander there. I don't know what [Toronto general manager Brian] Burke is going to do, but he's done a great job with the team."
That team, which currently features two of the League's highest-scoring players in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, has Bower thrilled at the prospect of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which would be Toronto's first since 2004. But while the team's high-scoring offense has paced the Leafs this season, the former goaltender has been keenly following Toronto's situation in net.
With Jonas Gustavsson appearing to have wrestled the starting crease spot from James Reimer, goaltending will likely be key if the Leafs hope to make good on Bower's bold prediction.
The revolving door in net is a situation all too familiar to Bower, who shared crease duties with another Hall of Famer, Terry Sawchuk, in leading the Leafs to the Stanley Cup in 1967, the team's last championship.
"I usually watch the goalkeepers. It's a habit and I keep an eye on them more than anybody else," Bower said. "Gustavsson's playing well and James needs a little more work. But last year he played well for us. I think [Leafs coach Ron] Wilson is doing a good job behind that bench. [He] is going to play the best goaltender there. Gustavsson's hot right now and they're going with him."
Whoever is in the Leafs' crease, Bower will definitely be in attendance if Toronto makes the playoffs this season.
"Oh, I'll be right there," he said. "You're doggone right."