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Gauging The Impact Of Gilmour

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Why does Doug Gilmour matter so much to so many?

It’s a tantalizing question, especially now. Gilmour’s 93 becomes an honored Leafs’ number Saturday, just prior to the game against Pittsburgh. Perhaps you heard.

Check the record book. Gilmour’s reign wasn’t any bigger than he was. His 393 regular season games is way short of Wendel Clark’s 608 and Wendel represents number 20 on the Leafs’ games played list. They stop assigning you a spot at 20.

Vincent Damphousse (remember him?) played one more Leaf game than Doug Gilmour. Tie Domi played about twice as many games (777). There are ample men with more service: the oft injured Nik Antropov, Al Iafrate, Greg Terrion, Tiger Williams, Dmitry Yushkevich.

Doug Gilmour was a meteor whose absolute peak encapsulated just two years, the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons.

The Leafs reached two Conference finals with Gilmour as their best player before the lockout and the first erosion of his formidable skills began to take hold. When Cliff Fletcher traded Wendel Clark and Sylvain Lefebvre for Mats Sundin, he fortified the Leafs future. History would prove Fletcher absolutely correct in landing Sundin, but the Leafs first real golden era since the 1967 title, was over.

More losing would prompt Fletcher to another remake and finally, Gilmour was traded for a package of young players in February 1997. He would be repatriated in 2003 and play just one shift in Calgary before a knee injury would finally end his career.

That’s it. Two full seasons and the team didn’t even get close enough to a cup to see it handed over to someone else.

How then, can you account for the affection, the chants of ‘Dougie,’ the lionization of a gap-toothed kid from Kingston (courtesy of a Jeremy Roenick high stick)?

Well, there are a few things to remember.

First, 99 per cent of NHL players never reach the number one percentile of their craft.

Gilmour was fourth in the league’s scoring race in 1994 but his two-way play and exceptional defensive skill put him at the top of the heap with a still-potent Wayne Gretzky and the magnificently talented Sergei Fedorov. The year before Gilmour finished eighth in scoring and only Steve Yzerman could rival him for defensive excellence.

The apex for most great players often lasts more than two years but it is still fleeting enough.

Guy Lafleur averaged 54 goals and 128 points over five spectacular seasons. In the nine other seasons that he played more than 50 games, he averaged 24 goals and 61 points.

You can even make an argument that parity has dramatically shortened the dominance of individual players.

Five different stars, Peter Forsberg, Martin St. Louis, Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have won the last five scoring titles. That hasn’t happened since the six-team 1940s.

You should also know that Gilmour never finished in the top 10 scorers after leaving Toronto.

His legacy was the envisioning of the possible. That a sallow-cheeked kid who weighed 165 pounds (believe me, I was there) could by sheer force of will purge the memory of 25 years of embarrassing failure.

That’s why two equally impressive appearances in the final four by Pat Quinn led-teams - teams built around Sundin neatly enough - don’t carry the same luster as the Gilmour-Wendel Clark teams.

The Leafs were already legitimate when Sundin and Curtis Joseph raised them to the final four. Gilmour didn’t have the advantage of following his own trail.

He was gone in a relative flash, and yet when things went back to being black, the landscape was irrevocably altered.

That was some shooting star.
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