One day after he was honoured with his own, life-sized bronze statue on the Maple Leafs' Legends Row, franchise icon Dave Keon received one of the ultimate individual compliments any player can hope for when he was named the greatest Leaf in the 100-year-history of the team. But, in typically-humble fashion, the four-time Stanley Cup winner and Hockey Hall of Famer spoke more about the people who came before him and his teammates during the Friday announcement of the 100 Greatest Leafs - "The One Hundred", as it's called - than he spoke of his own incredible accomplishments.
"Players from the (19)20s, the 30s and the 40s, they're the people who made the franchise what it is, and it's important that we recognize them," said Keon. "I'm happy that I'm part of it, and I'm happy that everyone who's here today is part of it."
Keon was joined by numerous Leafs superstars from different eras Friday at Real Sports Bar & Grill - just steps from where his Legends Row statue now stands - and, if you put the rankings themselves aside for a moment, it was clear to anyone who was there why the organization's achievements resonate so deeply with the millions of fans across Canada and around the world who comprise Leafs Nation: whether it was 1970s superstar and former captain Darryl Sittler, 1950s-and-60s cornerstone goaltender Johnny Bower, or beloved 1980s mainstay and former captain Wendel Clark, all the alumni who gathered to see their names mentioned on the list are living links to the many vibrant generations of people who've devoted their time and emotion to following and supporting the team.
So, even if you disagreed with the exact rankings of the top 100 - a list compiled by a 31-member committee of prominent hockey community members of the hockey community including a public fan vote that served as the 31st member - you knew what the purpose of the event was.
"This is really a time for people who've grown up loving this team or young people who are new to it, to get a chance to look back and learn a little bit about each of them," said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. "I know that our players are enjoying this time as well, hearing some of the stories, bringing some of these names to life."
A commemorative illustration of the Top 100 players on the list was also unveiled Friday, and will be sold at Canadian Tire Stores across the Greater Toronto Area with net proceeds going to a number of charities. But to have Keon at the very top of the list was another recognition of his status as the cream of the crop who've worn Blue and White, and for Shanahan - who grew up in the west end of Toronto and cheered on the Leafs before embarking on his own Hall-of-Fame NHL career - it was an honour that the 76-year-old earned through years of dedication to the franchise.
"It's an incredible honour for him and well-deserved," Shanahan said. "The selection process was so thorough, and it just goes to show (a) what people think about him as a person, and also, really, what they thought of him as a player and his contributions as a player."
More than 300,000 votes were received from fans in the process, and familiar, more-recent stars including Mats Sundin (No. 5 on the list) and Sittler (No. 4) were near the top of it. But those who grew up idolizing Keon and marvelling at his all-around prowess on the ice understood why he wound up at No. 1.
"If you would've asked me when I started in 1970 I'd be one of the top 100 Leafs of all time, we'll take fourth for sure," Sittler said with a smile. "(Keon) had won a couple Stanley Cups, he'd won the Calder Trophy (as top NHL rookie), he was the leader of our team, and he had the hardest work ethic. He's done it all, and I'm so proud and happy that Davey's back here. It wouldn't be complete if Dave Keon wasn't a part of this (centennial) celebration."
"Davey was our team leader after George (Armstrong) retired, he became captain and his work ethic was unbelievable," added winger Ron Ellis, who ranked 24th on the list. "You couldn't take a practice off, because you saw your captain playing and practicing the way he did, and the rest of the team followed. I'm so happy for him, I'm really proud of him, and the time I had to play with him means even more now."
To see the full list of The One Hundred, click here.