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Five Questions: Maple Leafs' Sittler on state of game

by Dan Rosen's weekly Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game today and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Darryl Sittler, a former Toronto Maple Leafs forward and member of the Hockey Hall of Fame:

TORONTO -- Nearly 38 years ago as a player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Darryl Sittler scored 10 points in a game against the Boston Bruins, setting an NHL record for most points in a single game that has stood the test of time.

Nowadays, Sittler is trying to have an influence off the ice as a community representative for the Maple Leafs, and his job is a heck of a lot easier than it was a few years ago.

"Wendel Clark and I work with the organization, so we're out there in the community working with some corporate partners and doing some charity work, and it's a lot more fun when you're out there to have a team people are excited about and want to talk about," Sittler told "We've got a lot of loyal fans that have been around for a long time, whether it's here in Toronto or across Canada. I, as an ex-player and a member of the Maple Leaf organization, want us to do well for those fans that have been loyal and diehard for so many years."

The Maple Leafs are doing well. They made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2004 and are currently second in the Atlantic Division behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. They've raised the expectations here in the city of Toronto and are once again looked at as a serious threat across the NHL, particularly because they're strong in goal with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer.

Sittler gave some of his thoughts on the Maple Leafs as well as the state of the NHL and an exciting day he's looking forward to during an interview with on Sunday following the annual Hall of Fame Legends Game.

Here are Five Questions With … Darryl Sittler:

What are some of your thoughts on the Maple Leafs right now and the resurgence they've had recently?

"As you know we had a long drought there not making the playoffs for nine years, but they stuck with it, got some young guys. There are a lot of expectations in this city to win, to make the playoffs, and I like what we have right now. I think we're solid in goal, and you have to have that in today's game, for sure. There is so much parity in the League, but your goaltender can give you a chance to win every night and we have that. And we've got some young guys. We're like some other teams going through some tough injuries with key players and that really depletes your depth, but at the same time I think we're all encouraged by how we did last year, taking Boston to seven. It's disappointing how we lost that one, but we're continuing on. We've got a good coach in Randy Carlyle. The players are expected to play the way he was successful in winning in Anaheim, and they're doing that. I like it. Are we there yet? Probably not, but at the same time when you get to the playoffs and have hot goaltending, who knows what can happen."

When you watch games now, what is it about the way the game is being played that you can admire and appreciate?

"The thing that I admire most is the number of young skilled players that keep coming into the League now. That obviously has a lot to do with the development of players both in the United States and Canada, and in Europe. These guys are amazingly skilled players and it gives the fans something to be excited about. The other part about the National Hockey League now is it's a young man's game. You don't see many players go on and play 15, 16, 17, 18 years like we did before. Obviously the economics of the game have something to do with that too, because you're always trying to stay under the salary cap, so sometimes the older guys are still able to play but they don't fit under the salary cap. Those things have changed also."

What, if anything, did you guys have in your era that is missing right now in the NHL?

"Well, I don't know if anything is missing, but back in our era we had a lot of guys that, no different from now, had a lot of character, cared about each other, played for the love of the game, but there's probably not as much loyalty on both sides from the players and owners. That's just the nature of the beast. I'm not saying it's bad, but that's just the way it is.

"Also, when we played in the 1970s, the Flyers, they won through intimidation. That was their tactic and they were good at it. I'm glad they've cleaned up some of that from the game. I don't know that I'm so far to think that they should take fighting out of the game. I like watching a good fight. Back when we played in the '70s, if you were a good player you were expected to stick up for yourself. The other thing is if you cheap-shotted somebody you knew you were going to be held accountable and pay the price, where now guys can get away with it and hide behind some of that. I've always felt that one of the strengths of the game of hockey was the element of having the courage to play, to go to the front of the net, play in the corners. To me that's a major part of the game."

Do you think that courage is missing from the game in some aspects today?

"No, I think there is. But what I really don't like [are head hits]. I understand sometimes why it happens because the game is so fast, the guys are so fit and they're in a confined area, but from your temple down to your neck is always going to be open even if you have a helmet on, and it's competitive. Guys really, really compete and I've been in that frame of mind when you do some things that when you're normal you say, 'Why did I do that?' But your emotions can get away with you and sometimes bad injuries can happen because of it, even more so now because the equipment is harder than when I played. I'm wearing shoulder pads now that are small, soft, but everybody now has big, hard stuff and the consequence of that is injury."

You're going to be involved in the alumni events around the Winter Classic. Can you describe your appreciation and excitement for that?

"To me it's a once in a lifetime thing. I played for both the Leafs and Detroit. My son went to the University of Michigan, so I know the stadium there and that'll be fun. It's a game that is important in the standings, but more important is the interest of hockey. There's obviously some great fans in Detroit and Southern Ontario, both Leafs and Red Wings. It's nice that they're in our conference now and the game is important, but more importantly is it's a game for the fans."


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