NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs each Tuesday throughout the 2017-18 regular season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the most recent news.
The latest edition features Hockey Hall of Fame center Doug Gilmour.
TORONTO -- The last time there was this much optimism about the Toronto Maple Leafs in these parts, Doug Gilmour's trademark mullet was in full bloom.
The year was 1993, and Gilmour's Maple Leafs were on their way to a Cinderella march to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference Final on May 29, 1993 kept the Maple Leafs from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1967, a defeat that was highlighted by a hat trick by Kings center Wayne Gretzky.
There have been a lot of lean times for Maple Leafs fans throughout the ensuing two-plus decades, other than, perhaps, the Pat Quinn-coached Maple Leafs of the early 2000s.
All that seems to be changing now, with forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander providing the foundation of a franchise that is on the upswing.
"When things are going good for the Maple Leafs, like they are right now, there is no better place to play than Toronto," said Gilmour, 54, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and general manager of Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League.
"All people there want to see is that you work hard. The kids there right now are doing that. That's what I tried to do. If you work hard and respect the fans there, they will respect you no matter how much the spotlight shines.
"It's great to see what is going on there right now."
With flecks of gray running through it, Gilmour's hair has thinned and receded a bit throughout the years. His enthusiasm for the game, however, certainly has not. Indeed, during a cross-country promotional tour for his recently released book, "Killer - My Life in Hockey," he's as busy as he's ever been.
Here are Five Questions with … Doug Gilmour
You lived in the hockey fishbowl of Toronto during the Maple Leafs' back-to-back runs to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the early 1990s. Such celebrity status meant you were mobbed just walking to the corner store. What advice would you give to Auston Matthews and his teammates when it comes to dealing with this notoriety?
"Honestly, you have to embrace it. If you don't embrace it and you get traded the next day to a place where nobody knows who you are, that's OK. But you soon realize how special the place was that you left. So embrace it. Enjoy it. Love it. You're being noticed because you want to be doing well and probably are. You don't want to be noticed because your team is doing awful. No one does. Back when I played in Toronto, I looked at it as, well, I'm from Kingston [Ontario]. My dad always told me: 'Respect people and they'll respect you back.' You know me. I'm from a small town and I'm just Doug. Playing in the NHL and playing in a place like Toronto, it was always a privilege for me. That's the way I looked at it."
With Halloween just around the corner, you once pulled off one of the best hockey disguises of all time. Isn't it true that you once kept fans from rushing you by dressing up like, well, yourself. In other words, Doug Gilmour?
"Yes it is. Back when I played in Toronto, I lived beside Maple Leaf Gardens. It was fan appreciation day so we had a practice that was open. I was right beside the rink. I look out and there's probably about 1,000 people lined up around the block. I'm asking myself: 'How the hell am I going to get in there?' So I had my jersey at home and put it on. Ball cap. Sunglasses. Stood in line for a bit then snuck over to the back door. The security guard says, 'Sorry you can't get in here.' I took my hat and sunglasses off. He saw that and said, 'Oh, Doug, come on in.' It worked pretty well. And I was wearing my Gilmour jersey the entire time."
During your NHL career, from 1983-2003, you were known as a relatively small man (5-foot-11, 177 pounds) playing a big man's game. You took a physical beating on many nights. Now the game seems to have morphed into an exhibit of raw skill where smaller, faster players thrive. Is the sport better now than ever because of it?
"I don't look at it like that. I played in the '80s, '90s, 2000s. It was a different game. When my kids watch video of me playing, say 1993, '94, they're going: 'Dad, what are the rules?' My response: 'Don't trip an opponent or slash too hard. Otherwise there were no rules.' How would I fare now? I don't know. I do know this: Obviously for me, there is one thing I really think they need to do. They need to make the rinks 10 feet wider, five [feet] on each side. We want to see skill. And that would give the skill players that much more time. We're not there to watch a game 2-1. We're there to watch a game that's 5-4. You want to see your skill guys. That's what I love about hockey."
The 2017-18 Maple Leafs are as exciting a product as this franchise has produced in years. What has been the key in getting the team to this point?
"Obviously with guys like Matthews, Marner and Nylander, [general manager] Lou Lamoriello and [president] Brendan Shanahan have created a great environment where they can concentrate on hockey. Why is a guy like Auston enjoying it? He works hard and success follows that. When you build a team, to be successful you build through the draft. Brendan brought in Lou. He brought in Mark Hunter to run the scouting side. He brought in Mike Babcock to coach. They're doing it the right way. When you have raw skill, it makes for entertaining hockey."
Video: TOR@OTT: Matthews fires home wrist shot on the rush
Being from Kingston, you've had a personal relationship with Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip. How hard did you take his passing last week?
"We knew what was coming but it was difficult nonetheless. Obviously he's an icon. The band is iconic that way. Gord's a Kingston boy. Harry Sinden was his godfather. Obviously the [Boston] Bruins were popular there with Don Cherry, Wayne Cashman, Rick Smith all being from there. Gord was a Boston fan and a great guy. The guys in the Hip were a bit younger but I pretty much grew up with all those guys. I remember coming back from St. Louis when I was with the Blues. I was home for a golf tournament. I was sitting with Judge Baker. I had played lacrosse growing up with his son, Rob, whose dad was a judge. I asked Judge how Rob was doing. "Oh, he's in a band. They're doing pretty well." I'd been in St. Louis so I'd lost track of new Canadian music. I asked what the band was called. 'The Tragically Hip,' Judge said. I told him I'd start following them. Rob's the guitarist. The rest is history."