Heard On Episode 4.11 of A Foot In The Crease
Prior to their game against the Chicago Blackhawks—and on the same night as their longtime rivals from Montreal retired the legendary number 33 of Patrick Roy—Toronto honoured the number 17 of Wendel Clark, arguably one of the most popular Maple Leafs in history.
However, watching these two ceremonies back to back—Roy’s first, followed immediately by Clark’s—served to highlight the disparity between the two organizations when it comes to enshrining legends—or at least those from recent times.
Roy’s career accomplishments are staggering. Whether you like his personality or hate his guts, you have to admit he could stop the puck—case closed. Roy is the NHL's all-time leader in playoff games played, wins, shutouts, four Stanley Cups, three Conn Smythe Trophies, and three Vezina Trophies—to name only a few accolades easily underline that point.
Clark was and still is revered in the city in which he made his mark in the NHL. His hard-working, gritty, and energetic style of play allowed legions of fans to identify with him.
But when it comes to his list of individual and team accomplishments, Clark’s list is rather brief. Often injured, Clark missed an average of one game for every two he played in. He was 229 points shy of a point per game ratio over his career, won no individual awards and no Stanley Cups.
Don’t get me wrong, Clark displayed the kind of heart and soul coaches wish they saw in all their players—but when you think about it, isn’t playing hard with determination and passion something that should be part of every NHL player’s job description?
A model citizen, Clark has been nothing but a tremendous ambassador for the Maple Leaf organization. However, when you mention his name along with the likes of Mahovlich, Sittler, Apps, Salming, Bower, Horton—some of the other players to have had their numbers enshrined at Air Canada Centre —I’m not sure Clark can claim to be in their league.
You can be sure if Clark played his career in Montreal, he wouldn’t have received such an honour. Very popular, yes—but to have your number enshrined in the rafters, it should be earned through more than just popularity.