Volume 90, Issue 61

Tuesday, January 14, 1997



COLUMN: Another burnt Leaf

By James Pugsley
Gazette Staff

Is there such a thing as a happy Gilmour?

For the remainder of his career, which won't last much longer, Doug Gilmour will wonder what went wrong with his dream. The struggling Leaf captain, playing without emotion and thunderstruck by inconsistency, remains in deep blue limbo this season. In body, the team has Doug. But in mind, where Stanley Cups are really won and lost, there is nobody.

Back in 1991, an inspired and young(er) Gilmour took the reigns of the most pressure-filled organization in the land for one reason – he wanted to be the lead horse to plough Toronto to its first championship since 1967. The dream nearly materialized two years later as the Leafs suffered a narrow loss to King Gretzky in the Stanley Cup semis. But even with the loss, Gilmour had given Leaf fans the first piece of hope since the announcement of Harold Ballard's failing health.

Everyone, especially Gilmour, knew the Leafs finally had their leader.

So what happened?

What nobody knew was exactly how much this one horse could pull. Following a grueling seven-game battle with San Jose in 1994 Toronto was easy prey for Vancouver and Gilmour hasn't been the same since.

Hockey's setback with the 1994-95 strike sent Gilmour overseas to work on his game. But when the NHL season began in January, it was clear his trip did not improve his play, but rather emphasized his need to play as an individual – focusing on individual goals as opposed to those of the team.

As his milk commercials progressed, however, his play began to sour. As he learned how to please himself with acting and a 19-year-old bride from north Toronto, Gilmour forgot something – how to lead his woeful team.

Suddenly, losing 4-3 to Chicago in the first round of the 1995 playoffs wasn't as bad for the new Gilmour – a man with an off-ice lifestyle to return to.

Sorry fans, that's the way it goes.

No longer was he vocal about Toronto's mediocrity. The headlines were not about pasta or extra practice anymore. His flirting with Toronto's hockey fans that began a brief two-year, city-wide marriage began to collapse and will likely end with and ugly divorce this season.

Call it selfishness or laziness but Gilmour has made it clear he doesn't care anymore.

He knows it. But he's sorry.

"Cliff [Fletcher] should trade me if he's thinking of not signing me," Gilmour said last month. "At least he should get something for me in return."

Countless failed attempts to skate through opposing defencemen and shortened shifts because of talented rookies are all indications Toronto management is well aware of the situation with its captain, who has only 10 goals this season.

Gilmour was once an untouchable centre that could forecheck the heck out of anyone (reaching absolute decadence in double overtime against St. Louis in 1994). Now, as he approaches his mid-30s, the Leaf captain has turned into a cocooning veteran who is satisfied with mediocrity as long as everybody else is. Thus, his stay in Toronto will not give him his dream. It has only been an up-and-down ride filled with milk, money and media – something entirely different from what the original Gilmour had hoped for.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca