TORONTO — Before Toronto Maple Leafs fans got their first look at their dynamic young core of the future for the first time in their home opener against the Boston Bruins, there was some business of properly recognizing the past to take care of first. To kick off their centennial season at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, the Maple Leafs announced that they changed their previous policy of simply “Honouring” numbers and instead retired the jerseys of 17 past players.
These numbers will not be worn again by current and future Maple Leafs. They had previously retired just two numbers: Bill Barilko’s No. 5 and Ace Bailey’s No. 6. The change in policy means that current Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk will switch from his previous number 21 to number 25 after former Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming’s number was retired.
In a rousing and dramatic pregame ceremony that stretched over half an hour and included a gigantic drop-down banner stretched for all fans to see, the Maple Leafs also retired and raised Dave Keon’s number 14 to the rafters. Keon had recently been voted the the greatest Maple Leaf of all time by a 30-person panel of media, former team executives, authors, broadcasters, as well as 300,000 online fan votes.
Keon was also on hand to see his number retired. Other players were represented by family members and players themselves, including Doug Gilmour, Darryl Sittler and a 92-year old Johnny Bower, who received a particularly loud ovation.
According to a press release, all Maple Leaf players or family members were informed by Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan of the team’s plans to retire the numbers at a pregame reception just prior to stepping on the ice for the ceremony.
“It is a historic moment for these 19 Leafs legends, but also for our fans who are able to join us in recognizing them in one of the most meaningful ways you can in our game,” Shanahan said in a release.