TORONTO - For decades, Dave Keon wanted no part of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's now been voted the greatest player in the team's 100-year history.
Keon ranked No. 1 on a list of top 100 Leafs, beating out Syl Apps (2), Ted Kennedy (3), Darryl Sittler (4) and Mats Sundin (5). Keon won four Stanley Cups with Toronto and remains the only player in team history to capture the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
"Obviously winning Stanley Cups certainly helps your popularity," Keon said following a ceremony announcing the results, which come as part of the team's centennial season celebration. "I'm sure that had something to do with it."
Keon's rift with the Leafs stemmed from years of perceived mistreatment, including the club's unwillingness to retire his No. 14 sweater.
Team president Brendan Shanahan said it took only a phone call for Keon to accept an invitation to the event. He also felt Keon appreciated a gesture from Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who brought the team's former captain into the dressing room at one point last season.
"I think he wanted to come back," Shanahan said of the now-76-year-old Keon. "I think he wanted to be a part of this. I think he likes the direction that we're going."
The list was compiled by a 31-member voting committee as well as fans, 300,000 according to Shanahan.
Shanahan, a Toronto area native, said his favourite Leaf growing up was Sittler, who ranks second behind only Sundin on the team's all-time scoring list. He thought Keon, the third-leading scorer in franchise history, was an appropriate choice though and a good indication of the appreciation he still enjoyed from Leaf fans.
Keon won the club's first and only Conn Smythe trophy in 1967 (the award didn't exist until 1965) and a Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1961. He rung up 365 goals and 858 points in 1062 games for Toronto, third behind Sundin and Sittler in both categories.
He returned to the organization in public outings only in the past decade when past Cup-winning teams of old were honoured.
A member of the last Leafs club to win the Stanley Cup, Keon said he hoped today's group would "embrace the challenge" of getting back there one day.
"It's going to take a little while," Keon said, "but it seems they're getting the right players."
Shanahan said the timing of the centennial event timed perfectly with the franchise's current revival. Though coming off a last-place season, the Leafs are stocked with talented young players, including Auston Matthews, who became the only player in NHL history to score four goals in his NHL debut.
"I remember when Mike first came on board with the team I told him about the anniversary that was coming up and he almost felt it was too soon," Shanahan said of Babcock, who joined the Leafs in the spring of 2015. "He wanted the team to be a little bit more developed at this time and I actually think, and I believe he thinks now, it's the perfect time to have that transition (to the next 100 years) with the amount of young players that we have here."
Like everyone in the hockey world, Matthews' historic debut awed Shanahan.
"We were all impressed," he said. "Forget about the fact that we're with Toronto, if you're just a fan of hockey and you see a young person do that, I think it was impressive."
Sundin's fifth-place finish is somewhat curious. He's first in team history with 987 points, first with 420 goals and second with 620 assists.
The only current Leaf to make the list was James van Riemsdyk, who came in at No. 100.
Other recent members of the team to crack the list included Phil Kessel (48), Dion Phaneuf (88), Darcy Tucker (70), Curtis Joseph (35), Tomas Kaberle (37), and Gary Roberts (60). Wendel Clark finished as the 15th best Leaf, Doug Gilmour ranked 13th and legendary team captain George Armstrong came in at No. 12.
Among the others to rank in the top-10 were Frank Mahovlich (9), Borje Salming (8), Johnny Bower (7), and Tim Horton (6).