Wendel Clark, Patrick Roy: symbols of diverse standards

Hockey fans in Canada were treated to a doubleheader of banner-raising ceremonies on Saturday evening. One of the honourees is a true legend; the other was simply one of the best players on teams that underachieved.

Toronto fan favourite Wendel Clark had his number 17 raised to the rafters of Air Canada Centre, while across the provincial border in Montreal, legendary goaltender Patrick Roy received thunderous applause from the appreciative Bell Centre fans as a banner displaying his number 33 joined those of other Habs greats above the ice surface.

Both players are truly deserving of the accolades bestowed upon them by their respective teams. Roy’s achievements need no explanation, with a resume that includes a pair of Stanley Cups with Montreal and the nod of being named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoffs’ most valuable player on both occasions. Clark was often the lone shining light on a Toronto team that saw more than its fair share of tumultuous years during the last half of the 80’s and the first two years of the 90’s. The league’s first overall pick in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, Clark’s thunderous bodychecks and potent wrist shot lifted many fans at Maple Leaf Gardens out of their seats.

However, amidst the euphoric cheers and whistles that surrounded Clark’s banner-raising night, the pre-game event itself epitomized the standard of mediocrity tolerated by the Leafs team and its fans. Clark, for all of his prowess as an inspirational team leader, is by no means a Hockey Hall of Fame candidate. Yet on Saturday night, he joined only Bill Barilko as the only two of the 16 players to have their number honoured by the Leafs while not being a member of the Hall of Fame. Barilko – whose number was retired as a result of his tragic death in a 1951 plane crash – was touted as a potential Hall of Famer by teammates and opponents who played on the same ice with him in the 40’s and 50’s.

By comparison, Patrick Roy’s inclusion among the Montreal retired sweaters brings the number of Habs banners to 13, with each honoured member being a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and a true legend in his own right. The next time that the Leafs visit the arena of Saturday’s opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, the teams will skate underneath the banners of five Hawks immortals: Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Denis Savard, for whom no debate exists as to whether any individual among the group is considered among the game’s elite players.

Conversely, Clark, who played 80 NHL games in a season only once in his 15-year career and missed at least 11 games in all other years, never won an NHL award and was never an All-Star. The ovation he received on Saturday night could have been awarded only in Toronto. The Leafs are the same team that released a highlight video in 1993 called “The Passion Returns” commemorating their first semi-final appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs in fifteen years. The 60-minute video contains footage of arguably the best hockey of Clark’s career, yet at the same time underlies the fact that Clark – at his career’s pinnacle – never reached the Stanley Cup Final. All other NHL teams seem to release a video only when they win the Stanley Cup.

Clark’s stature as one of the all-time Leafs best players, exemplified by his inclusion in the team’s list of the top 25 players in its history compiled in 2002, is unquestioned.

Both Clark and Roy were excellent for their respective teams.

Though, it’s worth noting that some teams have different standards of excellence than others.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, a regular column at TMLfans.ca