Dave Keon is the greatest player ever to wear the iconic sweater of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto is the oldest franchise in the NHL. With a rich and storied history, the Leafs are a critical part of Canadian hockey lore – and Dave Keon is the club’s best-ever player.
Born in Noranda, a copper-mining town in southwestern Quebec, March 22, 1940, David Michael Keon played professional hockey from 1960 to 1982.
After scoring seven goals in a Junior B league game at 16, Keon was named to the league’s All-Star team. He was picked by NHL scouts as the top prospect in juniors. Keon was named Junior B league rookie of the year and led St. Michael’s to the league title. He enrolled at St. Michael’s College, where he skated with their majors team through the end of the 1960 season.
Keon broke in with the Maple Leafs in 1960-61. Only 20, he played in 70 games his first season, collecting 20 goals and 45 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. In his second year in the league, Keon was named to the Second All-Star Team. After collecting only two penalty minutes all season, he received the Lady Byng Trophy as the NHL’s most gentlemanly player. Keon repeated as Lady Byng winner in 1962-63, again taking only a single minor penalty all year.
Toronto was a dynasty in the 1960s. Keon led the Leafs to four Stanley Cup titles, including three in a row between 1962 and 1964. In the 1967 Finals, Keon held the great Jean Beliveau in check to help the Leafs to their fourth championship in six years. Keon was named recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup MVP. He remains the only player in franchise history to earn that award.
Keon was one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and one of the best defensive forwards of his era. A deft puck handler with a nifty backhand, he led Toronto is scoring [goals plus assists] three times. Keon was the Leafs top goal-scorer in two seasons. An eight-time All-Star, the 5’9”, 163-pound center was a clever penalty killer. In 1970-71, the relentless Keon set a league record with eight short-handed goals.
Founded in 1917, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a charter member of the NHL. The Leafs are steeped in tradition. Only the Montreal Canadiens, with 24 Stanley Cup titles, have won more championships. The Leafs have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup 13 times, yet their last title came over five decades ago. The Leafs last Cup came in 1967, making their current 50-season drought the longest between championships in the NHL.
Keon was named team captain on Halloween 1969, succeeding former Leafs great George Armstrong. Three years later, he scored his 297th career goal, passing Armstrong and Frank Mahovlich as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
Harold Ballard became majority owner of the Leafs and their home, the venerable Maple Leaf Gardens, in 1972. A notorious tightwad and convicted felon, Ballard was one of the worst owners in sports history. As incompetent as MLB’s Jeffrey Loria, former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and the Chargers’ Alex Spanos, Ballard single-handedly destroyed one of hockey’s marquee franchises. When Keon’s contract expired in 1975, Ballard refused to re-sign the Leaf captain. Further, he prevented Keon from joining another NHL team, leaving the best player in franchise history with no other choice but to join the rival World Hockey Association.
Keon skated for four WHA teams from 1976 to 1979. His last stop was with the New England Whalers. When the Whalers were absorbed in the 1979 NHL-WHA merger, Keon returned to the National Hockey League. He played three seasons in Hartford before retiring following the 1981-82 season.
Bitter over his mistreatment by Ballard, Keon refused to have any relationship with the Leafs after his retirement. He was estranged from the organization for decades. In October 2016, Keon returned to be honored as the greatest player in team history as part of centennial celebrations. The Leafs retired his number 14 sweater and commemorated his legacy with a statue on Legends Row in front of Air Canada Centre.
Dave Keon played 22 seasons, 15 with the Maple Leafs. Fit and agile, he remained injury-free, and was superb at both ends of the ice. Keon played 1,296 NHL games, scoring 396 goals and tallying 986 points. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986 and was enshrined into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.