We knew all along that Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza — often referred to by teammates as “legends” — accepted league-minimum salaries to play with the Maple Leafs and try to win a Stanley Cup.
And the Leafs wanted these legends not so much for their statistics, but for the intangibles that couldn’t be measured.
Well, as it turns out there are some impressive statistics beside their names, too, even on a night that was already significant enough in that the Leafs clinched a playoff spot for the fifth year in a row, with a 4-1 win in Montreal.
“Step one is done,” said Thornton.
Yes, there’s lots more to be done by this team for which making the playoffs was expected from the outset. But let’s take a minute to appreciate Thornton and Spezza.
Thornton got assist No. 1,100 on a goal by Jake Muzzin. He’s the seventh player in NHL history with that many helpers.
As coach Sheldon Keefe put it: “You know 1,100 assists is a lot of a lot of assists. I was telling Joe, I don’t think I touched the puck 1,100 times in my time with the NHL.”
Keefe, by way of perspective, had 12 goals and 12 assists in 125 games played over parts of three seasons in Tampa between 2000 and 2003. So he played against both Thornton and Spezza.
The team socked away the puck on Thornton’s 1,100th assist.
“I’ve got quite a few,” said Thornton. “I don’t look at them, but I’ve got quite a few. It’s a lot of hours of playing street hockey with my brothers and pond hockey, and I’ve been lucky enough to play with a lot of good goal scorers. It’s been fun so far.”
Spezza picked up two assists, one on Muzzin’s goal, the other by Adam Brooks (more on him later).
That tied Spezza with a Montreal icon — Maurice (Rocket) Richard (more on him later) — for 99th in NHL scoring with 966 career points. The “in-Montreal” part was a thing of beauty for Leaf followers