1985 - The Summer of Wendel: Part One

Danny Gray
July 29 2011 01:37PM

 

As the summer drags on the Leafs have yet to sign their highly drafted rugged young defenseman from Saskatchewan. Talks between the Leafs GM and agent Don Meehan are ongoing with the two sides unable to agree on the dollar amount. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement it is possible that Wendel Clark might play for the Canadian Olympic team under Dave King. Wait, what? 

Throughout the summer we are going to be taking a look at some of the biggest stories during past off seasons. In no particular order.  

The Summer of 1985 was the summer of Wendel Clark. The future face of the franchise was drafted first overall on June 15th 1985. Today it’s sacrilege to even entertain the notion of Clark never playing for the Leafs. But in the spring of 1985 it was a very real possibility.

Going into the 1985 NHL entry draft Craig Simpson (Yes, that Craig Simpson) was ranked number one by central scouting. Rumors had been circulating that Simpson did not want to play for the Leafs as he felt that the organization lacked stability, among other issues. The Globe reported that on the Wednesday before the draft that Leafs GM “Gerry McNamara and Simpson smoothed over the rough edges and suddenly put the Michigan State centre back into the picture. McNamara said yesterday that Simpson told him during the Wednesday meeting that he would be pleased to be a part of the Leaf organization.” Simpson was the consensus number one pick. “According to most scouts and general managers at the NHL congress this week in Toronto, Simpson is the most talented prospect in the draft.”1  Despite the uncertainty most believed the Leafs would draft Simpson 1st overall on June 15th 1985, if they held onto the pick.

According to Bill Houston at the Globe and Mail, the Leafs received several offers for the 1st overall pick. “New York Islander general manager Bill Torrey offered the Leafs his two first rounders (sixth and 13th) for the No. 1 pick. According to Leaf owner Harold Ballard, the Islanders included veteran wingers Bob Bourne and Clark Gillies in the package. Earlier in the week, the Pittsburgh Penguins tried to trade for the Leafs' first pick but were turned down.” Thankfully, fate intervened and the Leafs drafted Clark.

This was something of a surprise as Clark was ranked 3rd going into the draft. The Leafs knew they wanted Clark all along. “GM Gerry McNamara said the decision to take Clark was made one day before the draft (Ballard claimed the Leafs knew weeks ahead of time that they would take him)”. What were the Leafs getting in Wendel? The Globe article describes him as “a tough defenceman who played 20 to 25 games on left wing this year. He is an excellent skater, good puck handler and has a hard wrist shot and slapshot. He is a punishing hitter and enjoys the rough going.” Understatement of the decade.

Central Scouting’s report of Clark gave a more accurate assessment of what kind of player he was. “Led team in penalty minutes (253). . . . Good skater with excellent speed. Hard, accurate wrist and slap shots. Works hard when backchecking. Is tough and enjoys hitting. Will play when injured. Some scouts believe he is most effective as a winger.”2  

The question on everyone’s mind for the rest of the summer was: would he sign with the Leafs? 

  1. "Maple Leafs make up with Simpson." The Globe and Mail,  June 14, 1985
  2. "Leafs shunned two trade offers." The Globe and Mail,  June 17, 1985
     

 

 

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Danny once met Doug Gilmour and it changed his life. Had he met Bret Hart the same day he would not have been able to handle it. He can be found on Twitter @ACatNamedFelix.
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