Darryl Sittler has had a heck of a year.
For starters, 2016 includes the 40th anniversary of his three most recognized career achievements: The NHL record 10-point game versus the Boston Bruins, his Toronto Maple Leafs-record five playoff goals against the Philadelphia Flyers and the slick OT winner he netted as a member of Team Canada against Czechoslovakia to capture the inaugural Canada Cup.
In September, Sittler, along with five other former NHLers, was recognized by having his image on a Canadian postage stamp. This month he was honoured with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and as part of their centennial season celebrations, the Maple Leafs finally retired his No. 27 (along with 16 fellow formerly honoured players) in a pregame ceremony Oct. 15.
The timing couldn’t have been better for the 66-year-old to release Captain: My Life and Career (with Mike Leonetti), a coffee table styled book which chronicles his playing days and personal life.
Yahoo Canada Sports recently spoke with Sittler preceding his book launch on Tuesday.
Yahoo Canada Sports: Congratulations on having your number retired. How was it different for you this time around than when it was honoured in 2003?
Darryl Sittler: I was OK either way, I respect the decision and opinion of the management team. Having said that if someone were to be given No. 27, you hoped that they’d wear it with the same enthusiasm and pride as I did when I received it from Frank Mahovlich, so to speak.
The fact that on the (home) opening game of the 100th anniversary for the Leaf organization that Dave Keon’s number would be retired, none of it would have been complete without him there and I am glad that it all came together for him, the Leaf organization and for the rest of us.
YCS: Of all the players on the ice that night, you appeared to be the most emotional. You and Dave Keon also had the most tumultuous relationship with management, namely Harold Ballard. Were you reliving that during the ceremony?
Sittler: Part of that, but more importantly, if you recall back in 2003, I had asked the Leaf organization if they would be considerate of my request to have my late wife Wendy’s name on the banner. When people ask me about the most memorable moment of my career, most people would say the 10-point game or the Canada Cup goal but it was that night my banner went up.
Wendy was a very instrumental part of my life. I met her in junior hockey, we were married 30 years and had three kids and she was as major part of my successes. With the new banner going up, I knew her name was on it and that’s why I got emotional.
YCS: How long did it take from the time you were traded by the Maple Leafs to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982 before you became engaged with the team again and were welcomed back into the fold?
Sittler: I retired in 1985 and had been living in the U.S., in the Buffalo, N.Y., area but was back in Toronto working with companies. I really hadn’t associated and didn’t have a relationship with the team. It was when Cliff Fletcher was hired and named president, I think in 1991, he gave me a call at my home and said “Darryl, I’d love for you come back to the Maple Leaf organization,” and be a part of it in whatever capacity I was interested in. So I met with him we agreed on something and I have been back ever since. At that time, the alumni association was formulated and it is one of the strongest in the league now as we should have. Under Harold Ballard, the Leafs didn’t care to recognize the players from the past which I totally disagree with but that all changed when he passed away and Steve Stavro took over the team and brought Cliff in.
YCS: During the 1970s you were on some pretty good Maple Leafs teams - how good could you have been had it not been meddled with?
Sittler: The reality of it is we had a very good team, would we have won the Cup? We were a player or two short of it. We were very competitive, we had a lot of guys with character and one of the things when Punch Imlach came in, he started trading away a lot of our character guys like Lanny McDonald and Tiger (Dave Williams), we lost a lot of that and never recovered from it. Had they added a few guys and not lost some of the guys we had, we always would have had a shot at it.
YCS: Do you feel as though your career was cut short in any way by being traded from Toronto?
Sittler: I went to Philly had a couple of good years there, went to Detroit and broke my orbital bone, didn’t play as much and was going through some other issues. I could have signed another (contract) to go out to Vancouver and play there but I decided it was time to move on. I needed 16 goals to be a 500-goal scorer - there were only 10 guys at the time that had 500 goals. I had all those things to think about before I made that decision but when I made it, I was happy to move on.
YCS: In terms of what you are seeing with the current Maple Leafs rebuild under president Brendan Shanahan, what is your assessment?
Sittler: With any team that is going to win a championship, you have to have three or four Hall of Fame type players on it. You look at Chicago with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, you look at L.A., and Tampa with Steven Stamkos. We are putting those building blocks and those types of players in place. They are young and (some) have only played a couple of years in the league but they certainly have the skill and potential to get there. We have a solid guy in Mike Babcock that teaches these young players the importance of coming to work every day and respecting the game, being accountable. Let’s see where it goes, I think we have nothing but great upside here.
YCS: I know every day you get asked about the 10-point game so I thought I would mix it up a little and find out the most unique place or setting where someone has ever approached you to ask you about that night?
Sittler: I was in Italy walking on a beautiful sunny day with my wife in Cinque Terra down along the ocean. There was a gentleman there and his wife, they recognized me, they were from Edmonton and we got talking about it. Canadians, we love hockey and obviously I have been around long enough that I have a recognizable face and a name so it can happen anywhere.
YCS: With all that has happened to you this year, would it be accurate to say that you are going to look back very fondly on 2016?
Sittler: Very accurate, you probably read in the book that there is something about numbers, what does 2016 add up to? 27 - 20 plus 1 and 6 - so there is another reason. I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989, you add that up and it’s 27. My birthday is Sept. 18 (9 + 18 = 27). It’s crazy stuff like that, that I think about. I’ll always remember it, it’s nice and like I have always said, when things are going good, enjoy it, but keep your head out of the clouds, and when things aren’t going too good – I have had some challenges in my life with the death of my wife and a few other things - you get up every morning and you’ve got a choice of your attitude and you do the best you can.
Captain: My Life and Career is published by Penguin Random House
Follow Neil Acharya on Twitter: @Neil_Acharya