Danton comeback? It has been done, but . . .
Mike Danton is opening the next chapter of his life these days. He has given an interview to Nick Kypreos that is due to air Wednesday evening and whatever the background of the case that sent him to jail, one thing he is saying stands out: He said he wants to make it back to the National Hockey League and is working to that end.
Good luck to him in this regard. He will surely need it. The number of athletes who have been away from their game for six years and returned to the very top level is extremely short.
Today, on Nov. 11, it is fitting to think of the veterans and those who served. Some of them were athletes and that is a pretty good place to start, when talking about athletes who went away, for whatever reasons, and then came back to their sport.
Ted Williams would seem to be the gold standard for this kind of thing. He missed the entire 1943-44-45 seasons, serving in the military, yet picked up his Hall of Fame career right where he left it off.
Michael Jordan likewise missed three years, in his second absence from the NBA, before coming back to the Washington Wizards. Jordan was good, but not great, in his return.
Because of legal difficulties, Muhammad Ali missed three years in the prime of his career before he went back to fighting. He was not quite the same fighter he was before he left.
In hockey, very few NHL players missed full seasons during the war. Most who enlisted played for army or navy teams, so they weren’t completely off the ice. The hockey encyclopedia shows Syl Apps missing two complete years before resuming his Hall of Fame career with the Leafs after the war. In more modern times, Mario Lemieux missed less than two seasons for medical reasons before resuming his career and winning a scoring title.
Guy Lafleur sat out three seasons before making a comeback for three more seasons, but was a rumour of his former self.
Michael Vick recently missed a couple of seasons while doing jail time and no one is yet sure how much of his ability will come back with him.
You see what Danton is up against here? These are some of the greatest of the greats – Williams, Jordan, Ali, Lemieux – who missed a maximum of three years out of their sports and they weren’t in prison during that time.
Danton, who was an ordinary NHLer in his 87-game career (nine goals, five assists) certainly wasn’t at the same level as those others mentioned. But there is at least one case of a guy who went away and then come back to the NHL after a long absence. Did it right here, too.
Carl Brewer is the one guy Danton can point to and say, “It can be done.’’
Brewer, who is gone now and missed by many, was a different kind of guy. He retired early from the NHL, got his amateur status restored and played for Team Canada. Then he coached Finland’s national team for a year before returning to the NHL for three seasons. He left the St. Louis Blues after 1972, sat out a year, returned to play for the Toronto Toros in the World Hockey Association in 1973-74, then quit for good.
Except six years later, he came back, at age 41, to play for the Maple Leafs. He played 20 games before, once and for all, retiring.
Danton, who is 29, last played in the NHL in the spring of 2004, for the Blues. For what it is worth, he and Brewer also share the same birthday, Oct. 21.
It’s surely a longshot for him to make it back to the NHL, but it isn’t unprecedented.