Maple Leafs News & Rumors: The Hillman Hex, Bieber & Matthews’ Future

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’m going to share that former Maple Leafs’ defenseman Larry Hillman has passed. Although Hillman was one of the Top 100 Toronto players of all time, he’s noted mostly as being the author of the “Hillman Hex.” I’ll share the history of that hex.

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Second, I’ll extend the thinking of one of THW readers who suggested that Auston Matthews might re-sign in Toronto simply because he’s so tight with Canadian celebrity Justin Bieber. 

Item One: Larry Hillman of the “Hillman Hex” Has Passed

I have read in a number of post conversations that the reason the Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup was the effect of the Hillman Hex. On Friday, Larry Hillman – the source of the Hillman Hex – passed at the age of 85. 

Hillman, a stay-at-home defenseman during the 1960s, won the Stanley Cup four times in his NHL career. He won it twice with the Maple Leafs, once with the Detroit Red Wings (in 1955), and once with the Montreal Canadiens (in 1969). (from “ Four-time Maple Leafs Cup winner Larry Hillman dies,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 04/06/2022).

Larry Hillman’s check at the end of the game sidelined Henri Richard.

Hillman himself took credit for the “Hillman Hex,” which was the result of a salary dispute with then Maple Leafs’ general manager and head coach Punch Imlach. That Hex took on a magnified “power” after the Maple Leafs failed to win a Stanley Cup for so many seasons (since 1967, as Maple Leafs’ fans know too well).

The story is that, after the Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup win in 1967, Hillman asked the franchise for a $5,000 raise to bring his salary to $20,000 for the season. However, Maple Leafs’ coach Punch Imlach would go no higher than $19,500. Hillman then proceeded to hold out for 24 days in protest. However, he finally ended the holdout and agreed to accept Imlach’s offer. However, Imlach then turned the screws on his player. 

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The Maple Leafs paid the $19,500 salary; but, Imlach fined Hillman $100 for each day he held out – for a total of $2,400. Hillman played another season in Toronto but was chosen as an expansion pick of the Minnesota North Stars. Not forgetting his hurt caused by Imlach’s mean-spirited act, as he left for Minnesota he vowed that the Maple Leafs wouldn’t win the Stanley Cup again until the organization repaid his $2,400, with interest.

Thirty-five years went by, and Hillman finally agreed to rescind the hex during the Maple Leafs’ 2017 centennial season (after 50 years). When asked in 2016 if the hex was still in effect, he told the Toronto Star “Yes, it’s still there. It seems to have worked.”

Hillman added, “I’ve left it on because they didn’t pay me the $2,400, with interest. It would have been a lot cheaper to pay that than signing all those million-dollar players.”

Sports Illustrated reported that, in 2017, Maple Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan asked for and was given permission to present Hillman a cheque from the organization to repay the $2,400 – plus interest – Hillman was fined in 1967. The infamous “Hillman Hex” had reached the 50-year mark and run its course. However, some Maple Leafs’ fans believe the hex obviously is still in force.

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Hillman played with the Maple Leafs from 1960-67 and was listed by the franchise at No. 96 on ‘The One Hundred’ greatest Maple Leafs in October 2016.

Item Two: The Logic of Tim Horton on Keeping Auston Matthews in Toronto

Speaking of Maple Leafs’ defensemen from the past, Tim Horton was one of the greatest. Most Canadians probably know his name from the donut chain named after him. Recently, a THW reader’s comment in the conversation section of a post made me think there might be a vague relationship between Tim Horton and keeping Auston Matthews with the Maple Leafs (although the reader didn’t say it exactly that way). 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Here’s the connection. Specifically, the reader wondered if Matthews’ friendship with Justin Bieber might keep him in Toronto after rumors that Matthews would bolt for Arizona when his contract expired. Reports are that Matthews and Bieber are almost inseparable.

Here’s the syllogism I put together that links Tim Horton to the possibility that Matthews might remain with the Maple Leafs. For those Maple Leafs fans uninspired by rhetorical constructs (why would you be), the logic of a syllogism is that, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is true. In advance, know that this syllogism probably fails that logic. 

Premise One: Tim Horton was a great player in Maple Leafs’ history. There’s a donut restaurant named after him.

Premise Two: Justin Bieber does Tim Horton ads for Timbiebs (donut holes) or Biebs Brew (iced coffee).

Premise Three: Justin Bieber and Auston Matthews are great friends.

Conclusion: Auston Matthews will stay in Toronto because Justin Bieber lives there. 

Tim Horton
Tim Horton (The Hockey Writers)

Obviously, there are faults in the construct above. That said, reports are that using Bieber as a celebrity endorser is working. CNN Business reported that the limited-time donut hole line called “Timbiebs Timbits” created by Bieber helped the Canadian restaurant increase profits over the last quarter of the 2021 fiscal year.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Getting back to the Maple Leafs’ offseason moves, there’s a great deal of speculation about what goalies the team might be interested in if general manager Kyle Dubas cannot re-sign Jack Campbell. Some rumors suggest Dubas is trying to work magic in making Petr Mrazek’s contract disappear from the team’s salary-cap limit before anything happens.

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There’s also speculation if another aging veteran – other than Mark Giordano on the defense – might find his way to the team as a way to provide veteran leadership. I’m thinking the Maple Leafs would rather see next season’s fourth line as a way to audition some of the team’s youngsters. 

There are certainly more questions surrounding the team.

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