Or as Toronto coach Pat Burns puts it, "They complement each other well."
Burns, too, has applied some finishing touches to Andreychuk. Between 1988 and '92, when he was behind the Montreal Canadiens' bench, Burns would look at Andreychuk and wonder if he was giving his all for the Sabres. Since they have been united in Toronto, Burns has discovered that Andreychuk has more to give than he ever imagined. While Andreychuk's size and opportunism had made him a fixture on the power play—he led the league with 32 man-advantage goals in 1992-93 and at week's end had 20 this season—his oaken skating and his reputation as a defensive liability had made him an unlikely candidate to kill penalties. But Burns, admiring not only Andreychuk's reach but also his grasp of the game, has used him to do just that this season. The result: Through Sunday, Andreychuk was tied for second in the NHL in shorthanded goals, with five.
"The first time Pat tapped me on the shoulder to go out there to kill a penalty, I couldn't believe it," Andreychuk recalls. "I don't think I took a breath when I got on the ice. I came back to the bench, and I was hyperventilating, I was so nervous. I never expected it—ever. Now, getting the chance to score shorthanded goals, I just go, Wow."
Andreychuk grew up blessed with exceptional hand-eye coordination; as a teenager he could whip adults in table tennis while playing on his knees. Once he set his mind to something, his resolve was seldom shaken, but early in his first year of juniors he did make an unscheduled departure from Oshawa, Ont., because he was homesick. Julian counseled his son on the importance of seeing things through, and Dave returned to the team. That may count as one of the few moments in Andreychuk's career that he has been shaken by anything.
So even though his parents might have found the atmosphere at Memorial Auditorium so hostile to their son that they could barely drag themselves to Sabre games, Andreychuk lived year-round in Buffalo and never ducked the potshots and the brickbats. Besides, Buffalo is where he met his wife, Sue, an occupational therapist and the mother of their one-year-old daughter, Taylor. Among the first words Dave uttered to Sue were, "You know, it's really hard to be my girlfriend." (And this guy is supposed to be as slow as wood?)
"I think a big weight was removed when we left Buffalo," Sue says. "Dave was finally able to perform to his fullest. He may not say it, but it was hard for him."
No, Dave won't say it. "Most of the heat I took in Buffalo was pretty justified," he says. "I look at it this way: I was put in a situation where I had to play well for the team to win, and when the team didn't win and I didn't play well, I was more disappointed than anyone else. Those were some long summers. But there were a lot of people in that organization who stuck by me, who gave me a fair chance and realized what talent I had. In the past years in Buffalo, because of the failures, trades were made just to shake things up. They didn't just trade me to trade me; they got rid of me to get a quality guy."
Actually, the trade was one of necessity—for Toronto. With the expansion draft coming up, the Leafs could protect only one of their goalies, and 21-year-old phenom Felix Potvin made Fuhr expendable. It is some measure of both the Sabres' dire need in the nets and Andreychuk's plummeting stock that Leaf general manager Cliff Fletcher was also able to extract a first-round pick, who turned out to be Kenny Jonsson, the promising 19-year-old Swedish defenseman. Although the Sabres advanced to the second round of the playoffs with Fuhr, the deal has turned out to be a steal for Toronto. "It was simple: We were looking for a scorer and a left wing, and Andreychuk was the best one available," says Fletcher. "It was just a case of a player being at the stage of his career when he needed a change."
Still, Andreychuk was apprehensive about going to the sport's capital city, to the team he followed as a kid, to a market with more than one newspaper to revile him. His outlook brightened as he played alongside Gilmour and before supportive crowds, and he overcame his fears about being stigmatized with a "playoff problem," racking up 19 points during the Leafs' postseason run last spring. "Hockey heaven," Andreychuk now calls Toronto.
These days, then, the abuse he suffers is merely sticks and elbows and crosschecks, and with each goal he metes out a different kind of punishment. Rob Pearson, a 22-year-old Toronto wing, watches in awe as Andreychuk stands firm against the blows, refusing to allow his stick to be tied up, keeping his eyes fixed on the puck while he calculates the likely angle of a defenseman's slap shot for a rebound or a deflection. "Every day you watch him," Pearson says, "you see something new."