It's axiomatic in the NHL: The more goals an established goal scorer scores, the more abuse he is likely to take. So night after night, when Dave Andreychuk of the Toronto Maple Leafs deposits himself in the slot, he becomes a 6'3", 220-pound target for knees and forearms and cross-checks designed to make his backside resemble a Venetian blind. In spite of the pounding, Andreychuk, through Sunday, had scored 49 goals this season, third most in the league, behind Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings (51 goals) and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins (50).
Yet this, too, is axiomatic in the NHL: The fewer goals a reputed goal scorer scores, the more abuse he is likely to receive. So night after night, when Andreychuk suited up for the Buffalo Sabres from 1982 to '93, he became the lightning rod for the fans' frustrations as the Sabres developed their habitual case of vertigo in the first round of the playoffs. Andreychuk may have averaged more than 30 goals a year in Buffalo, but he scored only 12 times in 41 postseason games, a rate that earned him the nickname Andreychoke.
In other words, since entering the league 12 years ago, the 30-year-old Andreychuk has taken a lot of punishment both physically and verbally, as a stand-up guy and as a fall guy, whether succeeding wildly or failing mildly. If he bears any marks of these travails, they aren't readily apparent, except perhaps for the few gray hairs in his temples or the occasional cautiousness in his dark eyes. Sit with Andreychuk awhile and you sense his self-assured calm, a temperament so unvarying that it might easily have been forged in the steel mill in Hamilton, Ont., that has employed his parents for a total of 50 years.
"In his entire career David has never discussed anything with us in a negative way," says his father, Julian, a retired foreman at Stelco. "Not management or another player or an official or anyone else."
Nor will his son be baited into doing so. "Yes, there have been times I've been abused, but that's part of the game," Dave says. "Most times, I feel like I end up getting the upper hand."
That may be as close as Andreychuk ever gets to a self-congratulatory cackle, but few would begrudge him the last laugh. Before joining Toronto on Feb. 2, 1993, with goaltender Daren Puppa and a No. 1 draft pick for Buffalo goalie Grant Fuhr and a conditional draft choice, Andreychuk was seen less for what he was than for what he wasn't. He may have had the size, strength and reach to coldcock some of the cementheads who gouged and clubbed him, but he seldom dropped his gloves. He may have been formidable near the goal, but he was so plodding in the open ice that he was called Wood, after one wag's imaginative estimation that " Dave Andreychuk has the speed of wood."
While he may have been a bona fide scorer, it was not a role he filled often enough to suit the city of Buffalo. Since leaving there, however, he has averaged a goal every 1.4 games. In the playoffs last spring, the erstwhile Andreychoke scored a Toronto-record 12 times to lift the Maple Leafs to the Campbell Conference final, their deepest postseason penetration since 1978. Andreychuk's goal total through Sunday had already surpassed the team-record 48 for a left wing, set by Frank Mahovlich in 1960-61. And Andreychuk's 90 points have been vital to the Leafs, who at week's end had the third-best record in the league and were fighting the Red Wings for the top spot in the Central Division.
As is now abundantly clear, what Andreychuk does have is a prescient sense of where the puck will be, and a pair of hands that can wield a 60-inch stick as deftly as a conductor waves a baton. With a 37-inch sleeve attached to his maximum-length stick, Andreychuk has one of the longest reaches in the NHL, which gives him an enormous advantage in deflecting the puck and reaching rebounds. Once he gets planted in the slot and begins leaning on his blade, Andreychuk is about as tractable as a mainsail in a 100-mph head wind.
"I'd never played with a guy like Dave," says Toronto center Doug Gilmour. "A lot of guys have strength, but he's amazing. Once he gets in front of the net, you can't move him. And once he gets his stick on the puck, he doesn't miss many chances."
Certainly much of the credit for Andreychuk's emergence goes to Gilmour, who has brought out something in Andreychuk that even centers Gilbert Perreault, Dale Hawerchuk and Pat LaFontaine could not in Buffalo. "I played with some big-time offensive centers, but now I spend less time in my own end because Doug's so good defensively," Andreychuk says. "When the puck goes into our zone, he gets it out right away, and we're on the attack again. We're not chasing the other team, because most of the time we have the puck. He always seems to be looking for me. Doug attracts a lot of attention—a lot of attention—so that helps free me up."