NHL Winter Classic 2013: 10 Maple Leafs Who Must Play in the Alumni Game
For a franchise with such a storied history, the Maple Leafs must be represented by its most celebrated characters at the 2013 Winter Classic Alumni Game.
Of course, the characters from the Leafs' last Stanley Cup will not be able to take the ice. Guys like George Armstrong and Ron Ellis are well past the age of lacing up their skates, but there are many Toronto greats who can represent their once and future team in January.
Between beloved captains, hard-nosed grinders, and NHL legends, Toronto can assemble a lineup that embodies the loyalty and grit this league was built upon.
Here are 10 former Leafs who ought to be part of the celebration.
Darryl Sittler ('71-'82)
At 61-years old, Darryl Sittler would likely be the oldest Toronto alumni, but it's hard to imagine the team without him.
Born and raised in Ontario, Sittler played 12 seasons in Toronto, captaining the team for six of them. He was known for his diligent work ethic, but he was also a prolific scoring threat. Not only did Sittler record the Leafs' first ever 100-point season, but he scored 10 points in a single game, an NHL record that stands to this day.
A Hall of Famer whose number 27 is retired by the franchise, Sittler is a necessary participant in any Leafs alumni game for as long as he can skate.
Rick Vaive (’80-’87)
Sittler may have been Toronto's biggest scorer, but no one lit the lamp like Rick Vaive.
In just his third NHL season, Vaive set a franchise mark of his own, registering the first 50-goal season in Maple Leafs history. Utilizing his heavy slap shot early and often, Vaive scored 157 goals over a three-year period and 299 in his Leafs tenure.
When you consider his scoring ability with his willingness to sacrifice his body at both ends, Vaive proved a worthy captain when Sittler was traded. He's no less worthy a representative to honor the Leafs' history.
Wendel Clark (’86-’94, ’96-’98)
We already have a couple of captains on our team. Now we need Captain Crunch.
From the moment Wendel Clark arrived in Toronto, he refused to be pushed around. In his first two NHL seasons, Clark racked up 225 and 271 penalty minutes, respectively. He wasn't just a bruiser though; he scored over 30 goals in both of those seasons.
Known primarily for his pugilism on the ice, Captain Crunch's bulldog mentality inspired his charges and his city. Clark wore his heart on his sleeve, and Leafs fans appreciated him for it. He's exactly the type of guy you want around your franchise as much as possible.
Doug Gilmour (’92-’97)
He made some good memories and some bad ones, too, but no one can deny Doug Gilmour's greatness.
Earning the nickname "Killer" with his fiery play, Gilmour was a force in his six-year tenure in Toronto. He broke Sittler's single-season points record, scoring 127 in his first full season with the Leafs, and he carried on Clark's fighting spirit when he gained the captaincy in 1994.
Unfortunately, Gilmour will be best remembered in Toronto for one of the most controversial plays in NHL history. When Wayne Gretzky's clear high stick on Gilmour went uncalled in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals, it directly led to the Maple Leafs getting ousted from the playoffs. Toronto has not been that close to the finals since.
It may pain some fans to remember what might have been, but Gilmour was too good for his legacy to be completely tarnished. He's one of the best to ever play the game, and one of the best Toronto has ever seen. That's all that should matter.
Felix Potvin (’92-’99)
Felix Potvin was never the all-time great that prognosticators thought he might be, but he was a force in the crease nonetheless.
Potvin led the league in goals against average (2.50) in his first full season in the league, and he tied the franchise wins record with 34 in his sophomore campaign. He was not a strong technical goalie, but he earned the nickname "The Cat" because of his lightning-quick reflexes in net.
As is wont to happen with young phenoms, the league caught up to Potvin and his poor angles in goal. Though he fell from his elite status, the league could never take those first great years away from him, or from Toronto fans. Potvin may not have had longevity, but his time in the sun is still worth celebrating.
Dave Andreychuk (’93-’96)
Dave Andreychuk is another guy who wasn't in Toronto very long, but that doesn't mean the fans didn't love him.
Andreychuk played the longest in Buffalo, spending eleven seasons there before coming to the Leafs for four. He made a bigger impact in Tampa Bay, captaining the Lightening to a Stanley Cup title at age 40.
However, Andreychuk was in Toronto for the glory days, playing with Gilmour and Potvin in consecutive conference finals. He made fans pay attention with his play, putting up 137 points in his first 114 games as a Leaf, but he won them over with his professionalism.
No matter where Andreychuk went, he was still Uncle Dave in Toronto. It just wouldn't be a proper family reunion without him.
Mats Sundin (’95-’08)
Mats Sundin didn't have an iconic nickname like Killer or The Cat. His name is his name, and it's all over the Toronto record books.
In 981 career games with the Leafs, Sundin set the franchise record for goals (420) and points (987), and he ranks second in assists (567), plus/minus (plus-99). He was also captain for 11 years, the longest tenure in franchise history.
The Swede was a model of consistency that powered the Leafs for over a decade. He was never hurt, playing at least 70 games every season in Toronto, discounting the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Sundin scored at least 70 points each time, leading the team in scoring in 11 of 12 full seasons.
You can't talk about great Maple Leafs without mentioning Sundin, and you can't celebrate the franchise's history without him there.
Dmitry Yushkevich (’96-’02)
Sundin may have been the heart and soul of the team while Dmitry Yushkevich was in Toronto, but the Russian defenseman gave everything he had for the Leafs.
We can talk about his All-Star-caliber defensive play, but that wouldn't make much sense for a guy who cared little for the accolades. Rather, let's focus on how he gave up his body with his unselfish shot blocking, and how he would throw his health to the wayside to help the team.
55 games into the 2001-02 campaign, Yushkevich was diagnosed with a blood clot in his knee, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. Though the condition had threatened his life, he still begged to come back for a playoff run, though the medical staff quashed the idea.
Yushkevich moved past the clot and moved on from Toronto that offseason, but the untimely end to his career in the Blue and White cannot erase what it meant to him. All these years later, Yushkevich deserves to get his wish and suit up in his beloved colors once again.
Curtis Joseph (’99-’02, ’09)
Curtis Joseph may have been an established veteran when he became a Leaf, but it was in Toronto that he became a star.
When he came to Toronto, CuJo made the leap from good to great, posting career bests in goals against average in each of his four seasons. He made the All-Star team in 1999 and 2000, and was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in each of those two years.
He may not have been the Leafs' captain, but he was instrumental in leading the Leafs to their first two 100-point seasons. Joseph was recognized for this influence and more in 2000 when he received the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, honoring him for his leadership and his humanitarian contributions.
CuJo was a dominant on the ice and likable and laudable off the ice. He's the guy who should be starting the Alumni Game, even more so than Potvin.
Darcy Tucker (’00-’08)
No one ever said Darcy Tucker played a pretty game, but no one can question his dedication, either.
Tucker was a grinder above all else. He couldn't be given the one-dimensional label of enforcer, as he displayed a solid scoring touch. Even though he topped 20 goals in four of his nine seasons in Toronto, memories of Tucker always involve him throwing his weight around with reckless abandon, be it with the gloves on or off.
Respected and reviled for his toughness, Tucker did show one soft spot when he finally left the game. Following his retirement, AOL News reported that Tucker's lone regret in his NHL career was that he couldn't bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto.
"It was difficult to play in Toronto," Tucker said. "It wasn't easy, but I took it as a compliment and I thrived on it. I loved the pressure there."
That's the sign of a man who appreciates the fans just as much as they appreciated him. Tucker may not have matched guys like Sittler and Sundin in skill, but he had as much heart as anyone.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tucker were an emotional match on the ice. That is a bond they should continue to honor hereafter.