The 2008-09 NHL season was a stepping stone for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There wasn’t very much to be excited about for Leafs Nation except for a possibility at a brighter future.
There was, however, the emergence of two lines that entertained the Leaf faithful.
The first was the Jason Blake, Dominic Moore, Lee Stempniak line which finally had Blake earning his money.
The second line consisted of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, and Alexei Ponikarovsky. This line made us witness Ponikarovsky becoming a leader and a legitimate top six forward.
These two lines had me thinking about some of the most memorable Leaf lines in their long and illustrious history.
When we think of great hockey lines there are a few that quickly come to mind like the “French Connection” which consisted of Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, and Rene Robert.
A good hockey line comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are known for scoring and others are known for checking while the best possess every skill under the scoreboard.
There are lines that have nick names like Los Angeles Kings’ “Triple Crown” line with Charlie Simmer, Marcel Dionne, and Dave Taylor.
And there are those that remain unlabeled by society such as the Boston Bruins’ Ken Hodge, Phil Esposito, and Wayne Cashman.
There are also lines that dominate for years and others that were only magical for a short while.
But there are three things that all hockey lines have in common; they have great chemistry, they demonstrate to the world that hockey is a great team sport, and they are exciting and memorable to witness.
At last, let’s take a peak at some of the more famous Toronto Maple Leafs trios. I hope it brings back great memories for most Leafs fans.
NOTE: These lines are not ranked. They are presented in order by decade.
This line graced the Maple Leafs line up from 1929-30 to 1935-36 and if I was ranking these choices it would definitely be number one on the list.
Perhaps more than any other Leaf line in history the “Kid Line” didn’t just dominate their own team. Year after year this trio was the best in the NHL.
Charlie Conacher led the NHL in goals a total of 5 times.
Harvey Jackson was a first-team all-star three times.
Joe Primeau led the league in assists three times and won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1931-32.
In 1931-32, the “Kid Line” finished in the NHL top four scoring places; Jackson was number one with 53 points, Primeau number two with 50 points, and Conacher number four with 48 points.
Only Montreal’s Howie Morenz was in between with 49 points.
Jackson was only with this line for a year and half before being traded to the New York Americans for Sweeney Schriner but Apps and Drillon continued to play well together into the 1940’s.
In 1937-38, Drillon and Apps finished in the top two spots in NHL scoring. This was the second year in row that Apps placed second in league scoring.
They were also first-team all-stars for a combined total of four times (Drillon 1938 and 1939/Apps 1939 and 1942).
One of the biggest nights this line had was on April 18, 1942. The war overseas was at its height and it dominated the headlines.
The Leafs managed to bring some joy into the lives of Anglophone Canadians by coming back from a three game to zero deficit versus the Detroit Red Wings.
On this night Schriner scored two goals as this line secured a marvelous comeback to steal the 1942 Stanley Cup from Detroit’s grasp.
This was the first cup in over a decade for the Maple Leafs after six final losses from 1933 to 1940.
This line clicked for three seasons and helped the Leafs capture the cup in 1947, 1948, and 1949.
They were known as one of the best two-way lines in the NHL during this time period.
In 1946-47, Kennedy placed 5th in league scoring with 60 points (28 goals) and Meeker won the Calder Trophy with 27 goals and 45 points.
In 1950-51 this line helped the Leafs triumphantly lift the Stanley Cup.
All three of these line mates were in the top 10 in NHL scoring for that season. Kennedy was 6th with 61 points (43 assists), Sloan was 8th with 56 points (31 goals), and Smith tallied 51 points (30 goals) which was good for 10th place.
In the playoffs Sloan was famous for scoring the game tying goal in the last game of the 1951 Stanley Cup finals. This pushed the game into over time where Bill Barilko scored his legendary cup winning goal.
Mahovlich and Kelly were together for a while and during that time the “Big M” had a 48 goal season in 1960-61 and Kelly had 50 assists and won the Lady Byng Trophy.
Punch Imlach added Stewart to the right wing in a crucial game five against the New York Rangers in the 1962 playoffs.
They each had a goal, including the double over-time winner by Kelly.
Game six was a more decisive 7 to 1 victory for the Leafs and then they went on to thump the Chicago Blackhawks and win their first of three straight Stanley Cups.
This trio was instrumental in winning game seven of the 1964 Stanley Cup semifinals against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens were determined to win on home ice but Dave Keon scored a hat-trick. He became the first player to score three goals for a game seven visiting team.
On a team full of aging superstars an unlikely line was an important factor in winning the 1967 Stanley Cup.
Pulford had 11 points in the 12 games, Stemkowski tallied 5 goals, and Pappin contributed 7 goals to the mix, including the Stanley Cup winner.
The “HUE” line, a combination of the first letter from their surnames, was an excellent mix of offense on the left and defense on the right. This was all cemented by the skillful two-way game played by Ullman at centre.
In 1970-71, Ullman registered 85 points (34 goals and 51 assists) which placed him 6th overall in the NHL scoring race. More importantly, this broke Frank Mahovlich’s team point record set a decade earlier.
This line was formed in 1975-76 and they had a few good years together but perhaps it’s best known for kick-starting McDonald’s career.
He had only scored 31 goals in his first 134 games and the Leafs almost traded him to Atlanta.
The first season that this line was formed he scored 37 goals and 93 points. That was followed with seasons of 46, 47, and 43 goals and suddenly Lanny was the 2nd best right winger in the NHL behind Guy Lafleur.
In 1975-76 Sittler also became the first Leaf to score a 100 point season (41 goals) and he was 9th in NHL scoring.
Thompson had a career high, 43 goals on Sittler’s right wing.
Williams added some much needed grit to this line as he replaced Thompson on Sittler’s left wing.
He also played really well for Roger Neilson and in the 1978 playoffs this line was an integral part of the upset victory over the rising New York Islanders.
In the regular season Sittler had, a then club record, 117 points while McDonald netted 47 goals. This placed them 3rd and 9th in league scoring, respectively.
The Leafs weren’t a very good team when this line was skating together but this trio made up for that discrepancy.
They are one of the highest scoring lines in club history; Anderson and Derlago were 30-40 goal scorers while Vaive became the first Leaf to score 50 or more goals and he did it for three straight seasons.
Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy netted more pucks than Vaive during these three years.
The “hound” line was formed half way through the 1985-86 season when the Leafs realized that Leeman was ready for the NHL.
They were named the “hound” line because each player was a graduate of the Notre Dame Hounds (a Saskatchewan high school with a great hockey program).
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this line was that both Clark and Leeman were defensemen in their junior hockey careers. The Leafs decided to make them both wingers at the NHL level.
These three hounds were very effective in the 1986 playoffs when the Leafs swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the best of five game series.
Then they drove the St. Louis Blues, equipped with a younger Doug Gilmour, into a seventh game where they lost a competitive 2-1 match up.
In these 10 playoff games, Leeman had 12 points, Courtnall had 9 points, and Clark had 6 points (5 goals).
In the regular season, Clark tallied a rookie team record with 34 goals (46 points) and he was runner-up for the Calder Trophy.
They were even more effective in the 1986-87 season which was their first and last full year together. The next season Clark would start having his back problems which had him playing sparingly for the next three seasons.
Nevertheless, this line helped the Leafs reach another semi final game seven. This time it was against the Detroit Red Wings after beating the Blues in six games.
Clark was much better with 6 goals and 5 assists in 13 games. He had to be in the absence of Gary Leeman who was only able to play 5 games in these playoffs.
This was one of the best hockey lines in the 1989-90 NHL season.
Leeman became the second Maple Leaf player to score 50 or more goals with a career high 51 goals, 44 assists, and 95 points. He was one of the best right wingers in the game for that season.
Olczyk tallied 32 goals, 56 assists, and 88 points almost equaling his career high of 90 points from a year earlier.
Osborne added a solid defensive aspect to this line and he contributed in a checking role. He still managed a respectable contribution on the scoreboard with 73 points (23 goals and 50 assists).
As if one good line wasn’t enough for the Leafs in 1989-90. This line added a dangerous one-two punch for the Leafs.
Damphousse contributed the most assists on the team with 61 to go along with 33 goals. This gave him 94 points, a good point total in the NHL and the second highest on the team behind Leeman.
Daniel Marois found great chemistry playing with Damphousse and Reid. He tapped in 39 goals and assisted on 37 more to earn 76 points; a career high in all three categories. He never found this kind of success ever again.
While Reid only had 28 points, he still added the right kind of chemistry to this line. As a checking forward he did a lot of the dirty work along the boards and he made room for Damphousse and Marois to create their offense. He was also a great penalty killer for the Maple Leafs.
Potent is the only word I can use to describe this line.
Andreychuk and Gilmour clicked from day one and they revitalized Toronto’s offense on a defense oriented team.
In 1992-93 Gilmour set a Maple Leaf record with 127 points (32 goals, 95 assists). The next season he had 111 points (27 goals, 84 assists).
Andreychuk had 25 goals in his first 31 games as a Leaf on Gilmour’s line. In 1993-94, his first full season with the Leafs, he had 53 goals and 46 assists for 99 points. He became the third Leaf to score 50 or more goals.
Anderson donated 65 points (22 goals, 43 assists) to the mix while adding the experience of playing on five cup winning teams with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.
This came in handy in the 1993 playoffs when this line combined for 72 points (29 goals, 43 assists).
They helped the Leafs come within one game of a Stanley Cup finals berth; the first in over two decades.
In the 1993 playoffs Gilmour was often double shifting. He was with Andreychuk and Anderson on the first line and Clark and Borschevsky on the second line.
He helped Clark get back to his old form after two sub-par games in Detroit that had the Red Wing media referring to him as “Wendy”.
Maybe adding this line is leaning toward favoritism but they prove that scoring doesn’t have to be the only attribute that gets players noticed.
This line was every bit as integral in the Leafs 1993 playoff campaign as any other line on the team.
Often they were so good at checking their opponents’ best lines that some suggest they were overused by Pat Burns.
I don’t think the Leafs could have survived as long as they did if it wasn’t for their great defensive contributions.
They wore down the other teams’ best players and gave Gilmour and company the opportunity to create their heroics. Leaf fans will always be grateful and that’s why they will never forget to mention this line.
In the 1993-94 season Nikolai Borschevsky went down with a serious injury and Clark was inserted into the Gilmour line.
They ended the season really well and this carried into an excellent second straight playoff performance. They combined for 54 points in 18 games.
Clark finished the regular season with 46 goals which was a career high and only four short of giving the Leafs their first season with two 50 goal scorers (Andreychuk had 53).
Likewise, Andreychuck had 99 points and with one more point the Leafs could have had two 100 point players in one season (Gilmour had 111).
This line wasn’t the most dynamic but it marked the first time that Sundin had astute players on both his wings.
Roberts and Thomas weren’t superstars anymore but they were veterans that made things happen when they mattered most.
In the playoffs they combined for 33 points in 11 games. A point per game average that helped the Leafs eliminate the Ottawa Senators in 4 games and take the New Jersey Devils to a game seven showdown.
After Mats Sundin injured his hand most Leaf fans remember this trio picking up the slack in the 2002 playoffs.
Roberts and McCauley almost single handedly dragged the Leafs, kicking and screaming, into the 2002 Stanley Cup finals.
Roberts had 19 points in 19 games which was surprisingly his best post season performance considering he was on the 1989 championship team.
He too was coming back from an injury just around the time that Sundin broke his hand which makes this even more astounding.
Alyn McCauley had 5 goals and 10 assists in 20 games and this was an amazing performance when you factor in that he only had 16 points in 82 regular season games.
Hoglund also played his best hockey with 10 points in 20 games which was a career playoff high.
Obviously this line had great chemistry because Hoglund was notorious for not bringing his “A” game to the post season.
They were only together for the 2002-03 season but finally Sundin had a player on his line with equal skill level. And what does Mogilny do? He amassed more points.
Alexander Mogilny tallied 79 points versus Sundin’s 72 points which broke Mats’ eight year reign as the Leafs leading scorer. In fact, he’s the only player to lead the Leafs in points while Sundin was a Leaf. This was the only time this happened.
Mogilny also won the 2002- 03 Lady Byng Trophy for his efforts. The award is given to the most gentlemanly player in the NHL and he only had 12 penalty minutes.
Antropov wasn’t too shabby either with 45 points in 72 games (16 goals, 29 assists).