Maple Leaf Muscle: The Toughest Toronto Maple Leafs of All-Time
Blood, sweat, and tears.
That's what it takes to succeed in the NHL if you want to go all the way. Players must give everything they've got out on the ice with a win at all costs attitude.
But there are some players who only exude two of the three. When it comes to the toughest players in the NHL, there are no tears involved. Sweat, of course. Blood, almost every game.
But when it comes to these guys, there is no crying in hockey.
There is only giving every ounce of their body up in order for their team to win. And the Toronto Maple Leafs have been fortunate enough to have men like this on their team throughout their long history.
These are the guys that go into a game fully expecting to either be limping off the ice at the end or making a quick run to the trainer's room to get stitched up before coming right back out. Shifts are rarely missed because of injury. Ice packs are always needed after the game. Black eyes are the norm.
And there is always an overflowing amount of love from the fans for these men who are willing to risk their lives every night to give their team a chance.
They players are rare and are often imitated, but to be a true tough guy in the NHL, you have to earn your respect; it doesn't simply come with the job title.
So let's take a look back at some of the Leafs' toughest players who did more than just get in the odd fight. They truly did what most humans could not even fathom doing on a nightly basis. Their jerseys were blue and white, but by the end of the game it was not strange if there was a little red mixed in as well.
That's why these guys are loved the way they are. And that's why they're the toughest Maple Leafs of all time.
Tim Horton played with the Leafs from 1951-1970. Seriously. That's 1185 games over 19 seasons in Toronto.
He is known as one of the toughest Leafs of all time simply because he rarely missed a game in his entire career. He played an incredible 486 consecutive regular season games (from 1961-68), which to this day is a Leaf record and will most likely never be surpassed.
He is fourth all-time on the Leafs with 1389 penalty minutes, and with his style of play and usual bad mood on the ice, you can bet he deserved every one of them.
He is known mostly these days for starting his chain of doughnut shops, Tim Horton’s, which opened first in 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. But those who saw him play live will tell you that this tough guy was one of the best the Leafs have ever had.
His unfortunate death happened in Feb. 1971 when he was driving home to Buffalo on the QEW and was in an accident. It was reported he was driving at speeds over 160 km/h (100 mi/h) when he lost control of his sports car.
An integral part of four Stanley Cups in the '60's, Horton will always be known as one of the best Maple Leafs of all time.
And certainly one of the toughest.
George "Red" Horner
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965, Red Horner played his entire career the only way he knew how—hard.
When he retired in 1940, he left the game as the all-time leader in the NHL for penalty minutes until he was later passed by Ted Lindsay (and obviously others later on). One of the most impressive aspects of his career was that for eight straight seasons he led the league in penalty minutes.
He currently sits sixth in Leafs history with 1264 minutes in the box.
But if you think he wasn't valuable to his team, you'd be wrong. In 1938 he was named the captain of the team and held that position until his retirement. He was also apart of the team that won the 1932 Stanley Cup, the first for Toronto under the name of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He only scored 42 goals in his career, but as an enforcer on the blue line, as well as playing with guys like King Clancy and Hap Day, Horner knew what his job was and did it rather well.
He passed away in 2005 as the last surviving member of the 1932 Cup winning team. Tough in his playing career and a survivor in life, Horner certainly deserves a spot on this list.
No pain, no gain.
That saying does not fit many people more than Bobby Baun. In game six of the 1963-64 Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, Baun broke his ankle early in the game.
But shockingly when the game was tied after regulation, he returned to play the overtime and scored the winning goal to send the series to a Game Seven. The Leafs would go on to win the Cup, their third in a row.
If that isn't toughness, I don't know what is. He wasn't very skilled offensively but was known as one of the hardest, cleanest hitters there has ever been in the NHL. His small frame was deceiving, standing 5'9", 182 lbs when he played, but his opponents soon found out how tough this little guy really was.
His relationship with Leafs GM Punch Imlach deteriorated over the final years of his career, as he sat held out one season wanting more money and was injured for most of the 1967 Cup run. In the end, he would not celebrate with the club.
It wasn't a pretty ending, but he did finish a winner for four Cups, as well as two Memorial Cups in junior.
But no matter how it ended, he will always be remembered for scoring the overtime winning goal with that broken ankle in the playoffs.
Dave "Tiger" Williams
There are tough guys, and then there was Tiger Williams, who ate tough guys for breakfast.
He simply had no fear and sits second all-time in penalty minutes on the Leafs with 1670. But he could score goals too and was known for his rather exuberant goal celebrations. His most famous one had him riding down the ice while sitting on his stick.
He scored 30 goals or more multiple times in his career with both the Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.
He is the NHL's all-time leader in penalty minutes, a mark that may never be broken. That record is most impressive because Williams only played 14 seasons in the league.
He was an enforcer in every sense of the word, and the definition of a tough guy for the Leafs during his time in Toronto.
Still very noticeable these days at various NHL games and events, always with a smile on his face. Williams has gone from tough guy in his playing days to a fan-friendly man off the ice.
But make no mistake, when the man played hockey, no one on the opposition was smiling.
Rick Vaive, who coincidentally enough was traded to Toronto from Vancouver for Tiger Williams among others in 1980, was another player for the Leafs who defined what a tough player should be.
Vaive is probably the toughest goal scorer to ever dawn a Leafs jersey, as he passed the 50 goal mark three consecutive seasons as a Leaf (1982-1984). His most was 54 goals in 1982.
He was the first 50-goal scorer the Maple Leafs ever had with 299 goals over the eight seasons in Toronto, which is fifth all time for a Leaf. His career-high in points in a season was 93, which he did in 1984.
No Leaf has ever surpassed Vaive's 54 goals since.
He was also named the captain of the team in 1982 and was such until the '86 season until he was stripped of the C for being late for a practice.
And along with scoring goals, Vaive could mix it up with the best of them. In 1980-1981 season, the year before his first 50-goal season, he amassed 229 penalty minutes in 75 games. In that next season he had 157 PIM—clearly not just a scoring machine.
He was such a valuable member of the team and was willing to do anything for the good of the club. When it was all said and done, he had 940 PIMs as a Leaf, which puts him in the top ten in penalty minutes all time on the team, as well as top five in goals.
Not bad, not bad at all.
Toughness that was hard to beat and a goal scoring touch that has yet to be equaled; that's how a player impacts a team.
And that's why Vaive was so valuable.
As a aggressive, stay-at-home defender, Luke Richardson never became much of a superstar, but he sure was valuable to which ever team he was apart of.
He started his career with the Leafs in 1987 and played four season in Toronto and was a force right off the bat. He also played 21 games for the team in 2005 during a brief stint with the club.
His 238 PIMs in 1990-1991 season are among the most a Leaf has ever collected, and he certainly not afraid to muck it up with anyone on the ice, and especially in front of his net.
His 6'4'', 220 lb frame was a load in front of the net and was routinely involved in classic battles in the crease, before the days of the new NHL. You weren't going anywhere near the net unless you were prepared to have a solid cross-check to the mid-section.
He played until the 2008-2009 season, upon which time he retired and became an assistant of the Ottawa Senators.
Just looking at him behind that bench nowadays, you can tell that as a player he was one tough son of a gun to play against.
Wendel Clark began his career in the NHL as the first overall pick in 1985 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and went on to play 608 games with the Leaf on his chest.
He is widely known as the most beloved player there has ever been in Toronto, and the reason for that had a lot to do with his toughness. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and most nights had blood on that sleeve as well.
He amassed the third-most penalty minutes in Leafs history with 1535 and in the 1986-87 season was able to pile up an impressive 271 PIM, the most in one season for Clark.
Looking back at so many of the classic bouts he was in, I'm almost certain when I say this—that Clark never really lost a fight. He simply kept his fists flying until his opponent could no longer continue. It's that willingness to do what it takes to win that made him so effective.
But it wasn't only the fact that he would stand up for his teammates in battle and drop the gloves whenever he was called upon, Clark could score with the best of them as well. In 1994 he finished the season with 46 goals, a feat that known goal-scorers like Mats Sundin and Daryl Sittler were never were able to do. He finished his career with 260 goals as a member of the Leafs.
The person and player that he was made him an automatic choice for the captaincy, and the way he played every night is the reason that he is so loved by the fans. Never complaining, never shying away from the spotlight, and now held high in the rafters of the ACC where his memories will live on forever.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs honoured Clark earlier this season, the introduction by announcer Andy Frost was truly great and spoke of exactly what Clark was made of and meant to the city.
"Just the mention of his name, it brings a smile to your face. There is one sure way for a hockey player to win over the fans of this city, and that is to play with heart. For Wendel, to play any other way would have been impossible. To play the game with heart; nobody did it more often. Nobody did it better."
There will never be a player, or a captain, quite like Clark on the Leafs again. He is the most beloved player that has ever played in Toronto and will be for as long as there is hockey in this town.
The memories are endless and whenever number 17 is mentioned, the image of that mustache and mullet, his lethal stare, and his fists of stone always come to mind.
He truly was the heart of the Leafs, and toughest player to ever step foot on Toronto ice.
And just like Frost said, nobody did it better.
There is no doubt that Tie Domi would be on this list. He has more penalty minutes than anyone else in Leafs history with 2265, 595 more than Tiger Williams, and is third overall in NHL history.
His toughness on the ice was unmatched, and even with his small body he was fearless and would fight anyone who desired to tangle, which was not limited to those on the ice.
In the 2000-2001 season during a game in Philadelphia, Domi was serving time in the box when a group of fans behind him began to heckle and slam the glass. Domi, annoyed, turned around and sprayed the fans with water, which got one fan especially mad. The fan jumped up on the boards and took a swing, but as he did so the glass gave way and into the box he went, right on to Domi.
Domi threw a few light punches and got the man's sweater over his head, as the fan was ejected from arena, bloodied and ego bruised. Domi was not suspended but did receive a fine for his troubles.
He sometimes took his play too far on the ice as well, like Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against New Jersey in 2001. As Scott Niedermeyer skated up the boards, unsuspecting, Domi threw an elbow right to head and knocked him out cold.
Domi was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs.
Never far from a controversy, on or off the ice, Domi certainly kept things interesting during his eleven years in Toronto. But there was one thing that was never in question when it came to the feisty forward—his toughness.
A player who went through more pain in his playing career than most people go through in their entire lives, Gary Roberts was the definition of toughness. He only played four seasons in Toronto, but was loved by fans and players alike for what he brought to the team.
After the 2001-02 season, Roberts had surgery on both shoulders and missed most of the following year. He returned to play 14 games in 2003 and on into the playoffs.
His physicality was mostly from his insane workout regimen. Even though he was in his late 30's, he was always the most in the best shape on the team because of his ridiculous training.
He simply would never quit and refused to show his opponents when he was injured or weak. After leaving the Leafs and signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007, he was in a collision in a game against Buffalo and shattered his left tibula. But instead of lying on the ice in pain waiting to be carried off, he simply stood up, refused help, and skated off the ice under his own power.
He truly was a warrior in every sense of the word and showed just how tough he was in a short time as a member of the Leafs.
Roberts will always be remembered for scoring key goals as well, including a classic triple-overtime goal against the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs in 2003.
He scored 83 goals in the 237 games he played as a Leaf, as well as 14 goals in the playoffs during that four-year span. His leadership and focus was second to none, and he showed up every night ready to play.
Without a doubt, one of the toughest Leafs of all time.
When it came to heart, no one had more of it than Darcy Tucker during his time in Toronto. And nobody ever questioned his toughness; especially to his face.
He always stuck up for his teammates and would go to the places that no one else would ever want to go on the ice. Sometimes it seemed like he enjoyed pain, but just as equally enjoyed causing it.
He became notorious during the many times during the 2000's when the Leafs faced off against the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs. The battle of Ontario simply showcased Tucker at his finest. The Sens hated Tucker, and he felt exactly the same about them.
Various occasions will go down in history as classic moments between the two teams, including Tucker reaching onto the Senators bench to fight Chris Neal after he allegedly spat on him.
He was also on the wrong end of a Daniel Alfredsson hit from behind leading to a Ottawa goal that, to this day, has Leaf fans boo even the mention of Alfredsson's name.
He was a fan favourite during his time in Toronto, and upon arrival as a member of the Colorado Avalanche to the ACC this season lead to a standing ovation from the crowd.
He had over 100 PIMs four times as a Leaf, but also scored 20 goals or more four times during the eight years he wore the blue and white.
He played through countless injuries, never complained about a situation he was put in, and was always first into the pile when there was a fight to be had. He simply had what it took to lead his team into battle.
And even though his time in Toronto has passed, he will always be remembered for the glare he would give opposing players; there was no question in his mind that he was the toughest guy on the ice.
And everyone knew it.