I have read countless blogs by Leafs fans about the 'All Time Leafs All-Star Lineup', and while it's always nice to reflect on heroes past and present, I've always felt it's a practice that rewards overt and often superficial accomplishments (not to say that they aren't astounding,of course). I love reflecting on Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, and pre-meltdown Felix Potvin, but in the end, we already know they are great, so why keep reiterating?.
As a hockey fan and Leafs fan, I like to think with a slightly different perspective.
Anyone who knows me, knows that when I discuss hockey, you're more likely to hear names like Zarley Zalapski (best name ever) or Kelly Kisio or Craig Billington than Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux or Steve Yzerman. What can I say? I love the dark horses.
It's with this in mind, I have decided to formulate my own 'all-time' team, but with a slightly different aesthetic.
I have come up with my 'All-Time Underappreciated Leafs' team. My team is a hodgepodge of those Leafs whose name's you may not recognize, or who you do recognize and haven't thought of in years.
Ladies and Gentlemen, without further adieu, I am pleased to introduce to you, your Toronto Maple Leafs...dark horses!
C-Joe Primeau (1929-1936)
Centering the famous "Kid Line" between Busher Jackson and Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau was a "playmaking wizard" and the epitome of an unselfish centre. Every NHL game Gentleman Joe ever played in the NHL was in the blue and white. Though originally scouted by the New York Rangers, he was deemed too small (5'11",160lbs) and they refused to sign him, much to the chagrin of one Mr. Conn Smythe. After Conn Smythe's departure from the blueshirts, Smythe held on to his knowledge of that wiry young scrapper with the silver stick. After 2 years of next to no game action with the Leafs, he finally found a home between Jackson and Conacher, and the trio is still regarded as one of the most prolific scoring units in hockey history, much of that credit is due to the unselfish play of Joe Primeau, who amassed 243 points in 307 career NHL games, of which 177 were assists. Gentleman Joe got his nickname after winning the Lady Byng in 1931-1932, which turned out to be a banner year for him as he lead in playoff assists that year while the Maple Leafs took home the Stanley Cup.
Joe's retirement was premature, as was the concensus at the time, but he had a successful business and other aspirations, and that lead him to coaching. He manned the bench for a bevy of major junior and senior teams, most notably with the St. Michael's Majors where he won 2 Memorial Cups, as well as coached a young, unknown at that time Red Kelly, and it was Joe who taught him how to be a great defensive player. He also answered the call to coach the Maple Leafs, helping them to their 1951 Stanley Cup victory, and making him the only man in hockey history to win a Memorial Cup, Allen Cup and Stanley Cup championship.
LW-Sergei Berezin (1996-2001)
Probably one of the most underappreciated Leafs forwards of the last 30 years, Sergei Berezin could only properly be described as "electrifying".
Drafted in the 10th round, 256th overall by the Leafs in the now infamously hit-or-miss 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Sergei had impressed scouts with his numbers in the Deutsche Elite League with the Cologne Sharks. With superhuman speed, a fast shot and a scorer's touch, he became a nightmare for other teams to defend.
In 353 games in the blue and white, Berezin amassed 126 goals, and 95 assists with only 34 penalty minutes over his 5 seasons with the Leafs. His most productive season was 1998-1999 where he lit the lamp 37 times. His game lacked any real depth, but for what he did, he did it well.
Though his numbers would never put him in the same league as Pavel Bure or Sergei Fedorov, Berezin proved to be one of the most exciting Leafs players to watch as he was able to immediately get the crowds on their feet with one of his rushes being the lone offensive flare provider as the "Who?" years of the Maple Leafs came to an end. Sadly, Berezin's role became superfluous with the signing of sniper-in-decline Alexander Mogilny and he was traded June 22, 2001 for another sniper-in-decline in Mikael Renberg.
RW-Bob Davidson ( 1934-1946)
A lifelong Toronto Maple Leaf, Bob Davidson won 2 cups, one of which he captained the team. In 491 career games, he tallied 94 goals and 160 assists and sits 39th on the TML all-time playoff points chart with 22.
Nicknamed "Rugged Robert", Davidson never shied away from physical play, amassing an impressive 388 career PIM's. He lead by example, but was as strong a presence in the dressing room as he was on the ice.
After retiring, Davidson happened into scouting while serving in various capacities in the Maple Leafs front office and had a knack for it. Largely credited for building the teams that dominated the NHL in the 1960's, including 3 consecutive wins from '61-'62 to'63-'64 as well as the last Maple Leafs Cup win in 1966-1967. To this day he is still regarded as one of the greatest scouts of all time.
D1-Allan Stanley (1958-1968)
Though not scouted by Bob Davidson, Allan Stanley was a member of the 4 Stanley Cup champion teams of the 1960's, and was a defensive anchor for the team. Scoring 46 goals and 193 assists for the Buds, he was the team MVP in 1965-1966 and currently sits behind only Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull, Tim Horton and Dave Ellett for the franchise lead in playoff points.
D2-Tomas Kaberle (1998-Present)
Drafted in the 8th Round, 204th Overall, Tomas Kaberle was a filler pick to say the least. An average defenseman from an average team in an average league, everything about him lacked flash.
He saw limited action in 1998-1999 but played in every game over the next 2 seasons after seeing his playing time increased after Bryan Berard's horrific eye injury. He has since become a rush specialist and is remarkably apt at leading the rush while still being defensively responsible, and is a power play and penalty kill quarterback. On top of his outstanding quality of play, is his outstanding quantity of play. He averages over 25 minutes of ice per game, and to this point in his career has 4 seasons where he did not miss a game and only one season since becoming a full-time fixture where he has played less than 70 games (69 in 2001-2002).
In 612 games, Tomas has collected 357 points, including an astonishing 7 OT goals and is a +67. To this point in the season, he is the lone bright spot on an abyssmal Leafs blue line and is currently only the 6th highest paid player on the team, behind 2 other defensemen in McCabe and Kubina. Ironcally, Kaberle assisted on most of the goals that got McCabe his lucrative contract.
Though his stock has been rising league wide since his All-Star appearance 2001-2002, he still remains a relative unknown league wide, and his name has only come up in trade talks once when the Leafs were negotiating for Chris Pronger. the deal fell through obviously, but what was surprising was that it wasn't his inclusion in the deal that was the sticking point, rather that of Carlo Collaicovo.
Despite his monstrous on-ice play, Kaberle is extremely shy and reserved and rarely gives interviews, preferring to to let his play do the talking and is always quick to shower praise on his teammate's instead of accepting praise for his own efforts.
G-Curtis Joseph (1998-2002)
Noone can argue that Cujo was nothing less than stellar for the Leafs. The Keswick, Ontario native spent 5 season with the blue and white, and in doing so, continually wowed the home team faithful.
Never being drafted, Joseph signed with the St. Louis Blues right out of the University of Wisconsin and quickly became a premier netminder in the NHL. He was signed as a free agent by the Leafs in 1998 to shore up the slipping play of Felix Potvin after 2 horrific seasons by The Cat.
Cujo played 321 games in the Leafs net, posting an impressive 161-112-37 record and added an impressive 19 shutouts, but what was even more impressive was his .908 save percentage, which set him apart as the top save percentage by a goalie in Leafs' history, edging out such famous alumni as Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Turk Broda and George Hainsworth. What was even more impressive is Joseph actually posted better numbers in the playoffs, where he also holds the franchise record with a save percentage of .921, also adding 8 shutouts over 60 games played. He also holds the franchise record for most career shots faced in the playoffs with 1695 over 60 games.
Unfortunately, in those 60 games, he could only muster 32 wins, and was no stranger to public criticism for letting games slip away, but much of the criticism was unfair as the oft porous Leafs defence routinely hung him out to dry. In a sad instance of history repeating itself, he was unceremoniously ousted from prominence in 2002 when the Maple Leafs signed Ed Belfour.
So there you have it, my first submission and I hope that anyone reading has enjoyed this little lesson in Leafs history, and now that I have completed it, I can now devote my full attention to the Leafs-Habs game I'm watching with the volume down.
Until next time, for the Bleacher Report, I'm Andrew Castaneda, reminding you "A second assist is just a dump in with high hopes"
With files from Wikipedia and www.goaliesarchives.com