Toronto Maple Leafs: Are They the Career Killers of the NHL?
I have been a beloved fan of the Blue and White since I could walk, and there have been a lot of players that have come and gone in that time.
But has anyone ever thought to ask the question: Why?
I mean, don't get me wrong. Leafs fans are amongst the best fans in the world. But we analyze the team way too much. We are always the first to jump on the bandwagon, and the first to jump off.
I realized I did that when John Pohl came along. He played surprisingly well for the Leafs last year, and I liked him so much I even created the "I Love Pohl Fan Club" on Facebook.
But as soon as he failed to produce this year, I thought that he should be off the team or sent back to the minors (and to an extent, I was right to think that). Now I don't even find myself liking him anymore.
It just isn't fair. Its unfair to him, and unfair as a fan to do that. But its what Leaf fans do.
We put so much pressure on players that they buckle and can't perform to theire potential. Eventually, once we're done with them, no one wants them. Ex-Leafs are tainted, and wind up stuck playing in the minors or going to Europe before they give up and quit. Its like people think they got the Mad Cow or something.
It's just not fair, and if anyone is skeptical, just read this BRIEF list of players I thought of when writing this:
Remember this guy? I certainly do. The first year he played for the Leafs was the first year I started watching hockey.
That year he played really well and scored 34 goals with 40 assists in 78 games, helping propel the Leafs all the way to the Conference Finals. He was a hero in Leafland and everybody loved him for what he did. We still do.
But the next year he didn't play as well, "only" getting 35 points in 45 games. He was traded to Calgary for a sixth-round pick. He got five assists in eight games and was never the same. He signed with Dallas the next year, and after a slow start he left for Russia, to never be seen again.
When Drake was drafted, he was thought to be the top D-man of the Leafs defensive corps for years to come. When it came time to play with the big club in '92-93, he did not disappoint, notching 19 points in 41 games and playing a key part in the Leafs defense during the playoffs.
The next two years he was never the same, and was eventually traded to Pittsburgh in '94-95. After toiling around the NHL on-and-off for years he seemed to finally play to his potential in '03-04 for a god-awful team in the Penguins.
When the Trade Deadline came, the Leafs picked him up, and once again, he played awful. By the time the lockout ended no one wanted him, and he finished his career in Germany.
I was never really a fan of this guy, but he could produce. This guy was a 60-point-a-year player who played with consistency, that is, until he joined the Leafs in a trade with Boston in 1999.
As soon as he joined the Leafs, he started the year in a scoring slump. By the time he started to get points, he was already in the doghouse and never left it.
By the time the Leafs traded him in the 2000-2001 season, he was never the same. and never got his confidence back. After one-and-a-half years of dismal play with the Capitals, he went back to Russia to finish his career.
When this guy was signed in 1999 by Toronto, people didn't think much of it, because he wasn't a huge goal scorer for the Canadiens. But then he scored, while playing on a line with Mats Sundin, getting 56 points in his first year and instantly becoming a favourite in Toronto.
The next year, slowly but surely, we started to boo him and pick him apart. When he only got 32 points while playing all year with Mats, Toronto decided to let him go. He signed with Florida that off-season, but decided to not play for the Panthers, and instead opted to go back to Sweden to play out his career.
Probably my all-time favourite defenseman for the Leafs, solely on the fact that I ripped into this guy on a daily basis. Aki Berg, or the "Human Pylon" for short, went from being considered the next Nick Lidstrom to becoming the media's personal whipping boy, receiving harsh criticism whenever the team faltered. Between 2001 to 2006, I don't think any other player got criticized more.
The funny thing is, when he finally left the NHL in 2006, he quickly became a very popular player in Finland, and is now considered a top player there. Talk about irony.
With so many players that the Leafs have had over the years I couldn't fit them all in one article, so I decided to make this a two-part series. Look out for the second instalment in the next couple days.
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