Who would you pick to fill the starting lineup for your favorite team if you could choose from any player that ever played for them?
Better yet, who would you pick for every franchise?
Welcome to my new life goal: assemble a historically-sensitive and statistically-sound list of the the best possible starting line-up for every franchise in the NHL.
The method is simple; it consists of two mutually reinforcing parts.
Firstly, if you were to assemble the best line-up possible, you would want guys that are the most talented. That's a given.
But, you can’t put Bobby Orr on the Chicago Blackhawks’ dream-team or Wayne Gretzky on St. Louis.
This would be absurd, which leads us to the second part: the chosen player must have made a positive contribution to the franchise.
So, the players that will make the cut will be both talented and have had the biggest positive impact on their respective teams.
So, here we go, let’s begin this odyssey with a franchise that’s best days are in black-and-white and just so happens to be my favorite team.
The smooth skating, goal-hungry, beast-of-a-man known as the "Big M" delighted the Leafs faithful in the hallowed Maple Leaf Gardens for many years with deft stick-handling, a canon of a shot, and by barreling down the left wing.
He effortlessly cut towards the net, undeterred by defenders like a freight-train firmly rooted in its tracks.
Mahovlich won the Calder Trophy in his inaugral season with the Leafs in 1957 and would go on to lead them to Stanley Cups in 62, 63, 64, and again in 1967.
These were the most productive years for the Leafs franchise and the "Big M" was their most productive player.
Although he had a rocky relationship with Leaf bench boss, Punch Imlach, and suffered through publicly acknowledged bouts of depression and anxiety during his stay that left some fans questioning his mettle, the Big M should hold a special place in any true leaf fan’s heart.
Please put your rocks, tomatoes, and nooses made out of Swedish flags away.
I know, I know. This was a tough decision.
Darryl Sittler was a God in Toronto during the 70s scoring over 30 goals eight times, eclipsing 100 points twice, and treating the hockey world to one of the greatest games in NHL history by tallying 10 points (six goals, four assists) on February 7, 1976.
And, yes, Dave Keon, was a great captain and a two-way force to be reckoned with.
Alongside the afforemention Frank Mahovlich, Keon was the biggest reason the Leafs won four cups in the 60s.
All that being said, Mats Sundin is the Leafs leader in goals and points and he did it all along the way with nobody on his wing.
Seriously, nobody. Two words: Jonas Hoglund.
A Jonas brother or Michael Jordan would have been more effective on Sundin’s wing.
Hoglund had the skating ability of Dave Andreychuk and the scoring touch of Tie Domi.
And somehow, in the ’99-’00 season, Sundin was able to bank 29 goals off of Hoglund.
Do you know how many goals Hoglund had the year before with the Montreal Canadiens?
And guess how many more highlight reel goals Hoglund added to his NHL stat sheet after he left the cozy wing of Mats Sundin? Zero
No one wanted him, he packed his crap up and went back to Sweden to play out his remaining years.
Yeah, Sundin had Mogilny on his wing for a brief stint when his 80-year-old, war veteran hip didn’t keep him out of the lineup.
But, other than that, he had no one yet he was one of the most productive players in the entire NHL during his tenure with the leafs.
In fact, only two other players had more points than him during this time—Joe Sakic and Jaromir Jagr.
Sundin was a great captain, consummate point producer, leading scorer in Leafs history, and 25th leading scorer in NHL history.
He's a clear choice.
Sure, Ron Ellis was a steady and consistent presence on the right wing for many years and Rick Vaive was the first Leaf to tally 50 goals in a season and did it three straight times in the early 80s.
But, Jonas Hoglund could have scored 50 in the 80s and neither of these players had the talent or positive impact of Charlie Conacher.
Talent-wise, Conacher was a superstar when he played in the NHL.
Rick Vaive was not.
But, let the numbers do the talking.
Conacher scored 200 goals for the Leafs in 324 games.
If you do the math on that, he would have averaged 50.6 goals in an 82 game season.
I will repeat that again. During his entire career with the Leafs he would have averaged 50 goals a season.
And he didn’t play during the 80s when scoreboards resembled NFL games.
Conacher also led the league in scoring twice, was in the top five five times, won a Stanley Cup with the Leafs and brought them to the Finals six times.
His talent and positive impact on the franchise is unparalleled by any right winger in Toronto Maple Leaf history.
Even though he played ages ago and the memory of his impact has long since faded, once you break down the numbers, it’s an easy choice.
This Hall of Fame defenseman played all but one of his 17 NHL seasons with the blue and white.
He is fourth all-time in leaf scoring and had 1292 penalty minutes along the way.
Salming was a dream with the puck and made a great first pass, but he was also a formidable presence in his own end.
In the always eloquent words of Bobby Clarke, “He was tough."
He was also voted on to the NHL First All-Star Team once and the NHL Second All-Star Team on five occasions.
Twice he was runner-up in the voting for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.
His inclusion in this list was the easiest decision.
To many, Tim Horton conjures up images of cheap coffee, mediocre sandwiches, and Canadiana.
To others, Tim Horton brings up images of one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game.
He confidently rushing the puck and hammering shots from the blue line with such power that Jacques Plant claimed they were “the toughest in the league."
And he was even better in his own end.
His physical strength and calm intelligence helped the Punch Imlach-led, defense first teams of the 60s win four Stanley Cups.
He was a beast on the back-end and wore down the opposition night in and night out.
Gordie Howe called him “hockey’s strongest man” and Canadiens tough guy John Ferguson once said he was “the hardest hitter he ever came up against."
And he was only 5’10″, 180 pounds.
Heart of a champion, a jaw made of granite, veins filled with ice-water, and a slap-shot that soaked jocks with urine around the league: Tim Horton, a starter on almost any team.
The “China Wall” back-stopped the Leafs to Stanley Cups in 62, 63, and 64 and shared the duties with the equally as old Terry Sawchuk in 1967.
He won the Vezina twice, which, at the time, was awarded for best GAA during the season and was a First-Team All-Star in 1961.
All that being said, this was still a tough choice.
Walter “Turk” Broda has almost identical stats and an extra Stanley Cup.
And this may sound crazy, but Curtis Joseph also deserves mention.
Granted, he won zero Stanley Cups, but he played on a team that had no business even making the playoffs let alone the conference finals twice.
And he was on one of 30 teams, not one of six.
For my money, he put in some of the most awe- inspiring, "how the hell did he do that" performances that I have ever seen.
Nevertheless, Cujo never won a Stanley Cup and, although, Broda matches Bower’s positive contributions to the franchise, he never had the lasting emotional effect on the Leafs nation like the man affectionately known as the “China Wall."