How The Hell Do We Do This? The All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs Team
A lot of the writers' here on Bleacher Report have taken it upon themselves to accept the Open-Mic challenge and compose their favorite team's All-Time Rosters.
Ken Armer wrote about the Ducks, Greg Caggiano wrote about his favorite All-Time New York Rangers, Chris Bouthillier and Chris Hoeler took on the young franchises in Ottawa and Phoenix, and fledgling B.R. writer Anders Edling took on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
And me? Well...I'm dumb. My favorite team is Toronto. Needless to say, I'm screwed—our fans can't even agree on who to buy-out let alone an All-Time roster, and I'm the one brave enough to take this on?
I guess living a little never hurt anyone eh?
So here we go: BT's All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs Team According to Position, Impact, and Career.
Left Wing: Darryl Sittler—To start with, the man spent 11 (and a half) of his 15 NHL season in Toronto. Over his career, Sittler posted over 1100 points, 484 goals, and over 600 assists, while keeping his penalty minutes in check for the most part (In the OHL, he had a bit of a temper, while there were only three NHL seasons he was at or near 100 penalty minutes).
Sittler was also the man who took over captaining this team after Dave Keon left unceremoniously, and we all know about his 10-point game against the Boston Bruins.
What's more however, is that Sittler was willing to stand-up to Harold Ballard and his lunacy. Despite ripping the 'C' off of his sweater, Sittler knew the Captain had to be the line of communication between players' and management—something Ballard refused to acknowledge, treating Sittler and Lanny McDonald terribly until they were traded.
Center: Doug Gilmour—Now there may be a bit of outcry about this, but instead of just placing the top players in Leafs' history together, I wanted to try and match up their styles as well, and I believe the feisty Gilmour would go well with Sittler.
Although he only played seven seasons and one game with the Leafs, there hasn't been anyone who has endeared himself to fans in recent memory as much as Gilmour. In the early 90's Douggie was the heart and soul of the team, always willing to lay his body on the line. He also knew when to score the clutch goal as well, and he recorded some of his best statistical seasons wearing the Blue and White.
Right Wing: George Armstrong—How can you argue against the 'Chief'? By today's standards Armstrong's statistical numbers don't warrant a first line placement, but his in-your-face stlye and charisma certainly do.
Armstrong is the longest tenured of any Leafs player (21 seasons, 1187 games played) and is also the longest serving Captain (11 seasons). He also brought the Leafs their four most-recent Stanley Cups.
Left Wing: Frank Mahovlich—The 'Big M' is one of the most endearing figures in Maple Leafs history.
The son of Croatian immigrants and one of only nine Maple Leafs to have won a Calder Trophy, Mahovlich came to the Leafs and immediately started scoring, potting 20 goals in his first season.
In the years to come (including the Stanley Cup season of '61-'62, '63, and '64) Frank would find himself at the top, or close to it, on the Leafs roster in scoring, including leading the team in goals on numerous occasions.
Despite suffering through problems with depression, Mahovlich would always stand as one of the Leafs' best players until his trade following the '67 Stanley Cup—whether he was at odds with coach Punch Imlach or not.
Center: Mats Sundin—Ignore the retirement rumors for a second, as well as the Vancouver and New York rumors. Whatever happens from here on out, Mats will be known as one of the greatest Leafs of All-Time.
Although his (current) inability to lead the Leafs to their first Stanley Cup in 41 years will be seen as his biggest failing (Although he isn't the only Captain not to lead the Leafs to a cup in that time period), Mats has shattered offensive records for the Leafs, thrown a team full of lesser-lights on his back numerous times, and dealt, unblinkingly, with the rash Toronto media.
So here's a hats-off to the powerful Swede—Thanks for a great career Mats. It's pretty unfortunate though that he can't get the linemates he deserves until he's on one of these lists.
Right Wing: Charlie Conacher—Charlie was the power forward before Cam Neely decided to go and define it, making his nickname of the "Big Bomber" pretty fitting.
Playing on a line with Joe Primeau and Harvey Jackson, the "Kid-Line" took the NHL by storm, leading the Leafs to the Stanley Cup finals seven times in their tenure, but only winning it once.
During that time though, Conacher led the team in scoring five times, and the the league twice
He was also part of one of the greatest hockey families in history along with brothers Lionel and Roy—the Sutters can eat their hearts out.
Left Wing: Ace Bailey—Ace Bailey had one of the quickest transitions to the NHL of any Leafs player. In his very first season, Irvine Wallace Bailey scored 22 goals and gathered 10 assists to lead the NHL in scoring.
Bailey would be at or near the Leafs' scoring lead over the next few seasons, but would eventually have his career come to a crashing halt following a retaliatory hit from behind by the Bruins' Eddie Shore. Bailey was lucky to survive the hit, but he would never play hockey again.
Bailey is only the second Leaf to have his number permanently retired.
Center: Dave Keon—Unlike your typical third line player, Keon was one of the most gentlemanly of his era—but you've got to remember he's only on the third line of an 'All-Time' list.
Keon's success in the NHL was early in often. He began his career with six straight 20-goal seasons, and two Lady Byng trophies—the result of him taking one minor penalty in each of those two seasons ('61/62 and '62/63). He also is the only Leaf to ever win a Conn Smythe trophy.
Keon was also a great skater, with the ability to shut down the oppositions top lines, while killing penalties with great proficiency. All this culminated with a record eight shorthanded goals in 1970/71.
However, Keon may best be known for Harold Ballard blocking him from signing with other NHL teams. The last time that Keon became a free agent in the NHL, Ballard insisted that compensation be paid to the Leafs. The compensation was ludicrously high, and Keon wouldn't return to the NHL until the WHA's Hartford Whalers were adopted into the league in the late 70's.
Despite the grudge Keon carries towards the Leafs, he was, and always will be, one of their best players. It's a shame the organization treated him the way he did, but we may still one day see his number "honored" by the Leafs.
Right Wing: Babe Dye—Babe was a two-time Art Ross winner despite being one of the slowest skaters in the league at the time. For five consecutive seasons (1920/21-1924/25) Dye was either first or second in the NHL goals race.
Dye also held the record for goals in a season for the Maple Leafs/St. Pats with 38 in 30 games until it was broken by Frank Mahovolich over the course of a 70 game season in 1960/61.
Like so many of the players from that era however, Dye's career was wrecked by injury, as a broken leg ruined his career and his skill for scoring. Despite that however, Dye ended up finishing his career in Toronto, and was (at that point) the most dynamic goal scorer in the history of the young franchise.
Left Wing: Wendel Clark—Cap'n Crunch is synonymous with Doug Gilmour—it just seems like those two go together.
Like Yanic Perreault, Wendel has had three different stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unlike Yanic, all of Wendel's stints in Toronto have been memorable.
At first, Clark was the first wave of light coming in to sweep fans out of the darkness that was the Harold Ballard regime. Clark also led the Leafs to one of their most memorable playoff appearances of the 90's, where they faced off in the West final against Wayne Gretzky, Barry Melrose, and the L.A. Kings.
Clark would again lead the Leafs to the conference finals, but following their series against the Canucks (1993/94), Clark was traded for Mats Sundin.
The gritty veteran would return to the Leafs twice more, with more love from the fans being shown each time.
Center: Norm Ullman—Norm Ullman hit, he had style, and he scored—hell the man would fit in with today's NHL. Ullman was a model of consistency down the middle for every team he played for, as he posted 16 seasons of 20 or more goals, and a total of 1229 points (and eleven All-Star appearances) over his 20 season career.
Despite never winning a Cup during his career, or having a prolonged stay in Toronto, Ullman is one of the true greats of the NHL, and a man who deserves some recognition after spending time with two of the league's most storied franchises (Detroit and Toronto).
Right Wing: Lanny McDonald—Perhaps the only moustache in Leafs' history that can top Wendel Clark's was Lanny McDonald's.
McDonald was another victim of Harold Ballard, as to make a point to the Leafs' players of the time that no one was safe, Ballard orchestrated a deal that sent McDonald—a guy with four-straight 80+ point seasons and two seasons of 90 points in the past four years—to the Colorado Rockies.
Despite all of this, McDonald still lives on in the hearts of Leafs fans as one of their own.
Notable forwards omitted: Syl Apps, Joe Primeau, Harvey Jackson, Tie Domi.
DEFENSE (CLAP! CLAP! CLAP!) DEFENSE!!!
(No pairings for this, just the guys who should be on this team in no particular order).
King Clancy: Clancy may have been small, but he defined the words 'determination' and 'pepper-pot' (Ok....I'm not sure of the definition of "pepper-pot" but in the hockey sense he defined it).
Clancy was ferocious and versatile—at one point playing all six positions on the ice in one game (Goalies served their own penalties at that point in time, so you can probably put two and two together).
Clancy was traded away from the Ottawa Senators (a team with which he had won two Cups) 1930 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Clancy would eventually finish his career with Toronto after helping them capture a Stanley Cup.
Tim Horton: Aside from the coffee, Tim Horton is all about quality.
He was the kind of defender every team needs: Cool under pressure, a deft skater and puckhandler with an edge, but not reckless enough to take stupid penalties. He was also one of the strongest players in the game at the time, breaking ribs with his patented "bear hug" during fights.
In almost 20 years with the Leafs he captured four cups and appeared in seven All-Star games, and set the record for consecutive games played by a defenseman (until Karlis Skrastins came along that is).
Looking up and down the list of defensemen who have played for the Leafs, it's hard to find someone as imposing, or as talented, as Horton.
Broje Salming: Salming proved that European players could play in the NHL, as well as for its more respected franchises, and have an impact.
For a blonde-haired kid from Sweden, Salming immediately enraptured the fans in Toronto with his style, and he never looked back, creating an indelible imprint on the NHL—one that would allow players like Sundin and Peter Forsberg to follow in his footsteps.
For years, Salming was the best defenseman Toronto had, as well as one of the top d-men in the league. I'm pretty sure he runs an underwear (or clothing company—I could be wrong) company now. Go figure.
Hap Day: Hap Day started out as a forward, but soon switched to defense.
For the man who wore so many hats throughout his NHL career (Minor League Coach, Assistant GM, Referee), the most prestigious of those hats was the Captaincy of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Day was also one half of the most feared defensive pairings in the league at that point in time, pairing with King Clancy to shut down opponents offenses and winning a cup in 1932.
Red Kelly: For some of you historians out there, you'll know that the Leafs passed up the opportunity to have Kelly from the outset of his career in 1947. Instead, he went to the Red Wings where he won a Norris Trophy, a handful of Lady Byng trophies, and came within sniffing distance of a Hart Trophy.
Kelly was the whole package—a leader who could skate, hit, and score, and play forward when he needed to. After leading the Red Wings on a rampage of the league however (4 Cups and 8 Regular Season titles in 12 seasons), Kelly butted heads with Detroit management and was then convinced by Punch Imlach to come to Toronto—and play Center.
Well, Kelly did just that, transforming Frank Mahovolich into a dynamo and winning four more cups. And I've got him on this list as a defenseman. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.
Red Horner: Horner was one of the meanest men to step on the ice between 1930 and 1940. In only 490 games, Horner garnished 1262 penalty minutes—or 2.6 minors per game.
The big knock agaist Red is that he was a brute. Well every team needs a brute, and he did just that. Besides, with Clancy and Day on the team, there wasn't much room for Horner to make his mark offensively anyhow.
But for the sake of Red Horner, there's nothing wrong with a little added protection.
Notable Omissions: Larry Murphy, Allan Stanley.
Johnny Bower: After toiling in the minors for a few years with the New York Rangers, Bower found his home in Toronto—and what a home for the "China Wall".
Bower was the backbone of Toronto's three straight cups in the early '60s, and was one of the best goalies of his time—usually fighting with Terry Sawchuck for supremacy (although they would later team together in 1967 for the Leafs' most recent Stanley Cup), as the two even split the Vezina Trophy in 1965.
Bower was quick with the glove, quick to his own defense, and quick to a quote as he was one of the most colorful players in Toronto's history. As an example, when he retired as the oldest goalie in NHL history, he was asked his real age. Bower's response? "If you don't know by now, you never will".
Aside from that, I may just be biased—I met Bower once at a book signing and he's probably the nicest man in the world. Either way, he was pretty good for an old guy.
Turk Broda: If I had organized this section according to "starting" and "backup" then Broda would be starting, with Bower behind him. Instead, I just decided to name the two best goalies the Leafs have ever had—Broda being one of them.
Despite leaving the NHL to serve in World War II, Broda was still able to win two Vezina Trophies (1941, 1948) in his career, as well as five Stanley Cup championships with the Maple Leafs.
With a track record like that, it's hard to see another goalie to ever come along with the Leafs and do what Turk did—he seems to be simply outstanding.
Whether he's pushed back to history's dusty shelf or not however, all Leafs fans should keep a spot in their heart for Walter Edward Broda—he may be a few years removed from our time, but he certainly earned our respect.
So there's my list. To be honest, I found this truly difficult because the Leafs have a history that predates my grandparents, so the task of an 'All-Time Toronto Maple Leafs/St. Patricks Team" seemed arduous.
If you agree or disagree however, I'd love to hear why!
Bryan Thiel is Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile. You can also view his past work in his archives.
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