With the Toronto Maple Leafs in 26th place in the NHL and their 2011 first-round draft pick (currently fifth overall) heading to the Boston Bruins, you would be forgiven for thinking its all doom and gloom for the NHL’s second-most successful franchise.
This season’s Maple Leafs are one of the youngest sides in the NHL which leads many Leafs fans hoping that the current crop of youngsters can mould together in the Leafs fourteenth Stanley Cup parade, something which hasn’t been seen in the streets of Toronto since 1967.
But while the Maple Leafs are in rebuild mode, the process is slow and painful, however bright the future may be. With this in mind let’s take a stroll down memory lane in the first of six articles designed to summarise the rise and fall of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the hockey hub of North America.
It is inevitable that Maple Leafs fans should loathe their Original Six rivals in Montreal, Boston, New York, Detroit and Chicago. But it is really thanks to the New York Rangers that the Toronto Maple Leafs became the iconic hockey symbol they are today.
When Conn Smythe, after assembling a New York Rangers team that would win Lord Stanley’s Cup in just its second season was dismissed by Rangers founder Colonel John Hammond, he was determined to have his revenge. Toronto born and bred, he bought the struggling Toronto St. Patrick's franchise with the aid of three Toronto-based businessmen and renamed them the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Smythe had already proved that he had a unique coaching and scouting ability during his time in amateur hockey and he put this knowledge to good stead.
In signing great players such as Lorne Chabot in goal, outwitting Bruins General Manager Art Ross into overpaying for over the hill veteran Bill Carson and swapping over-rated American prospect Myles Lane for underrated future career Maple Leaf Andy Blair, Smythe set the precedent for another 11 Stanley Cups, two which had been won under earlier ownerships.
Smythe also set up a youth development system that was unrivaled in hockey until the advent of the NHL Entry Draft ended the ability of teams to develop their own star players.
Smythe had the nucleus of a star team but he still needed that final piece to put the team over the top.
Many blockbuster trades have been completed over the decades of the NHL’s existence, none probably bigger than the dealing of Wayne Gretzky by the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, which eventually led to the Kings appearing in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals.
Current Leafs captain Dion Phanuef arrived in Toronto via a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames on the 31st of January 2010 and can be considered a beneficiary of the blockbuster trade, which was initiated by Smythe's capture of King Clancy.
58 years before the much-publicised Gretzky trade Conn Smythe made probably the first-ever legitimate blockbuster trade, sending $35,000 and highly-rated players Art Smith and Eric Pettinger to Ottawa in return for superstar defenseman King Clancy. For 1930, on the cusp of the Great Depression, this price was exorbitant.
At the end of the 1930-1931 season, where the Leafs lost the Stanley Cup finals to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Maple Leaf’s brand new arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, was nearly complete and when it was finally completed, Conn Smythe’s Toronto Maple Leafs had the final piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle.
They had the star player, the youth, the veterans and the modern building. They were ready to plan a Stanley Cup parade and give Smythe his revenge.
Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs and Head Coach Art Duncan, it didn’t go to plan initially. So when the Maple Leafs managed just two points from a possible ten following their move to Maple Leaf Gardens, Smythe fired Duncan and replaced him with Dick Irvin, who had coached the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup over the Leafs the season before.
Smythe had finally found the perfect compliment for his team and his revenge.
At the conclusion of the regular season and the playoffs, Conn Smythe and the Toronto Maple Leafs were Stanley Cup champions, sweeping the New York Rangers in the final. Smythe had his revenge and the Maple Leafs were to go on to win a further ten Stanley Cups over the next 35 years.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are undeniably one of the most most storied franchises in the NHL. Leafs fans can dream that just maybe, the club is on the way to a fourteenth Stanley Cup.
It won't be this season and it won't be next season, but maybe, sometime in the not too distant future, they will be planning a parade in the streets of Leafs Nation once more...