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Toronto Maple Leafs: 12 Best Forwards in Club History

Joey WilsonCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs: 12 Best Forwards in Club History

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    Despite the terrible decade of the 1980's which was mucked up by the grumpy old SOB Harold Ballard, and the recent swoon of six straight seasons out of the playoffs (seven if you count the lockout), the Toronto Maple Leafs are still the second most storied franchise in NHL history.

    Given that Steven Stamkos has been re-signed and the dream of yet another potential franchise player for the Maple Leafs has died, let's take a look at the top 12 forwards in Maple Leafs history and remember some of the legends who have donned this great uniform.

12: Lanny Mcdonald

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    The man with the best mustache in NHL history makes the list because of the overall impact he had in his six-and-a-half seasons with the Maple Leafs. He scored a total of 219 goals and had a 240 assists with the club and topped that off with 37 points in 45 career playoff games.

    He also scored one of the more memorable goals in the post-expansion era for the Leafs as he won the 1978 quarter final series with a Game 7 overtime goal against the New York Islanders.

11: Wendel Clark

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    What can you say about Wendel Clark? Tough as nails, a violent wrist shot (maybe the best ever?), all heart...I could go on and on. Clark was perhaps the most beloved Leaf ever, and ironically he never won a Stanley Cup.

    From the moment the Kelvington Saskatchewan native was drafted No. 1 overall in the 1985 entry draft, he was a fan favourite of Leafs Nation. He played the first nine seasons of his career with the Leafs scoring 208 goals and adding 146 assists for 354 points in 463 games. However, due to his rough and tumble style of play he only averaged 51 games per year in those first nine seasons. 

    He was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in a trade for future Leafs captain Mats Sundin in maybe the most shocking trade in Leafs history. However he played just one season in Quebec and one in Long Island before returning to the Leafs for three more seasons. He moved around a bit after that and then finished off his career in blue and white in 2000. Anyone who watched Wendel enjoyed it thoroughly, and it's too bad he was so injured or he may have put up some staggering numbers.

10: Harvey Busher Jackson

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    Jackson, along with Charlie Conacher and Joe Primeau formed one of the greatest lines in NHL history, "The Kid Line." During their seven seasons together, the three combined for 836 points.

    Busher got his nickname when he was injured and the team's trainer, Tim Daly, asked him to carry sticks, as was the tradition. "I'm not here to carry sticks. I'm here to play hockey," replied Jackson. "You ain't nothing but a fresh busher!" Daly retorted. The name, which could be mistaken to mean he was from the bush leagues or the back woods, stuck for the rest of Jackson's life.

    A left wing, Jackson was a flashy, spectacular player who led the NHL in scoring in 1932-33 with 53 points on 28 goals and 25 assists, and he was among the top 10 scorers in the league five other times. On Nov. 20, 1934, he became the first NHL player to score four goals in one period.

    Jackson went to the New York Americans in a six-player trade in 1940 but, after just one season, he held out for more money and was sold to the Boston Bruins for $7,500 in January of 1942. He remained with the Bruins until his retirement in 1944.

    He played 636 regular season games, scoring 241 goals with 234 assists. In 71 playoff games, he had 18 goals and 12 assists and won the Stanley Cup with the Leafs in 1932. Jackson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971.

9: Doug Gilmour

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    What can you say about the man affectionately known as "Killer"?

    On Jan. 2, 1992, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher made a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames. Fletcher had served as Calgary's general manager during the late 1980s before coming to Toronto, and had been responsible for compiling their 1989 championship team. The Leafs acquired Gilmour along with defensemen Jamie Macoun and Ric Nattress, prospect Kent Manderville and goaltender Rick Wamsley in exchange for underachieving Gary Leeman, Russian defenseman Alexander Godynyuk, goaltender Jeff Reese, defenseman Michel Petit and enforcer Craig Berube. The 10-player deal was the largest in NHL history, and statistically speaking, one of the most lopsided. Calgary hockey fans have never forgiven Doug Risebrough for this one.

    Maple Leafs fans did not have wait long for the Gilmour acquisition to pay huge dividends, as the gritty forward produced big-time numbers for the remainder of the 1991–92 season. The 1992–93 regular season, Gilmour's first full season in Toronto, saw the feisty superstar score a franchise-record 127 points, which made Gilmour  the runner-up for the Hart Trophy as regular-season MVP. He was awarded the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, the first major NHL award that a Maple Leaf player had won since 1967.

    During the 1992-93 playoffs, Gilmour was the offensive and defensive catalyst as the Leafs eliminated the powerful Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues, both in seven-game series. The signature goal of Gilmour's career was scored during the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues, in the second sudden death overtime period. Gilmour found himself behind the net with possession of the puck and while deking right, left and right again, stuffed the puck past a sprawling Curtis Joseph (whom would later become a popular Leafs player from 1998-2002) to end Game 1 of the Norris Division Finals.

    Even though Gilmour only played five seasons with the Leafs and never won a cup there, he remains arguably the most popular player ever to don the blue and white. For those of us that had the pleasure of watching him play, he was a truly special player who displayed an immeasurable amount of heart and grit. What a player he was.

8: George Armstrong

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    George Armstrong was never supposed to last long in the National Hockey League. Critics said he was a slow, clumsy skater who didn't possess a great shot. Yet somehow he overachieved. He played in 21 NHL seasons, all with the Leafs, and recorded 296 goals and 713 points in almost 1,200 games. He is remembered as one of the all-time great Leaf captains and is a member of the National Hockey League Hall of Fame.

    George, universally known as Chief because of his proud native heritage on his mother's side, was a junior and senior hockey star in Toronto in the late 1940s. He was able to use his size to dominate these two levels of hockey, but many believed he couldn't make the jump to the NHL because of his poor skating and puck skills. But Leafs' boss Conn Smythe always believed in Armstrong and gave him every opportunity to make the Leafs. After two years of apprenticing in the American Hockey League, Armstrong made the Leafs full time in the 1952-53 season.

    Armstrong was able to adjust to the NHL game and prove his critics wrong. He became a very reliable two-way player. He was always dependable in his own zone and patrolled his wing with great efficiency, and there are few players who could work the walls and corners with the effectiveness of Armstrong. Offensively he contributed steady though never mind boggling statistics, but was always dangerous when he controlled the puck close to the net. He was the team jester off the ice, but deadly serious on it, both in games and in practice.

    Armstrong became the Leafs captain in 1957, and in 1962 he led the Leafs to their first of three straight Stanley Cup Championships. He also was one of the key cogs in the Leafs last and very surprising win of the 1967 Stanley Cup, and he retired after that season. However General Manager Punch Imlach refused to accept his retirement and brought him back the following season, after which he would try and retire a second time. He left the door open for a return as he wanted to help in any way possible and of course Leafs management was more than willing. He finally retired for good in 1971.

7: Mats Sundin

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    Sundin was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques with the first overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, becoming the first European-born player drafted first overall in NHL history. The Maple Leafs acquired Sundin in a trade on June 28, 1994 that sent beloved Maple Leafs legend Wendel Clark to Quebec.

    Sundin enjoyed huge success as a member of the Leafs. In just one year he rose to stardom and he won the honor of being named the team's captain, the first foreign captain in the history of the Maple Leafs. Sundin led the Leafs in scoring for 12 of his 13 seasons as a Leaf, and after breaking Darryl Sittler's team record for all-time goals scored in a Leaf sweater, Sundin took sole possession of the club's all-time lead for points scored with 987.

    Sundin's quiet and reserved nature and easy skating ability meant he was never fully appreciated by the fans in Toronto, and ironically, since he left the Leafs to sign with Vancouver in 2008 the Leafs have sorely lacked a true No. 1 centre. Sundin will surely be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the coming years.

6: Charlie Conacher

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    Charlie Conacher was big and strong, with a shot that was feared by goaltenders everywhere in the NHL. In fact, once after being hit in the behind by a Conacher shot, King Clancy said, "It felt like somebody had turned a blow torch on me. I couldn't sit down for a week."

    Conacher played 12 seasons in the NHL, nine of which were spent in Toronto with the Maple Leafs, where he scored 225 goals and led the league in goals scored five times in a span of 6 years. He was a five-time All Star and two time Art Ross winner is considered one of the greatest right wingers of all time. He was also a member of the famous Kid Line with Busher Jackson and Joe Primeau.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1961, but tragically died six years later from cancer.


5: Darryl Sittler

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    Darryl Sittler was picked eighth overall in the 1970 Entry Draft by the Maple Leafs and was a bit slow to find his stride. In his third season he exploded with a 29 goal, 77 point 1972-73 campaign and his career took off from there.

    By the beginning of the 1975-76 season, the hard working centerman was given the great honor of being named captain, replacing the legendary Dave Keon who jumped to the now defunct World Hockey Association.

    After being put in the leadership role that captaincy brings, Darryl took his game to the next level, tallying 41 goals and 59 assists to become the first Maple Leafs player in history to top the 100 point mark in one season.

    However, Darryl may be most famous for his epic single game performance on the night of Feb. 7, 1976. That was the night that he scored six goals and set up four others to set the unthinkable record of 10 points in a single game. To this very day that record stands, and given that such greats as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux weren't able to touch it, it stands all the more impressive.

    Sittler was able to produce more remarkable feats in the playoffs. On April 22, 1976, Sittler tied Newsy Lalonde and Maurice Richard's playoff record with five goals in a single playoff game. Reggie Leach and Mario Lemieux would later equal the mark, but no one bettered it.

    In almost 12 seasons with the Leafs before he was unceremoniously traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, Sittler tallied 389 goals and 527 assists for 916 points, which up until Mats Sundin bettered, it was a Leafs record.



4: Frank Mahovlich

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    Big. Highly-skilled. Classy. All commonly used words to describe Frank Mahovlich. The man known as "the Big M" Mahovlich was touted as a superstar before he ever made it to the NHL. In his first full season in the NHL in 1957-58 he had a very solid year with flashes of brilliance, and his 20 goals and 36 points were enough to earn him the Calder Trophy as top rookie, beating out another young hotshot and future Hall of Famer Bobby Hull.

    In the 1960–61 season, Leafs coach Punch Imlach put Mahovlich on a line with Red Kelly and Bob Nevin. The three had great chemistry right from the get-go and were the team's top three scorers that year, led by Mahovlich's 48 goals—a Leaf record that would stand for 21 years. The following season, the Leafs won the Stanley Cup, and repeated as champions in 1963 and 1964. Mahovlich led the team in goals scored in all three seasons.

    Despite his brilliance, Mahovlich had a rocky relationship with Imlach as well as the hometown fans, who would regularly boo their superstar as expectations became unreasonable. His relationship with Imlach became so strained that in 1962 in the midst of contract negotiations during training camp, he walked out on the team citing a low ball offer. All of this tension eventually led to Mahovlich suffering from much publicized bouts of depression.

    Finally on March 3, 1968, in a blockbuster trade, Mahovlich was sent to the Detroit Red Wings with Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to Carl Brewer for Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Doug Barrie.

    The Big M played parts of 12 seasons with the Leafs, finishing with 296 goals and 301 assists for 597 points.

3: Syl Apps

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    Perhaps never has a finer man played in the NHL than Syl Apps.

    As one of the greatest captains in Maple Leafs history, Syl Apps was the star of the 1940s dynasty that captured three Stanley Cups. Apps was one of the more skilled players to play the game during his time, and in fact, he was called “Nijinsky of the Ice,” a comparison to the great Russian ballet dancer Naslav Nijinsky due to his graceful skating abilities and style.

    Apps joined the Leafs in 1936-37. He captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie as he led the Leafs in scoring. He finished second overall in the NHL, just one point behind Sweeney Schriner. Apps’ 29 assists led the entire league.

    He played seven seasons with the Leafs before enlisting in the Canadian Army in 1942. He also played three years after his return from World War II, retiring after the 1947-48 season. In his final regular season game he scored a hat trick to give him a career total of 201 goals in an era when 200 goals was looked upon as highly as 500 goals is in today's game. He posted career-highs in both goals and points and was a finalist for both the Hart and Lady Byng Trophies. That year in the playoffs he led the defending Stanley Cup champions to a rare repeat victory.

    1941-42 was a special season for Apps and for the Leafs. Apps tied Gordie Drillon for the team lead in scoring with 41 points, but if he had not missed 10 games due to injury he likely could have challenged the New York Rangers Bryan Hextall for the NHL scoring championship. Apps did earn the Lady Byng trophy as he turned in one of the rarest of all hockey feats—a penalty free season.

    But that season was memorable for the post season dramatics. The Leafs had advanced to the Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings. For the first three games the Leafs looked overmatched as the Wings took a commanding three games to none lead in the series. Apps, who was held pointless in those first three contests, engineered the greatest comeback in Stanley Cup history. Apps scored seven points, including three goals, as the Leafs eliminated the 3-0 deficit and amazingly captured Lord Stanley's Cup in Game 7!





2: Teeder Kennedy

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    Known as Teeder, a nickname that was given to him when he was a child due to the lack of ability for people to pronounce his name, Theodore,  Kennedy was the ultimate Leaf. He was a very weak skater, but he made up for it with his incredible competitiveness, an attribute that would make him arguably the greatest leader in franchise history, and maybe in hockey history. He was a fearless warrior on the ice and never backed down from a challenge. He could shoot, pass and stick handle with the best of them, yet was a proud defensive player and a superior faceoff specialist.

    Kennedy's career started for the Leafs in the 1943-1944 season, and the following season he led the Leafs to an upset of the heavily favoured Montreal Canadiens to capture his first of five Stanley Cups with the Leafs, at one point winning three in a row and four in five seasons. In 1949 after the retirement of Syl Apps, Kennedy became the youngest Leafs captain ever at just 22 years of age.

    Kennedy finished his career with  231 goals and 329 assists in 696 games, a career spent entirely with Toronto between 1943 and 1957.

1: Dave Keon

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    Dave Keon is widely revered as one of the finest two-way centers the NHL has ever seen. At 5'9" and 165 pounds Keon was hardly an imposing figure, but he was tough in his own right and had a knack for shutting down the opposition's best players.

    Keon produced 365 goals and 858 points in 1,062 games with the blue and white, and was the team’s career leader in points for 26 years until passed by Mats Sundin in 2008.

    Keon was the straw that stirred the drink on the Leafs teams that won four Cups in the 1960s. He was the NHL’s rookie of the year in ’61, the Lady Byng trophy winner in 1962 and ’63 and the Conn Smthe trophy as playoff MVP in 1967, the last time Toronto won the Cup.

    Shortly after the 1967 championship, the Leafs headed into a transition period. The team aged and the decline began, and a new man rose to power in Toronto in 1971—Harold Ballard.

    Ballard's clashes with players, coaches, media—pretty much everybody and anybody—are as legendary as they are infamous. Perhaps no player's battle with Ballard went as deep and long lasting as Keon's.

    Keon and Ballard waged war for years and in fact, once he retired he refused to take part in any Maple Leafs functions. New Leaf regimes, and in particular Cliff Fletcher attempted to repair the wounds that dug so deep, but unfortunately, Keon has only shown a mild willingness to forgive.

    Anyone who had the pleasure of watching this fabulous talent play hopes that one day Keon can return to Toronto and be properly thanked by the organization and its fans in a big-time ceremony, as would be the minimum requirement for a man that I consider the greatest Maple Leafs forward of all time, and arguably the greatest Leaf ever.

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