Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 Most Iconic Players in Team History

Mark PareCorrespondent IISeptember 14, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 Most Iconic Players in Team History

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    Hockey season is right around the corner and for Leafs Nation, a time to look forward to a season full of promises and playoff opportunities.

    The term "our past shapes our future" is a generality and when it comes to the Leafs, our past, our years without a playoff spot, our years without a Stanley Cup are what shape these Leafs to what they are today, a vision of what Leafs management feel gives them the best shot at success.  It may not be a Stanley Cup but a playoff spot isn't out of the question.

    The success of the Leafs franchise has come from many different people but the most important ones are the ones on the ice, who bleed, skate and score for the logo on their chest and hope that it leads them to hockey immortality.

    Here are the 10 most iconic players in Leafs history.  Some produced team success and some led the team with charisma, skill, heart and tenacity that may (or have already) lead them to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    Note: Let me be the first to point out that this could easily be a list of best NHL players to come out of my hometown of Timmins, ON, considering a lot of Leaf greats from the Original Six era came from that city but only two from the area are highlighted in this slideshow...sorry Frank Mahovlich.

10. Tim Horton

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    Career Stats: 1,445 GP, 115 G, 403 A, 518 PTS

    Tim Horton may not have been the one to get on the scoresheet every night but the Cochrane, ON native showed toughness and grit while spending nearly two decades with the Leafs organization.

    Horton won four Stanley Cups with the Leafs, before being sent to the New York Rangers in 1970.  He played two seasons in Buffalo before he passed away in a tragic car accident on the QEW, going towards Buffalo after a game in Toronto.

    His No. 7 resides in the rafters of the Air Canada Centre, honoured, not retired, but always remembered, as he was when he was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

    Of course, if you need to keep a memento of his success, go buy a large double-double from a Tim Horton's restaurant, a coffee shop co-founded by Horton.

9. Red Kelly

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    Career Stats: 1,316 GP, 281 G, 542 A, 823 PTS

    Although he did not spend the majority of his career with the Leafs, Red Kelly is one of those hockey players that is recognized as iconic for the things he did for hockey and for his country.

    He is the only man to be a part of two of the nine recognized dynasties in NHL history and has won more Cups (eight) than any player that wasn't a Montreal Canadien in their career.

    He turned Frank Mahovlich, a 20-goal scorer into a 48-goal scorer in his first full year with the club in 1960-61.

    From 1962 to 1965, while a member of the Leafs, Kelly was also the York West Liberal MP.

    Kelly retired after the Leafs won the 1967 Stanley Cup and became the coach of the Los Angeles Kings, one of six teams that were added in the NHL for the 1967-68 season.  He lasted two seasons before spending four years behind the bench with each the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    His No. 4 was honoured by the Leafs in 2006 and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    He was ranked No. 22 on The Hockey News' top 100 greatest hockey players in 1998.  Here, he ranks No. 9.

8. Darryl Sittler

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    Career Stats: 1,096 GP, 484 G, 637 A, 1,121 PTS

    The fact that Darryl Sittler is so low on this list may make a lot of Leafs fans want my head.  For one thing, he ranks second on the franchise's all-time goals and points list and was one of the more loyal players to play the game.

    The one X-factor in all of this was Leafs management.

    Punch Imlach was hired as general manager in 1979 and he had his opinions of Sittler to be a captain with a lot of influence on the players in the dressing room and that he was the type of player that would undermine his authority as GM.

    When Sittler agreed to appear with Mike Palmateer on the TV show Showdown, it began a series of events that saw the eventual departure of the former Leafs captain.

    First, Imlach wanted to get an injunction so that Sittler and Palmateer couldn't appear on the show and said that he was open to offers for Sittler.

    The cost to waive Sittler's no-trade clause would have been $500,000, according to then-NHLPA executive director Alan Eagleson.

    Instead, Sittler's best friend Lanny McDonald was traded to Colorado.  Sittler ripped off his captain's C in response and from there and moving forward, the relationship was too strained for repair and Sittler was traded to Philadelphia in the middle of the 1981-82 season.

    Sittler will always be one of the more memorable Leafs of all time and he lands in at No. 8.

7. Dave Keon

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    Career Stats: 1,296 GP, 396 G, 590 A, 986 PTS

    Dave Keon is best known for his 15 seasons as a Leaf.  He was a part of the Leafs dynasty in the '60s and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when the Leafs won their last Stanley Cup.

    He was team captain after George Armstrong contemplated retirement but as with Sittler, the former Leaf captain came to blows with management when his play wasn't up to what they envisioned.

    This started a bitter feud between Keon and the Leafs that lasted for decades, as Keon refused any connection with the organization following the treatment he received in his final years in the Leafs organization.

    He would leave the NHL after the 1974-75 season and played in the WHA.  Eventually, Keon would return to the NHL, when the Hartford Whalers were brought over to the NHL while Keon was a member of them.

    He insisted that his number be retired if he were to ever come back, not honoured.  He came back anyway, in a ceremony in 2007, when the Leafs honoured the 1967 Stanley Cup-winning team.  For those of you keeping score, he has yet to have his No. 14 retired or honoured.

    The ovation he received that night is enough to put him on this list, the Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Stanley Cup champion comes in at No. 7.

6. George Armstrong

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    Career Stats: 1,188 GP, 296 G, 417 A, 713 PTS

    The last man to ever captain a Leafs team to a Stanley Cup, George Armstrong is noted as being the man to play the most games in Leafs history.

    He played his entire NHL career with the Leafs and was a true leader, despite not having the goal-scoring prowess that is seen with most captains.

    He was a seven-time NHL All-Star, won four Stanley Cups and has No. 10 in the rafters, honoured by the Leafs.  Most of you know that the Leafs have a new Armstrong, Colby Armstrong, who resembles the original in so many ways.  He doesn't score often but when he is on the ice, you notice him.

    That is why Colby wears No. 10.

    On George, he is a Hockey Hall of Famer and a current scout for the Leafs.

    "The Chief" will always be an icon in the Toronto area and comes in at No. 6.

5. Wendel Clark

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    Career Stats: 793 GP, 330 G, 234 A, 564 PTS

    Wendel Clark was the best combination of skill, tenacity, leadership and toughness that the Leafs arguably ever had.

    Clark captained the Leafs for three seasons, including the Cinderella 1992-93 season, that saw the Leafs come within a game of facing off with the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup.  Leaf fans (including myself) could blame Kerry Fraser all day for his mistake but in the end, Gretzky got the job done in Game 7.

    Clark continued to have success, scoring 46 goals in the following year, while constantly coming to blows with the enforcers of the NHL.

    Clark showed no fear and is one of the more beloved Leafs in history.

    No. 17 is honoured in the rafters and he was an instrumental part of the deal that brought over future captain Mats Sundin.

    Clark would return in the 1999-2000 season, after being benched in Chicago.  This would be Clark's final NHL days as he retired after the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs that season.

4. Doug Gilmour

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    Career Stats: 1,474 GP, 450 G, 964 A, 1,414 PTS

    Doug Gilmour is still one of the most recognized Leafs of the modern era.  He holds club records for his performance in the 1992-93 season, when he put up 95 assists and 127 points.  He also had six assists in a game during that season, another club record.

    Gilmour came to Toronto from Calgary in a 10-man trade, an NHL record, and flourished in his new city.

    He became the captain following Wendel Clark's trade in 1994 and was extremely popular.  The ceremony to honour his No. 93 is featured here, the most recent man to have his number honoured by the Leafs organization.

    Leafs Nation remembered when the passion returned and Gilmour played a large part in that.

3. Borje Salming

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    Career Stats: 1,148 GP, 150 G, 637 A, 787 PTS

    Borje Salming is one of the best defensemen to lace up a pair of skates for the Leafs.  If that statement doesn't ring true, then he is definitely the best defenseman to ever come out of Sweden.

    He broke barriers for European players, showing toughness and determination on a nightly basis.  He was a three-time NHL All-Star and was the first-ever Swedish-born player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    He holds multiple Leaf records and has his No. 21 hanging from the rafters.

    The way he opened up the gates for guys like Nik Lidstrom make Salming an icon in not only the Leafs organization, but the entire NHL.

2. Bill Barilko

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    Career Stats: 252 GP, 26 G, 36 A, 62 PTS

    The stats above do not reflect the kind of player Bill Barilko was.  His iconic story puts him at No. 2 on the list.

    The second Timmins, ON area resident on this list scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1951 and died in a plane crash four months later.

    He is only one of two players to have their number retired by the Leafs (the other being Ace Bailey's No. 6).  The No. 5 that Barilko wore hangs in the ACC as a constant reminder of his four Stanley Cups and the curse that came along with his death.

    The wreckage of the plane crash was found about 100 kilometres north of Cochrane, ON and those who know Northern Ontario will tell you that even now, not much goes north of Cochrane, unless you're flying to the James Bay coast.  So when were talking about those days, the plane was definitely off course.

    The wreckage was discovered by a helicopter pilot, almost 11 years later.

    In the time that the remains were missing, the Leafs went through a Stanley Cup drought but when found, the Leafs won the Cup that year.

    It is a moment in hockey history that any die-hard fan can remember talking about at one time or another and for that, Barilko comes in at No. 2.

1. Mats Sundin

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    Career Stats: 1,346 GP, 564 G, 785 A, 1,349 PTS

    Mats Sundin may not have had the most popular exit from Toronto, from a fan's perspective, but he is still the most iconic Leafs player in their history.

    The first Swedish-born captain, the first Swedish-born man to be drafted first overall and lead the Swedish national team to Olympic Gold in 2006.

    He holds multiple Leafs records including most goals and points.  His Leaf career spanned 13 seasons and he captained them to the conference final on two separate occasions.

    He was named to the NHL All-Star team nine times and is so iconic, you can't breathe the name Mats Sundin without thinking of something amazing he has done for this team.

    He didn't bring a Cup to Toronto, but his offensive skill, size and leadership qualities make him the most iconic Leaf ever.

    What do you think? (Be respectful, that's all I ask.)

    Mark Pare is a Featured Columnist. You can follow him on Twitter and don't forget to check out his sportswriter page.