Toronto Maple Leafs: The Franchise's Biggest 'Glue Guys' of All Time
Over the past few decades, the Toronto Maple Leafs organization has tasted both success and bitter disappointment. While the years came and went, players got traded and/or retired, many players are still fondly remembered—be it for their skillful plays or colourful antics both on and off the ice.
This article remembers some of the franchise "glue" players who have come and gone from this storied franchise. Glue is a substance that sticks or bonds items together, an adhesive so to speak. For the purposes of this article, in order to be considered a "glue" player, that player must embody leadership, skill and possess a unifying demeanor that unites a team, be it through words, action or a combination of the two.
Here we present seven of those players.
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Defenceman Borje Salming played with the Leafs from 1973–89 and was one of the first European players to come play in the NHL. He would have been one of the first European captains had he not declined the offer after Darryl Sittler vacated his captaincy.
He endured many taunts and insults at a time when Europeans were considered soft, lacking toughness and unable to play in the league. He showed these critics wrong by amassing 768 points during his 16-year tenure.
His famous scar was a result of taking a skate blade to the face, requiring over 200 stitches to fix.
Johnny Bower is a much beloved symbol of the franchise and the oldest living alumni. Having played goalie for the team between 1958–70, he led the team to four Stanley Cup championships.
According to the The Top 100 NHL players of All-Time, he is listed as 87th.
He makes this list not only as an active player, but as a retired player as well. He is a historical "glue" as well, since he links many generations of hockey fans together. He represents the successful years of the franchise, is a great ambassador of the game and much loved by fans and players young and old.
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Doug Gilmour was a centerman with the Leafs from 1991–97 with a very short stint in 2003. Nicknamed "Killer," he was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame this past year.
Gilmour was a scrappy, hard-hitting player with heart. He didn't let his size hinder his game, and wasn't afraid to dig out the puck from the corner.
He was able to motivate and elevate the level of play of his teammates and is a man you would want on the ice if down by a goal with 20 seconds left on the clock.
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Seen as a bright light in what was perhaps one of the darkest periods in Leafs franchise history, Darryl Sittler brought skill, conviction and outrage to the franchise. He played as centre from 1970–82 and was the first Leaf to score 100 points in a season.
Not only was he a very talented player, but he also wasn't afraid to toe the line and voice his frustrations with Harold Ballard and coach Punch Imlach. He was a strong leader, not afraid to support his teammates both on and off the ice.
He once famously cut out the the "C" from his sweater in 1979 to protest some of the absurdities of the management, such as getting rid Lanny McDonald.
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Frank Mahovlich was one of the classiest players for the Leafs franchise. Playing as a left winger between 1957–68, he was known as a goal scorer, right from the beginning, and came close to tying Maurice Maurice Richard's 50-goal season.
When faced with adversity, he played through it, even though he suffered mentally for it. During his tenure with the Leafs, he suffered from depression as well as a nervous breakdown.
While respected by fans most of the time, they always wanted more out of him and weren't always fair in their expectations of him.
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Wendel Clark was a rock 'em, sock 'em type of captain and had multiple stints with the Leafs, including 1991–94, 85-94, 96-98 and 2000. His hard-hitting style of play may have prematurely shortened his career, but teammates and fans loved it.
Not only was he tough, he also scored 367 goals and 266 assists over the course of his career. If you look around the arena, to this day, you will see many fans proudly wearing their Clark uniforms.
Due to his popularity, his being traded in 1994 was largely seen as unfavourable, even though it landed Toronto its latest "glue" player, Mats Sundin.
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Mats Sundin wasn't exactly welcomed to Toronto with open arms. He arrived in 1994 as part of a trade that sent fan favourite Wendel Clark to Quebec. His career with the Leafs lasted until 2008, and was much loved by players and fans alike.
Many experts agree that management never really gave him much to work with in terms of a dominant winger. Regardless, he was the Leafs' go-to player and with him on the ice, anything was possible. His size and skill were utilized on special teams and during overtime.
I can remember countless times, the Leafs being down a goal in the third period or in overtime, and Sundin either scoring in the dying seconds or passing the puck to someone through a maze of legs just in time to score.
Toronto fans often criticized Mats Sundin for leaving. However, most of that blame can be put on management unwilling to sign him or give him the salary he deserved.
One can see the love he has for the organization, and he will be a great ambassador for the franchise in the years to come.
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So this wraps up the list of Toronto's biggest 'glue guys' of all time. With so many strong leaders and skilled players in this franchise, this list may have some glaring omissions. I am the first to admit an age bias here in terms of leaving out some of the older-generation of players.
When trying to judge heart and skill, and it is difficult when you can't see and observe the importance of a player first-hand.
However, this presents an opportunity for you the reader to comment on who you think should have made the list and why. For you the reader, what is your opinion on players like Tomas Kaberle and Curtis Joseph not being on this list?
Also, who do you think has the potential to be future "glue" players? Perhaps some of the players responsible for the Leafs' current success, or the youth movement that I spoke about in the article: 10 Reasons Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Are Poised for a Breakout Year ?
Until next time, sports fans....