The NHL released its list of the Greatest 100 players of all time. The list spanned several eras, from Howie Morenz, to Maurice Richard to Gordie Howe to Jean Belliveau to Bobby Hull to Bobby Orr to Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby. It was an amazing list and it was fantastic the NHL could bring all those still alive together in one place to honour all of them.
In that listing, 25 players were former Maple Leafs. Some only had brief stints with the team, others are synonymous with the blue and white.
Lets take a brief look at these 25 men and their contributions not only to the game but with the Leafs. Its provides a good reminder of the history of the team and the privilege we have of watching this team and seeing all these great players that have passed through the organization.
Syl Apps – Apps is considered by some to be the greatest Leaf ever. He had 432 points in 423 games in a career somewhat shortened due to his military service in WWII. He captained the Leafs for 6 seasons winning 3 cups in the process. He won a Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year and won a Lady Byng for most Gentlemanly player.
Andy Bathgate – The longtime Ranger and Hall of Famer was only a Leaf for 70 games. He won his only Cup in 1964 with the Leafs and had 63 points With the team. Apparently there was conflict between him and coach Punch Imlach which led to him being traded to the Red Wings after just 1 year with Toronto. In his career he had 973 points and won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1958, with New York.
Max Bentley – Bentley may be more well known for his career with the Blackhawks which included a Hart Trophy and a Lady Byng award. But, he made his greatest achievements as a Leaf, winning 3 Stanley Cups in Toronto. He was acquired from Chicago is arguably one of the biggest Leaf trades in their 100 year history as 5 players moved to Chicago for Bentley. Max notched 256 points in 6 seasons with Toronto.
Johnny Bower – The living legend, Bower didn’t become a full-time NHLer until age 33 when he joined the Leafs after spending most his career as a minor leaguer in the Rangers system. He played 11 season with Toronto, winning 4 Stanley Cups in his time and took home 2 Vezina Trophies as League’s top goaltender. Bower is probably one of the most popular Leafs ever to this day.
Turk Broda – Broda may be the greatest Leaf goalie of all time. In 13 seasons, all with Toronto, Broda won 6 Cups and appeared in 3 other cup finals. He won 2 Vezina Trophies in his time and perhaps could have accomplished more as he left for 2 and a half years to serve in the military for WWII. He was honoured as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1967.
King Clancy – King was a King of defenceman back in 1920s and 30s. A long time member of the Ottawa Senators, Clancy was eventually traded/sold to the Leafs where he played 6 seasons. He won one cup and appeared in 3 other finals as a Leaf. The King Clancy Award goes to the recipient that best displays the qualities of leadership both on and off the ice.
Charlie Conacher – Conacher is most known for his time on the kid line with Joe Primeau and Busher Jackson back in the 1930s with the Leafs. He played 7 full seasons with Toronto winning 1 Stanley Cup. He scored 334 points with the Leafs. The Charlie Conacher award for humanitarian work was named after him and was awarded from 1968 to 1984.
Ron Francis – The great Hartford Whaler, Ron ‘Franchise’, finished his career as a Leaf playing 12 games in the 2004 season, and 12 more in the playoffs. The Hall of Famer won 2 cups with the Penguins and appeared in one other final with the Carolina Hurricanes. Currently, Francis serves as the Canes GM. Francis won 3 Lady Byngs, a Selke Trophy for best defensive forward and a King Clancy Award. He scored 1798 points, averaging more than a point per game in his career.
Grant Fuhr – The best ‘Money’ goalie in the game in the 80s, Fuhr played one and a half seasons with Toronto from 1991 to 1993. Fuhr was one of GM Cliff Fletcher’s first acquisitions as he came over in a big trade that included Glenn Anderson and Vince Damphousee. He was then traded to Buffalo as part of another big trade that brought the Leafs Dave Andreychuk. Fuhr was part of 5 Cup champions with the Oilers in the 80s and had a Vezina Trophy and a Jennings award to his credit.
Mike Gartner – The speedy Gartner played roughly 2 seasons with the Leafs scoring 35 goals in the 1995-96 season. Gartner in total had 17 seasons with at least 30 goals and scored 708 in his career. He was widely considered one of the fastest players in the NHL in the 80s and early 90s. Though he never won a cup, he is a deserving member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He missed his chance at a cup in 1994 after he was traded away from the eventual winners, the Rangers. He did help the Leafs that season to the Conference Final.
Tim Horton – His name is mostly associated with the large coffee shop franchise that spans across Canada, but before that, his time as a hockey player was notable as well. Horton was a stud defenceman for the Leafs for 18 seasons during the 50s and 60s. He was known to be one of the strongest players to ever play and was feared for his strength and toughness. His durability was a hallmark playing in 486 consecutive games with the Leafs, a team record. While his name is mentioned often due to the franchise that bears his name, we should not forget the hockey player he was and the impact he had with the Leafs.
Red Kelly – The honorable Leonard ‘Red’ Kelly, a member of the Liberal Party and parliament, was also a great hockey player. A long time Detroit Red Wing, Kelly was a star defenceman with Detroit, winning a Norris Trophy there and was a member of 4 cup champions with them as well. Kelly came out of retirement and joined the Leafs for 8 more seasons winning 4 more cups with the Leafs. Coach Imlach converted Kelly from defence to centre and Kelly won one of the 4 Lady Byng awards with Toronto. He notched 351 points as a Leaf with his best season being 1960-61 where he scored 70 points.
Ted Kennedy – If Syl Apps was the first great Leaf, Kennedy was the second. A captain for 8 seasons with Toronto, where he played his entire career, Kennedy went on to win 5 Stanley Cups with Toronto. He was a Hart Trophy winner in 1955 and had 560 points over 13 seasons. Kennedy is the last Leaf to win the Hart. It has been argued that Kennedy was the leader of the league’s first “dynasty” as the 5 cup wins came in a span of 7 seasons.
Dave Keon – Of the Leaf players who have played in the last 60 years, Keon is arguably the best of the bunch. Keon won the Calder in 1961 and added 2 Lady Byngs and a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1967 for Playoff MVP. Keon was probably one of the best, if not the best 200 foot player in his era, a term made popular by the likes of Jonathan Toews and Steve Yzerman. He had 986 career NHL points, a mark that was shortened due to him playing 5 seasons in the WHA thanks to a bitter dispute with then Leaf owner Harold Ballard. Only recently has Keon embraced being a Leaf again having his number retired on opening night this year.
Brian Leetch – Leetch only played 15 regular season games, and 13 more playoff games with Toronto but was a quality veteran in his brief time with the Leafs. He tallied a total of 23 points as a Leaf. He was acquired for a 1st and 2nd round pick, plus 2 prospects, a hefty price for the amount of games he ended up playing. His Hall of Fame career is most remembered however by his time with the Rangers where he won a Stanley Cup, 2 Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy for their win in 1994. He also won the Calder in 1989. In 2009, Leetch became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Eric Lindros – Since in his early teens, Lindros was considered a phenom and was a highly sought after prospect. The Leafs were one of the many teams who attempted to acquire Lindros after he refused to report to the Nordiques. Lindros forged his Hall of Fame career mostly with the Flyers where he won the Hart and Lester Pearson award for most outstanding player. Towards the end of his career Lindros joined the Leafs for 1 season where he notched 22 points in 33 games. By the time he reached Toronto, he was a shell of the player he once was, which was both skilled and dominant physically. Concussions likely sidetracked his career significantly.
Frank Mahovlich – The Big M was one of the more feared goal scorers in the 1960s with the Leafs. Mahovlich played 11 seasons in Toronto, winning 4 of his 6 Stanley Cups. He won the Calder Trophy in 1958 and amassed 533 goals in his NHL career that included stops in Detroit and Montreal. The Big M was induced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981. For over 20 years he held the team record for most goals in a single season, 48, and is the outright leader in that category in the orginal six era.
Dickie Moore – Moore is more synonomous with the Montreal Canadiens where he won 6 Stanley Cups and 2 Art Ross Trophies as league’s leading scorer. He had 608 career points, almost all with the Canadiens. For 38 games in 1965, he joined the Leafs after coming out of retirement. He only had though 6 points in his brief stint in Toronto. He retired again, only to return post-expansion and joined the St Louis Blues for one final cup run. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.
Joe Nieuwendyk – Nieuwendyk only played 1 season with the Leafs back in 2004 where he scored 22 goals in 64 games. He struggled badly with injuries, but had an impact offensively and providing his usual leadership with the Leafs. His second season in Toronto was shut down thanks to the Lockout of 2005 and Nieuwendyk moved on to the Panthers. He forged a career as a key playoff contributor playing for 3 Stanley Cup Championship teams, all in different cities. Only 11 players ever have accomplished that feat. Nieuwendyk won a Calder Trophy in 1989, the Conn Smythe in 1999 and was the King Clancy winner in 1995. He became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
Bernie Parent – Parent only played 2 seasons with the Leafs. He seemed poised to be the Leafs goalie of the future in 1970 after the team acquired his rights from the Flyers. However, he had a contract dispute with the team after 2 years, left for the WHA, only to return to the NHL, with the Flyers again after his rights were traded by Toronto. The rest as we know is history as Parent helped Philadelphia to two Stanley Cups.
Jacques Plante – Plante was Parent’s goalie partner for parts of 2 seasons in the early 70s with the Leafs. Obviously Plante is most known for being the first goalie to regularly wear a goalie mask. He was also known for being one of the first puckhandling goalies in the game back in the 50s, while with the Canadiens. In 3 seasons with the Leafs, Plante helped the Leafs to two playoff appearances. Plante was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1978, winning 6 Cups and 7 Vezina Trophies.
Borje Salming – If there was a list of the most influential NHLers, Salming would be one of them. He paved the way for many European players to come over to the NHL and thrive in a league that was at the time opposed to players overseas. Salming went on to play 16 of his 17 seasons with the Maple Leafs amassing 768 points as a Leaf in 1099 games. He was the opposite of the perception that Europeans were soft as he was as tough as they came. He has 6 team records and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Terry Sawchuk – Sawchuk is mostly known for his career with Detroit, but he did play 3 seasons with the leafs from 1965 to 1967. He won a Vezina Trophy in 1965 and helped the Leafs to a Stanley Cup in 1967. He is the winningest goalie in the Original 6 era and is considered one of the greatest goalies of all time. He has 4 cup wins in total and 4 Vezinas in a career that spanned 21 years and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.
Darryl Sittler – Sittler was one of the most prolific scorers in Leaf history. He has a record that likely will never be broken. That is of course the 10 point game he recorded vs the Bruins in 1976. In 12 seasons with the Leafs, he had 916 points inlcuding 4 40 goal seasons and 2 100 point seasons. Though he did not win a Stanley Cup or win any individual awards, Sittler is still one of the most popular Leafs ever and one of the most productive. Sittler was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Mats Sundin – Sundin is the best Leaf player to play for the team in the last 30 years. Sundin had 987 points in 981 games as a Leaf. He holds the Leaf records for goals and points. He became a Leaf in one of the biggest trades in their history that resulted in Captain Wendel Clark being traded to Quebec. Sundin became captain of the team in 1997, an honour he held until 2008. The big Swede combined power and finesse and was a big game producer for the Leafs. Sundin was inducted in 2012 to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There are 2 other members on this list who didn’t play for the Leafs but influenced the team in other ways.
Ken Dryden – The former Habs goalie became the Leafs president in 1997. He brought respectability back to the Leafs with his reputation and legacy in the game. His most important move as President was the hiring of Pat Quinn. It wasn’t a coincidence that when the organization started to phase him out of hockey decisions, the team started their deep decline that lasted more than a decade.
Brendan Shanahan – This brings us to the Leafs present. Shanahan was brought in almost 3 years ago and his impact has been significant. From completely revamping the front office and staff to influencing the changes to the on ice product, to the other changes such as the new logo and uniforms, Shanahan has influenced the Leafs for the better.
After a Hall of Fame career that spanned over 20 years, Shanahan is showing the same abilities as the Leafs President. He seems determined to make history here in Toronto
Its important that the history of the franchise be remembered, both good and bad. Its important to remember that this team was once a champion. However its been a very long time since that distinction could be placed on the Leafs.
It is important to remember those players that paved the way throughout the team’s 100 year existence.
Its important to remember the mistakes the team made, as in poor trades and signings, poor treatment of stars that drove them out of town and how today the team has worked so very hard to change the image of the organization as one that is well run and thorough as opposed to one that was mismanaged and poorly organized.
Now, with a new wave of Leaf stars in tow, they are going to try to make their own history. Whether that means championships or players named the NHL’s best ever, that remains to be seen. Only time will tell, but by far, this has been the most exciting and stable the organization has been for years, and it’s only the beginning. New names have emerged and a new legacy, in its infancy is being forged. Let’s indeed hope some new history can be written.