The National Hockey League was formed in 1917 for one reason - to kick out Eddie Livingston, owner of the Toronto Blueshirts franchise of the forerunner National Hockey Association. Livingstone was accused of creating unfair advantages for himself and his team. It was deemed unthinkable for the new league to not have a team in Toronto, so it was granted a new team, the Arenas (run by the Arena Gardens), but Livingstone would still get to lease his players to the team. The original NHL consisted of Toronto, the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, and the Montreal Wanderers (who folded after 6 games due to a fire in their arena). Toronto won the Stanley Cup in the NHL's inaugural season.
The team would be renamed the St. Patricks in the midst of a losing stretch in 1919, but would once again reach the Cup in 1922, with Babe Dye (who had an overtime winner in game two and four goals in the deciding fifth game) being the team's hero. They would narrowly miss the playoffs in 1923, despite Dye's 26 goals in only 22 games.
In 1926, Conn Smythe, one of the team's best-known icons, purchased the St. Pats and renamed them the Maple Leafs. The next season, the Leafs appeared for the first time in the blue and white colours they have worn ever since. After four more lackluster seasons, Smythe and the Leafs debuted their new arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, in November 1931, and their Kid Line (Busher Jackson, Charlie Conacher, and Joe Primeau), which would propel them to Toronto's third Cup victory during the first season in their new digs. They would go the distance in the semi-finals against the Boston Bruins in 1932, winning in the sixth overtime of the final game, but would be overwhelmed in the Stanley Cup finals by the New York Rangers.
Maple Leafs logo 1933-1966The Leafs' star forward Ace Bailey was nearly killed in 1933 when Boston Bruins' defenceman Eddie Shore checked him from behind into the boards. Toronto defenceman Red Horner was able to knock Shore out with a punch, but it was too late and Bailey's career was over. Undeterred, the Leafs would reach the finals five more times in the next seven years, but would not win, bowing out to the now-defunct Montreal Maroons, the Detroit Red Wings in 1936, the Chicago Blackhawks in 1938, the Boston Bruins in 1939, and the New York Rangers in 1940.
They looked sure to suffer a similar fate in 1942, down three games to none in a best-of-seven final in 1942 against the Detroit Red Wings. Fourth-line forward Don Metz would galvanize the team, coming from nowhere to score a game-winning goal in game 4 and a hat trick in game 5, with the Leafs winning both times. Goalie Turk Broda would shut out the Wings in game 6, and Sweeney Schriner would score two goals in the third period to win the seventh game 3-1. It was the first time a major pro sports team came back from behind 3-0 to win a best-of-seven championship series.
Three years later, with their heroes from 1942 dwindling (due to either age, health, or the war), the Leafs turned to lesser-known players like goalie Frank McCool and blueliner Babe Pratt. They would upset the Detroit Red Wings in the 1945 finals.
The Habs would be the Leafs' nemesis two years later when they met in the 1947 finals. Ted "Teeder" Kennedy would score the game-winning goal late in game 6 to win the Leafs their first of three straight Cups -- the first time any NHL team had accomplished that feat. It may have been four straight (or even five, considering what happened in 1951), had the Red Wings' Leo Reise not scored in sudden-death of game 7 of the Detroit-Toronto semi-final series in 1950.
The Leafs and Habs would meet once again in the finals in 1951, with all five games going to overtime. Max Bentley scored with 32 seconds left in the third period of game 5 to send it to an extra period, and defenceman Bill Barilko, who had scored only six goals in the regular season, scored the game-winner to win Toronto their fourth Cup in five years. Barilko's glory was short-lived: He disappeared in a plane crash near Timmins, Ontario three months after that historic moment. Barilko's legacy is still remembered over 50 years later, and The Tragically Hip's "Fifty Mission Cap" is based on his plight.
Toronto was unable to match up with their Cup-winning teams of the late 40's and early 50's for a long time, and stronger teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens won the cup year-after-year. They did not win another Stanley Cup until 1962, ironically the same year that Barilko's remains were discovered.
The Leafs were able to reel off three straight Stanley Cup victories from 1962 to 1964, with the help of Hall of Famers Frank Mahovlich, Red Kelly, Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, Andy Bathgate, and Tim Horton.
1967: Frank Mahovlich and Red Kelly celebrate the Leafs last Stanley CupIn 1967, the Leafs and Habs met in the Cup finals for the last time. Montreal was considered to be a heavy favorite as analysts said that the Leafs were just a bunch of has-beens. Bob Pulford scored the double-overtime winner in game 3, Jim Pappin got the game winner in game 6, and Dave Keon won the Conn Smythe trophy as the Maple Leafs won in six games. That showed everybody that experience can win Stanley Cups. The Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup, or even been to the finals, since that year.
During the 1970s, the team, led by Darryl Sittler (the all-time leading scorer for the franchise), Lanny McDonald, Dave Keon, enforcer Dave "Tiger" Williams, and Börje Salming (the first Swede to make a name for himself in the NHL) would lead the Leafs to some glory. But they only once made it past the second round of the playoffs, besting the New York Islanders, a future Stanley Cup dynasty, in the 1978 quarter-finals, only to be swept by their arch-rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in the semi-finals.
The 1980s were dominated by longtime owner Harold Ballard. Ballard was part of a partnership that bought the team from Conn Smythe in 1961 (along with Conn's son Stafford and newspaper baron John Bassett), and won a battle for control of the team in 1971. One of the most detested owners in NHL history, he traded away many of the team's most popular players (including Sittler, McDonald, and Keon). Many players were reluctant to come to Toronto because of Ballard's reputation. The result was a team that was barely competitive from 1980 to 1992. In that stretch the Leafs failed to post a winning record, missing the playoffs five times and only finishing above fourth in their division once. One of the few bright spots during this period was the popular Wendel Clark.
After Ballard died in 1990, the Leafs were able to start working on producing a team that could compete. In 1993 it all came together. Doug Gilmour, who had come over from the Calgary Flames the previous season, scored 32 goals and 127 points to lead the team in scoring. Dave Andreychuk had also come to the Leafs (from the Buffalo Sabres) and would score 25 goals in 31 games, as well as being the league's biggest power-play goal scorer. Felix Potvin was solid with a 2.50 goals-against average. Toronto had their highest point total in team history to that date, with 99. The Leafs dispatched the Red Wings in the first round with an overtime winner in game seven, then won the Norris division by winning over the St. Louis Blues.
With Montreal facing the New York Islanders in the Wales Conference finals, Canadians were once again dreaming of a Montreal-Toronto clash for the Cup as the Leafs faced the Los Angeles Kings in the Campbell Conference Final. The Leafs were up 3-2 in the series, but lost game 6 in a game that will go down in infamy for Leafs fans: many believe that a missed high sticking call on Gilmour cost them the game. Wayne Gretzky's hat trick in game 7 put a damper on that though, as the Kings moved on to the finals.
Those hoping for an all-Canadian Stanley Cup final in 1993 had to make do with an all-Canadian Western Conference final (in the newly renamed Campbell Conference) in 1994. The Leafs, however, were no match for the Vancouver Canucks, losing in five games.
After two years out of the playoffs in the late 1990s, the Leafs made another charge in the 1999 playoffs, moving out of Maple Leaf Gardens and into the new Air Canada Centre. Mats Sundin, who joined the team from the Quebec Nordiques in 1994, had one of his most productive seasons, scoring 31 goals and totaling 83 points. Sergei Berezin scored 37 goals, Curtis Joseph won 35 games with a 2.56 GAA average, and enforcer Tie Domi racked up 198 penalty minutes. The Leafs slipped past the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but were ravaged in five games by the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Maple Leafs would reach the second round in both 2000 and 2001, losing both times to the New Jersey Devils. In 2002, they would dispatch the Islanders and Ottawa Senators in the first two rounds, but would lose to the cinderella Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference finals.
Curtis Joseph left to go to the Red Wings in the 2002 off-season. They immediately found a suitable replacement, Ed Belfour, from the Dallas Stars. Belfour could not help their playoff woes in the 2003 playoffs, however, as they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the first round. The 2003-04 season started in an uncommon way for the team, as they held their training camp in Sweden, and playing in the NHL Challenge against teams from Sweden and Finland.
In 2004, after posting a franchise record number of points, despite finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs defeated the Senators for the fourth time in five years, but lost in the second round, this time against the Flyers in six games.
Darryl Sittler, captain of the Leafs in the late Seventies.The Toronto Maple Leafs are a massively popular team, with one of the largest fan bases in the NHL - a fan base large enough to support their own television channel, Leafs TV. In November, 2002, however, the Maple Leafs were named by Sports Illustrated hockey writer Michael Farber as the Most Hated Team in Hockey. The general perception among Canadians outside of Toronto that the city is the "Centre of the Universe" (because it is the largest city in the country, as well as English-speaking Canada's financial and cultural centre) makes the Leafs one of the most hated teams in the NHL. Games are usually quite heated whenever the Leafs play in other Canadian NHL cities, not the least because some of those other Canadian NHL cities have quite sizable contingents of Leafs fans of their own. Though the Leafs-Senators rivalry has heated up in recent years, their greatest rival will always be the Montreal Canadiens, given the long history of Original Six matchups between the two clubs. The fact that Montreal is Canada's main French-speaking city also gives the rivalry a nationalistic flair, which is perhaps best captured in the popular Canadian short story, "The Hockey Sweater". Recently, the Leafs biggest U.S.-based rivals have been the Philadelphia Flyers, as Toronto has faced them three times in the playoffs in the last several years, and lost to them the last two years.
The latter half of the 1940's would be dominated by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The "Blue and White" would win four straight championships from 1947-51 defeating Montreal and Detroit, twice each. 1955 saw the end of a Maple Leafs era as Conn Smythe stepped down as general manager of the club. The Leafs would struggle for the rest of the decade, finishing last overall for the first time in the 1956-57 season. By 1958 Toronto had signed Johnnie Bower, Carl Brewer, hired Punch Imlach as general manager, and acquired Eddie Shack.
By 1960, the Maple Leafs were back in the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the Montreal Canadiens. After a ten year drought, the Leafs brought home the cup in 1962 by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks. This win began a streak of three straight championships and a total of four for the decade of the 1960s. They defeated the Detroit Red Wings in 1963 and 1964, and the Montreal Canadiens in 1967. Meanwhile on the ownership front the team switched hands to Harold Ballard. Even though he was charged with tax evasion and spent a year in jail, Ballard would go on to operate the Maple Leafs with an iron fist for the next two decades. Though no where near the powerhouse team of the 1940s or 1960s, the Leafs played a competitive brand of hockey. One of the highlights for the franchise was a 1976 game against the Boston Bruins when Darryl Sittler recorded an NHL record high 10 points in one game. The late 1970s were converted into a sideshow by Harold Ballard. His antics included firing Red Kelley, hiring Roger Nielson, firing him and hiring him back, and once again firing him along with Bob Davidson - all in the span of weeks.
On the ice, the Leafs were in and out of the playoffs. They missed the postseason four times in eight years through the 1980s. Toronto fans were still entertained by numerous individuals stars like Rick Vaive and Wendel Clark. April 1990 saw the passing away of Harold Ballard, leaving the venerable Toronto Maple Leafs franchise in a mess. As the front office troubles was being worked on, the Leafs were a struggling team on the ice. 1991 saw the arrival of veteran hockey executive Cliff Fletcher as the president and general manager of the club. Fletcher would make several on and off ice moves to start the rebuilding process. He acquired Doug Gilmour in a multi-player deal with his ex-team, the Calgary Flames; replaced Tom Watt with Pat Burns behind the bench; and acquired Grant Fuhr. The 1992 regular season saw an upstart Maple Leafs team guided by Pat Burns accumulate 99 points in the regular season. They defeated the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in seven; battled the St. Louis Blues in a seven game series; before losing to the Los Angles Kings in a controversial seven game series. In 1994 the Maple Leafs lost in the conference finals, this time to the Vancouver Canucks. By 1996 the once mighty Maple Leafs seemed to have landed on hard times. They went through a cost cutting binge as players like Mike Gartner, Dave Gagner, Doug Gilmour, and Dave Ellet were traded. The team finished last in the central divison and led to the termination of Cliff Fletcher as its general manager. Ken Dryden was hired and formed the core of a management team handed the job of rebuilding the team once again.
Pat Quinn was hired as coach in 1998 and employed an 'offense first' system opening up the game. The high scoring Leafs were a hit with the fans, but were unable to achieve playoff success in a defense minded NHL. On February 20, 1999, the Maple Leafs officially moved out of the fabled Maple Leaf Gardens and opened their new home, Air Canada Center. Their first game was an exciting 3-2 overtime win over longtime rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. Success continued in Toronto as they finished the 1999-2000 season above the 100 point barrier for the first time in franchise history, in the process winning their first division title in 37 years. The Leafs made quick work of the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the post-season, but lost out to the tight checking New Jersey Devils in six games. The following year's playoff run once again saw the Leafs face off against Ottawa. They swept the Senators in 4 games behind an exceptional performance by goalie Curtis Joseph. But again, they lost to the defensively tight Devils in six games in the second round.
With things clicking in Leaf land the team was a shoe in for the 2002 playoffs. They overpowered a young and fiesty New York Islanders team in a rough seven game series. The second round had them face their provincial rivals from Ottawa and the Leafs took the Senators in a seven games set. But they ran into the Cinderella story of that year's playoff in the Carolina Hurricans and their diminutive goaltender Arturs Irbe. The Hurricanes defeated the Leafs in a six game series. By this time Pat Quinn was in control of hockey operations (as general manager and coach) and the Leafs were unable to re-sign free agent star goalie Curtis Joseph. As Joseph signed with the Red Wings, the team quickly turned around and signed Eddie Belfour and did not really miss a beat in the regular season. But the playoffs were a different story as the Leafs lost in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Toronto Maple Leafs Overview:
Formerly known as: Toronto Arenas (1917-1919), Toronto St. Patricks (1919-1926)
Arena: Air Canada Centre
Stanley Cups won: 13 (1918, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967)