"The last goal he ever scored, won the Leafs the Cup."
You’ve probably all read the excellent Maple Leafs’ version of The Essentials over at Puck Daddy (h/t to Bitter Leaf for doing the leg-work. We all thought it was an excellent idea and decided to borrow it. So I asked my fellow Leafs’ fans—and Cam—to list off their Essential players, seasons, fights, swag and whatnot. Since we’ve got the time and space I decided to chunk it into a few pieces. Since I’m the smartest I’m going to be writing in-depth about what I consider to be the Essential Leafs. I’ll also list my fellow bloggers’ responses, and include some justification from those who went off the map with their selections. Feel free to post your own in the comments and disagree with everything we said.
That’s Kennedy with Queen Elizabeth, yes, that Queen Elizabeth. No. Big. Deal.
More often than not who you pick here depends on your age, especially with a franchise as old as the Leafs. Those slightly older than myself would list names like Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, Johnny Bower, Tim Horton, Bill Barilko, or Red Kelly. If you are looking for the Maple-iest of all the Leafs I’d have to go with Ted Kennedy. He was the epitome of a “Good old Canadian boy”.Tough, gritty, hard-working, blue-collar, whatever working class adjective you want to use, he was all those things.
Ted “Teeder” Kennedy played every single one of his 696 career NHL games over 14 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.(1942-1957) He captained the Leafs for 8 seasons and was the first NHL player to win 5 Stanley Cups. He was also the last Leafs to win the Hart Trophy.
Kennedy would be the bane of “stat-nerds’” existence. He was the definition of clutch. Think Jordan Eberle and Jonathan Toews combined. At 19, in his second season with the Leafs he lead the team to a first round upset over the heavily favoured Habs. These were the Rocket Richard Habs, and the Leafs’ line-up was missing key players who were serving in the Second World War. By the age of 22 he had won 3 Cups and shared the record for the youngest player to Captain a team to the Cup with Gretzky until Sidney Crosby did so in 2009. He holds the Leafs records for career points in the Cup finals with 23. I doubt that record will ever be broken. He sits fourth All-Time in goal and sixth in points among Leafs. A young, Ontario born, gritty, two-way #1C with a knack for post-season production. There would be schools and churches named after him in Toronto today.
He was Conn Smythe’s type of player, and he set the mold for what fans in Toronto expect a player to be. He’s why guys like Sundin, Kaberle, and Kessel will always be a little less beloved in Toronto than Gilmour, Clark, Roberts, and even Tucker and Domi.
Dude was a hero.
For an alternate take here are Steve’s thoughts on Felix Potvin as the Essential Leaf:
"I loved Felix Potvin as a kid. Obviously I loved guys like Gilmour, Andreychuk, and Clark, too, but there was something about the goalies. It’s not every game that even the best players score, but goalies find themselves in game-saving or game-losing scenarios game in and game out. Felix was the hero more than he wasn’t growing up. For a few seasons in the mid to late 90’s he was almost all the team had at times. The mask, the pads, the saves. He didn’t always get the praise, but he was number one to me."
The historian in me knows that this is most definitely not THE Essential Leafs season, that would be either the 1942 or 1967 season. The former for being the only time a team has won the Stanley Cup after going down 3-0 in the Finals. The latter being, well, you know. Since I went the historic route with my player so I decided to use the 2001-2002 season as an excuse to talk about Mats Sundin.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear off right off the bat, the 2002 Leafs would have been destroyed by the Red Wings in the Finals. That being said, they deserved to be there. I mean come one, Arturs Irbe, really? Martin Gelinas? The Carolina Hurricanes? Come, on!
The 2001-2002 Leafs were the Platonic Ideal of the Post Gilmour and Clark Pre-Lockout Leafs. They finished with 100 points that season, second only to the Bruins in the East. People often forget, the Leafs used to be legit good. I remember taking for granted that they would make the playoffs, and bowing out in the first round was unthinkable. “This is the year” was something we could legitimately believe. 2001-2002 was THE year.
Mats Sundin did what he always did and lead the team in scoring with 80 points in 82 games. The whole team could score at will, they were 3rd overall in the league with 249 goals. They could also prevent goals on a level unseen since. They only surrendered 207, good for 12th overall. They had 5 players with over 20 goals that season. As much as everyone says Sundin carried a bunch of schlubs around the ice, this team was good. It was also dirty. Darcy Tucker, Shane Corson, Tie Domi, and Wade Belak would ruin your day. Hell even Bryan McCabe had over 100 PIM that season.
The Leafs would face off against the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs after going up 2-0 Sundin was injured in the Game 3 loss. That was it, the Leafs were toast. But Roberts and a young Alyn McAuley willed the Leafs to two memorable 7 game playoff series wins over the Islanders and Senators. They had dragged themselves into the Conference Finals and managed to win Game 1 on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then Sundin came back. It was too good to be true. If they could get this far without him, there was no stopping them once he came back. Since they’re the Leafs they only won one more game in the series. They haven’t been back since. It was everything we have come to know Leafs hockey as, optimism and hope followed by soul crushing defeat.
Here are the highlights from Game 7 against the Islanders. I was camping during one of the games but a buddy and I walked about a 1.5KMs through a field to his house to catch the game. What a team, what a season.