The Top Ten Toronto Maple Leafs stories of 2012

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Since the Toronto Maple Leafs have played their last game, the Toronto Blue Jays stockpiled top talent in their offseason, the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup, the Toronto Raptors had a winning tear without their former first overall pick, and Toronto FC fired a bunch of people.

Fortunately, 2012 was still a big year for Leafs news, and I’ve sort of pinpointed, using top posts on this site as a measuring stick, the Top Ten Toronto Maple Leaf stories of the past year. There’s still a few hours left for something to happen, but I’ll be sure to include that in 2013’s list if it’s a memorable-enough event.

#10 – Don Cherry feuds with Brian Burke

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After the Leafs started fading in the second half, they became the subject of a bizarre rant by Coach’s Corner and Hockey Night staple Don Cherry. Cherry contended that the Southern Ontario-born players he was watching would never play for the Maple Leafs as long as Burke was in charge. He then eviscerated the organization for failing to make the playoffs, and for being the only team in the NHL without an Ontario player on its roster.

But the feud between Cherry and Burke is fairly personal, being two contrasting personalities who rarely get along. He continues to take shots at the Leafs for their handling of certain players, although he would likely stop being a thorn in Burke’s side if the Leafs GM iced a winning team.

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#9 – Leafs trade Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk

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At the draft, people were fairly certain that Roberto Luongo would be on the move, and Toronto was pegged as a likely destination. Here we are, over six months later, Luongo is still a Canuck, and the Leafs are still without a goalie. That said, Toronto didn’t leave the draft empty-handed. After the hockey media had dispersed from Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, news of a trade between Toronto and Philadelphia leaked, one that had been rumoured for months.

(At this point, picture me in a hotel lobby, as me, Nations boss Kent Wilson and contributor Robert Cleave scrambled around to find a Wi-Fi signal so I could write this post about the trade)

The deal sent Luke Schenn, a once-promising young defenceman, to the Flyers in exchange for a recently re-signed James van Riemsdyk. The Leafs would discuss the idea of using van Riemsdyk at centre throughout the summer, but that’s probably a bad idea.

#8 – Nazem Kadri is fat

Nazem Kadri showed up to Toronto Marlies training camp and underwhelmed coach Dallas Eakins’ expectations, an odd sequence because Kadri had spent the summer training with Gary Roberts. For us in the peanut gallery, we’ve been thinking of a Nazem Kadri-to-the-NHL-type scenario and is one of the Leafs best young players. The lockout has halted his progress, and after a slow start to his AHL campaign, Kadri began dominating before the team poorly handled a suspected concussion in a game this week.

Still, in a month without a lot of Leafs headlines, Kadri’s body fat issue became the topique-du-jour, reaching meme-like level within an hour.

#7 – Jake Gardiner impresses, makes rookie squad

The young Jake Gardiner came over with Joffrey Lupul in the François Beauchemin, but was the best part of the deal. He came into his own in the second half of the season. After scoring .26 points per game in 2011, Gardiner doubled that for the 2012 portion of the games (.53) while the Leafs increased his ice time from 20:32 per game to 22:29. He was named to the NHL’s top rookie squad, and looked poised for a promising 2012 until, like Kadri, he took a bump to the head and the team waffled around his concussion issues

#6 – Mats Sundin makes the Hall of Fame

Many Leafs fans in the online community grew up with Wendel Clark and Dougie Gilmour as the face of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For those of us in the next generation, when you thought “Leafs” you thought of Mats Sundin, the talented, humble captain of Toronto’s team with a dynamite smile and a wicked slapshot. Back in June, Sundin was elected to Hockey’s Hall of Fame, along with Pavel Bure, Adam Oates and Joe Sakic, knows as “the BOSS class”.

Since he was fairly reserved and never had that dominant playoff season like a lot of Hall of Famers do (although many got to play in a 21-team league. The hockey community is going to have to accept that since the Bettman expansion, players are going to make the Hall of Fame who didn’t win the Stanley Cup) so his legacy was tough to pin down. Still, he was one of the top players of his era, playing in hockey’s most important market.

#5 – Mikhail Grabovski re-signs with Toronto

Mikhail Grabovski is undoubtedly the best two-way player on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Late in the season amidst some trade speculation, Grabovski instead re-signed the richest forward deal on the team to a contract that was perfectly fair. Grabovski scored just 23 times for the Leafs this past season, but his defensive play was what made him a real asset.

#4 – Phil Kessel scores 30 goals

In 3 years since the trade from Boston, Phil Kessel has scored 30, 32 and 37 goals, yet his shy demeanor still earns him accusations of being “milquetoast” from local media. Only one winger in the National Hockey League arguably has the skills that critical fans expect out of Kessel, whose job is to score goals, and goals he scores.

Since Kessel became a Leaf, only nine players have scored more goals than him. Since Kessel became a Leaf, only 10 players have scored more goals per game (minimum 60 games a season) than him.

#3 – Morgan Rielly dominates the WHL

Morgan Rielly was selected with the fifth pick in June to the Leafs. Brian Burke dubiously called him the “player rated first overall” by Toronto, and cited “good posture” and “confidence” as an interview for making character claims about Rielly. The fan anger over selecting a defenceman who had sat out most of the previous season due to injury was quickly dispelled as Rielly helped Canada win the Canada-Russia challenge in the summer, scoring four points in four games.

Rielly would then dominate the WHL, scoring four goals and registering 19 points through 16 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors by the end of October, scoring highlight reel goals. He would be named to Team Canada for the World Juniors, and has looked like their strongest defenceman through four games.

#2 – Toronto disappears down the stretch

On February 6, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 6-3. The win would be their fifth in six games (the only other one being a shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol) and move the Leafs to 28-19-6, 7th in the Eastern Conference and four points ahead of Washington, poised for their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Alas, the Leafs’ unsustainable record to that point led to a healthy regression, second to only the Minnesota Wild. The Leafs would go 7-18-4 the rest of the way, sustaining several injuries, and landing well out of a playoff spot.

#1 – NHL lockout

What more needs to be said? The lockout has wiped out hundreds of NHL games, countless goals, and wins, some of them even belonging to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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