As the summer drags on here at The Leafs Nation dot com, we’ve decided to spend some of our time looking at the team that was, is, and will be moving forward. To kick things off, we’ll be spending some time talking about the 2000/01 Leafs roster, one that showed signs of extreme potential but didn’t exactly go an extreme distance.
Third in Northeast, Seventh in East, 14th Overall
In essence, this year’s Leafs ended up as the definition of a slightly above average team in the regular season. They earned just enough points to squeak in, scored a little more than the rest, and let in slightly fewer goals. Their powerplay was slightly below average (16.06%), but the PK was slightly above (84.97%). They did just enough to make it into the playoffs, at which point things began to look up.
This year’s Leafs roster changes were defined by free agency, where they made significant changes to the roster. While they lost an all-time great name in Lonny Bohonos to HC Davos, their exiting free agents played a combined thirteen NHL games moving forward. Coming in, however, the Leafs managed to sign Carolina’s Gary Roberts, Montreal’s Shayne Corson, and Dallas’ Dave Manson.
Manson added depth to an inexperienced Leafs blue line, and while Corson would end up creating off-ice issues in later years, he brought feistiness, intelligent defensive play, and an extra 26 points to the bottom six. The crown jewel, however, was Roberts; the 34 year old scored a team leading 29 goals in his debut year with the Leafs, his highest total since 1994. Beyond that, Roberts brought his trademark work ethic and dedication to staying in shape to a roster mixed with young talent and players at the trail end of their career.
Just before opening night, the Leafs made their biggest trade, acquiring Bryan McCabe from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Alexander Karpovtsev and a fourth round pick. Karpovtsev wasn’t overly successful in Toronto, while McCabe ended up playing seven years for the blue and white. Beyond that, the Leafs dumped Dimitri Khristich for a third round pick in December, and acquired Aki Berg at the trade deadline for Adam Mair and a 2nd round pick. The latter trade has proved to be highly polarizing in the Leafs community, particularly because Los Angeles used the second round pick to draft Mike Cammalleri.
Toronto also acquired Wade Belak off of waivers in February. Belak added an extra set of fists to the lineup on nights where the team needed them, and was capable of playing both forward and defence while adding a positive attitude to the locker room. Belak went on to play seven season with Toronto before being traded for a fifth round pick in 2008. Overall, the Leafs made a net improvement with their acquisitions.
The Leafs had a pretty bipolar regular season. Between October 19th and December 13th, the team went 15-4-4-2, establishing themselves as potential competitors in the Eastern Conference. However, the followed that up by losing six of their next seven, the final one of those games being Mario Lemieux’s return to the NHL.
From that point on, the team bounced around, never winning or losing more than two games in a row. That is, until the first round of the playoffs. Like the previous year, the Leafs were taking on the Ottawa Senators, except this time, Ottawa were considered the favourites. The Senators finished just a win away from attaining Presidents Trophy status, while the Leafs were a loss to the Bruins away from being out of the playoffs entirely.
The Leafs would have none of that, though. Mats Sundin opened up the series with a bar-down blast in overtime, and from there, they never looked back. Curtis Joseph played lights out, going into the third period of Game 3 without letting in a goal, but the Senators finally broke through in the closing minutes of the game and tied things up. Rather than letting their divisional rivals complete the comeback, though, the Leafs had an unlikely overtime hero in.. Cory Cross?
The Leafs won Game Four by a score of 3-1, completing an upset that shocked the league and sending them to New Jersey, to take on Lou Lamoriello’s New Jersey Devils for the second consecutive year.
Initially, it looked like this series would go a little bit better than the one before it. The Leafs shut out the Devils in their own rink to start the round, and while they lost the following two games, both had to be decided in overtime. Game four was won by the Leafs to tie things up, but was closed off by one of the poorest decisions that any player has ever made for Toronto.
Now, I understand the idea behind eliminating a star player from your opposing team. But minus the ethics of intentionally injuring another person for something as trivial as sports, it also managed to serve as a wakeup call to the defending cup champions. As Joseph put it at the time, “You can look at it in a variety of ways. It can be a motivator or it can be a distraction.”
While Toronto won Game 5 and took a lead in the series, the distraction side of things wore off for the Devils. They flew back into the series with a vengeance, outscoring the Leafs 9-3 over the next two games. Due to the Leafs’ failure to win the series, Domi was suspended for eight additional games in the upcoming regular season.
Team Scoring Leaders
As mentioned before, the acquisitions of Roberts and McCabe paid immediate dividends to the team. Roberts ended up leading the team in goals and putting up the second most points, while McCabe finished second in points among defencemen. Unsurprisingly, Mats Sundin tops the list.
Rethinking the Team
A few things of note here.
- While we tend to joke about Yanic Perreault as being nothing but a faceoff specialist that the Leafs could seemingly never fully part ways from, he was far from being that generation’s Tyler Bozak. Perreault actually lead the team in all-situations points per 60 minutes, and was second at 5v5 with a whopping 2.36. I’d be curious to see if his ridiculous powerplay numbers are inflated by being put in on important draws with Sundin playing in other positions, but he provided a hell of a value in this year.
- The Leafs backed away from acquiring Eric Lindros midway through the season. While the move would have made people happy, Philadelphia’s asking price of Nik Antropov, Tomas Kaberle, and a pick would have been pretty bad even for the moment. While people were les than impressed with Antropov’s 17 points in 52 games, its worth noting that he only played 522 minutes that year, just 27 of which came on the powerplay. His 1.7 points per sixty at even strength was pretty solid for a twenty year old. Kaberle, of course, was already blossoming into a star defenceman at this point.
- Speaking of defencemen and powerplays, I wonder if the Leafs would have been better suited swapping around Yuskevich and Markov on the second unit. Markov played 41% of the powerplay minutes while earning 62% of the points. Granted, Markov missed 23 games that season, but it doesn’t make up for the disparity.
- The Leafs really should have traded Tie Domi at the deadline. His 21.7% shooting percentage was over double his career average, and Belak was there to play the enforcer role. The likes of Roberts, Tucker, McCabe, Corson, and Manson could all fend for themselves. Oh, and he wouldn’t have been there to elbow Scott Niedermayer in the face. Or fought that fan in Philadelphia. Gosh, Domi was a weird one.
RIP Wade Belak (1976-2011), Igor Korolev (1970-2011), and Pat Quinn (1943-2014).