TLN’s All-Time Greatest Maple Leafs Team: Frank Mahovlich

Frank Mahovlich, The Big M.  He’s a fascinating story.  With a lot of these players that played for the blue and white a long time ago, it’s tough to really find much of a tale to tell.  Mahovlich, though, is something else.  Not only was he a superstar on the ice, but he went through quite a lot off of it.  For despite all of his talent and productivity, he was the victim of constant abuse from both the organization and the fans – so much so that this legendary Leaf was ran out of town as the team’s last great dynasty came to a close.

CAREER STATISTICS



Mahovlich lead the team in goalscoring every year between the 1960-1961 season and the 1965-1966 season, and lead the team in point totals 5 of those 6 seasons as well.  He was ultimately ran out of town by both team GM and coach Punch Imlach as well as the fans for the perception that as good as he was, he could have been even better.  He was also hospitalized two times for an illness which was later to be revealed as depression – seemingly stemming from the abuse he took from his own team as well as the fans.  This lead to Imlach and the fans perceiving him as weak.

In any event, Mahovlich was clearly an under-appreciated player.  Like I said, the guy lead the offense of a team that won the Stanley Cup four times in six years.  Toronto has a long history of being too hard on its best players, and it looks like Mahovlich was one of the first victims of this “tough love”, if you can call it that.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT

I don’t think Mahovlich really has one defining moment as a Leaf.  He managed to beat The Golden Jet, Bobby Hull, in goalscoring in his rookie season.  That’s pretty cool.  He was also almost assuredly the best player on the last string of championship-winning Leafs teams to date, which is pretty cool too.

While he doesn’t really have “one great moment”, Mahovlich himself apparently has a favorite Leaf moment.  Given the abuse he apparently took from the Maple Leafs faithful, I thought this was a nice story (via Sportsnet):

Mahovlich

LEAFS MILESTONES

  • T-6th for the franchise lead in goals scored with 296
  • 7th in franchise points all-time with 597
  • 1957-1958 Calder Trophy winner as a member of the Maple Leafs
  • 9x NHL All-Star as a member of the Maple Leafs
  • 2x NHL First All-Star Team as a member of the Maple Leafs
  • 5x NHL Second All-Star Team as a member of the Maple Leafs
  • 4x Stanley Cup champion as a member of the Maple Leafs
  • 1981 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee

LEGACY

Mahovlich’s legacy is as a player that was easily one of the most dominant players of his generation that didn’t get the respect he deserved from Maple Leafs fans until it was already too late.  Like so many to come after Mahovlich, for whatever reason Leafs fans always just wanted a little bit more from The Big M.

It’s great though that, especially for the generations that never got a chance to see Mahovlich play, they can look back at the history books and simply appreciate Mahovlich for what he was – a legend of the Maple Leafs and a legend of hockey, who deserves nothing but praise for the way that he dominated the game during his era.


  • jimbobray

    Brian Conacher, a Maple Leaf during the Imlach era, related to me a story about Frank during the time when he was being harassed by Punch for not working hard enough on the ice (Punch once said that ‘hockey is a street car named Desire, and Frank sometimes doesn’t catch it’). It wasn’t helpful in the relationship between coach and player that Imlach always got Frank’s name wrong, pronouncing it ‘maholovich’.

    The Leafs and the Canadiens had just completed the Toronto leg of a weekend home-and-home series, and had taken the overnight train to Montreal. Allen Stanley was in the bunk above Frank in the sleeping car. When Stanley got up in the morning, he found what he thought were his shoes beneath the bunks. But the right one was brown, and the left was black, and Frank was nowhere to be found. It soon became apparent that Frank got up during night when the train made a stop, grabbed a couple of shoes in the dark, and left the train. Shortly after Frank went AWOL, it was reported in the press he was hospitalized briefly with depression.

    The Big M was one of the all-time greats.

  • jimbobray

    The big M was well on his way to a 50 goal season in the 1960/61 season but unfortunately the goals stopped coming as Boom Boom Geoffrion passed him late in the season to reach the Rocket Richard total of 50 goals. That was when some fans turned on him. One has to recall Hab fans booed Geoffrion for having the audacity of tying Rocket Richard’s record.

    I think fans expected Frank to produce like that every season. He had this very smooth glide to his skating style which seemed effortless. Thus at times he almost appeared to be floating.

    He had one of the best shots in the game and was tough as nails as I recall Bill Gadsby the old Detroit defenceman gave him a hip check one game. Frank came up swinging and pounded Gadsby.

    Mahovlich wasn’t the only player who couldn’t handle Imlach as the brilliant defenceman Carl Brewer quit the game in his prime.

    Obviously Frank was a lot more relaxed playing with Detroit then Montreal where he won a number of cups with his brother Peter.

    As a kid the big M was my number one player to cheer for. I recall as a young teen Frank and the leafs coming to Vancouver to play an exhibition game. For west coast leaf fans this was indeed a thrill to watch the defending Stanley Cup champions.

  • CMpuck

    One major issue with Toronto fans is that when the Leafs have a good player the fans always want more out of them. Kessel, for example, could never score enough to make everyone happy.

    • jimbobray

      I think even the most ardent Kessel fan got tired of his me first mentality and his absolute refusal to put an effort into his defensive game.

      The big M was accused of being soft on defence but he killed penalties with both Detroit and Montreal.