As we embark on our annual TLN Top 20 Prospects series, it’s important to remember and recognize the special players that paved the way for tomorrow’s stars. Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing our first ever TLN All-Time Greatest Leafs Team, announcing a new player every day until we’ve filled out our 23-man roster.
The Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves in an interesting position in the early 1990’s. Steve Stavro wanted to move on from the actions of his predecessor, Harold Ballard, but with the opportunity to acquire a blue-chip prospect lost through the wildly unsuccessful Tom Kurvers trade, his staff would have to improvise. Cliff Fletcher responded by making the biggest trade in NHL history, centred around getting one of the best players the Toronto Maple Leafs have ever had.
Gilmour had already put up a pretty solid career with Calgary and St. Louis by the time he got to Toronto; he had a Stanley Cup to his name, he was 5th in Hart Trophy voting in 1987, and he was a point away from being a per-game player. But the jump to the Leafs put things into first gear for him. Immediately, Gilmour put up 49 points in his frist 40 games with the team, while providing defensive stability in late-game situations and on the penalty kill.
But that was was just a teaser for what was ahead. The following year, Gilmour had what many consider the best year in Leafs history, breaking the team’s single-season assists (95) and points (127) records while providing exemplary defence. Gilmour was a consensus second place in Hart Trophy voting, trailing only Mario Lemieux, who topped Gilmour’s best Leafs season ever with arguably the best season by anybody ever. He did, however, still pick up the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward, and followed up his spectacular regular season by scoring 35 points in 21 playoff games; more than any other player, and not exceeded again until Evgeni Malkin tallied 36 in 24 in 2009.
This proved to be Gilmour’s best career year, but he continued to be a steady presence for the Leafs moving forward. He picked up 111 points in 1993/94 and finished Top 5 in both Selke and Hart voting once again, cementing himself as an elite two-way forward in the league. When the Leafs acquired Mats Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques, Gilmour’s offensive role was diminished to an extent, but he exchanged the drop in minutes for the C on his chest, which he wore until his traded to the New Jersey Devils in 1997.
Most Memorable Moments
That entire 1992/93 season was something magical; not just for Gilmour, but for the Leafs, and quite frankly, the rest of the league. For my money’s worth, it’s the best season of hockey that we’ve ever seen. Gilmour’s constant heroics played a huge part in it, but nothing tops the above goal. Future Leaf Curtis Jospeh was standing on his head for this second round playoff game, having stopped over 60 shots heading into double overtime, and the game needed a hero. Gilmour, knowing that it would take something out of left field to beat the St. Louis goaltender, faked a wraparound on one side and reversed into one on the other, slipping the puck under Joseph’s stick and winning a much deserved game for the Leafs.
This, of course, led to one of the best Coaches Corner moments of all time:
- Most points in a season, 127 (1992/93)
- Most assists in a season, 95 (1992/93)
- Mosts assists in a game, 6 (February 13th 1993)
- NHL All Star Team, 1993 & 1994
- Frank J. Selke Trophy, 1992/93
- Most points in a playoff run, 35 (1992/93)
- 15th all-time, points (452)
- 9th all-time, assists (321)
- 1st all time, points per game (1.15)
After a rough decade (to say the least), the early 1990’s Leafs reinvigorated the fanbase. They were gritty, skilled, and most importantly, won hockey games and went on playoff runs longer than the city had seen in a long time. The Gilmour trade was the sparkplug, and he personally was the straw that stirred the drink.
The drink, of course, being milk.
To this day, Gilmour remains one of the most beloved players in Leafs history, despite playing fewer than 400 games with the team, his number 93 hangs in the rafters of the Air Canada Centre. It’s almost become a pre-requisite for every fan over 25 to have a Gilmour jersey hiding somewhere in their closet (I have two on my wall, from when I was 4 and 18 respectively). He combined all the qualities this city loves in a player; underdog size, dashing charisma, spectacular skills, and a bite that could match his bark.