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.
You can’t have a Leafs all-time team without the first member of Legends Row, can you? In a game that’s progressively become mercenaries playing well for the employer that hires them, it’s always good to look back at players who weren’t just Toronto Maple Leafs on their tax forms, but in their hearts as well. Ted Kennedy matched this description from the moment he joined the team until the moment he passed away.
You would think that an elite young teenager from Port Colborne would have fallen into Toronto’s laps, but it wasn’t so simple – the Montreal Canadiens had gotten to him first, inviting him to try out for the team at sixteen years old. He ultimately decided it wasn’t the place for him, both due to their lack of concern for his schooling and because they were the Habs, but the process made him Habs property. When the Leafs decided to sign him, they had to send prospect Frank Eddolls to Montreal as compensation; a move that annoyed owner Conn Smythe so much that he fired soon to be legendary GM Frank Selke for making it.
In hindsight, Selke’s last big move was a setback, but only for his future job as the architect of the Habs dynasties of the 50’s. Eddolls became a journeyman while Kennedy quickly became the face of the Leafs. In his rookie year, Kennedy put up 49 points in as many games, good for fourth on the team in points and second in goals.
Things only went further uphill from there. Kennedy lead the team in scoring in his sophomore year and was the team’s best player in a six-game first round series win against the 38-8-4 Montreal Canadiens, considered by many to be one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history. Toronto followed this up by beating the Detroit Red Wings in the final, giving Kennedy his first of an eventual five Stanley Cups. While he struggled hard in 1945/46 (as did the rest of the team), he returned to his productive and intimidating ways shortly thereafter, captaining the team to four Stanley Cups over the next five years.
Most Memorable Moments
Oddly enough, Kennedy’s most infamous moment comes from the one year gap in the 4-in-5 dynasty. After stripping Jack Stewart of the puck, Kennedy raced into the offensive zone, only to be met by a young Gordie Howe. Howe, considered by many to be Kennedy’s “2.0”, went in for a heavy bodycheck, but Teeder managed to completely dodge it. Howe went into the boards and Stewart found his way into landing on top of him.
As a result, Howe suffered a concussion, fractured parts of his face, and cut his eyeball. The missed check required the intervention of doctors to prevent Howe from dying. To this day, hockey’s historians argue whether Kennedy butt-ended Howe to cause the damage, but both players have denied it, as did NHL president Clarance Campbell, who happened to be at the game and saw the play in plain sight.
Fortunately, Howe survived and became one of the greatest players of all time. Unfortunately, the Red Wings were inspired by the incident and beat the Leafs in seven games. Toronto won the Stanley Cup in the year that followed, but as we all know, Bill Barilko went on a fishing trip shortly afterwards, and, well…
- 15th all time, Games Played (696)
- 10th all time, Goals (231)
- 8th all time, Assists (329)
- 9th all time, points (560)
- Five Stanley Cups (1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951)
- Last Leafs player to win the Hart Trophy (1954/55)
- Most all time points in Stanley Cup Finals, 23
- Youngest player to score a Stanley Cup Winning Goal, NHL-wide (21.4)
Kennedy’s legacy extends beyond the Leafs; many consider him to be one of the NHL’s first elite power forwards. Capable of playing both on the Right Wing and at Centre, Kennedy made up for his lack of top-end speed or acceleration by bulldozing through his opponents. He was stellar at protecting the puck, very willing to circle back into the defensive zone, and historians point to him as one of the best faceoff men of all time. Gordie Howe is the most obvious and immediate legend to come out of Kennedy’s mould, but the likes of Eric Lindros and Jarome Iginla carried Kennedy-like traits on (and in Iginla’s case, off as well) the ice well into the end of the 20th century and beyond.
As for the Leafs, Kennedy was the face of the franchise at its peak. He was the first NHL player to win five Stanley Cups, captained a team to the promised land at a younger age than anyone other than Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, and Jonathan Toews, and then proceeded to do it more frequently than the other two have to date and as many times as The Great One. The Leafs made the playoffs in every full season that he played in, something that we haven’t been able to say about any player for a while.
To maintain the size of the Stanley Cup, older bands get swapped out for newer teams to take their place. As such, Kennedy’s name is no longer on the trophy. Those older bands are, however, plastered on the wall of the Hockey Hall of Fame for all to see, and as such, will stay in Toronto as long as hockey lives on.
Just like Teeder did.