What’s the best roster of Maple Leafs who never played together?

Photo credit:THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Filipe Dimas
1 year ago
Here’s another roster construction exercise no one asked for. What’s the best possible all time Toronto Maple Leafs roster where no two players have ever played together in Toronto before? A team of Maple Leafs alumni with absolutely zero prior chemistry.
The hardest part of the challenge becomes clear instantly. Which beloved stars do you cut from the team because keeping them would mean losing out on too many other great options? After all, many of Toronto’s greatest legends have played here for so long that it would be impossible to fill out a full roster while keeping them all. Mats Sundin, Borje Salming, George Armstrong, Tim Horton, and Dave Keon all played 13+ seasons for the Maple Leafs which means if any of them were to make our team, we would lose out on over a decade’s worth of options. That’s not to say none of them will, but it would come at a price, especially if they had a number of particularly talented teammates at different points in their Maple Leafs tenure.
Before we dive into the exercise, let’s establish the rules.
  1. The player’s ability will only reflect their time in Toronto. This means no scouring rosters for former all-stars who were awful when they made their way to Toronto or rookies traded away before they became stars.
  2. We’re only considering if the players have ever played together while members of the Maple Leafs. If two guys make the team and happened to play together on another NHL franchise, in junior, or international play – that doesn’t matter. Partly because this exercise is about finding which Maple Leafs never crossed paths, and mostly because I’m too lazy to do that depth of research.
With that, let’s dive into roster construction.
The Core
I decided the easiest way to pull this off would be to divide players into tiers, starting with a core that is selected due to arguably being the greatest Maple Leafs of all time in that position. It’s been shown that most teams need a bonafide superstar or two if they want to achieve championship success, so regardless of who we’re forced to cut by including these core players, they make the team simply because just having them on the roster makes this a competitive one. 
Auston Matthews makes the team as many already consider him to be the most talented Maple Leaf ever, and one of the best natural goal scorers in NHL history. With only 407 games played in his young career, he doesn’t even eliminate all that many players from our roster, especially when you consider that the core during his tenure has largely stuck together, so nearly anyone of note who’s played for Toronto over the past 6 seasons would also be eliminating the likes of Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly. While all those guys are great players, none are worth keeping Auston off our roster.
In what will be by far the most damaging selection towards our ability to select other players, Borje Salming also makes the team. With him being Toronto’s all-time assists leader, and considered by many to be the best defenceman in Maple Leafs history, as well as one of the greatest NHLers of all time, we’re forced to look past the fact that he played 1099 games across 16 seasons for Toronto. Losing a decade and a half worth of players becomes less painful when you remember Salming played throughout the entirety of the 80’s, where Toronto was a bottom feeder team. While the Leafs did have some other great players during Salming’s tenure, none are as important as having a truly elite number one defenceman and blueline playmaker.
Throwing back to a few decades earlier, we decide that Charlie Conacher definitely belongs as a core member of this team. As a member of the Hall of Fame and one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation – leading the league in goals scored five times in six years – his addition is worth the nine seasons worth of teammates it costs us.
Establishing a four player core of one centre, one winger, one defenceman, and a goaltender seemed like the best way to ensure there’s talent at every level for this team. So the core goaltender selected to make this roster is Jacques Plante. Plante is the unicorn of this exercise, a true superstar that only played on the team for a short time, leaving the team a year before Salming played his first game – making the two able to play together thanks to a single summer of separation. Not only is Plante the franchise’s all time save percentage leader (tied with Curtis McElhinney of all people), but he only played 106 games across three seasons for the Leafs. Adding him gives us a truly elite goalie who can single handedly steal games on his own.
Players added: Auston Matthews, Borje Salming, Charlie Conacher, Jacques Plante
The Pieces
The pieces are the next tier of player we’re looking for on our list. Now that we can no longer add anyone who has ever played with Matthews, Salming, Conacher or Plante, our job is to go through who’s left and make strategic decisions on the best players we can find who fit a balance of helping us win without harming future roster construction. Of course, the best way to do this is find players who were excellent during their time in Toronto, but didn’t spend too much time here at all.
We start with a pair of 90’s defencemen in Tom Kurvers and Larry Murphy. Each player wore the blue and white for less than two seasons, and put up solid performances on weak teams. Despite the trade to acquire Kurvers being one of the worst in franchise history, he was still able to put up 55 points in 89 games. A few years later, future Hall of Famer Larry Murphy would receive Vezina votes during his only full year as a Maple Leaf, putting up a total of 100 points over 151 games.
We can also fit another future Hall of Famer into our roster by adding Glenn Anderson whose Maple Leafs tenure occurred right between Kurvers and Murphy, arriving in Toronto the year after Kurvers left, and getting traded away a year and a half before Murphy joined. Putting up 157 points in 221 games for Toronto, he adds not only some scoring but also plenty of grit, with over 267 PIMs during his time in Toronto.
Another Hall of Fame defenceman joins the roster in Babe Pratt who scored 109 points in 179 games and won the Hart Trophy while playing for Toronto in the early 1940’s. And despite not winning his Hart Trophy with Toronto, we’ll also be adding Andy Bathgate to the roster whose only cup came as a member of the 1964 Maple Leafs, helping secure his future Hall of Fame selection. 
Centre Max Bentley adds yet another Hall of Famer to the roster who won a Hart with another team. After joining the Leafs during a midseason trade with the Blackhawks, Bentley finished fourth in Hart voting and helped lead Toronto to three cups over the next four seasons. Much like Bentley and Bathgate, Bert Olmstead is yet another Hall of Famer who won the cup with Toronto, and even finished fifth in Hart voting in 1960, during his second of four seasons with the team.
As one of the lone truly skilled players during one of the darkest eras of Maple Leafs hockey, Phil Kessel adds a ton of offence to our roster without sacrificing too many players of note despite being a Leaf for six seasons. Finally, former Blackhawks head coach Derek King makes the team as a solid secondary scorer who boosted the powerplay of the Maple Leafs during his two seasons with the team in the late 90’s.
Players added: Tom Kurvers, Larry Murphy, Glenn Anderson, Babe Pratt, Andy Bathgate, Max Bentley, Bert Olmstead, Phil Kessel, Derek King
The One-Season Wonders
Sometimes an excellent player joins your favourite team and a year later they’re gone. In reality, it sucks when that happens, but for this exercise it’s a dream come true. Filling out our roster are some of the best one-hit wonders in Maple Leafs history. Guys who arrived, made their mark, and then departed to never be seen in blue and white again. With their high-level of play in Toronto, combined with the fact that their limited time with the Leafs means a guarantee of no overlap with anyone else on the roster, they’re exactly the kind of player necessary for filling all the remaining holes.
We’ll start with a pair of defencemen who left big marks with the Maple Leafs during their limited time with the team in the early 2000’s. Robert Svehla played only one season with Toronto before retiring, but in that time put up 45 points while playing excellent defence and logging over 23 minutes a night. A year later, Hall of Famer Brian Leetch was traded to the Leafs at the deadline, where he got off to a hot start with three assists in his first game and kept the momentum going as a point per game player over the rest of the season then adding another eight assists in the playoffs while playing close to 30 minutes a night. 
The 2004/2005 was the reason that Leetch’s time in Toronto was so limited, as it used up the final year of his contract. However, coming out of the lockout, another veteran joined the Maple Leafs and put up fantastic numbers when Jason Allison signed as part of an attempted comeback after a concussion and neck injury left him three years removed from playing hockey. Allison’s 60 points across 66 games in Toronto is good enough for him to sit 17th in all time points per game by a Maple Leaf, and earns him a spot on our roster.
The mid 2000’s Leafs loved a veteran looking for one last chance at glory (a trend that seems to have made a return in recent years) and after Allison was forced out by a management group that wanted to go younger, the team signed two-time Selke winner Michael Peca. Despite playing only 35 games and putting up 15 points for Toronto, Peca was a great defensive forward during his limited time here, making him perfect for our 4C spot. Joining Peca on the fourth line are Mike Ridley and Doc Romnes, a pair of two-way forwards who put up points and killed penalties during their half-season careers in Toronto, Ridley during the mid 90’s and Romnes in the late 30’s.
Finally, serving as our backup goalie is Marv Edwards whose .910 save percentage during his 25 game Maple Leafs career is good enough to be tied for 12th with Curtis Joseph and Ben Scrivens on the franchise’s all time record book.
Players added: Robert Svehla, Brian Leetch, Jason Allison, Michael Peca, Mike Ridley, Doc Romnes, Marv Edwards
Final Thoughts
With all that in place, we’ve completed our roster of all-time Maple Leafs where no one on the team has played a single game together. A collection of superstar alumni, fan favourites and guys that you forgot ever played for the team. With superstar power at every level, and plenty of depth top to bottom, it’s certainly one of those rosters that looks good on paper but may take a few weeks to figure it out given the premise.
Can this team compete for a championship despite the lack of chemistry between any of its members? Let us know what you think, and what you may have done differently. The full roster and a list of all the years each player played for Toronto listed below.
Andy Bathgate – Auston Matthews – Charlie Conacher
Bert Olmstead – Max Bentley – Phil Kessel
Derek King – Jason Allison – Glenn Anderson
Doc Romnes – Michael Peca – Mike Ridley
Borje Salming – Brian Leetch
Babe Pratt – Tom Kurvers
Robert Svehla – Larry Murphy
Jacques Plante
Marv Edwards
Years Used:
29/30-37/38 – Charlie Conacher
38/39 – Doc Romnes
42/44-45/46 – Babe Pratt
47/48-52/53 – Max Bentley
58/59-61/62 – Bert Olmstead
63/64-64-65 – Andy Bathgate
69/70 – Marv Edwards
70/71-72/73 – Jacques Plante
73/74-88/89 – Borje Salming
89/90-90/91 – Tom Kurvers
91/92-93/94 – Glenn Anderson
94/95 – Mike Ridley
95/96-96/97 – Larry Murphy
97/98-99/00 – Derek King
02/03 – Robert Svehla
03/04 – Brian Leetch
05/06 – Jason Allison
06/07 – Michael Peca
09/10-14/15 – Phil Kessel
16/17-22/23 – Auston Matthews
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