Sometimes, there is a really good player out there that, as a Maple Leaf fan, you wish was in Toronto with the Leafs. (We could probably name a few right now…)
Usually they never get here but every once in a while, your “dream” comes true and a particular player you really like does end up with the Leafs.
Unfortunately, more often than not, by the time they get here, the impact you hoped that player was going to have just doesn’t happen.
When I look back on my 50+ years as a Leaf fan, I can think of a number of players who I “wanted”, as a fan, to be in blue and white. But by the time they arrived, they were seemingly past their due date and no longer in their prime.
Here are some names that come to mind that I wish had arrived a few years sooner:
1. Bert Olmstead carved a great career with the Montreal Canadiens, a blood and guts forward who played with an edge and carried an attitude. He absolutely helped the Leafs when he arrived here in the late 1950s and contributed to their 1962 Cup, but he would have been an even better addition about five years sooner.
2. Dickie Moore had a star-filled career with the Habs as well, retired for a year and came back to join the Leafs in 1964-’65. He played his guts out in Toronto but just didn’t quite have the wheels he had in his younger, healthier days. If the Leafs had a hard-nosed guy like Dickie a bit sooner- twice an NHL scoring champion if I’m not mistaken- that would have been something to see.
3. Norm Ullman (pictured above in late 1950s action at the Forum, defending against Rocket Richard and the aforementioned Dickie Moore, with Terry Sawchuk is in goal and Gordie Howe in the background) came to Toronto in the massive Frank Mahovlich deal in February of 1968. While Ullman had some splendid seasons with the Leafs until he left after the 1975 season, his peak seasons were with the Red Wings, when he was one of the best two-way players in the game.
4. Pierre Pilote was, arguably, the finest all-around defenseman in hockey for a decade while with the Black Hawks beginning in the late 1950s. He was small but highly skilled and played tough. He was the perfect blueliner on a wide-open Black Hawk team that featured Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita—and Glenn Hall to bail them out in goal. But when Pilote joined Toronto for the 1968-’69 season, he just never seemed comfortable. He didn’t perform with the same confidence and assertiveness that was the hallmark of his time with the Hawks.
5. Jacques Plante made a major contribution to the Leafs in the early 1970s when he came to the blue and white, already in his 40’s. He won something like six Vezina Trophies with Montreal in the 1950s and early ‘60s and certainly could have been a star in Toronto for a longer period of time had he arrived sooner. That said, we all loved Johnny Bower, so we can’t fret too much over that one.
6. Rod Seiling was originally a Leaf but was dealt to the Rangers in the Andy Bathgate deal in 1964. By the time Rod returned to Toronto in the mid-1970s he was still a fine player but boy, he could have been a star with the Leafs for a decade—at a time when they really needed help at the back end. Instead, he was tremendous for the Rangers.
7. Dan Maloney is a player I coveted for years when he was with LA and then Detroit throughout the 1970s. Toronto GM Jim Gregory grabbed Maloney, a rugged winger, just before the playoffs in 1978 and we had to give up Errol Thompson and two first-round choices to get him. He was a major factor in the memorable upset of the Islanders, but he never quite had the impact here he would have had, had he arrived about three years earlier. A heart and soul player.
8. Dave Burrows is a guy I absolutely loved with the Penguins, a solid defensive defenseman, but like Maloney, by the time he arrived in the late 1970s, he was good, but the team was in transition, changed coaches shortly thereafter as I recall. Under incoming GM Punch Imlach the Leafs became a mess. Too bad for Burrows.
9. Brad Maxwell I thought was one of the best young defensemen in hockey in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the North Stars. He then went to Quebec for a season before joining the Leafs, and was a +22 there. In his one season with the Leafs, he was -27. The ‘80s were a tough time to be a Maple Leaf.
10. Larry Murphy is a Hall-of-Famer who excelled before he arrived in Toronto in the ‘90s and helped the Wings win a Cup after he left. He did some good things while he was here but he also struggled, and some Leaf fans weren’t satisfied. It was a bad marriage in Toronto, but he was a tremendous player.
11. Like Dan Maloney before him, I coveted Owen Nolan for years. I saw him play a lot and particularly recall him in a playoff series when he was with the Sharks. He was a hockey warrior and I badly wanted to see him in Toronto. We gave up a fair bit to get him, but I loved the deal at the time. He was hurt in much of his Toronto tenure, almost from the get-go, making the trade, in retrospect, a virtual waste, unfortunately.
12. Ed Belfour was pretty darn good during his time in Toronto, but he was rarely the Ed Belfour who led the Dallas Stars to the Cup in the late 1990s. Of course, if he had obtained Belfour sooner, would we have ever had Cujo?
There were other players who fit the above criteria, Eric Lindros not the least among them.
Sometimes, though, the timing worked perfectly. I can think of a number of individuals who played for other teams before they arrived in Toronto, but actually hit their stride when they got here. Some names that come to mind include Johnny Bower, Allan Stanley, Bernie Parent (though we lost him to the WHA before he became a full-fledged star), Rick Vaive, Bill Derlago and of course Doug Gilmour. Does Dave Andreychuk fit here?
We can also throw in Sylvain Lefebvre, Curtis Joseph and new Leafs Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf.
If there are some players you’d like to add to the above lists, send along your suggestions.