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Favorite Leafs, decade by decade- right up to the present. Send your names along!




Every once in a while it’s fun to look not only at the present, but back at what made us Leaf fans in the first place.  I’ve certainly posted on this subject before on occasion, but today I wanted to not only discuss some of my “faves” through the years (including the present) but yours as well.

So, paying small homage to the many individuals who could make up this “list” but can’t be included for reasons of my own roster limitations (hey, Ron Wilson isn’t the only guy struggling with that, now that he has more than a full bench to manage…), here are some of the guys who really were my personal “favorite Leafs” as I draw on my memory bank to bring forward some great old names—and some current ones, too.

(Quick aside:  everyone has favorite players—athletes who you are drawn to because you just like the way they play, their attitude, their work ethic, their skill or the way they conduct themselves off the field of play.  Maybe you just flat out like them.  Whatever the case might be, send your names along.)

As my own memories of Leaf lore began in the late 1950s, let’s start there.  I will select two Leaf players from each decade. (If you're interested, I've linked to earlier stories on some of the individuals below. Click on their names to see more...)

1950s (late)

Eddie Chadwick- the first guy that really meant “Maple Leafs” to me as a youngster in the ‘50s. (I love the wonderful old "posed" picture of Chadwick at right.)  I had the opportunity to interview Ed in later years when he was a scout (can’t remember if it was with the Oilers or Islanders).  Just a nice, humble man.  And, he was the last Maple Leaf goaltender to play 70 games in a single season, if I’m not mistaken. He had a fine career.


Frank Mahovlich- I apparently couldn’t say his name properly when he first came up in 1958 or so (I was maybe 4 years old...)  He was an “enigma” to fans at times who saw him sometimes as lazy.  He clashed with Punch Imlach (many did) but what power—and what a player he was.  He “proved” just how good he really was when he fit in beautifully with the more free-wheeling Habs  and won two more Cups there in the early 1970s.

Honorable mention:  Marc Reaume.  This is partly sentimental.  Marc was a young defensemen, a very promising one, with the Maple Leafs in the 1950s.  Amazingly to me, he lived in the small town just next to mind, where he was born and raised, in Essex County, Ontario.  He was the first NHL player I ever met, and he was as nice as the day is long.  From what I’ve heard, he always has been that way and never changed.


1960s

Dave Keon- yes, a “favorite” for me and thousands of other Canadian kids at the time.  I would check off my self-made stat sheet around his old Bee Hive picture whenever he scored a goal in the 1960s.  Great times.  He was my guy, for sure.  Small, fast.  He missed so many breakaways but was also unbelievably determined as a fore checker and penalty-killer.  He left in the mid-‘70s under unfortunate circumstances but to this day, I don’t look at Keon as a bitter old ex-Leaf, not at all. I remember him as the wonderful and loyal player that he was.

Dickie Duff- this fine winger (left) was traded too soon.  How I wish he had stayed a Leaf his entire career.  Small—but so speedy and tough.  He scored big goals throughout his career as a Maple Leaf and Hab. The guy won six Cups and he was no bit player.  He well deserved his late induction into the Hall-of-Fame.

Honorable mention:  Johnny Bower.  Anyone who knows about Bower knows the kind of competitor and champion he was, and what integrity he had off the ice.  He may be one of the world’s nicest people.  That has never changed, by all accounts.


1970s

Lanny McDonald - drafted high in 1973, then some thought he was a “mistake”.   But his confidence blossomed in his third season and he never looked back after that in a Hall-of Fame career.  I also wish never he had never been traded.  He won me over when, in that third season (1975-’76, I believe) he knocked Bobby Orr and Denis Potvin head over heels on consecutive Saturday nights at the old Gardens with a classic old-style, open ice hip-check.  A hero to this day in Calgary, for good reason.

Brian Spencer- (seen at left opposite popular St. Louis Blue Bob Plager in a wonderful old Dan Baliotti photo) for me, the guy was unforgettable.  Worked so hard, but the Leafs gave him away because of a knee injury.  Went on to perform admirably for a very good Buffalo Sabres team in the 1970s, including almost winning a Cup in the spring of ’75.

Honorable mention:  Brian Glennie.  He was just a loyal, dedicated, hard-working defenseman who gave his all and played hurt a lot.

1980s

Rocky Saganiuk – I loved the way he played, but he ran around too much for Leaf coaches of that early ‘80s era.  I often wonder what he might have been with more support and patience.

Allan Bester – In the Bester-Wreggett “debate”, I was a Bester guy.  I have always felt that, with better coaching and someone around to boost his sometimes flagging confidence, he would have been an outstanding Leaf netminder for many years.

Honorable mention: Wendel Clark.  While he was often criticized when he kind of fell into a lull in his play—and even Harold Ballard, the owner, wondered why he was hurt so often—when inspired, Clark was the prototypical Leaf from the olden-days Smythe era.  He could beat you in the alley- and on the ice.


1990s

Doug Gilmour – I think he brought a lot of fallen-away Leaf supporters back into the “fold”.  He just played with such a level of grit and intensity.  I’m not sure we’ve had anyone before or since who played quite that way, though I acknowledge it was for a relatively brief period of time.

Todd Gill – I just think Todd was one of those guys who, for all his imperfections, played some solid “D” while he was here way more often than not and more importantly, always struck me as a guy who was genuinely proud to wear the Maple Leaf crest on the front of his jersey every night.


Honorable mention: Sylvain Levebvre.  I so appreciated the smarts and  finesse he brought to the Leaf defense.  Hated to see him go, though he was a necessary piece in the deal that brought Sundin here.

2000s

Mats Sundin  -  the smile when he scored a big goal could light up a building, and he did many nights over the years at the Gardens and the ACC.  He had size, strength and was a guy who grew into his role as captain in a tough market.

Danny Markov – I just loved the guy because he played with so much heart.  Another of those guys I wish had never been dealt.

Honorable mention:  Shayne Corson.  I know Shayne left the Leafs under not the best of circumstances, timing-wise, but I refuse to forget him throwing his body in front of shots in the playoffs in the early 2000s.  He could be a true hockey warrior.

The present

Nik Kulemin – those who know this site also know that I’m a Kulemin guy.  He’s just one of those all-around guys who contributes in different ways.  Funny, I think the guy has a higher ceiling that we are seeing so far this season.

James Reimer – I have no idea how the young goalie will be over the years as an NHL netminder, but how can we not like the attitude he brings to the rink every day?  He appreciates being a big-leager, and so far he has played like one.  We just need him healthy, so take your time, young man.

Honorable mention:  Mikhail Grabovski.  Yes, call me a convert.  I would not have said this two years ago, or even twelve months ago.  But we all make mistakes.  Hopefully am I am forgiven.

Again, have fun with this.  Share the names of those you “just like” from the Leafs, for as far back as your memory will take you.

I look forward to your comments.










14 comments:

  1. Hi,
    from the 90s I also likes Felix Potvin. He was great in that playoff runs.
    Honorable mention: Dave Andreychuk
    2000s: Kaberle, Steve Thomas and because of that one playoff goal against Pittsburgh I always liked Gary Valk. Honorable mention: Curtis Joseph and Alyn McCauley. CuJo with Pat Quinn was the main reason we went from missing the playoffs three times in a row to the conference final. I always liked Alyn McCauley. Bad luck with injuries set him always back with his developement, but his rise during the 2001 playoffs after Sundin went down with a injury will never be forget. :-)

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  2. Andrew Raycroft (ugh) played 72 games in his first season with us. I feel dirty.

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  3. I love that you chose guys that weren't superstars like Saganiuk, Markov & Levebvre. Got to be a life long die hard fan to pull those names out of past rosters and celebrate them.

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  4. Long suffering Leaf fanNovember 12, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    Outstanding post, Mike. Since I have a recollection of the late 60's, I'll begin with that.

    1967-1969:

    1. Favorite player- Tim Horton. My idol. In my eyes, in my eyes, he was the all around best defenseman in the whole NHL, tough as nails, would've scored more goals in the high tempo 80's and 90's.

    2. Dave Keon. My sentiments are about the same
    as what Mike said.

    3. Bruce Gamble- Very steady goalie that could go long stretches of stealing games, but was privy to giving up a soft goal, which could kill momentum in a good game. What kid playing street hockey wouldn't want to mimic Hewitt's, "ooohhhh Gamble!" when he made a save?

    4. Gary Unger- I know he only played 15 games for the Leafs, but he was one of those young players you always wished was on your team. He had a knack for scoring goals-was a solid player. I always wondered what it would be like to have a combination of him and Sittler together.

    5. Rick Lee- I still have the photos of the then young up and coming Leaf stars: him, Quinn, Dorey, McKenney, Pelyk. Lee was a little fire hydrant, tough as nails, great zone passer and shot blocker. Would've been Leaf captain if Ballard had given him the extra $15K before he went to the WHA.

    6. Jim Dorey- Great replacement for Tim Horton. Tough defenseman who could play the game at both ends of the ice. No one dared to venture in front of our net.

    Honorable mention- Pat Quinn: Hamilton boy. Not a great skater, but he played the game with lots of heart.

    1970's:

    1. Daryl Sittler- Great leader, played with a lot of heart. Would've been known as a power forward in today's game.

    2. Rick Kehoe- Very fast skater with a knack for putting the puck into the net. He wasn't afraid to go in front of the net. I was very upset the day they traded him to Pittsburgh.

    3. Lanny McDonald- Strong two-way forward who could hit like a brick. Had a strong wrist shot. I was also upset the day they traded him.

    4. Mike Palmateer- Was a thrill to watch playing in the net. He would've had a longer career if he'd didn't have gimpy knees.

    Honorable mention: Ian Turnbull- When his head was in the game, he was one of the best. Problem was, that it wasn't there all of the time.
    Bruce "Gabby" Boudreau- Great little stick handler that had a knack for scoring. In my mind he would've been a great player, if only given the chance.
    The Bruise Brothers- Dave "Tiger" Williams and Pat Boutette. It was a sad day in Leaf history when they traded them away.

    1980's:

    1. Rick Vaive- Most under-appreciated player to play for the Leafs. Scored 50 goals three times and never has been honored. Always played the game with a lot of heart.

    2. Stevie Thomas- Mr. Clutch. Could play the game any way the opposition wanted to play. Wish he'd stayed a Leaf his whole career.

    3. Wendel Clark- Brought a lot of respect to an organization that was fading fast, and is loved by many still today. I often wonder what would have happened if Pat Burns had been his coach right from the beginning.

    Honorable mention: Vincent Tremblay- Hard to believe that at one point in the 81-82 season he was mentioned for Rookie of the Year. He played most of his career behind a very poor defense. Had he been given more time in the minors, he could have been a very solid goalie.
    Al Iafrate- Known as Allicious because of his sweet, powerful skating strides. With a little more maturity, he could have been a star in this league.
    Brad Smith- He was not a very good skater, but I loved the way he played the game with a lot of
    energy.

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  5. Long suffering Leaf fanNovember 12, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Here's my favorites for the 90's-present:

    1990's:

    1. Doug Gilmour- What can be said about him that has not already been said?

    2. Nikolai Borschevsky- First Russian to ever play with the Leafs. Beller must have been rolling in his grave. On the smallish side, very talented and quick with nice, soft hands. Scored one of the most important goals for the Leafs in the 90's. It's a shame that a spleen injury ruined his career.

    Honorable mention: Todd Gill- Hardworking defenseman that was prone to the occasional burp.
    Felix "the Cat" Potvin- Very quick in the net.
    Peter Zezel- Quick and great with face-offs. Strong defensively.
    Mark Osbourne- Strong two-way forward. Played well with Zezel in this sense.

    2000's:

    1. Mats Sudin- Amazing talent that always made you long for more.

    2. Bryan McCabe- Tough as nails. Average skater with a booming shot.

    3. Darcy Tucker- Played the game with his heart
    on his sleeve. He always got under the skin of the opposition.

    4. Alyn McCauley- Came over in the Gilmour trade. Smooth skater that had a lot of upside, but unfortunately concussions ruined his career.

    Honorable mentions: Dmitri Yushkevich- Very hard to beat on the outside. Sacrificed his body and played the game with a lot of heart.
    Gary Roberts- Who could forget the 2002 playoff series where Roberts was a one-man wrecking crew?

    Present:

    1. My favorite player is Luke Schenn. I know he's struggling right now, but he's still the heart and soul of the team going forward. Reminds me a lot of Rick Lee when he played for the Leafs.

    2. Nikolai Kulemin- A human skating fire hydrant. Reminds me a lot of Lanny McDonald when he played for the Leafs.

    3. Joffrey Lupul- He has taken this game to a whole new level. Mr. Wilson was correct when he said that he has helped Kessel to be a better player.

    Honorable mentions: James "Optimus Reime" Reimer- Great nickname. Hoping he has a great long-lasting career.
    Jake Gardner- Reminds me a lot of Scott Niedermayer when he played f

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  6. The 70's actually saw 2, or maybe even 3 incarnations of the Leafs, because of league expansion, then the WHA, then just Ballard. But it was also the time when I locked in my faves - Norm Ullman above any other, because he played the hardest, and the cleanest. Later, Salming hooked me from the moment I saw him. Just this kid with a heart the size of Sweden, who played hard, skated and moved the puck 2nd only to an Orr, no give in him. And then, the guys who played like me - Spinner Spencer was the Tasmanian Devil on ice, big Bob Neely, crashing into everything, and of course, the Tiger.

    After that, there haven't been as many players who really caught my heart. Dougie Gilmour gave it everything, and such a gorgeous awareness on ice. Wendel, again - all heart. Plus some knuckles. Markov, same reason - and Nikki Borechevsky.

    And odd thing, like you say, today, it's... Grabs. Game on game, I like him more. Same heart in him as in Gilmour or Salming. And Frattin's got the potential to be one of those. We'll see.

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  7. So many great comments today...First Anon's mention of Valk rings true. Hard-working winger. And yes, McCauley. He was outstanding in that long playoff run.

    Long Suffering...thanks so much. Outstanding list and wonderful memories. I won't go over all the names you mention but Tim Horton and Gamble, great old Leaf names. I loved Ley and Dorey as well. Kehoe, yes and Boudreau- I agree, never quite got the chance with the Leafs, but so skilled. Your '80s list is great and I'm totally on side with your '90s list and the 2000s as well. I appreciate your mentioning Yushkevich. Fantastic post. Thanks.

    Not Norm...thanks for taking the time to write. I'm glad you raised Ullman's name. I haven't written enough about him here, though I saw him often as a kid growing up near Detroit when he starred with the Wings. He was a great pro with the blue and white, for sure.

    I always thought Neely could have been much better with the right coach and everyone loved Tiger Williams. Thanks again.

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  8. Another nice post. I posted as just "Andrew" on your previous article, so I'll post as "Andrew from NL" to possibly distinguish myself haha. Unfortunately (Fortunately) I've only been around for 2 decades, so I'll give a top 5.
    1. Doug Gilmour - Classic
    2. Mats Sundin
    3. Thomas Kaberle - loved the smoothed skating
    4. Steve Thomas
    5. James Reimer

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  9. Thanks Andrew (from NL!) Appreciate your input- I'll keep that distinction in mind in future when you post! Thanks...

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  10. This is a great post and a lot of fun to read. I have agreed with the comments of all the folks above - what a joy to remember them all these players and their contributions to our enjoyment of the game of hockey in general and the Leafs in particular. For the 6o's could I add the name of Eddie Shack? Never a dull moment with Eddie around.

    Since I fall into the "more vintage" fan category, let me add my all-time favorite Leaf who played in the late 40's and 50's.
    He is a player you rarely hear of when famous past Leafs are being remembered or toasted by the media yet in my view he accomplished more in his career than most former Leafs. For me to recount his career with the Leafs would be too long for this post. I urge you all to go to the legendsofhockey.net website and read their article on a former Leaf captain and all-star - the great SID SMITH.
    I was 8 years old when Sid joined the Leafs for the '49 playoffs and this is about the time I used to follow the Leafs by listening to Foster Hewitt call the games. In the early 50's which were Sid's best years, he played left wing on a line with Ted Kennedy at centre and Tod Sloan on the right wing.
    One of the best times of my life was when I got to meet him. He was signing autographs at a Leaf game at the ACC just a few years before he passed away in 2004. I had no idea he was going to be there but as he was signing his picture for me I was thrilled to be able to tell him how much I admired him and the Leafs from so many years ago. As my son led me away to our seats, I realized that a 60+ year old man had just been babbling like a 12 year old kid meeting his favorite player! And for that moment I guess I was!
    For those of you not old enough to remember him, check out the bio at Legends of Hockey and see if you agree he was a great former Leaf.

    PS to Michael - I grew up in Windsor and remember Marc Reaume well also. Good Lasalle boy. Although he was a journeyman defenceman he also contributed to the Leafs by being the player traded to Detroit for Red Kelly. That worked out pretty well for us!

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  11. Thanks for sharing those wonderful memories, Ed. There is no question that Sid Smith stands as an all-time Leaf. Didn't he later play a big role with the World Champion Whitby Dunlops when he was re-instated as an amateur? For me, names like his are so important in understanding the history of the blue and white and what it meant - and means- to wear the sweater today.

    And yes, I'm guessing "Eddie the Entertainer" was a favourite of many Leaf fans in the '60s! Thanks again.

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  12. My first Leaf heros were Ted Kennedy (because of the guy who yelled "c'mon Teeder" at every game) and Harry Lumley - how often my friends and I would try and make ball hockey saves in those "posed" positions! Keon, Horton, Bower, Mahovlich, Billy Harris, Duff, and George Armstrong were my 60's heros. The Chief's Stanley Cup-winning goal you posted about a while back is one of my all-time favorites. (That would be an interesting subject - favorite goals.) Lanny, Sittler, Errol Thompson (for his doggedness), Palmateer, Turnbull, Salming, Brian Glennie and Bob Neely (I can still see his open ice crushing of Bill Barber during one of those 70's. playoffs). Into the 80's, I'd say Wendel remains my favorite. Gilmour, Andreychuk, and Potvin from the 90's. McCabe, Yushkevich, Kaberle, Sundin, Belfour and Cujo from the 00's. Right now - I like Lupul, Grabovski, Gardiner and Gunnarsson, with Kessel and Phaneuf right in there!

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  13. Thanks for those great names Gerund O'...Enjoyed the reference to Billy Harris, a really smart centre for our Leafs in the '50s-'60s as you mention.

    Lumley. Great name (and of course Kennedy...). And you bring back fond memories of playing hockey (and what we called "ground hockey"...like road hockey or street hockey but in guys' backyards if they had the right kind of ground/grass in pour rural community) and being the goalie when you had the chance and making those picturesque saves! Thanks again.

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  14. Mike, you forgot to mention Ian Turnbull for the 70s! Although I was very young at the time I still remember his 5 goal night, and sadly the time(s) he was booed relentlessly on the ice.

    I want to echo Long suffering Leaf fan's comment about Gary Roberts and his 2002 playoff series. Had the Leafs made it to the finals that year, I really felt he would have won the Conn Smythe.

    If I could throw one more name in for the 80s it would be Brad Marsh. One nickname I remember for him was 'The octopus'. He was by no means a gifted player, but his dedication to the game was as high as any other.

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