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How long has it been since the Leafs have had a player other teams were afraid of? Is Kessel one?





I was thinking the other day about how, as a Leaf fan, there have always seemed to be players I was kind of afraid of when they were on the ice for the other team, because you just knew they were able to do something out of the ordinary at any given time.

When I was really young, in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, it was Gordie Howe in Detroit.  He wasn’t fast or “spectacular”, and was not apt to skate through the entire team to score a goal all by himself.  But he was tricky and tough and so smart with the puck- and without it.  He could create danger out of very little. (Check out the great old Harold Barkley photo above, from the early '60s, with Gordie about to shoot from in close on his pal and Western Canadian rival, Leaf goaltender Johnny Bower.  Quick aside: was there ever a better sports photographer than Barkley?  Outstanding.)

Later it was Bobby Hull of Chicago.  (The wonderful old photo at right was taken after he tied Rocket Richard's record of 50 goals in a single season back in 1961-'62, I think it was.  Only the Rocket and "Boom Boom" Geoffrion had done it before him.)  He was so hard to contain with his power and speed and that huge shot.  Every once in a while Bobby Baun might be able to shut him down. But in that old Chicago Stadium, especially, Hull (even with fast young Maple Leaf winger Ronnie Ellis trying to keep up with him)  was tough on the Leafs throughout the ‘60s.

Then it was Bobby Orr.  I was literally fearful every time he was on the ice.  When he would jump off the idea for a breather, I’d think, “let’s do something on this shift…fast”.  When he was on the ice, which was a lot, he controlled the puck (and therefore the game) and you couldn’t get it away from him.

In the ‘70s, the explosive and dynamic Gilbert Perreault of the Sabres was probably the guy who killed the Leafs and I hated seeing him on the ice.  He was so hard to slow down and he was a Leaf-killer, for sure.  So talented.  He could skate through the entire team to score a goal.

In the ‘80s, yes, for me it was Gretzky.  He loved playing the Leafs, being a Southern Ontario guy and more often than not, he had huge games against the blue and white.

This all leads me to think:  when was the last time we (the Leafs) had somebody that made the other team game-plan for us?  And as importantly, when was the last time we had a player that made fans on another team worry about our guy?

I mean, we’ve had some wonderful players over the past 50 years that I’ve been following the Leafs—Keon, Sittler, Salming, Clark, Gilmour, Sundin to name just a few.

But have we ever had a guy that would make, say, a Boston fan, or a Habs fan, go, “Oh God, he’s on the ice again.  Damn….”

In baseball, they talk about "not letting that guy" beat us.  It's usually the power hitter on the other team, the guy that makes pitchers edgy because of the damage they could do.  In football, teams will game plan to take into consideration an elite running back, or a receiver they need to shut down, in addition of course to a superstar quarterback.

So this is the question for Leaf fans past and present.  Who did we have that scared the opposition in the olden days?  What about the more modern era- 1990s and beyond?

And what about now.  Who keeps the other team -and their fans -up at night?

I’m probably missing somebody, but I just don’t think there has truly been anyone.  Maybe Darryl Sittler in his hey-day in the mid-later 1970s.  Sundin?  He was tremendous, but I don't know if he scared the opposition, or their fans.

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.

6 comments:

  1. I think, in a non-direct way, Kessel terrifies the Bruins. I think they're very highly motivated to do everything they can to make sure he doesn't make them look foolish, even desperate to do so. When I compare their play, particularly since this season started, against us versus against their "rivals" the Habs and even the Sens, they bring their "A" game every time in games vs. the Leafs , and in particular vs. Kessel, while their being behind on conditioning and Cup hangover has showed in most of their other games. I think also that any goalie who watches film of Kessel's goals has to be at least a little nervous because he can score in the blink of an eye. If they're not, there may be something wrong with them.
    I think Phaneuf has that mystique in some ways as well. I can see Ruutu and Da Costa and those soul-crushing hits even now in my head.
    Personally, I wish we had an entire team that gives the willies to any opposition team- I think, based on our play and the comments from opposing coaches, that our second half of the season last year made a lot of teams think that there were no easy points to be had in a tilt against us.
    I think that league parity may see that effect less and less over time- teams are too balanced to strike terror into an opponent- not that there's zero opportunity any more to build a team you just don't want to have to face, period.

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  2. Bobby Clarke said during that series against Philly in the 2004(?) playoffs that Mogilny scared the crap out of him whenever he was on the ice. As I recall, Mogilny was a flyer killer for the first two games of that series and then got hurt.

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  3. 2004. Bobby Clarke admitted that every time Alex Mogilny stepped on the ice he scared the crap out of him. As I recall, Mogilny torched the Flyers in the first two games only to get hurt (or hit?) after that.

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  4. Lanny McDonald had a terrific snap shot, fast, hard and accurate, not unlike Kessel. Teamed with set-up man Sittler, Lanny was deadly from the face-off circle in. Even if he never scored 50 goals for the Leafs, I think he was as feared by other teams as 50+ scorers like Vaive, Andrechuk, etc. Also, the Big M could get the opposition very nervous.

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  5. KidK...you raise an interesting point about the Bruins and Kessel. There seems to be little question that they focus on shutting him down as best they can when the two teams play. (That "rivalry" should get even more interesting as Seguin matures, which seems to be happening as we speak...)

    Anon...McDonald was a personal favorite Leaf for me in the '70s, so I'm always pleased when someone mentions him in any positive context. Mahovlich, without question, was a '60s Leaf that other teams had to be aware of.

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  6. Long suffering Leaf fanNovember 2, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    Hmm..let me put my thinking cap on. Paul Henderson used to give the New York Rangers fits. Scotty Bowman used to say the key to stopping the Leafs was shutting down Darryl Sittler. Cherry said that Sittler, Salming and the Bull made him nervous. Chico Resch said, Lanny McDonald scared him every time he touched the puck. Devellano hated to see Vaive on the ice because he always scored big goals against the Wings. Iafrate, when he was his game scared everyone. Barry Melrose said that Gilmour and Wendell Clark had his attention. Living close to St Louis, Blues fans as I am sure, Ottawa fans hated to see Sundin. And yes with the special attention he been getting, Kessel scares the opposition.

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