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Dan Maloney: If only he’d arrived a few years sooner

Trades are often tremendously difficult for athletes and their families, but for fans, talking about potential trades—and how they could possibly improve your club—is one of the more fun aspects of supporting a particular team.

When I think back about trades that I remember as Leaf follower over the years, quite a number stand out. Obtaining Red Kelly in 1960 was big; the Andy Bathgate in ’64 deal helped win a Cup; the huge Mahovlich deal in ‘68, of course, is one of the biggest in Leaf history. There was also the brilliant move by General Manager Jim Gregory to get Bernie Parent in 1971.

But one trade I had wanted to happen for a long time finally did happen in the late winter of 1978.

For years, I had fantasized about the Leafs acquiring Dan Maloney. Maloney had played his junior hockey in London and was drafted in the first round by Chicago. Despite some early success there, he was dealt to Los Angeles, where he gained confidence and really thrived.

Eventually, Maloney became captain of the Kings, and was the soul and backbone of the team. He was tough, just dirty enough to create room for himself and more gifted teammates—a real heart and soul guy. His skating was awkward, but he could check, hit, and boy, could he fight.

When he was grudgingly moved to Detroit by the Kings, he helped turn around a struggling Red Wings franchise and became captain there as well. (I say grudgingly, because Maloney was a real team leader in LA. When the Kings signed Marcel Dionne as a “free agent” away from Detroit, Maloney and defenseman Terry Harper were awarded as compensation.)

I always loved Maloney, and thought he could make a big difference if he was with the Leafs. Toronto had some hockey warriors—Pat Boutette, Tiger Williams, Scott Garland—in the mid-later 70s era, but Maloney was one-of-a-kind. He could score and make an offensive contribution, and would have brought immediate respect in those three series in a row the Leafs had to play against the Board Street Bullies in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

Each time, the Flyers had proven too skilled—and too tough—for the Leafs.

Toronto General Manager Jim Gregory (now a Hall-of-Famer in the Builder category) must have felt the same way.

Before the trade deadline in 1978, Gregory sent talented scorer Errol Thompson, a wonderful skater and offensive player, along with two first-round draft choices, for Maloney.

It was a huge price, but the trade brought instant dividends. The Leafs, in my estimation at the time, would never have upset the Islanders in the playoffs that spring. They did, in 7 games, and Maloney was a significant contributor. Without his physical presence, I was—and still am—convinced the Leafs would never have been able to stand up to the physically punishing Islanders.

Unfortunately, that was about as far as Maloney could take them.

While the Leafs played some spirited hockey against Montreal in the semi-finals that year, they did lose in 4 games. The following season, they met up with the Canadiens and again succumbed in 4 straight games.

Maloney never quite had the impact I had dreamed of after that. The Roger Neilson-Gregory era was shown the door after the 1979 season, Punch Imlach returned and essentially gutted the team, setting the organization back several years. Eventually injuries took their toll on Maloney and he accepted a position as an assistant coach. He went on to coach the Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets.

As I look back now, years later, I would have dearly loved to see Maloney with the Leafs a couple of years sooner. With him in the fold, I’m convinced the Leafs could have upset the Flyers one of those years, and from there, who knows what might have happened?

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