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Simon Gagne in Toronto? Remembering guys the Leafs acquired too late in their careers

Toronto media speculation (hey, it’s summer and there’s not much actual hockey news this week) has the Leafs denying any current interest in long-time Flyers star winger Simon Gagne, who is apparently on Philly’s “move” list.

Whenever fans start contemplating the idea of bringing in a top player (or someone who once was an elite player) it gets the juices flowing. But there is a flip side to such considerations, and this was the case long before the current salary cap restrictions.

I remember in the early 1970s, as a big Maple Leaf fan, I coveted Dan Maloney of the LA Kings.  The Leafs had some toughness (Tiger Williams, Scott Garland and Kurt Walker) but in an era when the Flyers and Bruins were both loaded with aggresive wingers who could also score, the Leafs needed someone who would command respect on the ice and pot a few goals, too.

Maloney was not a fast skater, but he was tough, rugged—a policeman who could also score goals and play the corners and the front of the net. Ultimately, Leaf GM Jim Gregory (now in the hockey Hall-of-Fame) traded speedy winger Errol Thompson and two first-round draft choices to get his hands on Maloney before the trade deadline in 1978.

The winger helped the Leafs upset the heavily-favored Islanders in the quarter-finals that spring in seven tough games. And that was a neat moment in modern-day Leaf history, given the limited success the team had that decade and subsequently in the awful 1980s.

But overall, the deal had no lasting effect. The late-‘70s Leaf team was soon dismantled by new/old GM Punch Imlach and Maloney’s impact was minimal, though he certainly played hard during his time in Toronto.

Thie Gagne talk (and my recollections of Maloney) got me thinking about how often fans want a player, but by the time you get that player, he’s a bit long in the tooth. Current Leaf fans (and management) may do well to keep this in mind when they begin to think hopefully about certain players.

Going back to my youth (and more recently), a few other names jump to mind of fine players that I really liked who ended up with the Leafs, but didn’t have the impact I hoped they might have once they arrived:

  • Dickie Moore (pictured at right) was a wonderful winger in the 1950s and early ‘60s with Montreal, and helped them win those 5 Cups in a row. He retired, was hurt in an industrial accident and missed a season before attempting a comeback with the Leafs in 1964-’65. The guy was a true All-Star and he made a valiant effort, but because of knee issues he just couldn’t re-claim his earlier greatness. He played one year in Toronto, retired again, before making a last stand with the expansion St. Louis Blues in the late 1960s.

  • Pierre Pilote may have been the finest all-around defenseman in hockey for a ten year period, right through the 1966-’67 season. He was the captain of the Black Hawks, and helped them win the Cup in 1961. He was small but played with an edge, owned the space around him and could play both ends of the ice. The Leafs acquired him before the 1968-’69 season (Jim Pappin, an excellent young winger, went to Chicago) and he just didn’t quite fit in Toronto. He retired after one season with the Leafs.

  • In the mid-1970s, “Cowboy” Bill Flett came to the Leafs after scoring 40+ goals for the Flyers in a single season, and helping them win a Cup in 1974. I thought we were getting a tough, high-scoring winger, but he had limited success in Toronto, before finishing his career in the WHA.

  • Al Secord was a classic example of getting a guy a bit too late. He was the ultimate goal-scoring power forward in the 1980s with Chicago. But by the time the Leafs acquired him for Rick Vaive, Secord was at the tail end of his career and no longer a dominant player.

  • Brad Maxwell was an excellent defenseman with the Minnesota North Stars in the 1970s. Yet he was another player who rarely performed in Toronto the way he had earlier in his career.

  • Larry Murphy is now in the Hall-of-Fame. He helped Pittsburgh win Cups before he arrived in Toronto, and Detroit do the same after he left the Leafs. But you’d never have pegged him as a Hall-of-Famer if you only saw him play during his short time with the Leafs in the ‘90s, when he was booed by some of the locals.

  • Kirk Muller was a contributor during his short time with the Leafs in the mid-‘90s, but I always felt he had his best years beforehand in New Jersey
In a separate category we could place Wendel Clark, an all-time Leaf in terms of popularity with the fans. After being dealt to Quebec for a then very young Mats Sundin in the summer of ’94, he re-joined the Leafs at the deadline in the spring of ’96. While he had some nice moments, the trade cost Toronto a young defenseman in Kenny Jonsson and a top draft choice that turned out to be goalie Roberto Luongo, who may have looked pretty good in blue and white.

(If you have can think of other players that you wanted to see in Toronto but once they came on board it just didn’t seem to work, send your thoughts along.)

As for Gagne, he had some strong games in the recent playoffs, and he’s also had significant injuries throughout a long and solid career. The Leafs need help on the wing and up the middle, but what would they have to give up, to take on Gagne’s big salary?

 Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Blog


  1. Say *plan the parade one more time*...July 16, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    In addition:

    Owen Nolan
    Eric Lindros (I didn't really want him, but many did)
    Jason Allison
    Brian Leetch (I liked him - stupid Lockout)

    I know I'm missing some, but I have been on holidays all week and my mind isn't very sharp right now.

  2. Those are all good additions to the list. Nolan had some memorable playoff performances with the Sharks but injuries seemed to prohibit his making much of an impact here. We all remember the long dance to get Lindros to Toronto, and again, while there were glimpses of what he had been, injuries prevented us from ever knowing if he could have made a real difference. Leetch may well have been an excellent short-term, end-of-career (like Ray Bourque in Colorado)addition beyond that one playoff spring, were it not for the lockout.

  3. Nolan and Lindros are great examples. A few others would include Mike Ridley, Dave Gagner, and Robert Svehla, and maybe Mike Gartner too. Come to think of it, we could probably just label this phenomenon "Everyone the Leafs acquired from 1994 on except Mats Sundin."

    That said, I think it's worth pointing out that there are also several players who the Leafs acquired "late" in their careers, certainly well past their prime, who nonetheless worked out great. Names like Joseph, Roberts, Belfour and Mogilny come to mind.

  4. For sure Gagner was a fine player but not a major contributor during his time in Toronto. Gartner still had speed but had his best years, as I recall, in Washington. The goalies (Cujo and Belfour) certainly were worth waiting for, as were Roberts and Mogilny.