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1,500 VLM posts later, the Maple Leafs baffle us, but the legacy still matters...

When Vintage Leaf Memories was “launched” back in September of 2009, my initial thought was that I would post on occasion, and pretty much exclusively about my memories of yesteryear—the late 1950s, ‘60s and into the early ‘70s.

Those years were kind of my own personal wheelhouse as a young fan.  I fell in love with the team when I was maybe four or five years of age. That sounds a bit young, perhaps, but I was quite a few years younger than my older brothers, and my Dad was, as I’ve mentioned here more than once before, a devoted Montreal Canadiens supporter.  He had seen all the greats, from Morenz and Joliat to Richard, Bouchard, Plante, Harvey and of course Jean Beliveau.

Hockey was such a major influence in my family that I probably could not help but catch the bug. Despite the pro-Montreal bias around me, I chose early on to go in another direction: I was raised on those great Hab names cited above, but I gravitated instead to Dickie Duff, Eddie Chadwick, Tim Horton, George Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich and Allan Stanley, not to mention Johnny Bower, of course. 

The Maple Leaf legacy became a very important part of my life.

Without realizing it, I soon became spoiled as a kid when it came to the Leafs. Red Kelly, Bob Nevin and Dave Keon joined the Leafs early in my tenure as a fan, and before I knew it, then General Manager and Coach Punch Imlach had developed a team that could play with anyone in the old six-team NHL. In fact, the Leafs won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1962 (with Don Simmons in goal that night in Chicago, because Bower was hurt) when I was all of eight years old and again in 1963 (the best Leaf squad of my lifetime) and ’64—the year of the famous Bobby Baun broken leg goal.

We won again in Canada’s Centennial Year in 1967 against all odds, upsetting both the powerful Hawks of Hull, Hall, Pilote and Mikita, as well as the hated Canadiens— who were in the midst of winning four Cups in five seasons.

But along came expansion.  And much like the Leafs weren’t quite ready for the changes in the game after the lockout of 2004-’05, Imlach may not quite have been fully prepared for the way the game was changing when expansion came in the fall of 1967.  He had begun to integrate youngsters into the lineup (e.g. Ronnie Ellis, Mike Walton and Pete Stemkowski), and continued to do so the next couple of years (rugged defenseman Jim Dorey, for example) before he was ultimately fired . But it wasn’t enough.

The team needed another kick-start when Jim Gregory took over as GM before the 1969-’70 season. (Interestingly, while Punch had built his reputation as someone who relied on veteran players, he went on to build an outstanding expansion team in Buffalo, with a distinct emphasis on great young talent like Perreault, Martin, Gare and others…)

The Leafs, as I’ve written here before, had their moments in the ‘70s.  The 1970-’71 year was a nice turnaround season, but soon after the WHA came and the team was gutted, losing key youngsters like Bernier Parent, Jim Harrison, Rick Ley and others.

The Darryl Sittler/Lanny McDonald/Borje Salming-led team looked promising as well later that decade, and that squad, under Roger Neilson, did make it to the semi-finals in 1978.  But that was as close as we came to success in that time frame.  And it was the last real hope the franchise had (despite a few fleeting moments in the late ‘80s when the Wendel Clark-led Leafs again looked like they might turn a corner…) until the Cliff Fletcher/Pat Burns reign in the early to mid ‘90s.

Those two back-to-back final four appearances, behind Gilmour, Clark, a really solid no-name defense and Felix Potvin, created a stir in Leafland, but for a number of reasons the momentum was lost after Clark was traded away for Mats Sundin. That was actually a great deal long-term for the Leafs, but it took a while—and the arrival of Pat Quinn and Curtis Joseph—for the Sundin impact to take hold.

Two more semi-final appearances under Quinn (and some heartbreaking losses to the Flyers and the Devils in other years) again restored our pride in the heritage that was established decades ago by Conn Smythe and so many great players, from Syl Apps and Teeder Kennedy to Turk Broda and Bill Barilko.

But the last ten years, while providing glimpses of hope at various times, haven’t brought what Leaf fans were looking for:  playoff success, and a sense that the team would be a perennial contender.

I’m sure that’s what Brendan Shanahan is planning on: to build a roster that will be in the mix every year.  Some believe that kind of success is not that far off, that some of the pieces are already in place.  Others are less optimistic a turnaround can happen quickly.

I’ve covered all kinds of Leaf and hockey-related topics over the past five and a half years here at VLM.  The Leafs remain a bit of a mystery—and a work in progress. While we haven’t seen the kind of success everyone was looking for, hopefully this site has provided a home where Leaf talk can be conducted in a respectful and thoughtful environment.

Thanks to all those who have contributed to VLM over the years.  Other sites cover the current Leaf scene in much better detail than I ever could, but while VLM is a small part of the Leaf blogosphere, it may still be relevant as a link to a cherished past.


  1. Congratulations on 1500 posts, Michael! That's a tremendous accomplishment, and the high level of comment here is a testament to your efforts - and your persistent fandom! Even in my glass-totally-empty state these days, I regularly check VLM to see what you and my fellow VLM'ers have to say.
    It strikes me that the Leafs of today are really reminiscent of the Leafs of the early 70's - my previous low-bar for the team. In both cases, management wasn't prepared for the sea change in the game, and the team (and fans, harrumph) suffered. I'm appalled at the way the team has played this year, for all the reasons we've repeated many times, but the Leaf flame of hope apparently burns eternal. I like the two quiet additions we made this week, and can only hope we'll see a team next year that plays like it wants to win. Like the early 70's teams, I expect it will take about 4 years to put together a competitive squad (of course, I said the same thing in 2009 or so). May I - and VLM - live so long!

    1. I think most of us will agree that t will take time, maybe four years, as you mentioned, Gerund O'.

      Thanks for your many contributions here, and your reflections not only on the current situation but on our Leafs over these many years. Stay well.

  2. Hello Michael,

    Another well written and thought provoking article.

    In reading this article I must have flashed back to thousands of personal memories related to the time frames and teams you discussed.

    I have said it before but I'll say it again - I thoroughly enjoy your site and the thought provoking discussions and debates we all have in the comments sections.

    Based on his background, I would hope that B. Shanahan is trying to right the course of the Maple Leafs along the same lines as the Red Wings. But as we all know, the Leafs are a behemoth of a ship and it will take time to change direction and get the correct course laid in.

    But it does seem that the correct course has finally been plotted (The Rebuild) and the big wheel is being spun around and around to get the Leafs heading in the right direction. As fans, we just have to be patient and have faith in our captain (B. Shanahan) and crew (K. Dubas, M. Hunter, etc.).

    I would place myself into the camp of the optimists - I think there are a few good pieces already here but obviously nowhere near enough to be competitive on a night to night basis let alone contend for a Cup.

    This rebuild is going to be like putting together a thousand piece puzzle - except someone has taken the pieces from multiple thousand piece puzzle sets, mixed them all up in one box, and thrown them back on the table for us to try to put together.

    Now the time consuming and difficult part of trying pieces, many pieces, over and over until we find a fit begins. Some of the current players, some of the players in the minors, and some of the players yet to be drafted will be determined to be the right pieces but even as an optimist I know that most of the players here, in the minors, and even some of the players yet to be drafted will be determined to be the wrong pieces and will have to be removed from the table so we can continue trying new pieces looking for a fit that leads, firstly, to the Leafs becoming competitive on a night to night basis and eventually contending for a Cup.


    1. I think most Leaf fans, in their hearts, are eternal optimists, Wayne. That hope brings people back every season, and keep them interested in what the club is up to year-round.

      Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you found VLM!

  3. Well worded as always, Michael, and a tip of the cap to you as well. It's been a really tough year to run your site, with the Leafs starting with some early hope, then just caving in a relentless fashion like I've never seen before, even compared to the past 3 years. I can imagine you trying to brainstorm topics for the site, in an effort to come up with something other than "What's wrong with the Leafs?". Our patience is just beginning to get tested here, sadly, as not only are Leafs management burning this thing to the ground, but there's added misery of 3 or 4 albatross-like contracts that may also haunt us, going forward.

    If there's a silver lining in all of this, maybe it's looking at teams like Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and even Ottawa, as examples of teams that were pretty much left for dead in terms of expectations when the season started, and ultimately offered their fans something to cheer for. Look at the Canucks, with losing Kesler, needing to unload Luongo's contract (a good goalie, but too many things said that couldn't be undone), and one of the worst coaching contracts ever signed by an NHL squad. It proves that some optimism (and work ethic!!) can yield results that nobody expected, and let's hope the Leafs are headed in that direction.

    The "Memories" idea of your website is definitely factoring in heavily right now, Michael, while the on-ice product offers little for us to discuss. This is a really unique place, with a varied age group posting, so we get different flavours of what us fans consider the most cherished memories of the Leafs. I suspect the next couple of years may not offer a ton to discuss in terms of the actual Leafs roster, as most of the acquisitions and draft picks will be playing for the Marlies, or maturing in a Canadian or European junior hockey system.

    Don't be afraid to lean even more on the past, as like you said, this isn't like other Leafs fan sites. Some sites are heavy on stats, and fans post, complain and argue in real time after puck drop. Those are also great experiences, but I personally enjoy your format, and also pretty much knowing the name of everyone that posts here, as it's quite a tight knit group.

  4. You make a very good points about what has happened in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary. All those teams were, in some quarters, thought to be teams that would be on the outside looking in this season. Yet all have played the kind of hockey that rejuvenates an already passionate fan base.

    I appreciate your comments on the VLM site, Russ. Thanks for taking the time to post here.

  5. Thanks for another heritage trip down memory lane in your (and many of 'our') Leaf fandom, I'm very appreciative of your willingness to broaden your original intent for the blog so that we have been able to participate in such a fine site! You have set the internet bar high and have attracted many who truly enjoy the interactions here - thank you.

    Earlier today I was 'arrested' by an observation that I shared with my Mom out of curiosity... she really doesn't like hockey or follow it at all, but does recall what my Dad and I used to talk about. Of all Leaf sites, you will probably enjoy this most of all, Michael.

    I mentioned that the Leafs had acquired 3 players in the past weeks (with another college UFA potentially on the radar) who might dredge up some vintage leaf memories for any of us. I'm pleased to report she very much remembers the names: Horton, Brewer and Bailey with Baun potentially in the mix, one wonders if the names will remind us of better days in Leafland. The first 2 will probably not have a lasting impact, however I can only hope this collection of names prophesies of better days ahead.

    Thanks again for fostering this online community, your willingness to 'facilitate' has been a worthy endeavour!

    1. I can relate to your chat with your mother, InTimeFor62. My late mother was the furthest thing from a hockey fan, but tolerated my Dad's passion for the sport. Like your Mom, she could probably have remembered some of those great old names- but not much more!

      Thanks for the support- you know I value your input here.

    2. Speaking of Kyle Baun's grandfather, Bobby, here's a link to some vintage footage (Baun's return to Toronto, a brawl, and his broken leg heroics):

  6. Very well written Michael. In your last sentence take out the word "may". It absolutely is in my opinion.

    We tend to get too caught up in the now these days. Maybe we are trying too hard to keep up to the kids these days where everything has to happen in a minute or it is too long eh? :)))

    I like the idea of getting back to at least mixing in more "vintage type articles" on a regular basis. Vintage now could include the 90's of course. Perhaps now and again pick a year and write an article on the team and everyone can chime in their thoughts and memories of that particular team. We all could use a break from the latest travesty of hockey.

    1. There's always something to talk about when it comes to the current Leafs, it seems, Pep, but I agree- looking back on teams from our youth can be a lot of fun. Thanks for your support- and great posts here.

    2. Hey Pep, if we pick a specific year to discuss, let's use the 2001-02 playoff season. My totally random picks that year in my playoff pool at work actually landed me my only pool win in 20 years of trying. That kinda makes me an authority on all things hockey related, right??

      You were also kind with your analysis of the present day Leafs as being a "travesty", as a media member recently called it a tire fire, next to the dumpster, at a manure processing plant. Your internal editing department may have actually been wearing rose-coloured glasses!!

      On a more serious note, let's just keep posting, venting and communicating, as that's all we have for the next while, as the new brain trust tries to sort out this mess.

    3. 1 in 20? Are you sure you didn't work for the Leafs? :)))

  7. Many Happy Returns, Michael. While I don't offer my (not so humble) opinions currently, I remain an avid reader and follower. It's a huge milestone, and if Shanahan antes up in the future as well, I might pick up on my activity, too. You're doing a stellar job, Michael, please keep at it. I'll raise a glass to 1,500 more!

  8. I know you have been out there for many years, CGLN, and have always appreciated your insights- thank you for taking the time to post today!

  9. Congratulations, Michael! I second CGLN. 1,500 more posts would be marvelous. I don't know if it's optimism or just plain stubbornness, but I'm in it for the long haul. Very nice to be in such good company.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Colleen- and thanks for being part of VLM!

  10. Hi Michael, just wanted to say I really like your site and I am always checking it out even as this season has gone down the drain. I hope you keep it running and I am really looking forward to making a few comments when the Leafs win the Cup a few years from now. It will really be a big party when they finally do it.

    Sad to say but die hard Leaf fan as I am I am watching the Sens every night now with my wife and actually cheering away along with her every time the Sens score. My wife thinks the Leafs are a joke and I just keep my mouth shut now but I still think the Leafs are closer to the Cup than the Sens. To win the Cup you need elite talent and the Leafs will be getting some this June in the draft. I just check the Leafs scores now every so often during the evening and keep hoping they lose.

    Anyway to get back to the Leafs in all seriousness how far off are the Leafs? They have some talent in Kessel, Phaneuf, Lupul, Bozak and Bernier that could be all moved for picks and prospects. Right now they have 17 picks in the next two drafts. That has never happened before, it was always trading picks away. They could have 20 or more picks after moving some of the above mentioned players. Some of those picks will work out so maybe this collapse is actually not as bad as it looks. It all depends on who they draft.

    On the last two signings from what I have heard this Casey Bailey is pretty much a long shot and likely will not make it but the Russian Soshnikov is supposed to be one of the best young players in the KHL. I have a feeling the Leafs might have gotten lucky with him because of the fact he was really unknown while Bailey was playing in front of all the scouts.

    Now if the Leafs win the lottery it changes everything but if they don't they still get a good piece which they would never have had if they had finished in the playoffs or just out of them.

    I think Nonis is not as bad a GM as it appears. He did a good job in Vancouver and he has a lot of experience. He signed Clarkson which everyone thought was a good deal, but at a high price but still the going rate at the time. Didn't work out but but not really Nonis's fault as a lot of teams wanted Clarkson, mind you Lamorello didn't think he was worth that type of money. Everyone wanted the Leafs to sign Brad Richards so nobody really knows how it will work out. So the Leafs collapsed in the Olympic year and everyone thought the Leafs top six played too much so Nonis signed Winnik, Santorelli and Booth to beef up the bottom six. It all made sense and the Leafs were six points out of first overall in mid Dec. and then the collapse. Seriously it is hard to know who to blame. Nonis was making moves that made sense, maybe a few other players like a Mark Messier could have turned things around but aside from that it really is a mystery as to what happened here.

    I remember being excited looking forward to this season and the Leafs were flying for the first few months. So maybe this summer after such a freezing cold winter I won't be looking forward to the new season as much and that could be a good thing - I will try to enjoy the summer but I still think the Leafs are a lot closer than it looks!.

    1. Thanks for your posts here, Alton- hopefully there will be some positive things to discuss this summer!

  11. For those interested, there is a very enlightening article by Belfry (who the Leafs hired in the fall) about what happens when a very good player (in this case Kessel) plays on an increasingly bad, losing team. It's on his twitter--Belfry Hockey--sustained losing phenomenon and click on the He also discusses Buffalo. It's a short piece but very interesting and explains what we have been seeing.

    1. Hi Colleen,

      thanks for the article. The Belfry hiering is a subject we haven't discussed here.
      But the more leafs players will work with him, we will see an impact on the ice.
      I study his videos to help my own game and I think he is brilliant.

      This article wont change the way Phil is viewed but I can very much relate to his problems and I think he explained it very well.
      No "expert" on tv or Radio talks about that.

    2. Hi Marcus. Yes, I thought it was very interesting, not just about Phil but good players in general that have been on losing teams for too long. It's getting in position for a pass that never comes or setting up a play that never goes any where and what happens when the trust in your team-mates isn't there. I'll have to keep an eye on Belfry's site.

  12. Congratulations Michael. You deserve credit for your sticktoitedness! I marvel at your lifetime loyalty to the Maple Leafs, particularly in view of the fact that your dad was a staunch Montreal Canadiens fan and that you grew up a literal stone's throw from Olympia Stadium and the Detroit Red Wings.

    In an earlier reply to one of your recent posts, I referred to the Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcasts and Hot Stove League Panel discussions that I grew on in the 1940s, but I am frequently reminded of my frequent contact with Maple Leafs publicity director Ed Fitkin in the early 1960s when I was sports editor at the St. Thomas Times-Journal newspaper.

    I enjoy people who work diligently and efficiently behind the scenes in sports, with little recognition and fanfare. Ed Fitkin was one of those people. In those days, my newspaper had an arrangement with the Maple Leafs to secure a block of six tickets once a month through the hockey season as an award for its young news carriers. It was my special assignment to take kids to the games and to liase with Ed on arrangements to pick up the tickets and to meet players in a room adjacent to the Leafs' dressing room after the games for autographs. It was always a big deal for the kids...and me.
    Ed was always most accommodating and gracious in making himself available to the small, wide-eyed troupe from small town Ontario. He also put me on his priority media list for news releases and had time for me whenever I called for interview requests. Quiet spoken and unassuming, I often felt bad for him as he endured the Harold Ballard years, always putting a positive spin on all his communications and undoubtedly surviving many a verbal tirade by his boss.

    Truth be known, Ed Fitkin was an accomplished journalist and broadcaster. He also spent time with the Los Angeles Kings in the early years of that NHL franchise and was a veteran Toronto Telegram sports writer. Regretfully, I lost track of Ed after he retired but will always remember him as one of the "good behind the scenes guys" in hockey, much in the likeness of Harry Harwell of the Detroit Tigers...But that's another story...

    1. It's great that you bring up Fitkin's name, Dick, and thank you for sharing that story. He, Ward Cornell and Jack Dennett were cornerstones of those early '60s hockey broadcasts. Those were wonderful memories for me and no doubt millions of other hockey fans in Canada.

    2. Sorry Michael and friends. I note a couple of rather unforgiveable senior-moment slip ups in my Ed Fitkin post...Just for the record, it was "The Olympia Centre" in Detroit (not Olympia Stadium) and it was Ernie Harwell (not Harry Harwell) who was the legendary Detroit Tigers PR man and announcer. And another unrelated nostalgic followup Michael, I know you did a piece on our mutual friend Marc Reaume (Maple Leafs defenceman 1955-56-57-58-59-60) several years ago, but did you know that he was a pretty good baseball player too. I was a teammate of Marc's on the Sr. Intercounty Baseball League's St. Thomas Elgins team for the 1956 and '57 seasons. Marc was a catcher but Maple Leafs management frowned on him being exposed to injury at that position on the baseball diamond in the off-season and he was relegated to the outfield and first base in the summer of 1957. I recall that as a rookie (1955-56) Marc came up from the Pittsburg Hornets of the American Hockey League and he was a roommate of veteran Leafs rearguard Jim Morrison in his first NHL season. Jim was known to be a steadying influence on younger Leafs players and he once told me that he always felt that Marc was like a kid brother, even long after they had both retired from hockey. Just another insignificant and untold trivia story of which I have many...

  13. Hi Michael,

    congratulartions to 1500 Blogs!

    Reading and thinking about your sunday's blog is part of my routine every sunday evening.

    VLM may be a small part of the Leafs blogosphere, but it is definitely the finest.

    Thank you for a place, perhaps the only place in www, where we can discuss all things Maple Leafs the way we do it here.

    1. You're very welcome, Marcus- and thank you for the support and the kind words.