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The Official Site of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Leafs' Historical Ups And Downs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

“Maybe that’s our problem. We practice against our guys and it looks like it may be easy to beat people one on one.”
- Ron Wilson.

The kid who works across the cubicle is 27-years-old. For the record, I have socks older than that.

“This must be the lowest point in the history of the franchise,” he said Wednesday morning.

We were talking in the wake of the Leafs fourth straight loss, this one a 5-3 doozy against the Los Angeles Kings. The Leafs are last in the penalty kill, last in goals against and have avoided last overall only thanks to the best efforts of the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers. As if to add another layer of ridicule, the great puckmaster in the sky has seen to it that the bottom three teams in the league are led by present or past Leafs coaches.

Phil Kessel, for whom the Leafs swapped two first-rounders and a second has one goal in 13 games and three in 20. The goaltending is faulty, the defense is worse and the forwards are worse still.

This is bad, man and it looks this way when the losses pile up and the prospects and free agents are playing somewhere else.

Let me say that this piece is not designed to say the near future will be immeasurably better although you can make some strong arguments that it will be. Jonas Gustavsson, Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg can hardly be judged on what they have done so far. Nazem Kadri is scoring at a prodigious pace for the London Knights. Carl Gunnersson and Marlies defenceman Juraj Mikus look like the kind of late-round choices who will stick. The Leafs have 11 contracts expiring this season and a small handful of players who can be bartered for more bits of the future.  You know Kessel will lead the team in goals for years to come.

Let’s leave that issue alone for a bit. This is about clearing up the idea, held by the young, that things are as bad as they can be. You think this is bad. I’ll show you bad.

In 1984-85, the Leafs had 10 home wins. The current Leafs already have nine.

John Brophy, the former Leafs coach owns the record for most times using a certain expletive in a two- minute interview. The tape is considered solid gold by the few people who have it. You’d be bitter too if your winning percentage was .378. Dogs outthink cats by a bigger margin than that.

The Leafs once tried a committee of general managers, just to streamline the process. Under John Brophy, Dick Duff and Gord Stellick, the team won six of 25 games. No wonder other teams prefer one guy.

The club once gave away the draft choice that would be Scott Niedermayer for journeyman Tom Kurvers. It’s not a fair critique. Had the Leafs kept the pick, they would have chosen someone lousy.

Irascible owner Harold Ballard was said to favor skating naked at the Gardens late at night. It helped him sleep.

Ballard fired coach Roger Neilson without installing a successor. When no one would take the job, he wanted Neilson to appear behind the bench with a bag over his head, then take it off, presumably to delight the crowd.

General Manager Punch Imlach got into a snit with Darryl Sittler who had a no-trade clause. Unable to trade the Leafs captain, he instead traded Sittler’s best friend, the wildly popular Lanny McDonald. Sittler would later cut the C off his jersey and hand back the captaincy. The trades were hideously one-sided. The player returned in the Sittler deal scored two goals, 379 fewer than Sittler.

Short-lived coach Nick Beverley once called his players “nimrods”.

There have been deliriously great moments as well.  Beating the Ottawa Senators four playoffs in a row. Twice advancing to the Conference Finals. Keon, Salming, Sittler and McDonald, Gilmour, Joseph, Wendel Clark and most recently the great Mats Sundin.

In a while, say 2030, a kid will turn to someone in his office after the Leafs lose both ends of a home and home or make what seems to be a spurious trade. Hopefully the developments will put in peril hopes for a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

“You think this is bad,” the greybeard across the cubicle will say. “I remember when Ron Wilson said his team was struggling because they were used to practicing against each other.”
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