TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs won't drop the puck on their 100th NHL season until October, but that didn't stop them from starting their Centennial Anniversary celebration three months early on Thursday.
The Maple Leafs began the festivities by opening the Centennial exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame, showcasing the franchise's rich history. They also unveiled a series of special events for this season, including preseason games across Canada, new statues outside Air Canada Centre and a special throwback uniform.
"It's a big year for us," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said at the opening of the Centennial exhibit. "Obviously we are focusing on our future, but it is also so important for us and inspiring for us to celebrate or past 100 years."
Along with former Maple Leafs greats Ron Ellis and Johnny Bower, Shanahan unveiled the impressive exhibit. Among the artifacts on display is the puck shot by Bill Barilko in overtime to win the 1951 Stanley Cup; skates worn by Bower; the uncashed $1 million check the Chicago Black Hawks offered Toronto for left wing Frank Mahovlich; captain George Armstrong's sweater from the 1967 Stanley Cup championship; the stick used by captain Darryl Sittler during his 10-point game against the Boston Bruins in 1976; and captain Mats Sundin's sweater from the final game played at Maple Leaf Gardens.
The exhibit will run until March 2017.
"This is going to be an exciting year for Leafs nation and Leafs Alumni," said Ellis, 71, who spent his entire 15-year career with the Maple Leafs. "We're looking forward to it and can hardly wait to get everything started.
Bower, 91, said he was thrilled to be a part of the ceremony and treasures every moment of his association with the Maple Leafs. Bower is adored by the fans and said he is honored to still be such a popular figure.
"I don't know what it is, how I appeal to them, but whatever I'm doing right, I'm going to continue doing it," Bower said, "because they certainly were great fans for me when I played hockey in Toronto. Not only Toronto, but wherever I went. Hey, it doesn't cost you nothing for a smile, and I smile a lot."
The Maple Leafs will devote the 2016-17 season honoring those who built the Maple Leafs legacy. On Thursday, they unveiled a Centennial Anniversary logo, consisting of a silver Maple Leaf emblazoned with the number "100."
Toronto will create new retired number banners to replace the ones hanging from the rafters at Air Canada Centre. The original 18 banners will be delivered to the hometowns of those players to honor their contributions to the franchise.
In September and October, the Maple Leafs will play three preseason games outside of Toronto. The first is in Halifax, Nova Scotia, against the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 26, followed by a game against the Buffalo Sabres in St. Catharines, Ontario, on Sept. 29, and a game against the Detroit Red Wings in Hamilton, Ontario, on Oct. 7.
A committee made up of prominent members of the hockey community will come up with a list of the 100 greatest Maple Leafs players of all time before the season begins. "The One Hundred" will be honored throughout the season.
In October, Maple Leafs legends Dave Keon, Tim Horton and Turk Broda will be immortalized in bronze with statues outside Air Canada Centre, joining those already erected on Legends Row, including Bower, Sittler and Ted Kennedy.
The annual Hall of Fame Legends Classic, featuring retired players, will take place at Air Canada Centre on Nov. 13. Hall of Fame defenseman Borje Salming will captain one team, and new Hall of Fame inductee Eric Lindros will captain the other.
The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place Monday, Nov. 14.
The Maple Leafs will host the Detroit Red Wings in the Centennial Classic on January 1, 2017 at BMO Field in Toronto. Festivities will include an alumni game, a New Year's Eve party and public skates on the BMO Field ice surface.
In their March 18 home game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Maple Leafs will pay tribute to their original name when they don their classic green Toronto St. Pats jerseys. The franchise was called the St. Pats from 1919-27, before being renamed the Maple Leafs by Conn Smythe.
Toronto has won the Stanley Cup 13 times, the last in 1967, and have put 67 players and 12 builders into the Hockey Hall of Fame, more than any other organization.
Shanahan said the Maple Leafs have a lot of plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary season, but would not elaborate on all of them.