The early '90s were an incredible time to be a Toronto sports fan. The Blue Jays captured back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993, while the Maple Leafs, in those same years, traversed the road back to respectability following the tumultuous (and largely disastrous) Harold Ballard era.
Following successive seasons of seemingly-endless roster turnover (the 1991-92 Leafs closed out the year with only 4 members remaining from the 1989-90 squad) and less-than-stellar results, Leafs' GM Cliff Fletcher felt he had finally established the right mix of youth and veteran experience to produce a legitimate contender. In fact, during the 1992 offseason, the man known as Trader Cliff somewhat surprisingly made only one deal of note: sending a future 3rd round pick (Martin Belanger) to Montreal for 25-year old shutdown defender Sylvain Lefebvre.
But Fletcher's most impactful move would not prove to be a trade; rather, it would be the offseason hiring of former Montreal coach Pat Burns, whose fiery, no-nonsense approach would translate almost immediately to his players -- especially franchise centrepiece Doug Gilmour.
Twenty years ago ... still feels like yesterday.
1991-92 was a season of note. In celebration of the NHL's 75th anniversary, the Original 6 teams introduced throwback uniforms -- the dawn of 3rd jerseys in the NHL. The San Jose Sharks entered the league as the first expansion team since the 1979 NHL/WHA merger. Top draft pick Eric Lindros refused to sign a contract with the Quebec Nordiques, leading to a controversial trade with the Philadelphia Flyers which would turn the Quebec franchise into a powerhouse. The league endured a 10-day NHLPA strike, resulting in the season ending in June for the first time. Following the season, longtime NHL President John Ziegler would step down, paving the way for Gary Bettman to take over as Commissioner in two years' time.
It was a banner season for several players of note: Mario Lemieux captured the scoring title and led the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second consecutive Stanley Cup victory. Nine players topped the 100-point plateau, including Brian Leetch -- a feat no defenseman has matched since. Jeremy Roenick and Kevin Stevens topped 50 goals for the first time each, while Brett Hull hit 70 goals for the third straight year. Legendary blueliner Larry Robinson played his final NHL game, while a future superstar named Martin Brodeur made his first appearance for the New Jersey Devils ... who drafted another future superstar, Scott Neidermeyer, with a pick acquired two years' prior from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As for those lovable Leafs, change was in the air following yet another season in the cellar -- with the team poised to take its first steps toward 1990s respectability.
On this Remembrance Day, 2010, I'd thought it would be fitting to take a look back at the Toronto Maple Leafs during the years of the Second World War.
Having been on the losing side of the Stanley Cup Finals for three consecutive years (Chicago, Boston, New York) to close out the 1930s, the Leafs remained on the verge of becoming a championship team. Unfortunately, pending greatness would instead be put on hold as the roster would be decimated while players answered their country's call to duty in the early 1940s.
The following is a quick synopsis of the Maple Leafs' successes and struggles during the war years, and the glory that would ultimately follow.
Excitement abounds these days in the streets of Toronto, as a long-overdue rebuilding effort for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the prospect of a revitalized franchise, moves into high gear.
Arguably the last successful revitalization of the Maple Leafs franchise occurred in the early 1990s, when in the span of three seasons the Leafs went from basement-dwellers to Stanley Cup contenders.Â Although many are quick to credit then-GM Cliff Fletcher's 1992 mega-deal with the Calgary Flames as the key turning point for the franchise, the groundwork for the franchise's rapid acceleration from pretender to contender actually began much earlier ... in the 1989-90 season, to be exact.