Earlier this month, Maple Leafs Hot Stove was asked to contribute to Puck Daddy’s National Hockey League of Nation Series. With the help of Michael Langlois from Vintage Leaf Memories, we identified who we felt was the best ever Leaf player to represent each of the major nationalities in the league: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. The results are after the jump. Note that the vast majority of Leaf greats could not be acknowledged in this list as we could pick only one Canadian. It would’ve been nice to pick two Swedes, too.
If you want to gain an understanding of where the Leafs have gone wrong in the past couple of decades, you should look no further than the list of Finnish Maple Leaf players. Every mistake this franchise has made can be represented with a Finnish player.
The Leafs attempting to get the last drop of blood out of an aging veteran: Jyrki Lumme.
Taking a chance on a player who might need a change of scenery: Aki Berg.
Giving up a high draft pick for a backup goaltender: the pile of flaming hot garbage that is Vesa Toskala.
That leaves one Finn that Toronto fans haven’t tried to erase from our memories: Niklas Hagman. Nik was brought in to the Leafs organization in that magical time after the firing of John Ferguson Jr. and before the hiring of Brian Burke when Leafs fans thought anything was possible. Cliff Fletcher was temporarily in charge and was going to right the ship by building a foundation for success in Toronto.
One of his first moves was bringing in Hagman as a free agent. Hagman would deliver two 20-goal seasons and would be one of the few penalty killers who didn’t make our eyes bleed on those teams, but really he’s memorable for three reasons:
2. This goal
3. And being enough of an asset that he could be bundled with Jamal Mayers, Ian White and Matt Stajan to bring Dion Phaneuf to Toronto, giving us one of the greatest message board threads of all time.
Kudos to Niklas Hagman, but a solemn honourable mention goes to Tuukka Rask. He was robbed of his opportunity of becoming the greatest Finnish Maple Leaf of all time and will have to settle for that recognition with a lesser franchise. And best of luck to Christopher Gibson (great Finnish name). Breaking Toronto’s Finnish goaltending curse now rests on you.
Agree or disagree with our choices?