Michael Langlois will stop by Maple Leafs Hot Stove throughout the Maple Leafs‘ centennial season to provide his reflections on past Leaf teams and players from his sixty-plus years of following the Blue and White.
To kick off the centennial season celebrations, the Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled their Top 100 list on Friday, which can be viewed in the table below.
|Top 100 Maple Leafs|
|1. Dave Keon||11. Charlie Conacher|
|2. Syl Apps||12. George Armstrong|
|3. Ted Kennedy||13. Doug Gilmour|
|4. Darryl Sittler||14. Red Kelly|
|5. Mats Sundin||15. Wendel Clark|
|6. Tim Horton||16. Busher Jackson|
|7. Johnny Bower||17. Hap Day|
|8. Borje Salming||18. King Clancy|
|9. Frank Mahovlich||19. Lanny McDonald|
|10. Turk Broda||20. Rick Vaive|
|21. Max Bentley||31. Babe Dye|
|22. Joe Primeau||32. Carl Brewer|
|23. Allan Stanley||33. Sid Smith|
|24. Ron Ellis||34. Norm Ullman|
|25. Ace Bailey||35. Curtis Joseph|
|26. Bob Pulford||36. Bill Barilko|
|27. Red Horner||37. Tomas Kaberle|
|28. Dick Duff||38. Tod Sloan|
|29. Gord Drillon||39. Harry Watson|
|30. Bob Baun||40. Jimmy Thomson|
|41. Dave Andreychuk||51. Lorne Chabot|
|42. Ian Turnbull||52. Tiger Williams|
|43. Terry Sawchuk||53. Gary Leeman|
|44. Paul Henderson||54. Steve Thomas|
|45. Felix Potvin||55. Reg Noble|
|46. Sweeney Schriner||56. Gus Mortson|
|47. Harry Lumley||57. Ron Stewart|
|48. Phil Kessel||58. Mike Palmateer|
|49. Babe Pratt||59. Billy Harris|
|50. Bob Davidson||60. Gary Roberts|
|51. Lorne Chabot||61. Vince Damphousse|
|52. Tiger Williams||62. John Anderson|
|53. Gary Leeman||63. Bryan McCabe|
|54. Steve Thomas||64. Bob Nevin|
|55. Reg Noble||65. Howie Meeker|
|56. Gus Mortson||66. Wally Stanowski|
|57. Ron Stewart||67. Gaye Stewart|
|58. Mike Palmateer||68. Eddie Shack|
|59. Billy Harris||69. Nick Metz|
|60. Gary Roberts||70. Darcy Tucker|
|71. Ed Belfour||81. George Hainsworth|
|72. Lorne Carr||82. Marcel Pronovost|
|73. Errol Thompson||83. Alex Mogilny|
|74. Bill Ezinicki||84. Todd Gill|
|75. Bill Derlago||85. Mike Walton|
|76. Bert Olmstead||86. Dave Ellett|
|77. Harry Cameron||87. Baldy Cotton|
|78. Al Iafrate||88. Dion Phaneuf|
|79. Ed Olczyk||89. Jim Pappin|
|80. Jim McKenny||90. Jack Adams|
|91. Gus Bodnar|
|92. Cal Gardner|
|93. Tie Domi|
|94. Brian Glennie|
|95. Corb Denneny|
|96. Larry Hillman|
|97. Wilf Paiment|
|98. Russ Courtnall|
|99. Joe Klukay|
|100. James van Riemsdyk|
Let me start by simply saying I won’t even try to comment on the full list, of course. And I can really only comment on the players I’ve seen since I became more or less “hockey sentient” right around 1958. Like many of you, I know a lot about the really old names like Clancy, Primeau, Conacher, Jackson, Pratt and many others—mostly because my Dad and I spent countless hours early in my life talking about hockey and the players he had seen in person, or “saw” on the radio (before he owned a television). I learned a lot from him about hockey—and about those old-time greats. But for the purposes of today’s discussion, I’ll call on those even older than me to share their thoughts on those names.
Some names that seem to fit
What stood out for me on the new Leaf list, having watched this franchise pretty darn closely for going on 60 years? I obviously have no issue with Dave Keon at number one. In fact, I’ve written here before about the former Leaf center including a more recent retrospective when Keon was first named to “Legends Row” back in early 2016. I’ll simply say that no Leaf I have seen in the last almost sixty years did as many things as well as Keon could. There have been many fine Leafs though the years, but no one I’ve seen has been more consistently excellent, or played angles better while eliminating his man, or skated more miles (with a purpose), or killed more penalties, that took so few penalties himself while drawing hundreds, or was part of more big goals during his time as a Leaf. So Number 1—absolutely.
Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy? Of course. Again, I did not see them myself. Teeder retired for the last time when I was maybe three years old. But anyone who knows Leaf history knows Apps was a wonderful player, and Kennedy was a burning desire guy, a real Conn Smythe kind of Maple Leaf.
I won’t quarrel with Darryl Sittler at four, either. We all know he never won a Cup, but he certainly was not the reason we didn’t in that 1970s era. The best Leaf team of his era (other than the 1970-’71 team, which I really liked and had a great mix of good veterans and up and coming kids) was probably the 1977-78 Leaf team with Dan Maloney, Palmateer, Salming, Turnbull, etc. But they could simply not match up with maybe the best team of all time—the Canadiens of that same era. Sittler was tough, determined and made players around him better . He was that team’s inspirational leader as Captain. If he and Bobby Clarke had switched teams…who knows what would have happened? Clarke was a fearless, tireless (and yes, dirty) kind of player who was huge at huge moments. He was a great leader, too. But even Clarke may not have been enough for the Leafs to win a Cup back then.
Mats Sundin, to me, deserves his high ranking. Whether higher or lower I don’t much care. But he was a tremendous Leaf. Scored big goals. Could trail off at times, sure, but at his best he really was a force on the ice—and on many Leaf teams he was by far the best player. As with Sittler, we never won it all with Mats leading the way, but that ‘s hardly on Sundin, at least in my mind.
It’s hard to deny Borje Salming at number 8. He probably blocked more shots than any Leaf in history. He could play at both ends of the ice. We all know his story, as one of the early European players to have an impact on the NHL game. He was a skill guy who either had—or learned he had to play with—a nasty streak to survive, to go along with his rather remarkable skills.
Just ahead of him on the list are Johnny Bower and Tim Horton. Bower may be the single most popular Leaf of all-time—to this day at the age of what, 90? I saw him at his best. And he was magnificent. He found NHL success late in life as Tim Thomas did with the Bruins decades later. Bower was marvelous under pressure. I won’t ever forget his play in Game 3 of the 1967 Cup finals at Maple Leaf Gardens against Montreal. Double overtime. He was outstanding. (If we lose that game, we don’t win that series…) And he played without a mask until the very end of his career, which was like the age of 45. Just an amazing athlete and one of the truly nicest guys who ever wore the blue and white. That alone could get him on the list. Punch Imlach (the great old Leaf coach and GM from the late ‘50s and ‘60s) loved Bower, and so did I.
Horton was an excellent skater who had a booming shot from the blueline. He was no fighter, but he was hard to play against, and likely the strongest guy in the league through most of his very long NHL career. He could rush the puck like few others in the pre-Bobby Orr era. Horton was a big part of those four Stanley Cups in the 1960s.
Frank Mahovlich at #9 is interesting. On talent alone, Mahovlich may well be Top 5 as a Leaf, maybe higher. But having seen him play later in Detroit (close to my old home town) and then in Montreal, I think Frank actually played better in those years than he did in Toronto. But he was certainly a valuable Leaf. Big, offensively gifted, and he could get a tad ornery, too.
Turk Broda rounds out the Top 10 and again, I can’t contribute much, other than to simply say he was clearly a great Maple Leaf.
Beyond the Top 10
Should Doug Gilmour be ahead of say, George Armstrong? Yes and no. Dougie, as people still call him, was a better player, in a sense. He certainly put up a lot more points. And for a two-year period, he was one of the very best Leaf players I have ever seen, but his Toronto career was so brief. Armstrong played over 20 years in Toronto. He was a quiet captain, but a very good leader under Imlach. He really was an indispensable component of those Leaf championship teams.
Red Kelly may have had a greater impact as a young player on defense with Detroit than he had with the Leafs as a center (he really was fantastic two-day defenseman). But when acquired by Imlach, he gave the Leafs something they desperately needed in the early ‘60s—another center, someone who could deal with guys like fellow center Jean Beliveau in his prime. Kelly, who won four Cups each in Detroit and with the Leafs, deserves his spot at 14.
I struggle with Wendel Clark at 15. I always liked Wendel, and he certainly was a fine Leaf. But 15th of all time? I’m not sure he played with the intensity we all loved as much as I would have liked, from a fan’s perspective. But it’s easy for me to say—I wasn’t dealing with serious back issues as he was for most of his NHL career. That said, not many guys over the years were the kind of physical player he was while also being able to score big goals. He was certainly a proud Leaf, who could fight and stick up for his teammates along with everything else he brought. So maybe I’ve just talked myself into his 15 ranking making sense.
Other names of note
Lanny McDonald works for me at 19 (again, I’m not sure how we distinguish 18 from, say, 22 or whatever, but you have to put guys somewhere, I realize). Lanny was a much ballyhooed junior who really, and I mean really, struggled to make a mark in his first two-plus seasons with the Leafs. But things changed. I was a season ticket holder up in the old ‘greys’ in those days, and in his third year, I saw Lanny begin to turn the corner. He started using his strength to bull past defensemen; he always had that great wrist shot, but his confidence started to grow. He used his body, laying out some big checks on guys like Bobby Orr and Denis Potvin that I remember vividly. And before long he was also scoring goals and playing alongside Sittler and Errol Thompson. We should never have traded McDonald, just as we should never, ever have traded Dickie Duff during the 1963-64 season (even though the Duff-Andy Bathgate deal did help us win a Cup in ’64, and indirectly, in 1967 as well, because Imlach later flipped Bathgate for Pronovost, if I remember correctly).
I don’t see Rick Vaive at #20. That’s not to say he was not a very good Leaf. I know he scored more than 50 goals a year three times in blue and white. And the guy took a real beating in front of the net as his career unfolded. (I actually admired Vaive even more at the end of his career, when he was a constant presence in front of the opposition net while playing for various other clubs). He had that big shot, but I’m just not sure he was the all-around player you have to be in order to be ranked quite this high on an “all time” list.
I have no qualms with Allan Stanley at 23. He was a heady, smart, indispensable blueliner for Imlach in those championship teams. And Ron Ellis at 24 is fair. Could be higher, could be lower. He was a big part of our last championship in Toronto, and played into the 1980s. Just a steady, conscientious, two-way guy who covered the other team’s best left-winger and never ever complained. Ellis was true team player and distinguished Leaf.
Bob Pulford definitely has to be on the list, and while he could be higher than 26, I’m good with that ranking. He was a clutch player in every sense. Big in big games. Tough. In his prime, he would skate right through you to finish his checks. He scored so many big goals in the playoffs (including Game 7 of the 1964 finals, and Game 3 of the ’67 finals). Pulford is worthy of his spot.
Dickie Duff would have been much higher had he played longer in Toronto. Fast, little but mighty, another big-game player who went on to help Montreal (and I mean really help) win four Cups in the mid-later 1960s. He was a difference-maker.
Bobby Baun was a classic Leaf. He wasn’t maybe the smoothest guy on skates, but he got where he needed to go. And while he was known as “Boomer” because he landed some fierce checks in open ice, he was also very good at angling wingers off. He was adept at matching up against Bobby Hull, which was no easy thing given Hull’s strength, speed and blistering shot. But Baun was all Leaf, and he was much more than “simply” the guy who scored that overtime goal in the finals in 1964 on a broken leg. (He was also an impact guy in his second tour of duty with the Leafs in the early ‘70s, a real leader for an otherwise complete kiddie corps defense group…)
Carl Brewer is 32 on the list, and while he is known nowadays as the guy who helped fight back against Allan Eagleson (and the guy who helped retirees finally get a fair share of their NHL pension money) he was also a gifted defenseman with the Leafs. He quit the game suddenly in a dispute with Imlach during training camp in the fall of 1965, played as an amateur again for Canada’s National team for a time, and then made a successful comeback (end-of-season second-team All-Star) in the late ‘60s. (He actually made another comeback when he played a few games for his old nemesis, Imlach, during the 1979-’80 season, when Punch was cleaning house as the resurrected Maple Leaf GM.)
Even though he came to Toronto in one of the biggest trades in Leaf history (as part of the Mahovlich deal) I still think of Normie Ullman (#34) most fondly as a Red Wing. He was an excellent Leaf to be sure, a two-way player to the end. But he was absolutely brilliant as a young Red Wing center in the late 1950s and into the ‘60s. So smart, such good anticipation. He was one of those truly great players whose teams never won a Cup—but he deserved at least one.
I won’t argue about Curtis Joseph at 35. I was never as big a fan of his as many others were, but he certainly played well in his time in Toronto.
I really think Tomas Kaberle (#37) was a very good Leaf, and should be on the list. He was not the kind of tough-in-front-of-the-net defenseman some of us would have liked to see, but he had true gifts which, in his best years, made him a pretty special Maple Leaf.
Tod Sloan was finishing his career just as I was really following hockey in earnest, but the fact that he was traded while working to protect player rights (when they had few, if any, in the 1950s) makes me admire the guy. He also won a Cup, if I’m not mistaken, as a bit of an elder statesmen on the 1961 Blackhawk championship team, before retiring.
I’m not sure I would have Dave Andreychuk (#41) as high as he was. Excellent Leaf, and a fine career. He just didn’t play here that long, and as good as he was, Gilmour was the standout guy for me in that era (along with Clark, and our no-name but very good defense corps under Pat Burns). Same with Ian Turnbull. If this was a list of the most talented Leafs of all-time, he and Al Iafrate (#78) might both be in the Top 10.
Terry Sawchuk (I know I’m being inconsistent; he was not a Leaf for long, only three seasons) deserves to be higher on the list, simply because we don’t win the Cup in ’67 without him and Bower. Terry was also one of the finest goaltenders of all time. I’m sure he is on the Red Wing list of all time greats.
Paul Henderson was a hero for Team Canada, and beloved by Canadian fans from coast to coast as a result. He certainly was a very good Leaf, playing a lot with Normie Ullman and Ronnie Ellis. He was named at 44.
The rest of the list
Felix Potvin at 45? Sure. For a few years, he gave us some pretty steady (sometimes brilliant) netminding. And hey, that fight with Ron Hextall didn’t hurt his standing in Leaf lore.
Phil Kessel at 49, for me, is much like the aforementioned Turnbull. If we’re talking about pure skill, absolutely.
Tiger Williams is an interesting choice at 52. I mean, he gave his all in Toronto. He was not a good skater, but he brought a lot of desire and could score as well as fight.
I always liked Steve Thomas and was glad to see he made the list at 54. I have always wished Steve would have been able to finish his career as a Maple Leaf .
Gary Leeman (#53) came up as a young defenseman, as I recall, and ended up being one of the few Leafs ever to score 50. There are likely different points of view as to whether he is an all time Leaf great, but he was a talented guy who later helped Montreal win a Cup in ’93 as a kind of role player.
Ron Stewart (#57) was a smooth-skating Leaf for many years in the 1950s and into the ‘60s. He actually played defense early in his career if I’m not mistaken, before playing forward regularly. He was a solid all-around player who helped the Leafs a lot during the early ‘60s championship years. His teammate, Billy Harris (#59), was a top notch play-making center and later a very good professional coach. He was the fourth line center under Imlach when the team mostly played three lines, but he always seemed to step up big if one of Kelly, Pulford or Keon was hurt.
My guess is some Leaf fans of that era would rank Mike Palmateer higher than 58. I liked Palmy, but I felt his peak came and went too quickly for him to be an all-time type of player.
Gary Roberts, like others on this list, played for a number of teams and wasn’t with the Leafs all that long. But even for an old-timer like me, he struck a chord during his time in Toronto. I just like the passion he brought to the rink. Setting aside my bias about his not playing here for that long, he could be higher, because of the overall career he had and the impact player he was in Toronto. Some of the checks he delivered in those great early 2000 playoff Leaf runs were memorable. You’d want more Leafs to be that intense.
Bryan McCabe was actually an end-of-season second-team All Star under then Leaf coach Pat Quinn in the early 2000s. How many real (end-of-season, I mean) All-Stars have we had in the last 50 years in Toronto? That is enough for him, in my view, to deserve his ranking. Getting him from Chicago was a great trade by Quinn, who was also GM at the time.
Bobby Nevin was another guy we had to give up to get Bathgate in that February ’64 trade with the Rangers. Just a solid, smart winger who played his position superbly and could kill penalties. He became a leader and captain in later years with the Rangers.
Eddie Shack , ranked at 68, was actually a much better player than he has received credit for over the years. Because he was known as an entertainer and fighter, I’m not sure he hasn’t been over-looked. He had a herky-jerky style of skating, but he was effective, could shoot, make plays, and was not afraid to use his body. And he was part of all four Cups in the 1960s.
I’ve written many times about Bert Olmstead (#76) over at my Vintage Leaf Memories blog. He was an old school player. So tough—in fights, along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net. He brought a winning attitude from Montreal to Toronto in the late 1950s, and was instrumental in helping the Leafs win their first Cup under Imlach in the spring of 1962. He was let go on waivers that summer, and retired, rather than play in New York. He was angry at being let go, by accounts at the time. I remember this quote: “I did a lot for that (expletive). And I’d do it again”. A crusty old guy—my kind of Leaf.
I was glad to see Marcel Pronovost on the list, although — like others on the Top 100 — he was only here a few seasons. He was a great offensive defenseman in his early years with Detroit, but also superb defensively for the Leafs throughout the playoffs against Chicago and Montreal in 1967.
Todd Gill (#84 ) was a heart and soul Leaf that I always respected. Jimmy Pappin we should never have traded. He would have been much higher on the list had Imlach kept him. Talented, and nicely edgy.
Mike Walton (#85) and Alexander Mogilny (#83)….Walton may have been one of the fastest Leafs I’ve ever seen, with a great, great slapshot. But like the supremely gifted Mogilny, I saw them both as great all-time Leafs in terms of talent, not overall impact.
Brian Glennie and Larry Hillman were both heart on their sleeve players, and Hillman had some offensive skill, too. He was like a modern-day “seventh” (“fifth” defenseman in his day) defenseman in Toronto off and on for years. And he was very useful in the Leafs winning two of those Cups in the ‘60s, especially in ’67. Glennie was a true old time open-ice body checker who gave everything he had to the Leafs.
The last name on the Leafs that stood out for me is Joe Klukay. I do not remember him as a Leaf, but in the early 1960s, I followed the old Senior A Windsor Bulldogs very closely. I believe Klukay was on the Windsor team that won an Allan Cup one year.
Again, these lists always create a lot of fun and discussion. There is no way to really assess (in my view) whom the best or greatest Leaf players were. We all see things a bit differently and value different qualities and characteristics. But there’s a reason each of the 100 Leaf players is on the list, and I think it’s fair to say they all brought distinction to the blue and white. There are others who were not named on the list just released, but who also created memories for each of us and could perhaps be on the list. It’s a good debate.
Debates aside, we all have our own personal “Top 100” list. And that’s as it should be—that’s part of the fun of being a fan of a franchise that has such a rich and proud legacy.