A 1917 meeting at the Windsor Hotel in Montréal, resulted in the formation of the National Hockey League. The original five charter members of the NHL included the Montréal Canadiens, Montréal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, Quebec Bulldogs and a Toronto franchise (originally called the Arenas). Way, way back in the day, Toronto’s first home game attracted only 700 people but, they won their first Stanley Cup after year 1. With humble beginnings, the Toronto club known as the Arenas, became the Toronto Maple Leafs which today is also affectionately known (to some) as Leafs Nation.
Near the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, for the first time in recent memory, the Toronto franchise found themselves—for the briefest of times—in first place overall, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Life wasn’t always so good…
Many NHL clubs have found themselves in dire financial condition over the years. In point of fact, Toronto almost started out that way. In only their second season, they had to withdraw from the NHL due to financial difficulties. They were back in the third season, known in their new incarnation as the Toronto St. Pats. A couple of years back in, and the St. Pats won the Stanley Cup again. Leafs’ fans, we feel for you: the 40+ years they’ve currently been in a Cup drought must feel more like 90!
Did you know the Maple Leafs (so-named by Conn Smythe in 1927) were almost shipped off to Philadelphia? If not for Smythe, who raised enough money to keep them in Toronto, they would have!
Back in the heady first decade of the NHL, Toronto bargained to acquire one of their first superstars: King Clancy, who was at the time the ‘property’ of the Ottawa Senators. It took two players, plus a phenomenal sum back then of $35,000, to snag Clancy for the Leafs.
Over the decades, the Leafs, like many teams, have gone through massive changes.
In the 1930’s the Leafs moved to what was to become an iconic landmark: Maple Leaf Gardens. In 1932, they won their first Stanley Cup under the name of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto’s main rivals (spoken by a true but beleaguered fan) are currently Montréal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Boston. The Boston Bruins tiffs began in the 1930’s, and seem to have continued to this day. Today we talk about the serious issue of concussions. Back in the 1930’s one of the Leafs’ best players, Ace Bailey, was smashed from behind by Boston player Eddie Shore. Bailey’s skull cracked, and not only had his hockey career ended; his life almost ended. So it’s interesting to note—not in a good way—where and how some of these very long-standing rivalries started.
Over the decades the Leafs’ luck increased, and then as many know, steadily decreased. While they made it to the finals seven times in the 1930’s, things were not always to work out that way.
In the 1940’s, the Leafs were conquered by several teams, and that era might best be remembered for two things. On the hockey front, the powerhouse that we know today as the Detroit Red Wings had seven straight first-place finishes around that time. And on the bigger than life front, the advent of the second world war. Like other teams, many players on the Leafs ended up in the services. Most hockey clubs undergo major overhauls every few years, and it happened to Toronto in the 1950’s. Toronto also gained one of their most famous goalies—Johnny Bower—who made a big splash late that decade, and was to remain a steadfast goalkeeper for some time to come. Dave Keon joined the Leafs in the 1960’s, and as most hockey fans know, it was the 1960’s when the Leafs last shone their absolute brightest: they won the Cup three times in that decade. One of the things the Leafs could not overcome, late in the 1960’s, was one of hockey’s all-time superstars. Bobby Orr and the Bruins cleaned their clock late in the decade, and then some. But for Toronto fans, the 1960’s are remembered with some degree of (ancient) happiness.
The Toronto franchise came close in mid-1970, but as the saying goes: no cigar. They had snagged some names that still stand out in fans’ minds: Salming, Sittler, and ‘Tiger’ Williams. One of the Leafs’ most popular players, a real bruiser, Wendel Clark came along in the 1980’s. His name (along with his Classic Grill and Sports Lounge) is still popular in 2011. As the 1980’s came to an end, and as the Leafs’ ‘batted’ 500 for the first time in years, so did the Harold Ballard era come to an end. The then-owner of the team passed away in April of 1990.
Doug Gilmour, another popular player with the fans, joined the club in the 1990’s. Gilmour almost led the team to the Cup, but in a controversial game with the Oilers, where most felt a penalty should have been called against The Great One, it wasn’t to be. In the mid 1990’s one of the club’s best players, a young Swede who later become Captain, Mats Sundin, came along. Sundin made a big impact with players and fans alike, and the Leafs took another (unsuccessful) run at the Cup in the 1998-99 playoffs. The Leafs moved to their new home, the Air Canada Centre, in 1999. Since then, they’ve made several runs at the playoffs. They reached the second round in both 2000 and 2001, as they did again in the 2003-2004 season. Since the lockout of 2004-2005, the team hasn’t done so well.
Perhaps it’s the long-time yearning of fans. Perhaps the organization, under Brian Burke’s somewhat questionable management, decided that continually trading their best players doesn’t work. Or perhaps it’s a bit of a superstition. Whatever the reason, the Leafs’ in the current 2010-2011 season, added the horizontal stripes and veined Leaf shoulder patches we used to see back in the day to their ‘old school’jerseys. Maybe that will help…