All sports fans love to reminisce to the good old days, maybe it was a better period or span of time for their favourite or local team or quite possibly it was just a simpler and more carefree time in their own lives. Whatever the reasons nothing gets the argumentative juices flowing like a good old fashioned ‘All-Time Top 5’ list – let’s get our own going.
I decided to embark on a new five part series in which we will debate and argue the merits of the top five Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays as well as the top five overall athletes in Toronto sports history and finally as a contrast we will do the top ten athletes currently residing in the ‘Big Smoke’. Feel free to comment and please post your own opinion on any of the top five lists, I am sure there will be seriously differing opinions across the board and people definitely place a different emphasis on things like winning, personal stats and overall impact on the city.
Part I – Top 5 Maple Leafs of all time
Part II – Top 5 Raptors of all time
Part III – Top 5 Blue Jays of all time
Part IV – Top 5 Toronto Sports Athletes of all time
Part V – Top 10 Current Toronto Athletes
Let’s get to the fun.
Part I – Top 5 Toronto Maple Leafs of all time
The most storied franchise not only in Toronto and hockey history but I feel it safe to assume also among sports history, the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the widest fan base in Canada and probably North America it is not uncommon to see even the Florida Panthers arena completely filled with crazy screaming Maple Leafs fans. The Leafs even make up close to a majority of total seats in tilts against its Canadian based franchise rivals, besides in le belle province where the Canadiens fans do a pretty solid job scooping up available tickets.
I argued my top five list with a colleague at work as his top five only included Stanley Cup champions while mine was basically just the greatest singular talents not necessarily with the prerequisite of having won a championship. There are no right and wrong answers to this question and I expect to see a lot of heated arguments and great debate on who you think is the most appropriate top five.
Without further ado, here is Toronto+ Sports Blog top five Toronto Maple Leafs of all time:
Potentially the most controversial member of my top five, Clark brought so many intangibles to the Maple Leafs night after night that his inclusion on my list was mandatory. Clark was heart and soul personified and no other Maple Leaf inspired an entire fan base at a time when the team’s interest and passion was waning, and Clark literally wore his heart on his sleeve.
Oh, and the kid could play some hockey. If Brian Burke had access to a fountain of youth I would have to think he would bring back Wendel Clark, the prototypical power forward. He could change a game as much with his physical presence and absolutely jarring body checks as he could with his soft hands and absolutely deadly wrist shot. If you weren’t near tears (with pins and needles) when Clark came to the aid of Doug Gilmour when Marty McSorley flattened him in the playoffs, you have no soul my friend and I could have breathed fired at that moment in time and that is why Clark must be on this list.
Injuries prevented Wendel Clark from becoming one of the game’s best power forwards as his body failed him numerous times in his career, likely a result and culmination of his rugged style of play. Clark burst onto the Toronto scene in 1985/86 with 34 goals and 227 PIMs, regularly taking on all of the toughest players of his era, and more than likely coming out of the battle on top with his huge right hand.
Everybody remembers the playoff runs of 1992-1994 with Doug Gilmour and the boys and Clark had his best overall season in 1993-94 when in only 64 regular season goals tallied 46 goals, with a full and healthy season Clark could have potentially netted 60 goals that year. Wendel Clark also helped Toronto in another regard, in the trade game. Fans were devastated upon learning that the teams Captain and heart and soul player was dealt in June of 1994, but without this trade, this top five Maple Leafs lists would be quite different as the trade netted one of the greatest players in team history.
There might be more deserving players overall statistically speaking but in terms of what Wendel meant to a city and team going through one of the worst era’s (Ballard) in history, the way he rose to prominence and re-energized an entire fan base, nobody will ever forget him or the 11 seasons he played here.
What a beauty!
Nobody gets instant respect easier or quicker than Dave Keon when mentioning his name among Leafs fans of all ages and was known as a true warrior, leader and ultimate team player. Keon joined the Maple Leafs in 1960/61 and won the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) after netting 20 goals and 45 points in his rookie season.
He led the Leafs in scoring in 1963/64, 1966/67 and 1969/70 and led the team in goals in 1970/71 and 1972/73 all while earning a reputation among the players, coaches and fans as a shutdown defensive centre who would routinely be matched up against the other teams top line. Keon also won four Stanley Cups with the Leafs playing an integral part as the leader of the 61/62, 62/63, 63/64 and of course the infamous 1966/67 season – the last time the Leafs have hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug.
Named captain in 1969 (succeeding George Armstrong) and Keon played 14 total seasons until Harold Ballard publicly blasted him Keon which has led to a falling out with the team that still lingers and stings Keon to this day, he even turned down an invitation to attend the closing ceremonies of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999.
An 8-time all-star, rookie of the year (1961), Lady Byng winner (1962, 1963), Conn Smythe winner (playoff MVP in 1967) and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1968. Dave Keon is a welcome and warranted addition to any top five Maple Leafs lists in my opinion.
Darryl Sittler came into the NHL in 1970/71 and slowly acclimated himself to the pro game in his first two seasons with more limited minutes on a veteran hockey club that was only three years removed from winning a Stanley Cup, tallying 10 and 15 goals respectively. By the 1972/73 season Sittler was becoming the team’s top scorer after scoring 29 goals and putting up 77 total points.
Sittler was great because of his consistent offensive output, the guy was a scoring machine and his point totals beginning with that 72/73 season and over the next eight seasons with the Maple Leafs were 77, 84, 80, 100, 90, 117, 87, 97 and 96 – amazing. Sittler will of course always be remembered for his famous 10-point night (6 goals, 4 assists) versus the Boston Bruins on February 7th, 1976.
Another Maple Leaf who was run out of town by Harold Ballard and basically given away for nothing to the Philadelphia Flyers. Sittler always held himself with great class and is still among the most popular Leafs players in franchise history and an alumnus with a visible presence with the Maple Leafs to this day.
Sorry to any Mats Sundin haters out there but big Mats was simply an outstanding Toronto Maple Leaf for his entire tenure and one of the best players in the history of the game in my humble opinion. Sundin, while not to be confused with Wendel Clark in terms of physical play stood a massive 6’5” and weighed in at 231 pounds, and he used every inch of that frame to gain the necessary space to put up the most points in Maple Leafs franchise history.
Did you know for his entire career (QUE, TOR, VAN) Sundin put up an amazing 1349 points in 1346 games and outscored players such as Denis Savard, Mike Gartner, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Clarke and Bobby Hull. In fact, only 25 players in NHL history have amassed more points in their career’s than Mats Sundin – he was an amazing player.
Often criticized for not taking the Leafs to the next level, Sundin had eight playoff runs with the Leafs and in 67 total playoff games with the team scored 32 goals and put up 70 points all while basically putting the team on his back. The team was always top 5 in payroll but for one of the richest franchise in all of sports never really “went for it” in one season to give Sundin and the Leafs the best overall chance the win the title.
Sundin, acquired in 1994 in the now famous Wendel Clark trade was classy to the end and one of the biggest gripes fans have had with him is that he was basically “too loyal”, when he refused to be a rent-a-player during the 2007/08 season. Admittedly, while it was definitely annoying to hear about his on-again, off-again career in his post Leafs days, I for one have no beef with anything Sundin ever did in his tenure as the greatest forward in Maple Leafs history. Named captain after Doug Gilmour’s departure in 1996/97, Sundin led by example and with a quiet dignity that commanded respect until his last season with the Leafs in 2007/08.
I think when we look back in ten to fifteen years Sundin might honestly be remember as quite possibly the greatest Leafs to ever don the uniform, however, without the top man on my top five list, his career might have never been.
Nicknamed “The King” Borje Salming was one of the premier defensemen of his era and was the first European born player to make a big impact in the NHL as well as the top scoring defensemen in Leafs history, ranks first on my list for all-time greatest Toronto Maple Leafs. Salming’s amazing 620 assists still ranks #1 in Maple Leafs history and outside 49 games played for the Detroit Red Wings, Salming played his entire 17 season career in blue & white.
After making the all-star squad of the 1973 World Championship the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Salming as a free agent for the 1973/74 season and he scored 39 points and an impressive (plus 38 +/-) in his rookie season and was voted the Leafs rookie of the year. In sixteen seasons with the Leafs Salming put up 768 total points and was among the game’s best defensemen and one of the most popular players in Leafs history.
Carrying the torch for aspiring European born players was never easy and Salming was constantly finding himself as the target of opposing players and fans. Often referred to as “Chicken Swede”, however Salming, was a fearless player and that reputation and misconception quickly faded. Salming played in the rough and tumble 1970s and he remembers his visits to Philadelphia where he was quoted “you would even stay away from the boards because they would try to grab you and yell at you”. Salming was built like a mack truck (and is still in great shape in his late 50s) and never shied away from the constant attention and attempted physical (often cheap) intimidation.
For Salming to have persevered through all of the negative elements and stereotypes that accompany the “foreigner” and still put up the type of numbers he did for the Maple Leafs is simply astounding. In 1996 he became the first Swedish born hockey player to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and in 1998 he was ranked 74th on “The Hockey News” list of the 100 greatest hockey players.
So there you have it, my top five Maple Leafs were 5) Wendel Clark, 4) Dave Keon, 3) Darryl Sittler, 2) Mats Sundin and #1 was Borje Salming. Let’s hear what you have to say about this list and your own personal top five lists as I am sure there is some strong opinion out there in Leaf land.
Stay tuned for the next instalment where I will breakdown the top five Toronto Raptors of all-time – that should be a fun list!
Post your own Top Five in the comments section…