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In Canada’s province of Ontario, hockey is a way of life. At the center of this lifestyle is the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Boasting a whopping 13 Stanley Cup Championships (second only to Montreal) the Leafs are an original six team with a tremendous following. Their last Cup, however, was won in 1967 and the long drought has the franchise desperate to bring another title to a new generation of fans.
Taking over the Maple Leafs moniker in 1927 (named by the famous Conn Smythe), Toronto already had won two Cups and saw its legacy improve with a third in 1932. The 1940s, though, were the true heyday for the Leafs. They would win five titles in that decade before tacking on another at the conclusion of the 1951 season. The 1960s proved to be nearly as prosperous for the club as the 1940s had been with four championship victories. However, when the Leafs hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1967, no one realized how long it would be before they would claim the title again. In fact, Toronto has waited 50 years and counting.
The team’s legendary play in the early years was headlined by amazing talent in players like Syl Apps, Ted Kennedy, Max Bentley, and Turk Broda. However, major contributions came from blue collar players in Don Metz, Frank McCool, and Babe Pratt. Defenseman Bill Barilko scored a goal in overtime of game five of the 1951 Stanley Cup Finals, clinching the championship for Toronto. He would disappear in a plane crash in the offseason and the Leafs would not win a Cup again until 1962, the same year that the wreckage was finally recovered.
The 1960s dynasty centered around players such as Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovlich, George Armstrong, Bob Nevin, and Dave Keon. Their championship runs were dominant and kept Toronto at the top of the list of premier teams in the NHL. A number of factors, including the 1967 expansion draft had an impact on the Maple Leafs roster and led to them missing the playoffs in 1968 and 1970.
For most of the last 50 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs qualified for the playoffs, but bowed out by the second round. They made the Conference Finals only five times and failed to advance beyond it in each instance. Despite having some talented players on the team over the years like Darryl Sittler, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Felix Potvin, and Mats Sundin, Toronto was never able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together to culminate in a Stanley Cup title. Recent history has been especially harsh, with the Leafs only making the playoffs three time since 2005 and being eliminated in the first round each time.
NHL Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan took over as President of the team in 2014 and brought former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock in to be the bench boss. His second year brought an 11 win improvement and a playoff appearance. His third year brought another nine more wins to the club, improving their record to 49-26-7 and sending them to the playoffs for the second straight year. Adding to the excitement was the play of Auston Matthews, the 2016 number one overall draft choice. Coming off a magnificent 40 goal rookie season, Matthews netted another 34 in an injury-shortened second year. He is ready to take on more responsibility and push this team along. Could the Captain’s “C” be added to his jersey in the near future? He has some great teammates in Mitchell Marner (another youngster who is lighting up the stats sheet), William Nylander, and Nazeem Kadri. Veteran Patrick Marleau serves as mentors to these hungry players.
The defense, led by Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner, play a tough game in front of goalie Frederick Anderson. His skills and solid consistency keep every game close for this young group.
James Van Riemsdyk and Tomas Plekanec have both left the team in free agency for Philadelphia and Montreal respectively. However, the biggest news in Toronto (and maybe all of Canada) is that John Tavares is coming back north to play for his hometown Maple Leafs. Stolen away from the Islanders (and every other team that was hoping to sign him), Tavares inked a deal with Toronto for $77 million that will keep him in the Maple Leafs sweater for seven years. Picking up this major asset instantly changes the makeup of this team and makes them even more dangerous going forward.
Optimism is running high in Toronto as the Maple Leafs look like a franchise that could be coming out of a rebuilding phase with a strong team in tow. Continuing to grow and work out the kinks in their game, Toronto could be at the beginning of a major resurgence. Signing Tyler Ennis in free agency is just another piece to this potential championship puzzle. This young team looks to emulate the great play of past stars including Mats Sundin, Tim Horton, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Johnny Bower, Syl Appls, Wendel Clark, Frank Mahovlich, Borje Salming, and Curtis Joseph. Additional information pertaining to the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise can be obtained by clicking here.