Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that over the next three years, they would be creating a series of statues known as “Legends Row” outside of the Air Canada Centre. Of the former players to be immortalized in bronze, one was announced last week, two others will be revealed during September’s FanFest, and others will be honoured over the coming years leading to the Leafs centennial campaign in 2017.
The first legendary Leaf to be named to this group was Ted “Teeder” Kennedy, a deserving selection no doubt. Teeder played all of his 15-year career with the Leafs, captaining the blue and white for eight of those seasons (1948-1955). He was part of five Stanley Cup championship teams, scored a career total 560 PTS (9th all-time for Toronto), and when he took home the Hart Trophy in 1955, he unknowingly became the last Maple Leaf to date to capture the league MVP (kind of sad when you think about it really). He’s an excellent choice to be the first player for Legends Row, but who will be the next former Leafs to follow?
I’m assuming the Leafs will unveil three players a year, so here’s who I’m guessing will join Kennedy over the years. On Sept. 6th at Fanfest, I’m willing to guess Turk Broda, the 5-time Stanley Cup champ, 2-time Vezina winner, and leader of almost every Leafs goaltending record to date, will join Kennedy and either Syl Apps (3-time Cup winner, WWII hero, and possibly the most beloved Leaf of his era) or Charlie Conacher (arguably the most talented of the Leafs famed ‘Kid Line’ of the 30′s), though if I have to pick one, I would guess it would be Apps. The reasoning: if the organization was going to select members of the ‘Kid Line’ or possibly King Clancy, they would have started with this era, 1927-mid 1940′s, instead of naming Kennedy the first. So if the Leafs are indeed starting with the ‘Original Six’ era, then I believe it will be these three.
Assuming again they name three a year, I believe the selection process could look like this. The toughest era would be the late 50′s up to the last championship in 1967. So many legends to choose from, though it will likely come down to Johnny Bower, Dave Keon, George Armstrong, and Frank Mahovlich. Bower is a guarantee to be one of the four picked. The ‘China Wall’ was a workhorse when he finally broke through to the NHL full-time in 1958, capturing four Cups in blue and white, and is still one of the most beloved players in franchise history. Another guarantee is Armstrong. The ‘Chief’ was captain for 11 years, is 5th in PTS with 713, and is still the Leafs all-time leader in games played at 1,187. Now how can you choose between the ‘Big M’ and Keon? One was possibly the most popular Leaf of the 60′s, winning four Cups, and scored 599 PTS in the process between 1956-68. The other left Toronto in bitter fashion (thanks Harold…), but when he left after seven years as captain, he was the franchise leader in points with 858, and was the last Leaf to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. For this era, I hope the Leafs select all four, with the four statues together, celebrating the Leafs last Cup triumph, though that cannot happen, as the Legends Row will feature the immortalized Leafs coming over the bench. If it came down to Keon vs. Mahovlich though, Keon gets my vote.
For the Ballard years of the early 1970′s to 1990, it’s no contest, the three will be Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, and Borje Salming, and if it were up to me, they would be celebrating a goal together from Sittler’s record 10-point night on Feb. 7th, 1976. It was a microcosm of their time in Toronto. Sittler, the high-scoring, always smiling, lovable leader who went on to break Keon’s record for most points with 916, had 10 of them on this night. McDonald, who scored 219 goals in his six and a half years in Toronto, scored the first goal to give Sittler an assist on that magical evening at the Gardens. Last but not least, Salming, who had two goals on that night, not only scored proficiently over his 16 years as a Leaf (he is the franchise leader in assists with 620), but also proved that European players could be just as tough as their North American counterparts with his style of play.
The three faces who should represent the post-Ballard era should be the last three captains before Dion Phaneuf: Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, and Mats Sundin. While Clark may not have registered high amounts of points, he was the unquestioned heart and soul of the club from his arrival in 1985, up until the trade to Quebec in 1994, and was even given a heroes welcome once he was re-acquired in 1996. Clark could score a beauty goal one shift, and pummel you in a fight the next. He was a warrior who gave it his all every shift. Gilmour was the opposite of Clark. Dougie was certainly a tough customer, but he did his damage on the score-sheet and left a lasting impact on a team he only spent just over five calendar years with. When he was acquired on Jan. 2nd, 1992, he was the driving force that turned the Leafs into a contender almost overnight. His 127 PTS in 1992-93 are the most in a season for the franchise, and he posted 111 a year later. He also provided some of the greatest memories for Leafs fans, most notably his OT winner vs. the Blues in the ’93 playoffs. Finally, we come to Captain Mats, the Leafs leader from 1997-2008, and scoring leader in every season except one between 1994-2008. He was a physical force on the ice, I’m sure if advanced stats were around, Sundin would have been near the top of the league, as he used that massive body to shield the puck better than almost anyone in the league. He provided so many wonderful memories, especially in clutch situations, from his late game-winner against the Flyers in the ’99 playoffs, to the “Ping” OT goal against Ottawa in 2001, to his OT winner/hat-trick/500th career goal vs. Calgary. He became the franchise leader in goals with 420 and points with 987, and in my opinion, he’s the greatest Leaf of all-time.
Those are my picks for the Leafs who should eventually occupy Legends Row. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo credits: torontosun.com, mapleleafhotstove.com