Leaf of the Day - Apr 6, 2009 - 1978-79 - Ian Turnbull

Apr 6, 2009 - 1978-79 - Ian Turnbull

(Note: Mondays, we'll have players from the 1978-79 team, 30 years ago this year. They'll appear in alphabetical order.)


Ian Turnbull was sort of a proto-McCabe, I guess.  A talented guy who could rush the puck, score some big goals and put points on the board, he could also turn the puck over and be 'creative' in his own zone.

Ian was one of three first-rounders the Leafs had in 1973.  The Bruins traded the Leafs a first-round pick for the last 8 games of Jacques Plante's NHL career.  (Jacques did win seven of them.)  After picking up Lanny McDonald at #4 and Bob Neely at #10, Ian went at #15.  He was part of a rookie class for the Leafs that also included Salming and Hammarstrom - the Leafs of today could use a year like that one.

Ian had a really solid rookie season and then was hurt much of his second year.  He rebounded with a 20-goal season in 1975-76, the first by a Leaf defenseman in team history, so far as I can tell.  He followed this up with 22 goals and 79 points in '76-77, both of which are still team records.  (Iafrate tied the goal total.)  on Feb 2, 1977, Ian scored 5 goals against Detroit, still an NHL record for defensemen.

His playoff numbers were good, too.  Between 1976 and 1978, he had 35 points in 32 playoff games.  When Salming went down with an eye injury in 1978 against the Islanders, Turnbull really stepped it up.

For all his offensive abilites, though, defensive lapses were an issue.  Can't think of the source at the moment, but I remember reading that one of the things that came between Ballard and Roger Neilson was that Roger had had enough of Turnbull and wanted him traded.  Ballard, who never really got what Neilson was about (them newfandangled "video tape" things), sided with his player over his coach.

The defense can't have been all bad, as he was a +47 in 1977, but as the team's results slipped, so did that stat.

Turnbull left the Leafs as the third-highest scorer amongst defensemen in team history.  As it stands today, he's still fourth in points, behind Salming, Horton and Kaberle.  He's second overall in goals, though, behind only Salming.  He was traded to LA for Billy Harris (the younger) and John Gibson, neither of whom did a whole lot.

Ian's stats:

1968-69  West Island Flyers   MMJHL   25 6 17 23            
1969-70  Montreal Jr. Canadiens  OHA-Jr.  53 4 21 25 88 16 3 3 6 8
1969-70  Montreal Jr. Canadiens  M-Cup  6 6 4 10 6
1970-71  Montreal Jr. Canadiens  OHA-Jr.  59 17 45 62 85 11 3 8 11 6
1971-72  Montreal Jr. Canadiens  OHA-Jr.  63 34 48 82 85
1972-73  Ottawa 67's  OHA-Jr.  60 31 50 81 98 9 6 10 16 8
1973-74  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  78 8 27 35 74 +12 4 0 0 0 8
1974-75  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  22 6 7 13 44 -6 7 0 2 2 4
1974-75  Oklahoma City Blazers  CHL  8 2 1 3 15
1975-76  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  76 20 36 56 90 +24 10 2 9 11 29
1976-77  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  80 22 57 79 84 +47 9 4 4 8 10
1977-78  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  77 14 47 61 77 +6 13 6 10 16 10
1978-79  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  80 12 51 63 80 -7 6 0 4 4 27
1979-80  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  75 11 28 39 90 -23 3 0 3 3 2
1980-81  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  80 19 47 66 104 -17 3 1 0 1 4
1981-82  Toronto Maple Leafs  NHL  12 0 2 2 8 -4          
1981-82  Los Angeles Kings  NHL  42 11 15 26 81 0
1981-82  New Haven Nighthawks  AHL  13 1 7 8 4 3 0 0 0 0
1982-83  Pittsburgh Penguins  NHL  6 0 0 0 4 -3
1982-83  Baltimore Skipjacks  AHL  13 3 8 11 10
Leaf Totals    580 112 302 414 651 +32 55 13 32 45 94
NHL Totals  628 123 317 440 736 +29 55 13 32 45 94

OMJHL Second All-Star Team (1972, 1973)
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1977)   

- Missed majority of 1974-75 season recovering from knee injury suffered in game vs. St. Louis, November 25, 1974.
- Traded to Los Angeles by Toronto for Billy Harris and John Gibson, November 11, 1981.
- Signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh, October 4, 1982.

the HHOF take on Ian:

Throughout his career in hockey, Ian Turnbull was a natural, rushing defenseman and puck-handler who knew what to do in the other guy's end of the rink. He started out in the youth hockey programs of Montreal where he quickly discovered that he was naturally better at the sport than most of the other kids around the neighborhood.

He continued being a superior performer right up the ranks to the junior level where he skated for the Montreal Junior Canadiens and, later, the Ottawa 67's of the OHA from 1969 to 1973. In his final year as an amateur, he skated with Islanders great Denis Potvin as the two prepared to make the jump to the NHL at the same time.

Turnbull was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1973 Amateur Draft. He and the stalwart Borje Salming were teamed together to form one of the more accomplished defensive pairings in the league. All was progressing according to plan until a second-year collision occurred between Turnbull and Blues' enforcer Bob Plager. Turnbull ended up tearing knee ligaments that severely limited his action during the 1974-75 campaign.

After a year of healing, he bounced back, establishing himself as a premiere offensively capable rearguard. In 1977, however, he slipped into a lengthy scoring drought. He waited until a match against the Detroit Red Wings on the night of February 2 to break free from his malaise. He became the first blueliner to score five goals in one game en route to a 9-1 pasting of the Wings. The record still stands today.

Turnbull remained as a Leaf mainstay until 1981-82 before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings after only 12 games with the Leafs. Upon his arrival with the Kings, Turnbull played most of the season with the parent club before being demoted to the New Haven Knight Hawks of the AHL later in the season. He tried his hand with the Pittsburgh Penguins the following year but found that his interest in hockey had been supplanted by an eagerness to get a career in business underway. As a result, he hung up his blades in 1982.


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