Editor's Note: Thanks to Sean Leahy for asking us to contribute to Puck Daddy's Mount Puckmore series and thanks to everyone that helped discuss the choices. Here's what we went with, let us know what we got wrong but remember, Wendel blessed these choices.
Save the 1967 jokes: unless your team is the Montreal Canadiens the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a lot more storied than that of your favorite franchise. Actually, use them if you want. It's not like the rest of you can come up with any original jokes or better ones than Leafs fans can anyway.
Picking just four names from the 93 year tale of the Toronto Maple Leafs is an exercise in compromise. Can a team that won 13 Stanley Cups pick three of its four Mt. Puckmore visages from players that never won a Cup in Toronto?
The post-1967 Leafs include players like Darryl Sittler. Sidney Crosby's nickname of Darryl comes from the fact that in junior the Penguins star scored eight points in one game. Darryl Sittler scored six goals and four assists in one NHL game during a career in which he re-wrote the franchise's record book.
Wendel Clark embodies what the Toronto Maple Leafs are and always have been; a hard nosed workman's team in stark contrast to the endlessly skilled Montreal Canadiens. While the Flying Frenchmen were winning Cups on the back of Gallic flair, the Leafs were piling them up with the proverbial stiff upper lip. Wendel Clark literally gave 110% until his body failed and anyone who has ever called themselves a Leafs fan knows of his heroics in the 1993 Western Conference Finals where he put the Leafs on his back and tried to overcome Kerry Fraser and Wayne Gretzky with sheer will and a deadly wrister.
What about Doug Gilmour who was instrumental in those two runs to the conference finals? He posted 35 points in 21 games in the 1993 playoffs after being run out of town in Calgary. After Wendel Clark's departure Gilmour wore the C in Toronto in a move that has been strangely echoed by Dion Phaneuf's arrival.
It's not any easier to pick players from before 1967. Dave Keon lifted four Cups in Toronto and is the only Leafs with his name etched on the Conn Smythe trophy: named after the Leafs owner and given to the playoff MVP.
Who can forget Bill Barilko? He won four Cups in his five seasons and in his last hockey game Barilko scored in OT to win the Leafs the 1951 Stanley Cup. Less than half a year later he disappeared. His body wasn't found for eleven years. The Leafs had an eleven year Cup drought that they ended with a run of three straight titles. The first one came in 1962 after Barilko's body was found.
A great case could be made for any number of Maple Leafs being a part of this exercise. To leave off Hap Day, Charlie Conacher, Bill Barilko, Doug Gilmour, Dave Keon, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler, Syl Apps, Turk Broda, Johnny Bower and all of the Leafs greats is to leave off a long list of legends. These are our four choices for Mt. Puckmore, the four players who rise above being legends.
1. Mats Sundin
Sundin never had a reputation as being outspoken but on the ice he certainly had a flair for the dramatic. His 500th career goal came in overtime. His 500th career goal completed a hat trick against Miikka Kiprusoff... shorthanded.
Sundin is the all time Leafs leader in goals, assists by a forward and points. He shares the league lead for overtime goals with Jagr, Fedorov and Elias, he was the first European player trained in Europe to be drafted #1 overall. He is the only Swede to score 500 goals in his career.
Some fans never warmed to Sundin. His quiet demeanor off ice and unwillingness to drop the gloves didn't sit right with a fanbase that watched Wendel Clark leave. That's not fair to Mats. Sundin didn't fight with his fists but he fought with his body. Below the goal line he muscled off opposing defenders and walked out into the slot with impunity. When everything was on the line Sundin bailed the Leafs out time and time again and for his trouble the Toronto media dragged him through the muck. In our weakest moments we did too and for that we're sorry. He played through injury and after the lockout was the only star on a terrible team. He played tough minutes against the best the opposition had to offer night after night and carried the Leafs on his back.
Leafs fans will be lucky if we get to watch a player half as good as Sundin in our lifetimes.
2. Borje Salming
Borje Salming is the reason there are Europeans playing in the NHL today. He came over and was willing to fight anybody. To quote the Flyers' Bobby Clarke "He was tough, and he could use his stick too."
Borje Salming hammered the nail into the coffin of European players being too soft to play in the NHL. The Maple Leafs wisely sent Borje Salming to talk to Jonas Gustavsson before signing the young Swedish netminder because they knew Borje would convince him.
My favorite Borje Salming moment comes from his reaction to Leafs' coach Red Kelly who had turned to new age mysticism. Kelly had installed pyramids under the Leafs bench to harness good energy and someone asked Salming what he thought about the whole thing.
"I no believe in pyramids," he said. And then he tapped his chest. "I just believe in the big fellow."
I'm too young to have seen Salming play but he's a hero to Mats Sundin and an idol to Jonas Gustavsson. Nik Lidstrom called Borje Salming his childhood inspiration. An NHL without Borje Salming's influence is an NHL without the Sedins, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson and more. Borje proved he could play in the best league in the world and opened doors that changed the NHL.
In a precursor of Mats Sundin's reception upon his return to Toronto after signing in Vancouver he was given a a standing ovation by the Maple Leafs Garden faithful during an appearance in the 1976 Canada Cup. The fans realised how lucky they were to watch arguably the greatest defencemen to ever wear the blue and white as well as one of the most influential players in NHL history.
3. Teeder Kennedy
Ted "Teeder" Kennedy grew up a Maple Leaf fan and tragically was almost a Montreal Canadien. The pilfering of Ted Kennedy from the Habs began with his shabby treatment upon his arrival in Montreal. As his hopes of an NHL career seemed to be waning legendary NHL Executive Frank Selke swooped in and picked him up. The rub was that the trade was made while Owner and Managing Director Conn Smythe was overseas serving in World War II. While the trade marked the beginning of the end for Selke in Toronto - Smythe felt that Selke had been taking advantage of his absence - it marked the beginning of a glorious career that would see Kennedy become Conn Smythe's favourite player.
In 15 seasons with the Maple Leafs, Kennedy's Hall of Fame career was marked by 694 GP, 231 goals (10th all-time among Leafs), 328 assists (8th), and 559 points (9th). He captained the team for eight seasons and led the team during three of the five championship seasons he played making him the first player in NHL history to win that many Cups. He won the Leafs' final Hart Tropy in 1955 beating out a bevy of legends and was the recipient of a specially created team MVP award, the J.P. Bickell Trophy, because of Conn Smythe's frustration with the lack of recognition for his talents. Kennedy has been described as a clutch, tenacious, complete player and a 2001 Hockey News Panel concluded that he would likely have had three playoff MVPs if they had been awarded during his time. However, the most apt description came from Frank Mahovlich who said, "Ted Kennedy never played for another team, never wanted to, and captained the Toronto Maple Leafs during its greatest era. He has been called the quintessential Maple Leaf."
4 - Conn Smythe
The question about whether to include owners, general managers, or coaches on various teams' Mount Puckmores has spawned some spirited debate. On the one hand, Leafs fans are repeatedly told that they will never win a Cup as long as a faceless corporation owns the team. Apparently they are afraid of making obscene amounts of money. Of course, Buds fans know better than most just how devastating poor ownership can cripple a franchise and we are constantly told how having a dedicated owner like Mike Illitch would make a difference. So on our Mount Puckmore, we're adding the driving force behind the Toronto Maple Leafs' success: Conn Smythe. It's no coincidence that the Leafs' decline dovetailed with Conn passing ownership of the team to a trio including his drunkard son Stafford and his evil partner Harold Ballard.
The fact of the matter is that without Conn Smythe there would have been no Maple Leafs...literally. He kept the team from being sold to a consortium that was going to move the team to Philadelphia. As managing director he built a franchise that went toe-to-toe with the Montreal Canadiens. After purchasing the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927 he quickly renamed them the Toronto Maple Leafs (named after his World War I unit, a proper noun hence the plural 's'). In 1931, his negotiation skills were instrumental in getting Maple Leaf Gardens built in five months in the midst of the Great Depression. (Editor's Note: He also hated Upper Canada College which makes him awesome in my books) His character and belief in team-building "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice" has come to define every successful period in the franchise's history. In this instance at least, Brian Burke is a worthy successor to his legacy. With his name on the Stanley Cup for eleven of the Maple Leafs' thirteen Stanley Cups there really is no argument for keeping his visage from gracing Mount Puckmore.
As we noted, there is obviously a lot of room for debate. If we were actually making these monuments we would have MLSE buy a couple of mountains to ensure that all deserving members of the Maple Leafs' storied history could be recognised. These are our choices of four Maple Leafs that define the franchise so let's get the kvetching underway. Who did we miss? What pick did we screw up? (Hint: none of them, that's Wendel blessing our selections) For the non-Leafs fans, try not to drool on your keyboard as you mash out your anger. Remember, your mother loves you.