Editor's Note: Here is one of our first entries to our random draw. The '67 Sound makes a great case for his selections. Let him know what you think or put forth your own.
What better way to waste time in the dog days of August before training camp begins. I have come up with several different iterations of this, but believe I have finally settled on four. In chronological order:
- Conn Smythe
- Ted "Teeder" Kennedy
- George "Chief" Armstrong
- Mats Sundin
After the jump, I'll set out my criteria and reasons for my picks (with a hat tip to Matt Roberts, to be explained below).
First, the criteria:
- The first thing you should think of when you hear this name is "Toronto Maple Leaf". They needn't be lifelong Leafs, but if we are talking "face of the franchise", there should be no doubt whatsoever as to the team with which the player in question is most associated. This, to me, excludes players like Frank Mahovlich.
- Ideally, the player should be consistent with the overall character of the franchise. The Leafs were always the more workmanlike, gritty team in comparison to our flashier rivals up the 401. Elite talent and scoring ability is important for the players on this list, but so is defensive ability and acknowledged leadership skills.
- History matters. Contrary to what some would have use believe, this team was not founded in 1967. We have one of the richest histories in North American pro sports and it would do that history, and our great franchise, a great disservice to disregard players just because the vast majority of us never saw them.
- Winning matters. Leading the Leafs to the Stanley Cup goes a long way towards making you the face of the franchise. I can't see picking more than one player from the post-1967 era. As great as Salming was, Sundin was better and has to be on the list. And I can't have two of three players be post-1967.
- The player should have league-wide significance. A franchise as glorious as ours has far too many players with unquestioned league-wide recognition and significance without having to choose someone that is dearly beloved and appreciated almost exclusively by Leafs fans. Sorry, Wendel. Please don't punch my blood out.
- In terms of objective criteria, I'm concerned obviously with goals, assists and points; but also with captaincies and awards. While most advanced statistics are obviously unavailable for older players, I will refer to GVT since it helpfully "normalizes" statistics across various eras so that players from the high flying 80s, for example, are treated fairly compared to players from various "dead puck" eras. Keep in mind, however, that career GVT totals still penalize players from before the introduction of the 80 game schedule in 1967.
With that said, here are the justifications for my choices.
- Bought the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927 and re-named them the Maple Leafs. Without Conn Smythe, there are no Toronto "Maple Leafs"
- Built Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931, during the height of the Depression
- Appears on 11 Stanley Cups as owner, out of 13 total for the franchise
- His credo "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice" defines the franchise to this day under Brian Burke's leadership
- Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, which he helped build
- 694 GP, 231 G (10th all-time among Leafs), 328 A (8th), 559 P (9th)
- 177th all-time in GVT; finished 4th, 9th and 11th in GVT league-wide in '47, '45 and '51.
- Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Conn Smythe was so frustrated with Kennedy's lack of recognition league-wide that he created the J.P. Bickell Trophy, for the most valuable Maple Leaf, just to give it to Teeder in 1953
- Hart Trophy winner in 1955, the last Leaf winner and only second ever after Babe Pratt (who won in a WWII-depleted 1943-44 season)
- Captain for 8 of his 15 years
- Five Cups (the first ever to win that many), three as Captain
- Renowned for his clutch play and playoff excellence, a 2001 Hockey News Panel concluded that he would have received the Conn Smythe award three times had the award existed before 1964. Considered so clutch, in fact, that for years after he retired, the Leafs' rallying cry was John Arnott's famous shout of "Come o-n-n-n-n-n Teeder!"
- Considered a superlative defensive player, tough as nails, and perhaps the greatest face-off man of all-time
- According to Frank Mahovlich, "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."
- After Conn Smythe, the man most deserving of being called the "Face of the franchise". He is everything Leafs fans aspire for in a player: Skilled, tough, leader, winner. Teeder Kennedy.
- 1188 GP (1st among Leafs all-time), 296 G (6th, and 1st among Leafs who played primarily pre-expansion), 417 A (5th, 1st), 713 P (5th, 1st)
- 198th all-time GVT
- 3rd all-time among Leafs for "Adjusted Goals Created" according to www.hockey-reference.com (behind only Sundin and Keon)
- 7 time all-star
- Captain for 12 years, longest-serving Captain ever
- Won 4 Stanley Cups, all as Captain
- Member of Hockey Hall of Fame
- Conn Smythe deemed him "the best captain, as a captain, the Leafs have ever had"
- Scored the empty-net goal to clinch the 1967 Stanley Cup
- Exemplifies leadership, determination and two-way play
He needs no explanation for virtually everyone here, but indulge me with a few highlights:
- 1346 GP, 564 G (20th all time), 785 A (33rd), 1349P (26th)
- Franchise leader in goals and points
- 30th in all-time GVT
- statistics likely suffered from generally unremarkable linemates and reduced ice time compared to similar players
- 8 time all-star
- Remarkably clutch player: 7th all-time in game-winning goals with 96, 1st in overtime goals with 15
- Led Leafs to 2 conference finals appearances.
For me, Smythe and Kennedy were no-brainers. Sundin was next--we need a modern era player, and Mats was arguably the most talented and accomplished Toronto Maple Leaf ever in terms of individual achievements. Sittler and Salming both have legitimate arguments, but I do not think either are remembered as all-time greats as I believe Sundin will be.
Armstrong was by far the hardest choice for me. There were many different ways to go here. Among the leading candidates for me, and the reasons I did not choose them:
- Tim Horton: my initial fourth choice, before Matt Roberts suggested Armstrong instead. I felt we should have a defenceman, and a representative of the 1960s dynasty. Horton fit on both counts. His resume is actually very similar to Armstrong's. Both are in the HHOF, they are first and second on the all-time Leafs games played list, neither won any individual awards or had flashy statistics, both were multiple all-stars. The deciding factor for me is that Armstrong was the captain. Horton would be a very, very good choice, however.
- Turk Broda: Two Vezinas, 5 Cups, HHOF, 1st all-time among Leafs in shutouts and minutes. He gets the slight edge over Bower for me among Leafs goalies. I left him off because it is hard for a goalie to be the "face of the franchise", and we already have Teeder to represent the 40s dynasty.
- Dave Keon: another potential representative for the 60s dynasty. However, he wasn't the captain, and while it was in no way his fault, the rift between him and the team would give me a sour taste for our "Mount Puckmore". We aren't the Ottawa Senators--no reason to pick players who are signs of failure (in Keon's case, the failure of course is entirely attributable to Ballard, not Keon).
So there it is, my vote for the Leafs' "Mount Puckmore". Look forward to hearing your responses in the comments. I should give credit for most of the content here to www.hockey-reference.com, Tom Award's global GVT available at www.behindthenethockey.com, www.hhof.com, and www.wikipedia.org.