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Have the Maple Leafs ever had a good right-shooting defenceman?

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The Hockey Hall of Fame said yes to that five times.

St. Louis Blues v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images

Have the Leafs ever had a good right-shooting defender? Okay, Tim Horton, sure. But since then? Sometimes it feels like the answer must be no. Even when the Leafs get a bona fide, top-pairing, famous, experienced righty defender, we end up disappointed. Is it us? Is it something about Toronto? Maybe there never has been a good one in all of time.

Hockey Reference gave me 112 right-shooting defenders who have played for the Leafs, and allowing for how some of the earliest players in the NHL seem to have moved between forward and defence more easily, I’m calling that definitive enough to see how many of them are any good.

Beginning in 1917 Ken Randall, the captain of the Toronto Arenas and other forerunner teams to the Maple Leafs, played some right defence, but he was more of a forward. His teammate Harry Cameron played that position more, and Cameron not only won the Cup twice with a Toronto team, he’s also in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Harry Cameron was a strong puck carrying defenseman who could electrify the crowd with his speedy rushes up the ice,[8] end-to-end rushes which also made him a viable goal scoring threat in the face of the opposing teams, as he was also a crafty stickhandler.[9] During his first two seasons in the NHA with the Toronto Blueshirts Cameron made a strong defensive pairing with Jack Marshall, and even though Cameron was only of average height (5 ft 10 in) and weight (155 lb) he could still use his body on the defensive side of the puck to stop oncoming opponents.[10] Later on, with the Toronto Arenas, he would pair with big-bodied defenseman Harry Mummery (220 lb). In the NHL Cameron had among his defensive partners Sprague Cleghorn (Ottawa Senators and Toronto St. Patricks) and Red Stuart (Toronto St. Patricks). - Wikipedia

I’m never going to hear the term “modern, puck-carrying defender” again without laughing. If only Cameron were alive today, he’d be at home in the Leafs dressing room and on the ice. Clearly the foundation for the Leafs was laid well back then, and since then... well... Since then, the results have been mixed.

First, the full list:

Toronto’s right-shooting defenders

Name From To GP G A PTS
Name From To GP G A PTS
Ken Randall 1917 1923 128 51 34 85
Harry Cameron* 1917 1923 106 71 47 118
Dave Ritchie 1918 1919 4 0 0 0
Joe Matte 1919 1920 17 8 3 11
Ted Stackhouse 1921 1922 13 0 0 0
Bert Corbeau 1923 1927 131 18 21 39
Bert McCaffrey 1924 1928 118 30 23 53
Harold Halderson 1926 1927 26 1 2 3
Bill Brydge 1926 1927 41 6 3 9
Art Duncan 1927 1931 122 15 14 29
Red Horner* 1928 1940 490 42 110 152
Cliff McBride 1929 1930 1 0 0 0
Alex Levinsky 1930 1934 150 11 21 32
Roger Jenkins 1930 1931 21 0 0 0
Bingo Kampman 1937 1942 189 14 30 44
Jack Church 1938 1942 86 1 11 12
Bob Goldham 1941 1947 79 12 22 34
George Boothman 1942 1943 9 1 1 2
Buck Jones 1942 1943 16 0 0 0
Jack Ingoldsby 1943 1944 21 5 0 5
Jimmy Thomson 1945 1957 717 15 208 223
Bill Barilko 1946 1951 252 26 36 62
Garth Boesch 1946 1950 197 9 28 37
Bill Juzda 1948 1952 211 3 29 32
Stan Kemp 1948 1949 1 0 0 0
Tim Horton* 1949 1970 1184 109 349 458
Frank Sullivan 1949 1953 6 0 0 0
Phil Samis 1949 1950 2 0 0 0
Fern Flaman* 1950 1954 228 4 27 31
Larry Cahan 1954 1956 79 0 8 8
Bob Baun 1956 1973 739 29 140 169
Stephen Kraftcheck* 1958 1959 8 1 0 1
Joe Crozier 1959 1960 5 0 3 3
Jim Mikol 1962 1963 4 0 1 1
Jim McKenny 1965 1978 594 81 246 327
Darryl Sly 1965 1968 19 0 0 0
Ken Murray 1969 1971 5 0 1 1
Randy Murray 1969 1970 3 0 0 0
John Grisdale 1972 1975 51 1 7 8
Claire Alexander 1974 1977 123 10 29 39
Kurt Walker 1975 1977 31 2 3 5
Blair MacKasey 1976 1977 1 0 0 0
Trevor Johansen 1977 1982 132 4 21 25
Ron Wilson 1977 1980 64 7 15 22
Greg Hotham 1979 1982 60 4 11 15
Darryl Maggs 1979 1980 5 0 0 0
Dave Shand 1980 1983 48 0 5 5
Barry Melrose 1980 1983 173 5 15 20
Bob McGill 1981 1993 318 4 25 29
Fred Boimistruck 1981 1983 83 4 14 18
Bill Stewart 1983 1985 83 2 19 21
Gary Leeman 1983 1984 52 4 8 12
Bill Root 1984 1987 96 4 5 9
Chris Kotsopoulos 1985 1989 182 11 37 48
Brad Maxwell 1985 1986 52 8 18 26
Rick Lanz 1986 1989 151 9 50 59
Dale DeGray 1987 1988 56 6 18 24
Darren Veitch 1988 1991 39 3 8 11
Rob Ramage 1989 1991 160 18 66 84
Drake Berehowsky 1990 2004 133 7 28 35
Bob Rouse 1990 1994 237 13 45 58
Michel Petit 1990 1992 88 10 32 42
Jeff Serowik 1990 1991 1 0 0 0
Dmitri Mironov 1991 1995 175 22 63 85
Ric Nattress 1991 1992 36 2 14 16
Len Esau 1991 1992 2 0 0 0
Greg Smyth 1993 1997 13 0 1 1
Garth Butcher 1994 1995 45 1 7 8
Dmitry Yushkevich 1995 2002 506 25 110 135
Larry Murphy* 1995 1997 151 19 81 100
Jamie Heward 1995 1996 5 0 0 0
Yannick Tremblay 1996 1999 78 4 11 15
Jason Smith 1996 1999 162 5 29 34
Tom Pederson 1996 1997 15 1 2 3
Sylvain Cote 1997 2000 94 8 31 39
Jeff Brown 1997 1998 19 1 8 9
Alexander Karpovtsev 1998 2000 125 5 39 44
Kevin Dahl 1998 1999 3 0 0 0
Greg Andrusak 1999 2000 9 0 1 1
Gerald Diduck 1999 2000 26 0 3 3
Wade Belak 2000 2007 288 6 17 23
Nathan Dempsey 2000 2002 28 1 9 10
Petr Svoboda 2000 2001 18 1 2 3
Karel Pilar 2001 2004 90 6 24 30
Ric Jackman 2002 2004 71 2 6 8
Robert Svehla 2002 2003 82 7 38 45
Ken Klee 2003 2006 122 7 37 44
Ian White 2005 2010 296 28 77 105
Pavel Kubina 2006 2009 215 32 69 101
Anton Stralman 2007 2009 88 4 18 22
Luke Schenn 2008 2012 310 14 61 75
Jeff Finger 2008 2010 105 8 25 33
Phil Oreskovic 2008 2009 10 1 1 2
Mike Van Ryn 2008 2009 27 3 8 11
Jaime Sifers 2008 2009 23 0 2 2
Mike Komisarek 2009 2013 158 2 17 19
Korbinian Holzer 2010 2015 58 2 7 9
Cody Franson 2011 2015 236 20 95 115
Ryan O'Byrne 2012 2013 8 1 1 2
Mike Kostka 2012 2013 35 0 8 8
Petter Granberg 2013 2015 8 0 0 0
Roman Polak 2014 2018 240 12 33 45
Stephane Robidas 2014 2015 52 1 6 7
Connor Carrick 2015 2018 130 8 16 24
Frank Corrado 2015 2017 41 1 5 6
Nikita Zaitsev 2016 2019 223 12 51 63
Alexey Marchenko 2016 2017 11 1 1 2
Justin Holl 2017 2020 81 4 17 21
Igor Ozhiganov 2018 2019 53 3 4 7
Tyson Barrie 2019 2020 70 5 34 39
Timothy Liljegren 2019 2020 11 0 1 1
Cody Ceci 2019 2020 56 1 7 8

Five HHOF defenders

Beyond Cameron there are four other players in the Hall on this list denoted by an asterisk after their names, so it wasn’t all bad. Tim Horton leads in both games played and points, and he’s in the Hall on the strength of his epic career in Toronto.

Red Horner played in the 30s and had a lot more penalty minutes than points, but he also won the Cup once. This from Wikipedia is interesting:

His election to the Hall of Fame [in 1965] has been controversial, as he never before his final two seasons was regarded as even the best defenceman on his own team—his contemporaries for most of his career were the Hall of Famers King Clancy and Hap Day, who were—and seems to rest more on his unprecedented and unequaled seven seasons as the NHL penalty minute leader. He retired the league’s all-time penalty minute leader, a mark he held until Ted Lindsay broke it in the late Fifties.

Horner seems more like the blueprint for a lot of the Leafs defenders in later decades, at least on the right side than Cameron. It took a long time for Leafs management to turn back the clock to the very beginning and find someone who could carry the puck. They just kept finding lefties, though.

Fern Flaman is not a household name, but he is in the HHOF as well. He played more for Boston than he did the Leafs, and his scoring came on his Bruins teams as well. He was inducted as a player, but seems to have made his mark as an NCAA coach.

Larry Murphy is the only modern Hall of Famer on the list, and while his time in Toronto was brief, but he did win the Norris while he was here. He got some votes, but didn’t win the Norris, which sadly counts as greatness at this position.

Stephen Kraftcheck was actually named to the AHL Hall of Fame, so ignore his asterisk.

Toronto hasn’t always been known to keep their good players, and Larry Murphy isn’t the only star who was only around for a short time. Sort the list by games played and you see a different history of the Leafs. Dmitry Yushkevich is fifth, but Luke Schenn is eighth, and Roman Polak is 12th.

Surely there’s a 21st century Harry Cameron out there? But if there is, Toronto can’t find him. For all some of us complain about Tyson Barrie being not quite what we wanted, he’s still the best right-shooting defender in a very long time.

Sort the list by “To” which is the last year the player was in Toronto, and then decide who is the first one that’s better than Barrie. Timothy Liljegren might be the true inheritor of Cameron’s place on the team, but we don’t know that yet. Cody Franson will get a few votes, but I’m not sure that’s fair. Anton Stralman certainly was, but not when he was in Toronto. Dmitry Yushkevich is likely a good choice until you crawl back in time to Larry Murphy.

Maybe someday when someone writes up an all-time great Leafs team, there will be an argument about the right side defence. Maybe a Maple Leaf of the future might touch Horton’s greatness, but until then, we’ll just have to keep searching for the elusive righty of our dreams.