Record: 30-43-7 and dead last in the Norris Division. Missed the playoffs by just 3 points. 2nd worst record in the Clarence Campbell Conference (only the expansion San Jose Sharks were worse) and 19th out of 22 teams overall.
Special Teams: PP 17.5% (16th); PK 80.9% (11th)
GF: 234 (21st)
GA: 294 (14th)
1991 First Draft Choice: (C) Yanic Perreault 47th overall
1991 Best Prospect at the time: (D) Matt Martin - currently playing for the dominant Maine Black Bears in the NCAA
Coach: Tom Webster
GM: Cliff Fletcher
Fletcher was hired the same day Smith was fired and the future HHOFer went out before the season and made a big splash to improve the Leafs goaltending. Toronto traded leading scorer, 33 year old forward Vincent Damphousse, 22 year old (G) Peter Ing, 22 year old (D) Luke Richardson and 21 year old (LW) Scott Thornton to Edmonton for 26 year old bruiser (LW) Craig Berube and a pair of future HHOFers: 31 year old (RW) Glenn Anderson and 29 year old (G) Grant Fuhr. Anderson was a 5-time Cup champ, with 9 x 30 goal seasons, including a pair of 54 goal seasons to his credit. Fuhr was a 4-time Cup champ, 4 time Vezina finalist and he won the top goalie award in 1988. Grant was obviously brought in to address Toronto’s goaltending needs. On paper, it looked like the problem would be solved.
Anderson immediately led the Leafs in scoring in 91-92. His 24 goals and 57 points were good, but not great and a long way off the 73 points Damphousse had the year before and even further off the 38 goals and 89 points Vincent put up during his one and only season in the Alberta capital. To help, Dave Ellett scored a career best 18 goals, 51 points and played in the All-Star Game.
While the Leafs did allow 24 fewer goals in 91-92 than their previous season, Fuhr was unable to make the crease an area of strength. He finished with a 25-33-5 record while allowing the league high 230 goals. Interestingly, his .881SV% was the exact same in 91-92 as it was during his Vezina winning season 4 years earlier. Jeff Reese saw limited action, but 20 year old Felix Potvin got his first small taste of the NHL and that would be extremely important for Toronto in the near future.
Toronto only won 3 of their first 13 games and then won only 1 of their final 11 games to end 1991. They were bad. The Leafs record at New Years was 10-25-5 and then the calendar flipped to 1992 and everything changed.
Any hockey fan old enough to remember can probably recall listening to Leafs coach Tom Webster stoically telling the press about the massive 10 player trade with Calgary on January 2/92. The Leafs gave up 27 year old (LW) and former 50 goal scorer Gary Leeman, 26 year old (LW) Craig Berube, 21 year old (D) Alexander Godynyuk, 27 year old defenceman (D) Michel Petit and 25 year old (G) Jeff Reese. In return, Toronto acquired 2 reliable defencemen in 29 year old Ric Nattress and 30 year old Jamie Macoun. 20 year old (C) Kent Manderville and former Stanley Cup champion and veteran (G) Rick Wamsley were other parts, but getting highly respected and well regarded 2-way center, Doug Gilmour was the biggest and best part of the swap for Leafs Nation. All 5 former Flames had been part of Calgary’s Stanley Cup winning team just 3 years earlier and Gilmour scored the Cup winning goal in 1989, too. Former long-time Montreal Canadiens GM and HHOFer, Sam Pollock used to say whoever gets the best player in a trade, wins the trade. Toronto got the best player in this deal and it changed the course of both franchises for several years.
The trade gave the Leafs a talented playmaker who also bled character, effort, drive, passion, responsibility, championship pedigree, and a 200’, all situations game. Gilmour was a proven superstar, something every team needs, but something Toronto REALLY needed. Shoring up the D was another huge component to help get their goals against down. The trade with Calgary checked off two Toronto needs, while every player going west made little to no impact with their new club.
"Dougie G" made an immediate impact in Toronto and quickly made the fans fall in love with him. He had a goal and an assist less than 5 minutes into his Leafs debut in Detroit. Although Toronto lost that game, things were turning around very quickly.
The Leafs enjoyed 2 different 4 game winning streaks in Gilmour’s first month. With Dougie, Toronto went 20-18-2 and missed the playoffs by only 3 points. 8th grade me clearly remembers the electricity surrounding Leafs Nation as Gilmour tried (and nearly succeeded) in dragging his team to the postseason. Our new superstar scored 49 points in only 40 games during his first season with the Leafs.
1991-1992 was another failed season for Toronto, but it was obvious to every hockey fan that the Leafs were about to get really good.