Toronto Maple Leafs: Year in Review 1994-1995
Record: 21-19-8, 4th in the Central Division, 5th in the Western Conference and 12 overall out of 26 teams. The season was reduced to 48 games following a 103 day lockout.
Playoffs: First round loss to Chicago
Special Teams: PP 16.97% (15th); PK 84.86% (6th)
GF: 135 (17th)
GA: 146 (16th)
1994 First Draft Choice: (G) Eric Fichaud 16th overall
1994 Best Prospect at the time: (C) Brandon Convery - just wrapped up his junior career with 40g and 88pts in 58gp. He was on his way to St. John’s (AHL).
Coach: Pat Burns
GM: Cliff Fletcher
Leafs fans understood by now that with Fletcher at the wheel, nobody was safe. During the summer of 94, the Leafs GM traded away fan favourite and captain (LW) Wendel Clark, solid D-man Sylvain Lefebvre, former 1st round pick (RW) Landon Wilson and a 1st round pick at the 94 draft (22nd overall) to Quebec for the Nords 1st round pick in 94 (10th overall), (LW) Todd Warriner, (D) Garth Butcher and former 1st overall pick and Swede (C) Mats Sundin.
Fletcher then used the Quebec pick to make a trade with Washington, sending that 10th overall pick and (RW) Rob Pearson to the Caps for their 1st round pick in 94 (16th overall) and (C) Mike Ridley (good Winnipeg boy! Gotta love those Bisons!). Ridley was 31 now but had averaged 28 goals a season over his first 9 seasons in the NHL.
Clark was obviously coming off a career season with 46g and then another 9 in the playoffs. He had been with the organization since Toronto drafted him #1 in 1985. Sundin was absolutely worth it though. From day one, I thought Toronto made the right deal. Clark’s stock had never been higher. He was now 27 but with an injury history. Sundin was only 23 and already coming off his 3rd straight 30+ goal season. Only two years earlier, Mats had exploded for 46g and 114pts. Leafs fans and the entire NHL soon found out Fletcher stole a superstar from another team again.
Early in October, Fletcher spun a 6-man deal with LA. Toronto got 23 year old (C) Kelly Fairchild, 21 year old (C) Guy Leveque, 19 year old (RW) Shayne Toporowski and 26 year old (RW) Dixon Ward. Going to LA were: 22 year old (LW) Eric Lacroix, 22 year old (D) Chris Snell and Toronto’s 4th round pick in 1996. All the trading had left the Toronto prospect pool looking like no more than a petri dish, so these trades to acquire younger talent were badly needed. It’s unfortunate that those 4 new Leafs combined to play just 48 games for their new club.
Toronto never seemed to find a rhythm in 94-95. Their hottest stretch of the season was in late March when they went 3-1-3. The team never won more than 2 in a row. At least their longest losing streak was only 3 games.
The newcomers immediately proved their value. Sundin led the team in goals (23) and points (47). Ridley led the team in assists (27) and was 3rd in team scoring. After playing out of his mind for 2.5 seasons, Doug Gilmour slipped to 33pts in 44gp. Gilmour’s 53pt drop was the biggest in the NHL from the season 93-94 to the 94-95. Mike Gartner’s 29pt drop was 13th most. Dave Andreychuk also saw his production fall. His 22 goals in 48 games projects to 39 over a full schedule. 39 goals is very good, but not when you’re coming off back to back 50+ goal seasons.
It was on the blueline where Toronto suffered the most. Trading Lefebvre and losing Bob Rouse to Detroit in free agency hurt immensely. Plus, reliable Dave Ellett missed 15 games. Dmitri Mirinov also missed 15 games, and newly acquired veteran Garth Butcher was unable to provide much of anything.
In net, both Felix Potvin and Damian Rhodes returned and both were great. In fact they were arguably the top tandem in the league. They combined for a .905SA, good enough for 4th best in the NHL even though the guys in front of them gave up an average of 32 shots a game! Good goaltending often saved the Leafs bacon. Toronto won five 2-1 games.
In early April, Cliff rattled off 6 trades in 2 days! The biggest was getting 3 time 30 goal scorer (C) Benoit Hogue from the NYI (plus a couple of draft picks) for young goalie Eric Fichaud. The excellent play and youth of both Potvin and Rhodes allowed Fletcher to trade from an area of strength for an area of need. Although Houge only had 6 goals in 33gp at the time of the trade, it still felt like a good trade at the time.
The other big trade at the time was the return of (RW) Tie Domi. Formerly a 2nd round pick of the Leafs in 88, Tie had only played 2 games in the Blue and White before moving onto New York and then Winnipeg. He was the reigning PIMS leader and the top heavyweight of the NHL. Going to the Jets were (C) Mike Eastwood and a 1995 3rd round pick.
For the 2nd year in a row, Toronto would face Chicago in the opening round, only this time it was the Hawks who had home ice. But that didn’t seem to bother the Buds as Toronto won both games 1 and 2 in the Windy City. Sundin’s 2nd of the game, midway through the 3rd was the game winner in game 1 and then Felix stoned the Hawks with a brilliant 42 save performance in game 2 as Toronto won 3-0.
The chatter among my classmates was an easy sweep. However, with Steve Smith in the box for holding, Toronto gave up a SHG to Chris Chelios with less than 7 mins to play. What should have been our chance to win, turned around and bit us in the butt. Both Ed Belfour and Potvin made 34 saves each in this one. Eddie and Felix were once again on top of their games again in game 4. Eddie’s 31 saves proved to be too much in a 3-1 Hawks win, tying the series.
Despite losing both games at home, Leafs fans were still confident. Afterall, we had won both games at the United Center just last week. Our goalie was superhuman and we just needed to get a couple more pucks past Belfour. It didn’t happen. Murray Craven scored twice and Toronto only mustered 25 shots - despite 5 power plays - losing 4-2. All of a sudden, we had lost 3 in a row and were facing elimination!
Game 6 was at good ol’ Maple Leaf Gardens. Toronto led 4-1 early in the 3rd, chasing Belfour to the bench. Then Chicago came storming back. The Blackhawks responded with 3 goals, including Brent Sutter’s tying goal with 4:37 left in the game. Thankfully for Toronto, big players come through in big games. Mats Sundin, using that great speed and size, swiped down the right wing, around the Chicago net and fed a wide open Randy Wood who slapped it past Jeff Hackett for a 5-4 OT win! Felix continued his unbelievable play, making 46 saves to keep our season alive.
Chicago hosted game 7 and when Eric Weinrich scored late in the 2nd period, breaking a 1-1 tie, it felt like we were mortally wounded. Anything can happen in game 7 and Joe Murphy’s goal with less than 10 mins to go put us on life support. Then when Patrick Poulin scored to make it 4-1 just 26 seconds later, we knew it was over. Chicago won the game 5-2 and advanced to face Vancouver.
We just couldn’t believe it. For two years, Leafs fans were spoiled with back to back trips to the conference finals. It didn’t feel right to get bounced in the first round. Toronto enjoyed some outstanding work from Felix who continued to get peppered. Potvin faced an average of 36 shots a game in the series and earned a .921SA. Sundin led the way offensively with 5g and 9pts. Gilmour had 6 assists but no goals. Worst of all, there was no sign of our trade deadline offensive weapon. Hogue was a ghost with no goals, no points, only 6 shots and a minus -4 in 7gp.
Normally ending your season in late May is a good thing, but not when your season starts in late January. The Leafs year was over, but the team had enjoyed fantastic goaltending, an excellent first season from Sundin and the expectation that Gilmour would be back with a vengeance. We all counted on it. Fletcher just needed to get us some D.