Ten years ago, an event occurred which shook the very foundation of Maple Leafs fandom. It is noted in history as the most controversial and hotly debated moment in all of the team’s history.

The Leafs let Joel Champagne walk away. For nothing.

Leafs Relinquish Rights to Joel Champagne

You might now be wondering who that even is.

Champagne was the Leafs fifth-round pick, 129th overall in the 2008 draft.  This was the same draft the Leafs picked Luke Schenn with their first-round pick, so, uh, not a memorable one, though the team did turn Luke Schenn via trade in to James van Riemsdyk, which is definitely memorable for me. That’s good asset management!

Champagne was a center who had stayed in junior hockey in the QMJHL up to the point when the Leafs lost his rights. He was 20 years old at the time. And he was big. 6’4! That meant a lot in the Burke era. Fans were confused.

Why would Burke let this guy go? Honestly, Champagne was a prospect I was excited about as a fan. Makes zero sense to me.
- Posted by Ryan Fancey

So, why wasn’t Champagne signed to an Entry Level Contract, or at least his signing rights traded for something, or anything? A seventh round pick! Future considerations! One of those sausages they shoot out of a cannon at AHL games into the crowd (yes, there is a team that actually has one of those air cannons which shoots real packaged sausages into the crowd.)

The short answer is, “plenty more where that came from.”

I’ve seen them all come and go

This all seems particularly relevant as we kick off our Maple Leafs Top 25 Under 25 series today with a roster of players that may be at its weakest since the era of Joel Champagne; but we certainly didn’t know it was weak at that time. We didn’t start a Top 25 Under 25 series until 2012, but many of the names on the Marlies roster in the 2010-11 season would undoubtedly have made that list.

Who were they? We know two very well for sure: Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner. When you get beyond them the names start to get murky. Greg McKegg and Korbinian Holzer(!!!!) have found niche NHL roles, but then you are right into names which did grace our inaugural and subsequent Top 25 Under 25 conversations, but never had much, if any, NHL career: “Big” Joe Colborne, Andrew Crescenzi (he played two games for the Kings in 2018!), Jerry D’Amigo (he of the beard), Keith “Wookie” Aulie, Juraj Mikus (not that other Juraj Mikus drafted by the Habs), Matt Lashoff (now with a music career), and Jussi Rynnas.

Remember Jussi Rynnas? He was #22 on our Top 25 Under 25 in January 2012! He was also “The Leather Lobster.”

Katya made a fun statement about me in the 2020 Voting Team Introduction post.

Species: Another Marlies expert, and another veteran at PPP. He’s seen all those prospects come and go, and he is still mad about the Marchment trade, actually.

Yes, I am still mad about that Marchment trade, but, also, yes I have also seen many a Champagne come and go. There are so many names that they blend together at times. The other day someone mentioned Roman Kukumberg, and I seriously had no idea if that was a hockey player, or some kind of Eastern European salad, but it turns out he was drafted by the Leafs, and even played for the Marlies in the 2004-05 season scoring 2 goals in 54 games. He’s 40 years old now but still playing in the Czech league, and he’s clearly one salad that will give you heartburn.

Today we start off another Top 25 Under 25 series. There’s going to be a lot of names that will disappear, forgotten by fans rather quickly. But, you never know. Sometimes, they can surprise you.

Pour one out for Joel Champagne today without worry, because your team really can’t ever run out of Champagne.