Icons of the NHL – The Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most storied franchises in the entire NHL. And as one of the “Original Six” teams, they are also one of the longest standing teams. The team has won the second most Stanley Cups of any team in NHL history, with 13. The only team with more is fittingly enough their bitter rival, the Montreal Canadiens. Despite being extremely well supported, with plenty of money at their disposal, the Maple Leafs have struggled in recent years, unable to rekindle their past glories.

History of the Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs were originally the Toronto Arenas, owned by the Arena Company. They came to be after the league that preceded the NHL, the National Hockey Association, disbanded due to a disagreement with the pushy owner of the Toronto Blueshirts organization of that league. In the new NHL, the Toronto Arenas soon became a team as the league decided there could be no NHL without a franchise in Toronto. How right they were about that! The Arenas however were short lived. Under new ownership the team was renamed as the Toronto St. Patricks, and actually had green as their main jersey color.

It was not until 1927 that the Toronto Maple Leafs, or officially, the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club, came into existence as we know them today. With the classic blue and white jerseys, the team had a sense of dignity and respect from the beginning, that would be justified by handfuls of championships to follow.

The team was actually named after a World War I regiment called the Maple Leaf Regiment. There was also a baseball team in Toronto entitled the Toronto Maple Leafs for some time before the hockey team was known as such. Since the name of the regiment, Maple Leaf, is a proper noun, the word Leaf does not change to its normal plural of Leaves, hence the spelling, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Golden Years

When the Golden Years of the Maple Leafs are recalled, people are usually referring to the 1940s, when the Leafs won five Stanley Cups. The team also won four in the 1960s, marking a decade where their archrival the Montreal Canadiens also won four championships. The last of these titles, and the last Stanley Cup that the Maple Leafs won, came in 1967 against guess who, those hated Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens were heavily favored to win the Stanley Cup that year, however the Leafs pulled it out, including winning a double overtime all-time classic in the third game. The three other championships in the 1960s were won consecutively, from 1962-1964.

All of these championships, along with another in the 1930s and one more in the 1950s, took place while the team was playing at their longtime home, the Maple Leaf Gardens. The Gardens housed the team astonishingly from 1931 all the way until 1999, when the team moved to the Air Canada Centre. The new arena has all of the amenities of a modern arena and was designed to be a multipurpose sports and entertainment complex. But of course, it’s missing that classic aura of nostalgia and prestige that the Maple Leaf Gardens had.

Air Canada Centre is owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., the group that owns not only the Maple Leafs but also the Toronto Raptors of the NBA. In fact, the Air Canada Centre was actually originally designed mainly for basketball, until MLSE purchased both the Raptors and the new stadium in progress, in the process finding a new home for the Leafs.

Most Popular Team in the NHL

The Toronto Maple Leafs have an extremely broad and far reaching fan base, affectionately known as Leafs Nation. This has made them the most valuable NHL franchise, being estimated at nearly half of a billion dollars. It has also made the Maple Leafs the most despised team in the NHL, similar to how the New York Yankees are the most loved and hated team in Major League Baseball. From 1946-1999 at the Maple Leaf Gardens arena, the team sold out every home game, a truly miraculous feat.

This large and dedicated fan base though has added an ever increasing pressure for the Maple Leafs to win. The team is in an extremely long drought when it comes to Stanley Cup Championships. It looked as if the early 1990s would be the time when the Maple Leafs finally broke through once again. Stars like franchise scoring leader Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk and goalie Felix Potvin led the team close but not all the way. In the first several years of the 2000s the team also made several playoff runs, but always came up short.

This led to the team not bringing back long serving captain and fan favorite Mats Sundin. The team has now decided to focus on a youth movement, an injection of fresh faces and good attitudes, with tough nosed and focused play. The Maple Leafs are now coached by Ron Wilson, one of the most respected coaches across the NHL. Wilson is hoping to impart a sense of discipline and renewed success to a now long suffering fan base, who dreams of the glory years of decades past. Wilson is also a former player for the Leafs, being drafted by the team in 1975 and playing nearly three seasons with the club.

Recently, the Leafs hired Brian Burke as their new General Manager and the President of the club. Burke was brought in to replace the interim GM, Cliff Fletcher, who replaced John Ferguson, Jr. as the Maple Leafs GM. It was originally expected that Fletcher would remain as the GM through the end of the 2008-2009 season. Burke stepped down from is GM post with the Anaheim Ducks, where he won a Stanley Cup Championship in the 2006-2007 season just several weeks before accepting his position with Leafs.

Burke had spent three seasons with the Ducks. Prior to that, Burke had been the GM of the Vancouver Canucks and worked under the NHL’s main office. Prior to those positions, Burke also spent one season as the General Manager of the old Hartford Whalers, and was for five years the Director of Hockey Operations with the Canucks under Pat Quinn. He is also currently the GM for the U.S. men’s hockey team for the 2010 Winter Olympics, to be held, where else, in Vancouver.

Just as he quickly jumped at the chance to be the GM, Burke wasted no time making moves as soon as he got his post. Just a week after being hired, he placed Dave Nonis in the Director of Hockey Operations position. This follows the time the two spent with the Canucks. The two worked together for six seasons there, with Nonis actually replacing Burke as the GM in 2004.

The future is yet to be seen for the proud Maple Leafs franchise. The team needs to bring back the fan base, which has waned from their peak, after perceived mistreatment and a lack of success. That passion is still eternally there though, and the fans just hope that under the new coach and general manager, the players show it as well.