Why I’m Leaving Leafs Nation

Why I’m leaving Leafs Nation

Dear MLSE,

I am writing this letter to inform you I am officially leaving “Leafs Nation”. I have been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan for nearly 25 years, since the acquisition of Grant Fuhr convinced me to shed my allegiance with my grandfather’s team (the Montreal Canadiens). Although there have been some rewarding moments as a Leafs’ fan, these moments have been far outnumbered (and outweighed) by my experiences of heartache, disappointment, confusion and frustration.

Your franchise has consistently shown either a disinterest or an inability towards establishing a strong on-ice product. Part of this issue is a function of basic supply and demand, as well as competition. No matter how badly the franchise performed, the team would always sell out every home gate and continue to turn over massive amounts of merchandise and memorabilia. This was proven during the 1980s, a decade in which the Maple Leafs won just 266 out of 800 games between 1980-81 and 1989-90 (and yet suffered no measurable drop-off in attendance). Furthermore, despite multiple attempts to facilitate NHL expansion in South-Western Ontario, the closest competition is two hours away in Buffalo, NY; there is no local competition for Maple Leafs’ fans’ NHL dollars. This is in stark contrast to the Greater New York area, where three teams operate within 30-40 miles of one another (each of whom have won at least once Stanley Cup in the past 25 years).

The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs had a clear leadership structure and organizational philosophy was the early 1990s. Cliff Fletcher was entrusted as the guardian of the on-ice product, with Pat Burns as his field marshal. Astute trading and a veteran team that bought into Burns’ team- and defense-first philosophy allowed the team to capture lightning in a bottle, making it within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. However, in the 20 years since, the team has failed to build any sustainable momentum. The Leafs have continued to try to simply add veteran players in several failed attempts to “get over the hump”, whether that hump was becoming a true Stanley Cup contender or simply squeezing into a playoff spot to get a few lucrative playoff gates. There has never been a focus on establishing a dynamic core of players in (or on the verge of) their prime playing years at the same time, supplemented by veteran/character/role players. The closest the franchise has come to this pivot point was the acquisition of Mats Sundin, a brilliant move despite the cries of outrage from a fanbase at the loss of Wendel Clark. But Sundin was never surrounded with a quality supporting cast, and his talents were largely squandered.

For a franchise with limitless resources, there has been virtually no investment in the infrastructure that develops and reinforces the team’s talent pipeline. As a result, the team has a track record that demonstrates its inability to identify and develop high-calibre talent. Since 1992, the Maple Leafs have had 17 first-round draft choices. Just five have played in at least 400 NHL games: Kenny Jonsson, Nik Antropov, Brad Boyes, Alex Steen and Luke Schenn. Of those five, just two (Antropov and Schenn) have spent the bulk of their playing careers with the Maple Leafs. And that ignores the six seasons where the team didn’t even have a first round pick (including three where Toronto didn’t make a selection until the third round).

It would be one thing if, despite the lack of sustained team success, that there was at least the entertainment of having top-flight NHL talent to rally around. Mats Sundin was arguably the most talented Maple Leaf player of this generation, and is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. But he did this DESPITE the talent around him, not because of it. The list of Sundin’s sub-par wingers could fill a book: Jonas Hoglund, Mikael Renberg, Sergei Berezin, etc. He never once had another player of his calibre on the team at the same time. Alexander Mogilny came the closest, but was unfortunately at the tail end of his career when he arrived in Toronto; his productivity and playing time were both limited as a result. Even sad-sack franchises like the Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers have at some point had elite-level talent that their fan bases could cheer: Kovalchuk/Heatley, Tavares, Bure/Luongo.

While the team seems aware of its limited success at the Entry Draft, the solution in the past has largely been to paper over any gaps with veteran free agents, rather than reinvesting in scouting and development. While this has worked occasionally (see Curtis Joseph, Steve Thomas), there have been far more misses than hits. Especially in the Salary Cap era, these ill-conceived deals have hamstrung the Leafs’ ability to acquire and retain core talent. The signings of Unrestricted Free Agents David Clarkson, Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger and Jason Blake were all ineffective and all ate up valuable cap space that prevented the team from improving. Furthermore, expensive extensions to players who no longer fit at the start of the Salary Cap era (such as Ed Belfour and Darcy Tucker) immediately put the team in a poor position to capitalize on the new fiscal realities of the new NHL. I believe Darcy Tucker’s buyout is STILL on the team’s books, and he hasn’t played for Toronto since 2008 (or in the NHL since 2010). By comparison, the Boston Bruins only had nine players under contract when the 2004-05 lockout ended, and they have won nine playoff series in the past eight seasons (including a Stanley Cup victory in 2010).

Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had two major failings. The first has been its goaltending. The Maple Leafs had an embarrassment of riches in net for many years: Grant Fuhr, Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour. But when Belfour’s time as an elite goaltender wound down, there was no successions planning. Andrew Raycroft was acquired from Boston in a terrible trade that cost the team Tuuka Rask. The trade looks even worse in light of later revelations that the Bruins originally wanted Justin Pogge, and were on the verge of releasing Raycroft.  Raycroft’s failings then led to a panicked pick-up of Vesa Toskala from San Jose, costing the team a first round pick that could have been 30-goal scorer Logan Couture. Toronto doubled down and signed Toskala to a contract extension before he even played a single game for Toronto. He spent just two-and-a-half seasons in Toronto, with his lasting legacy being a 200-foot goal allowed against the Islanders in 2008.  The end result of Toronto’s failings in the evaluation of goaltending talent is that 18 different goaltenders have worn the Maple Leaf jersey since the 2004-05 lockout (vs. 12 for the Bruins).

Toronto’s other major failing has been a misguided faith in players to be more than what they are. Some players are signed to lengthy contracts to keep them in Toronto despite their not being a long-term fit. Others are given clauses to limit or outright prohibit Toronto’s ability to move them despite a lack of a pedigree indicating these players deserve such clauses (see Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Darcy Tucker). Toronto has suffered from over-enthusiasm about its players, both in terms of its management and its fanbase. Players are signed to contract extensions before their talents (and fit) have been properly evaluated (e.g. Toskala, John-Michael Liles). Others are held onto long after their trade value has peaked, or re-acquired to satiate fan demands to see past-their-prime favourites return for another tour of duty (e.g. Wendel Clark, Curtis Joseph). While sentimentality has a time and a place, that time and place is on a winning franchise that can afford to bend its rules when the situation allows.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not the Detroit Red Wings, the class of the NHL over the past 20 years. They are not the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins, former Original Six rivals who have built cores of sublime talent and are able to adjust to the confines of the salary cap efficiently and effectively. They are not the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning, with world-class talent to entertain the fan base even when Stanley Cup success isn’t forthcoming. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a franchise that has not won a Stanley Cup since there were just six NHL teams. The Leafs are a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004, and has only made it to the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals five times since 1967 (never making it to the Finals).

I want to make a comparison to help better explain my sentiment here. Let’s assume the Maple Leafs manufactured cars. These cars have a style that makes them timeless, but they get poor mileage and are unreliable, often breaking down on long trips. They certainly don’t run as long or as well as our neighbours’ cars (i.e. Montreal, Detroit). And yet I keep buying and driving these cars because it’s what I’ve always used; because my family used these cars; and because everyone I know drive these cars, even though no one really ENJOYS driving these cars. And the manufacturer has no interest in improving these cars, because they always sell well, especially when it comes to merchandising. So why in the world should I buy this car again?

Your franchise has failed in every measure as a hockey team except for the one that has mattered most to every Maple Leafs’ owner, from Ballard to Stavro to MLSE: profits. The on-ice product is irrelevant, and cash is king; this mindset has been proven time and again, never more than when ownership declined to sign Wayne Gretzky in the late 1990s because they didn’t want to add his salary and ticket sales were already at capacity. But the most maddening aspect of all is that everyone in this franchise from the top down on through to the fanbase is willing to accept mediocrity with a shrug and “well, we’ll try again next year”. The team has collapsed in epic and ugly fashion three years in a row, and yet its players are celebrated as celebrities and heroes.

I am done with this perpetual cycle of disappointment and failure. I am done investing my emotions, my time and my money in a team that fails to reward this investment in any measurable fashion. And I will not subject my four-year-old son to a lifetime of defending himself as a Leafs fan, when the team does NOTHING to provide him with on-ice success or an individual player’s glory to grab hold of. I am officially terminating my membership in Leafs’ Nation. Don’t worry, I won’t cheer for the Canadiens… that wouldn’t be fair to either of us. But I will begin searching for another team to cheer for. I’ll look you up the next time you make the playoffs to see how you are doing, but otherwise I will no longer be a supporter of your team until you are able to give me a reason to be.

Thank you,
Jason Taylor

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s Los Angeles Kings

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

Team: Los Angeles Kings (1990-91 to 1999-00)
324-350-112, .483 WIN PCT, 2,532 GF vs. 2,631 GA, -99 Diff, 5/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Despite a herculean effort, Wayne Gretzky simply wasn’t able to elevate the Los Angeles Kings to the status of a true contender. They opened the decade with a fantastic 46-win, 102-point effort. They then had two seasons just above .500, concluding with a magical run to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. But the wheels fell off, and the team struggled for the next four seasons: they went 95-151-50 for a 40.5% win percentage (and -160 goal differential) from ’93-94 to ’96-97, missing the playoffs all four seasons (Gretzky himself was traded to St. Louis late in the ’95-96 season). The Kings rebounded towards the end of the decade, posting 87 points in ’97-98 and 94 points in ’99-00. But they missed the playoffs five times in seven seasons to close the decade, and didn’t win a playoff series after 1993. Overall, the Kings had a 48.3% win percentage, ranking them 17th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. It should come as no surprise that a team with Wayne Gretzky could score: they ranked 5th in the league in goals, averaging 3.22 goals for per game. Unfortunately, their defense was brutal, ranking second-last (25th, ahead of only their cross-state rival San Jose Sharks) while allowing an average of 3.35 goals against per game. Their goal differential of -99 ultimately ranked 17th for the decade. It would take the team to find its identity (and some success) in the post-Gretzky era. But whatever their struggles and inconsistencies, they were always a popular draw with #99 on the roster.

Left Wing: Luc Robitaille (533 GP, 287-310-597, +37, 537 PIM, 43 GWG)
Lucky Luc was born to be an L.A. King. In the first four seasons of the 1990s, Robitaille was a beast on the left wing: he had three seasons in the 44-45 goal and 86-107 points range, and a fourth season that was an absolute monster: 63 goals (8 game-winners), 125 points and a +18 rating in ’92-93. He had 24-26 PPG three straight seasons from ’91-92 to ’93-94. His +/- varied wildly (+28, -4, +18 and -20), but he scored 22 game-winning goals during that stretch, which helped make up for any defensive deficiencies. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and after one season there he went to the New York Rangers for two years. The Kings got him back just before the ’97-98 season, and he returned to L.A. for the final three seasons of the 1990s. He started his second stint a little slowly (40 points in 57 games), but rebounded for a pair of 74-point seasons with 39 and 36 goals respectively. All told, Robitaille scored an impressive 114 powerplay markers, and also contributed 43 game-winning goals (15% of his total). He had 220 or more shots on goal six times in seven seasons, and is one of the best left wingers in modern NHL history. He represented the Kings at the All-Star Game from 1991-1993 and again in 1999, and he was made the NHL’s First (’91 and ’93) or Second (’92) All-Star Team the first three seasons in the decade.

Centre: Wayne Gretzky (388 GP, 152-456-608, -28, 114 PIM, 11 GWG)
“The Great One” kind of says it all, doesn’t it? He opened the decade with a 163-point effort that included an amazing 122 assists, along with a +30 rating. He followed that up with 121 points in ’91-92. Injuries held him to 45 games in ’92-93, but he still scored 65 points. He had one final Gretzky-type season in ’93-94, scoring 130 points… but the Kings still missed the playoffs. He slowed to 48 points in 48 games during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season, and then had 81 points in 62 games before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. His +/- was pretty bad, going negative four times (including twice in the -20 to -25 range). But he had three seasons of 90+ assists, and three season of 30+ goals. He was more concerned with getting the puck to his teammates late in the game, knowing that he would draw off defenders; as a result, he only had 11 game-winning goals (a fairly low 7% of his total). Wayne Gretzky was the greatest playmaker the NHL has ever seen, and he was a threat whenever he was on the ice (42 PPG, 8 SHG). It’s a shame he was never able to bring the team up to Stanley Cup Champion status, but it’s hard to do that when you’re playing for one of the worst defensive outfits in the league. But man, was he ever exciting to watch!

Right Wing: Tomas Sandstrom (207 GP, 104-117-221, +25, 292 PIM, 15 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Tony Granato
Sandstrom had major durability issues: during four years in the early 1990s, he only once played more than 51 games in a season. Still, he was an offensive dynamo. He scored 45 goals and 89 points in 68 games, along with a +27 rating. Over the next three seasons his production was up-and-down, likely in line with his health: 39 points in 49 games, 52 points in 39 games and 41 points in 52 games over a three-year stretch. Had he played a full 82-game season each year, he would have had two 50-goal, 100-point seasons, and two 27-goal, 65-point seasons. As it was, he still managed a +25 rating overall, chipped in 33 powerplay goals, and scored an impressive 15 game-winning goals (14% of his total). Honourable mention to Tony Granato who was more durable, but not by much: he had two seasons with 80+ games, and then another four where he missed at least 14 games per year. He open the decade with three 30+ goal, 60+ point seasons (including a high of 82 points in ’92-93). But over the next three years, he was held to 80 points in 132 games. During that first three-year stretch he scored 32 powerplay goals, 5 shorthanded markers and 17 game-winners. But Sandstrom, despite the shorter tenure, was a more dynamic player, and from ’93-94 to ’95-96 Granato was a shadow of the player he had been from ’90-91 to ’92-93. So Granato gets the Honourable Mention.

Defense: Rob Blake (604 GP, 121-259-380, -35, 978 PIM, 25 GWG)
A world-class player who spent the entire decade in L.A., Blake (as was the case with many Kings’ stars) had some durability issues: he played 30 games total between ’94-95 and ’95-96, and had three other seasons in the 57-62 game range. He only played 75+ games five times in ten seasons. During those five full seasons, he averaged 17 goals, 56 points, 123 PIM and a +4 rating. Very healthy stats. Overall he hit the double-digit goal plateau six times, including twice scoring 20+. He had four 50+ point seasons, including a high of 68 in ’93-94. And he had six seasons of 100+ PIM. He was amazing on special teams, with over half (67) of his goals coming on the powerplay. He was also strong in the clutch, contributing 25 game-winning goals (an astounding 21% of his goal total). And he managed a pair of seasons with 300+ shots on goal (as well as two others of 200+). Blake was a world-class player, one whom I believe is destined for the Hall of Fame one day.

Defense: Marty McSorely (331 GP, 46-125-171, +5, 1,174 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mattias Norstrom and Alexei Zhitnik
The Kings had a few options here. Mattias Norstrom was a fantastic leader and a key contributor to the Kings’ resurgence in the late 1990s. He wasn’t a major offensive force (he scored 22 points in ’96-97, but his other three seasons were in the 7-14 range), and his +/- fluctuated with the team’s success. But he was strong in his own end, a hard hitter and a strong leader. Another option was Alexei Zhitnik; he was exciting, but fell just shy of the cut-off for tenure. Zhitnik scored 48 and 52 points respectively in ’92-93 and ’93-94, but was traded after 11 games in ’94-95. There was another player who, frankly, shocked me with his offensive totals in addition to his physical game, and that was Marty McSorely. McSorely (as is par for the course for this list) had durability issues: he missed at least 10 games three times in six years. But he managed three seasons of 30+ points, including a high of 15 goals and 41 points in ’92-93. He was an amazing +48 in ’90-91, but an ugly -43 over the next five seasons. Still, he was a major physical force when he was on the ice: he had 399 penalty minutes in ’92-93, and two other seasons over the 200 PIM mark. He could contribute offensively, while also driving his opponents insane. Plus he could take on all customers, as he was one of the most feared enforcers in the league. It is tough to ignore a skill set like that. McSorely was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Shawn McEachern in August of 1993. The trade clearly did not fit, to the point where the Kings undid the mistake in February 1994: McEachern was sent back to Pittsburgh for McSorely. The Kings even gave up Tomas Sandstrom for Jim Paek to complete the deal. McSorely had a unique skill set that fit nicely with the Kings in the early-to-mid 1990s.

Goalie: Kelly Hrudey (292 GP, 113-110-47, 7 SO, 3.40 GAA, 0.899 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Stephane Fiset
As bad as the Kings could be defensively, they would have been a lot worse had it not been for Kelly Hrudey. He gave the Kings a level of respectability in net they hadn’t had since Rogie Vachon. Hrudey had two great seasons to open the 1990s, going 52-30-19 with a .898 PCT and 3.16 GAA. The next two seasons were less than kind, though: he was below .500 (40-52-13) with an ugly 3.75 GAA and .893 PCT. He rebounded slightly, although the entire NHL’s offense was drying up during this time: from ’94-95 to ’95-96 he was 21-28-15 with a 3.20 GAA and .908 PCT. Hrudey didn’t win any individual accolades, and the Kings allowed him to leave for the San Jose Sharks as a free agent following the ’95-96 season. But Hrudey’s acrobatic style and ability to come up big in clutch games allowed the Kings to play their run-and-gun style. Plus he backstopped them to the 1993 Finals, which definitely counts for something. Stephane Fiset (Hrudey’s replacement in ’96-97) had better stats, with a 2.80 GAA and .908 PCT, along with a respectable 77-85-21 record. But he didn’t win a playoff series; heck, he didn’t even win a playoff GAME, going 0-5 in six appearances between the 1998 and 2000 playoffs. Hrudey was a critical piece of what were arguably some of Los Angeles’ best hockey teams until their recent run of success (2012-2013), so he gets the spot on this list.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1990s Boston Bruins

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.

Team: Boston Bruins (1990-91 to 1999-00)
368-306-112, .539 WIN PCT, 2,501 GF vs. 2,378 GA, +123, 8/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Boston opened the decade as a powerhouse and true contender; three of the first four seasons saw them post point totals in the 97-109 range, and they had back-to-back appearances in the Conference Finals in 1991 and 1992 (losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins each time). But they began struggling as their core players began aging and/or leaving, and they dropped from dominant to merely competitive. The team’s goaltending situation was also incredibly painful during the four-year gap between Andy Moog and Byron Dafoe (with the likes of John Blue, Blaine Lacher, Jim Carey and more proving incapable of manning the Bruins net). The team struggled in ’96-97, and was rewarded with Joe Thornton in the 1997 Entry Draft. Pat Burns’ arrival coincided with the team’s return to a competitive position, but they only won one playoff series between 1995 and 2000 (they lost three times in the first round, and failed to make the playoffs altogether on two others occasions). Overall, Boston’s win percentage of 53.9% was still quite healthy, ranking 6th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. They had four seasons of 40+ wins, and two others of 39 wins. They were an anomaly in that their offensive AND defensive rankings were both below their overall rankings; usually a team relies on one as their success driver. Their offense ranked 9th, averaging 3.18 goals for per game. But their defense was middle-of-the-pack, with their 3.03 goals against per game ranking 13th. Their +123 goal differential was also right in the middle, ranking 13th for the decade. They could never quite get over the hump, and ownership’s budget constraints became a major issue in the back half of the decade. But at least they typically managed to ice a competitive team.

Left Wing: Ted Donato (465 GP, 113-142-255, +7, 279 PIM, 15 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Sergei Samsanov
No offense to Ted Donato, but he should not be the #1 left winger on a team as successful as the 1990s Boston Bruins. There was always a dearth of talent for Boston on the left side; Joe Juneau briefly filled the #1 LW slot, but he was dealt to the Washington Capitals (and never lived up to his 102-point rookie season). Sergei Samsanov was decent at the end of the decade, with a pair of seasons in the 22-25 goal range, but he topped out at 51 points and had a -6 rating twice in three years. So Donato gets it by default. He was never an offensive star, but he had three seasons of 20+ goals, and had three seasons in the 49-54 points range. He got limited powerplay time, managing to score 6-9 PPG in three seasons. His +/- was neither strong nor bad; he was in the -9 to +6 range in each of his six full seasons (he spent parts of eight seasons with the Bruins). His 15 game-winning goals actually accounted for a respectable 13% of his goal total. A talented 2nd- or 3rd-line player that every team needs, but certainly not what you want out of your “best of the decade” LW.

Centre: Adam Oates (368 GP, 142-357-499, +22, 123 PIM, 23 GWG)
As great as Oates was in St. Louis, he was phenomenal in Boston. He started out a little slowly, scoring 30 points in 26 games after his arrival in ’91-92. But in ’92-93 he erupted for an amazing 45-goal, 97-assist and 142-point season where he also finished +15 and scored 24 PPG. He followed that up with 112 points the following season, and he remained a point-per-game presence during the rest of his tenure in Boston. He spent parts of six seasons with the Bruins before being dealt to Washington at the ’96-97 trade deadline. In all, he had three 25+ goal seasons, two 100+ point seasons (and another of 92 points), and four seasons of 50+ assists (including 41 assist in 48 games during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season). His +/- was up-and-down, but he had a positive rating in three of his four full seasons. He also managed an incredible 11 game-winning goals in ’92-93 (the team won 51 games that year), and another 12 during the rest of his tenure. In all, 16% of his goals were game-winners. He was an All-Star in every sense of the words for the Bruins.

Right Wing: Cam Neely (231 GP, 174-108-282, +61, 296 PIM, 32 GWG)
As if this could be anyone else. Were it not for Ulf Samuelsson’s knee, who knows what Neely would have accomplished. Despite never playing more than 69 games in a season (and only once playing 50+), he managed a pair of 50-goal seasons and another pair in the 26-27 range. He had 51 goals and 91 points in 69 games during ’90-91, but he was held to just 22 games over the next two years combined (scoring 20 goals and 30 points). He then had one hell of a comeback, scoring 50 goals and 74 points in ’93-94… despite playing in just 49 games! Neely actually scored his 50th goal in his 44th game, tying Lemieux as the second-fastest to hit 50 behind Wayne Gretzky (who did it in 39 games). It doesn’t count as “official” because Neely’s missed playing time meant it took more than 50 games by the TEAM for him to hit 50 goals, but that certainly takes nothing away from his accomplishment.

Neely scored 27 goals and 41 points in 42 games in ’94-95, but he was clearly struggling through his injuries; he played a final 49 games in ’95-96, scoring 26 goals and 46 points. His +/- was always positive, and he had three seasons in the 16-20 powerplay goal range. What’s more, 18% of his goals were game-winners. He was also tough, and never backed down from a physical challenge. He was a fan favourite in Boston, and deservedly so.

Defense: Ray Bourque (724 GP, 165-501-666, +115, 459 PIM, 26 GWG)
Never mind the 1990s Bruins, Ray Bourque was one of the all-time greats of his generation. He was the Bruins’ best defender in the 1980s, too. During the 1990s, Bourque only twice missed more than 10 games in a season. He had four 20+ goal seasons, and two others of 19 goals. He hit the 60-assist mark five times (including two years with 70+ assists), and he score d80+ points five times (including twice scoring 90+ points). During the first six years of the decade, he was an astounding +142 (including three seasons of +31 or better). But he slowed down during the last four years of the decade; his production fell from a point-per-game into 50-point territory, and his +/- was negative three out of four years. Still, he was a classy, skilled defenseman that any team would kill to have. He scored at least 6 powerplay goals in each of his ten seasons during the 90s, even the lockout-shortened season of ’94-95. And his 26 game-winners represented 16% of his goals for Boston in the decade. One of the all-time greats.

Defense: Don Sweeney (738 GP, 38-170-208, +65, 500 PIM, 11 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Glen Wesley
With Don Sweeney on this list, you basically have their starting lineup from NHL ’94 (minus Juneau). Sweeney didn’t get as much fanfare as Bourque, but he was a vital part of the Bruins’ blueline. He spent the entire decade in Boston, only once missing more than five games in a season. He didn’t score a ton of goals (maxing out at 7 in a season), but when he did it was clutch: 29% of his goals were game-winners. In fact, 11 of the 31 goals he scored between ’90-91 and ’95-96 won the game for Boston. He had six seasons of 20+ points, including a high of 34 in ’92-93. He played a disciplined game, only once recording more than 60 penalty minutes. He had a positive rating six times in ten ears, and was only once worse than -10 (-14 in ’99-00). Honourable mention to Glen Wesley; he was more talented offensively than Sweeney (three seasons of 40+ points, including a high of 58 in ’93-94), but his +/- was poor during the Bruins’ strongest era (-10 overall from ’90-91 to ’93-94).

Goalie: Bryon Dafoe (174 GP, 75-64-30, 19 SO, 2.31 GAA, 0.913 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Andy Moog
Andy Moog was a rock for the Bruins after coming over from the Edmonton Oilers. He spent the first three seasons of the 1990s in Boston, posting a winning record each year (including an amazing 37-14-3 record in ’92-93). His save percentage was decent for the era, but got worse in each of his three seasons. And he only once managed a GAA below 3.00 in a season. But even though Byron Dafoe played during the “Dead Puck Era” and therefore should have better stats than Moog, his two best years with Boston were incredible. After being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, Dafoe went 30-25-9 with 6 shutouts, a 2.24 GAA and a .914 PCT in ’97-98. He was even better in’98-99; he went 32-23-11 with 10 shut-outs, while posting a 1.99 GAA and a .926 PCT. But he fell off in ’99-00, and he was never able to hit those heights again (either in Boston or with the Atlanta Thrashers). Still, he was practically the only Bruins’ goalie to be a solid starter for more than two seasons in a Bruins’ jersey between the eras of Andy Moog and Tim Thomas.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1980s Quebec Nordiques

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season.

Team: Quebec Nordiques (1980-81 to 1989-90)
325-375-100, .459 WIN PCT, 3,073 GF vs. 3,172 GA, -99 Diff, 7/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Quebec was such an interesting team as a hockey fan, one that I personally miss.  Their rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens was fantastic, especially their playoff meetings.  And they were an exciting offensive team for the first half of the 80s.  While not as strong as the Oilers, they didn’t have the same slow ramp-up that Winnipeg and Hartford struggled with after the WHA merger.  Quebec was .500 for a few years, then had three consecutive 90+ point seasons before the wheels fell off, culminating in a horrible ’89-90 season that saw the team win just 12 games.  The net result of the Nordiques’ rise and fall was a win percentage of 45.9% that ranked them 13th in the league.  Their offense was above-average, finishing ninth with an average of 3.84 goals per game.  But they allowed an ugly 3.97 goals per game, ranking their defense 15th (and dropping their goal differential to 13th).  They were a competitive team when they made the playoffs, even getting a pair of runs to the Conference Finals (in 1982 and 1985).  While they could be incredibly frustrating to cheer for, I wish they were still around.

Left Wing: Michel Goulet (736 GP, 434-457-891, +48, 565 PIM, 47 GWG)
Michel Goulet was an all-world talent for Quebec for much of the decade, and one of the best offensive left wingers in NHL history (in my opinion).  He had four 50-goal seasons, three more 40-goal seasons, and 32 goals in his rookie year.  He cleared 100 points four times, and had two more in the 95-96 range.  His +48 rating hides the fact that he was an impressive +144 from ’81-82 to ’85-86; unfortunately, as the team’s fortunes turned, he was a -96 from ’86-87 to ’89-90.  He had eight consecutive seasons of at least 349 shots, and he scored an incredible 141 powerplay goals (including 91 over a four-year span).  And he also chipped in an impressive 47 game-winning goals (11% of his total).  One of the greatest left wingers of his era, and one of the greatest players in Nordiques’ history.

Centre: Peter Stastny (737 GP, 380-668-1,048, -11, 687 PIM, 43 GWG)
Stastny also spent the entire decade in Quebec.  If it wasn’t for his misfortune of playing in a small Canadian market during the Wayne Gretzky era (something Dale Hawerchuk sympathizes with), Stastny would haven regarded much more highly.  Beginning with an incredible 109 points in his rookie season (which stood until Teemu Selanne came along in ’92-93), Stastny posted 100+ points in six consecutive seasons, and 7 of his first 8.  He had six seasons of 70+ assists, including a high of 93 (and 139 points) in ’81-82).  He had five 40-goal seasons, three 30-goal seasons and two 20-goal seasons.  However, his two-way play was weaker than Goulet’s.  Stastny was a respectable +76 in his first six seasons, but was -87 in the next four.  He was -21 or worse three times, including an awful -45 in ’89-90.  But he contributed 120 powerplay goals (clearing 15 PPG three times), and his 43 game-winning goals represented 11% of his goal total during the decade.  He also cleared 200 shots five times, along with three more in the 189-199 range.  An amazing talent for an exciting team, he scored over 1,000 points for Quebec during the 1980s.

Right Wing: Real Cloutier (169, 80-115-195, +24, 82 PIM, 10 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Marian Stastny
Honourable mention to Stastny, who came into the league with a bang but then faded badly; he scored 35 goals and 89 points in his first seasons, and by his fourth year he was down to just 21 points in 50 games.  Cloutier was one of the Nordiques’ early stars.  He just made it into consideration with 169 games over three seasons, but I gave him the nod over Stastny because he had better +/- numbers, and because he was an incredible talent for Quebec in the WHA during the 1970s.  He scored an impressive 195 points in 169 games, and 10 of his 80 goals were game-winners.  It’s too bad his glory years were spent in the WHA, and are therefore largely ignored by the NHL.

Defense: Mario Marois (294 GP, 33-136-169, +78, 573 PIM, 1 GWG)
Marois was without question the top Nordiques defenseman during the decade.  He only had three full seasons during a six-year tenure, but he was a fantastic two-way talent.  Three seasons of 40+ points, he also hit 91+ PIM four times.  He had a positive +/- in five of his six seasons, including a high of +51 in ’83-84.  He was also the Nordiques’ captain from 1983 to 1985.

Defense: Randy Moller (508 GP, 33-119-152, +55, 1,002 PIM, 6 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Normand Rochefort
Normand Rochefort had a long tenure with the Nordiques, but none of his stats particularly stood out.  He was decent in a number of areas without really standing out in any of them.  Moller on the other hand was a tough stay-at-home defender who posted 120+ PIM in each of his seven seasons for Quebec during the 1980s.  He was also positive for +/- in five of season seasons, despite playing for some of the weaker Quebec teams in the back half of the decade.  He also chipped in offensively, posting 20+ points four times (and scoring at least 14 points in every season).

Goalie: Dan Bouchard (225 GP, 107-79-36, 5 SO, 3.59 GAA, 0.878 PCT*)
*NOTE: save percentage is from ’82-83 to ’84-85 only
Quality goaltenders are few and far between in Quebec’s history, so there really was no other choice besides Bouchard.  This is not to diminish Bouchard at all, but rather to point out that he was an anomaly in Quebec goaltending history: he had a winning record, decent stats, and a lengthy stay. Bouchard was above-.500 in three seasons, and one game below .500 in his other two.  His GAA was below 3.50 in three of five seasons, and he only went above 4.00 once.  Bouchard was arguably the best goaltender in Quebec’s NHL history, not just the 1980s.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1980s Pittsburgh Penguins

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season.

Team: Pittsburgh Penguins (1980-81 to 1989-90)
291-419-90, .420 WIN PCT, 2,993 GF vs. 3,470 GA, -477 Diff, 3/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Good LORD Pittsburgh had some terrible seasons in the 1980s.  They were below .500 in the first two seasons of the decade, and then I’m guessing Mario Lemieux appeared on their radar, because in the two years leading up to Lemieux’s 1984 draft, they were AWFUL.  They went 34-111-15 in the two years before Lemieux, and then 24-51-5 in Lemieux’s first season.  That’s right, they lost 162 games in just THREE YEARS.  Yikes.  Fortunately things did improve over the next five seasons, but they still had just two seasons with a .500 or better record, and only one season with at least 40 wins (’88-89).  They never hit 90 points, and had three seasons in the 38-53 range.  That’s a special kind of bad.  Not surprisingly, they only made the playoffs three times, and had a six-year run from ’82-83 to ’87-88 where they missed it every year.  That being said, they had the misfortune of playing in the stronger Patrick division; put the Penguins in the Norris, and they would have made the playoffs each year from 1986 to 1988.  And in those three appearances, they won just one playoff series.  Pittsburgh’s overall win percentage was 42.0%, ranking them 18th out of 21 teams (ahead of only Detroit, Toronto and New Jersey/Colorado).    They were strong offensively, ranking 13th with an average of 3.74 goals for per game (3.51 pre-Lemieux, 3.90 with Lemieux).  But they were awful defensively, ranking 19th while allowing 4.34 goals per game (4.58 pre-Lemieux, 4.18 with Lemieux).  Their horrid goal differential of -477 ranked 19th out of 21 teams, and they were one of just four teams with a differential of worse than -350.  Just a brutal decade.  But at least things were on the verge of turning around for them as the 1990s approached.


Left Wing: Randy Cunneyworth (295 GP, 101-115-216, +17, 513 PIM, 14 GWG)
Cunneyworth was a decent offensive winger for the Penguins whose production steadily improved over his first three seasons, before falling off in his final year.  He had 35 goals in ’87-88, and two others in the 25-26 range.  ’87-88 was also his high-water mark of 74 points, and his other three seasons saw him finish in the 43-53 point range.  He was typically positive for +/-, getting +12 to +14 for three years before dropping to -22.  Not coincidentally, his +/- progress mirrored Mario Lemieux’s.  He clearly got powerplay time in his final two years; he scored 5 PPG in his first two seasons, and 24 in his next two.  He also scored a respectable 14 game-winning goals, 14% of his total.  And he wasn’t afraid to mix it up, as evidenced by three seasons in the 141-156 penalty minute range.


Centre: Mario Lemieux (427 GP, 345-493-838, +18, 424 PIM, 29 GWG)
Super Mario, arguably the best pure talent in NHL history, and definitely second only to Wayne Gretzky during the 1980s and 1990s.  What an incredible talent.  He scored 43 goals and 100 points in his rookie year, and that was his worst  season.  His best season (‘88-89) saw him score 85 goals, 114 assists and 199 points.  That is the greatest offensive performance in history by an NHL player not named Wayne Gretzky.  And that was an improvement on his 70-goal, 168-point season in ’87-88.  In his other four seasons he averaged 48 goals and 117 points.  In all, he had three seasons with 90+ assists, including a high of 114 in ’88-89.  He absolutely dominated on the powerplay, getting 11+ PPG every season (including 31 in ’88-89).  He was equally dominant on the penalty kill once he started getting more ice time there; he scored 10 shorthanded goals in ’87-88, and then set a single-season NHL record with 13 in ’88-89 (as record that is still standing as of the 2012-13 season).  He fired at least 200 shots on goal every year, including an amazing 382 in ’87-88 alone.  The one area he was lacking was game-winning goals: he scored 29, which accounted for just 8% of his total.  But he did improve as the team did; he had 19 GWG from ’87-88 to ’89-90, representing 10% of his goals during that time.  He was so good that he virtually redefined greatness in the NHL.


Right Wing: Rob Brown (199 GP, 106-133-239, +25, 276 PIM, 10 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Rick Kehoe
Arguably a one-hit wonder, receiving pucks from Lemieux briefly brought him to an elite level.  He debuted with 24 goals and 44 points in 51 games during the ’87-88 season.  Paired with Lemieux the following year, he exploded for 49 goals (24 on the powerplay) and 115 points in 68 games.  He fell off the next season, getting 33 goals and 80 points in 80 games.  Brown did manage a decent +/- rating, at +25 in three seasons.  He also cleared 100 PIM twice, so he was either nasty or undisciplined (likely a mix of the two).  Brown was dealt to the Hartford Whalers in December 1990; he briefly held onto his point-per-game production before his offensive production nosedived, and he was essentially a minor-leaguer by ’92-93. Amazingly, Brown managed to make a comeback with the Penguins again for a three-year stint from ’97-98 to ’99-00.  Nothing against Brown, but if he hadn’t played with Lemieux he would likely have simply been a winger with 25-goal, 50-point totals.  Honourable mention to Rick Kehoe; he had a 55-goal, 88-point season to open the decade, but then his goals and offense began to slide as injuries took their toll, and he was out of the league by ’84-85.  He also played on some truly awful Penguins teams, resulting in a brutal -101 rating in 289 games (although he did managed 135 goals and 285 points).


Defense: Paul Coffey (201 GP, 74-209-283, -36, 383 PIM, 7 GWG)
Easily the most talented defenseman in Penguins history.  While definitely not defensive responsible (he had a negative +/- rating each season), he scored in buckets.  He recorded 67 points in 46 games after arriving from Edmonton in ’87-88.  The next two seasons saw him score 29-30 goals and 100+ points in each season, including an impressive 83 assists in ’88-89.  He somehow fired 342 shots on goal that year, and had another 324 in ’89-90.  If I didn’t know he was a defenseman, I would swear from his stats that he was a forward.  He was money on the powerplay as well, scoring 27 PPG in 201 games.  His speed helped turn around the Penguins, and it is no coincidence that Lemieux’s production took off like a rocket after Coffey’s arrival.

Defense: Randy Carlyle (260 GP, 45-195-240, -83, 459, 2 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Doug Bodger
Doug Bodger put in four solid years of service, with a pair of 40-point seasons and a pair of 30-point seasons.  Ignoring an awful -24 rating in his rookie year, he was in the -4 to +6 range over the next three seasons.  But he simply can’t match the output of Randy Carlyle, who won the 1981 Norris as the NHL’s best defenseman in 1981.  Carlyle is the only position player on this list who played for the Penguins pre-Lemieux; those teams just didn’t have much going for them.  Carlyle erupted for 83 points in 76 games in his first season, and then followed that up with 131 points in 134 games over the next two seasons.  He slowed in ’83-84 (26 points in 50 games), and was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets.  But he had three seasons of double-digit goals, 7-8 PPG and 110+ PIM.  While his +/- was awful (-83 in 260 games), the Penguins had a differential of -343 during the four years he spent in Pittsburgh, so that is to be expected.


Goalie: Roberto Romano (123 GP, 45-62-7, 4 SO, 4.00 GAA, 0.879 PCT)
Roberto Romano (not to be confused with the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond) is the best Penguins goalie of the 1980s.  But that’s an awful lot like saying Brent Gretzky is the best Gretzky brother not named Wayne; you have to pick one, even that pick isn’t very good (sorry, Keith Gretzky).  Romano had a three-game stint in ’82-83, and then made 18 appearances in’83-84 (likely as backup).  He then played in 102 games over a three-year span from ’84-85 to ’86-87.  So I don’t think he was ever the Penguins #1 goalie for any significant length of time, and he only played three NHL games after leaving Pittsburgh during the ’86-87 season.  The Penguins had several #1 goalies during the 80s: Greg Millen, Michel Dion, Denis Hero, Gilles Meloche, Tom Barrasso and Wendell Young.  None lasted as #1 for more than two seasons, and virtually all of them got worse over time.  To show you how bad things were, they had four goalies play 19-27 games apiece in ’87-88.  Roman’s best season was ’85-86; he went 21-20-3 with a 3.55 goals-against average and a .886 save percentage.  He was brutal during the rest of the time, going 24-42-4 with a 4.29 GAA and a .874 PCT.  Again… this was the best goalie the Penguins had during the 1980s.  Quality of supporting cast aside (and the differences between Edmonton and Pittsburgh are pronounced), it’s no wonder Lemieux couldn’t drag the Penguins to respectability.  Wayne Gretzky had Andy Moog, Bill Ranford and Grant Fuhr.  Mario Lemieux had the dog’s breakfast from earlier in this entry.  If the Penguins had had a half-decent goaltender during the 1980s, they might have given Lemieux some playoff success earlier in his career.  At least Barrasso improved after an awful start, but Romano is (virtually by default) the cream of this particular crop.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1980s Philadelphia Flyers

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season.

Team: Philadelphia Flyers (1980-81 to 1989-90)
428-281-91, .592 WIN PCT, 3,196 GF vs. 2,693 GA, +503 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Philadelphia was a major powerhouse in the 1980s, and they would likely have won a Stanley Cup were it not for Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers: they lost to the Oilers in the 1985 and 1987 Finals.  In fact, they overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to force a seventh game thanks in large part to Ron Hextall (who won the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP).  Philadelphia was incredibly strong from ’80-81 until Mike Keenan’s final seasons as coach in ’87-88.  Despite an appearance in the Semi Finals in 1989, the Flyers were entering a trying period, and they missed the playoffs with their only sub-.500 season of the decade in ’89-90.  But they had some fantastic seasons: two 53-win seasons, four 100+ point seasons, and two others in the 97-98 point range.  They scored 300+ goals eight times, and only once allowed more than 300.   Philadelphia’s win percentage of 59.2% ranked 3rd in the NHL behind only Edmonton and Montreal.  Their offense was strong, averaging 4.00 goals for per game, good enough for 5th.  But their defense was even stronger, averaging just 3.37 goals against per game (ranking 3rd behind Montreal and Boston).  This allowed them to be one of just three teams with at least a +500 differential (+503, ranking 3rd).  They were an exciting team to watch, with a great blend of skill and toughness.


Left Wing: Brian Propp (710 GP, 335-439-774, +266, 615 PIM, 52 GWG)
Brian Propp was one of the “quietest” 1,000-point scorers in NHL history (along with probably Bobby Smith and Ray Whitney).  He scored 1,000 points despite never registering either a 50-goal season or a 100-point season.  Propp also has the dubious distinction of appearing in five Stanley Cup Finals, yet never winning a Cup; he made it three times with Philadelphia (’80, ’85 and ’87), and then back-to-back appearances in ’90 (with Boston) and ’91 (with Minnesota).  He lost three times with two different teams to the Oilers, so I sincerely hope Mark Messier isn’t haunting the poor man’s dreams.

This is not mean to undersell Propp in any way, shape or form; he was as talented and consistent left winger for one of the best offensive teams of the 1980s.  He spent the entire decade in Philly.  He scored 40+ goals four times, and had three others of 30+.  He also had four 90+ point seasons, twice hitting the 97-point mark.  He always had a positive +/- rating, including a combined +95 in the ’83-84 and ’84-85 seasons.  He was always firing pucks at the net, registering 245+ shots on goal seven times in ten seasons.  He was a consistent threat on the powerplay, scoring double-digit PPG’s in six seasons.  He also added 20 shorthanded goals (the bulk of them coming between ’84-85 and ’86-87).  And he was strong when it counted, with 52 of his goals (16% of his total) counting as game winners.  A solid (and underrated) offensive talent.

Centre: Dave Poulin (467 GP, 161-233-394, +168, 303 PIM, 27 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Bobby Clarke
An honourable mention to Bobby Clarke, who was arguably the Flyers’ best forward during the 1970s.  But he had slowed a step by the time the 80s came around; he was just below the point-per-game mark, with three 60-point seasons and an 85-point campaign in ’82-83.  But Poulin stood out just a bit more.  Although he spent much of his career as a defensive specialist, Poulin was a solid two-way forward for the Flyers.  He was a point-per-game centre in his first four seasons, registering 25-31 goals and 69-76 points per season.  He dropped off after that, scoring just 103 points in 165 games over his final two-and-a-half seasons with the Flyers.  He was disciplined, never registering more than 47 penalty minutes in a season.  And he was defensively responsible; he was never negative for +/-, and he had a combined +141 rating between ’83-84 and ’86-87.  He didn’t get much powerplay time, but he definitely ran the penalty kill; he scored 3-6 SHG per season from ’83-84 to ’88-89, finishing with an incredible 27 short-handed goals (17% of his total).  One of the stronger two-way centres of the decade for sure.

Right Wing: Tim Kerr (574 GP, 353-273-626, +98, 569 PIM, 46 GWG)
It is unfortunate that injuries took their toll on Tim Kerr as much as they did, because he was THE power forward of his era.  He took a little while to get going in Philly, with a pair of 20+ goal, 45+ point seasons in his first two years, and then 11 goals and 19 points in a very shortened 24-game ’82-83 season (he suffered a bad knee injury).  But then he absolutely exploded, scoring 54-58 goals and 84-98 points per season for a four-year stretch.  He missed the bulk of the ’87-88 season, playing in just 8 games (due to shoulder surgery), but he came back to score 48 goals and 88 points in 69 games the following year.  He was limited again in ’89-90, but he still managed 24 goals and 48 points in 50 games.  He played just 81 games over the next three seasons the Flyers, Rangers and Whalers before he retired from the NHL.  But with the Flyers, he was outstanding; he played in three All Star Games (1984 to 1986), and he was named to the Second All-Star Team in 1987.  All told, he averaged 0.61 goals per game, which is outstanding (by comparison, Jari Kurri was 0.63 during the 80s).  Kerr was a beast on the powerplay; he exceeded 20 PPG in a season four times, including a high of 34 powerplay goals in ’85-86 (a single-season NHL record, I believe).  Unreal.  If he had greater durability, he would be more widely regarded as one of the all-time greats of his era.  However, I would hazard a guess that he is adored by Flyers fans much in the same way that Wendel Clark is loved by Leafs fans, and rightly so.

Defense: Mark Howe (533 GP, 131-314-445, +322, 297 PIM, 16 GWG)
Simply put, Mark Howe was one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL during the 1980s.  Howe was acquired from Hartford in a steal of epic proportions: the Whalers received Ken Linseman, Greg Adams (the one who didn’t play for the Canucks), as well as first- and third­-round picks that became David Jensen and Leif Karlsson.  Howe was a solid offensive defenseman for Philadelphia, scoring 50+ points for six consecutive seasons (including a high of 85 points ’85-86).  He scored at least 15 goals and at least 34 assists each of those six seasons.  Injuries and age began taking their toll towards the end of the decade, and he was limited to 92 games in the final two seasons of the decade (although he still managed 66 points).  How was also incredible at helping the Flyers control the play; he was +22 or better seven times in eight years, and was an incredible +85 in ’85-86.  In fact, over a three-year span from ’84-85 to ’86-87, he was an awesome +193.  He also chipped in on both special teams.  He typically scored 3-5 powerplay goals per season, and he also scored an impressive 24 shorthanded goals (including 7 in ’85-86).  Although he was as driving force on some powerful Flyers teams, he never did win a Stanley Cup, although he did make the finals in ’85 and ’87 with the Flyers, and one final time in 1995 with Detroit (unfortunately retiring before the Wings won in ’97 and ’98).  Howe was unquestionably one of the more dominant two-way defensemen of his era.

Defense: Brad McCrimmon (367 GP, 35-152-187, +223, 355 PIM, 8 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Doug Crossman
Doug Crossman was very talented, registering five seasons in the 35-43 point range for the Flyers in the 80s.  He also played on the 1987 Canada Cup team that reads like a 1980s All-Star team (Gretzky, Lemieux, Messier, Bourque, Coffey, Fuhr and more).  But Crossman’s defensive game wasn’t as strong as Brad McCrimmon’s (Crossman had a negative +/- rating twice in five seasons), so Crossman gets the Honourable Mention.  McCrimmon was a bruising defenseman who developed a decent two-way game towards the end of his Flyers’ tenure.  He scored 24-25 points in his first two seasons, and then 39-59 in his final three.  His +/- also steadily improved, and he was +180 between ’84-85 and ’86-87 (including a high of +83 in ’85-86).  He was physical yet disciplined in his play, never registering more than 85 PIM (or less than 52) in a season.  He and Mark Howe formed a formidable duo for the Flyers on the blueline.  McCrimmon died tragically in a plane crash in 2011; he was the coach of Russian KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.  He was 52 years old.  McCrimmon will forever be fondly remembered by hockey fans, especially those who watched him patrol the Flyers’ blueline during the 1980s.  He also won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.

Goalie: Ron Hextall (200 GP, 101-73-20, 1 SO, 3.27 GAA, 0.892 PCT)
Honourable Mention to Bob Froese
Bob Froese was the #1 goalie on-and-off in Philadelphia for four years before Ron Hextall arrived.  Froese had an incredible record (92-29-12 and 12 shut-outs in 144 games), and stellar solid stats for his era (2.74 GAA and a .899 PCT).  But he only played 144 games in 4+ seasons.  Hextall on the other hand played 62-66 games three years in a row, won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in a losing effort in 1987, and was the first goalie to score a goal by actually shooting the puck into the other team’s net.  So Ron gets the nod.  Hextall won 30+ games for three seasons; his fourth season (’89-90) saw him appear in just eight games due to a variety of reasons (a hold-out and multiple injuries).  Although the team was weakening around him towards the end of the decade, his record was steady; he was 101-73-20 in 200 appearances, although he did only log one shut-out.  However, he still had a respectable 3.27 goals-against average and a decent .892 save percentage.  He was unquestionably the man in Philadelphia, and he was a fan favourite due to his toughness and competitiveness.

The 25 Worst Trades in Montreal Canadiens History – #6-10

Links to the other individual articles in this series: Intro, #21-25, #16-20, #11-15, #1-5

The Montreal Canadians have a long and storied history in the NHL.  They have won many Stanley Cups, and a large number of Hall of Fame hockey players have worn their colours.  However, they have also made their share of outright bone-headed trades (the bulk of which occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s), which has resulted in their failing to win a Stanley Cup victory in 20 years (a drought Leafs fans would happily accept instead of our 46-and-counting tally).  I have taken a look at Montreal’s trades in the Modern Era of the NHL (post-1967), and compiled a list of the 25 Worst Montreal Canadiens Trades of All Time.  One thing to mention as a qualifier: I largely ignored whomever the Canadiens’ trading partner selected with the draft pick received, as there is no guarantee the Canadiens would have chosen that player.  I put the most weight on ex-Habs who went on to great things (post-Montreal), Montreal draft picks that didn’t pan out, and the failure to make the most of players/assets in the long-term.  With that, here are the trades that ranked #6-10.


#10: Montreal trades Andrew Cassels to the Hartford Whalers for a 1992 2nd Round Pick (Valeri Bure) (September 17th, 1991)
There’s something about brothers of star NHLers that just rarely seems to even out… Brett Lindros, Brent Gretzky and Marcel Hossa come to mind.  The major exceptions are families with several brothers (like the Sutters or Staals), or twins who divided the gene pool evenly (the Sedins).  With Pavel Bure making a name for him, Valeri made his way to the NHL.  He ended up being okay-ish for the Habs.  In his first full season (’95-96), he scored 22 goals and 42 points.  But he scored just 21 goals and 64 points combined over his next two seasons (114 games), so he was flipped to Calgary with a fourth-round pick for Jonas Hoglund and Zarley Zalapski in a trade that didn’t do much for Montreal.

Andrew Cassels, on the other hand, became the Hartford Whalers’ #1 centre for six seasons.  While he would have been better suited as the #2 centre on a good team, Cassels played well on some weak Hartford teams.  He had four seasons of 40+ assists, including a high of 64 assist in ’92-93.  He hit the 20-goal mark three times, and had four seasons of at least 58 points (including a high of 85 in ’92-93).  He had a negative +/- rating four times in six years, but Hartford was hardly a dynasty during his time there.  When Hartford moved to Carolina, Cassels was traded to Calgary along with J-S Giguere for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd.  He ended his Hartford tenure with 253 assists and 350 points in 438 games.  He also played for Calgary, Vancouver, Columbus and Washington before retiring.   He was still productive, scoring 50-68 points per season over a four-year stretch for the Canucks and Blue Jackets.  In total, he scored 355 points in 517 games post-Hartford.  He finished his NHL career with 204 goals, 528 assists and 732 points.  Quite respectable totals, and definitely not worth the fairly meagre return (46 goals from Valeri Bure).  To add insult to injury, Bure blossomed with the flames, scoring 88 goals and 183 points over a three-year span; he had 128 goals and 290 points in 406 games post-Montreal.  Everybody won except Montreal, which failed to experience the prime playing years of either player.

#9: Montreal trades Craig Conroy, Rory Fitzpatrick and Pierre Turgeon to the St. Louis Blues for Murray Baron, Shayne Corson and a 1997 5th Round Pick (Gennady Razin) (October 29th, 1996)
This is a trade that I will never, ever understand.  Pierre Turgeon was French Canadian, a highly skilled offensive player, and the team captain (after Mike Keane was traded to Colorado in the Patrick Roy deal).  Turgeon seemed to love playing in Montreal, and he represented the team at the 1996 all-star game.  He scored 38 goals and 96 points in his one (and only) full season in Montreal, his best offensive totals since ’92-93.  He even added six points in six playoff games.  Clearly he fit the team well, leading them in points and tying with Vincent Damphousse for the team lead in goals.  He was also +19, third on the team.  But for some reason, the Canadiens decided they wanted to trade him.  It makes absolutely no sense.

The core of the deal was a Shayne Corson-for-Pierre Turgeon swap.  Corson wasn’t the offensive star that Turgeon was, but he had some skill.  Unfortunately, he was no longer 25-30 goal threat he had been in his first tour with Montreal in the late 80s/early 90s.  He scored 21 points in 47 games during an injury-shortened ’96-97 season.  Corson bounced back for 21 goals and 55 points the following season, but scored just 20 goals and 60 points total over the next two.  Overall, he scored 47 goals and 136 points in 242 games.  He also had a -15 rating, and 450 penalty minutes.  He was signed by Toronto as an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Canadiens got nothing in return.  Murray Baron played one season in Montreal, posting a -16 rating and 6 points in 60 games.  He was dealt to Phoenix with Chris Murray for Dave Manson, who wound up being sent to Chicago with Jocelyn Thibault in a later trade.  And Gennady Razin never played in the NHL, so Montreal really had nothing to show for this deal once Corson left.

St. Louis made out MUCH better.  Although Turgeon had trouble with durability (he only played 70+ games once in five years), he certainly had no trouble with his offensive game.  He scored at least 22 goals and 65 points in each of his five seasons, and his +/- rating was never negative.  His best season saw him score 30 goals and 82 points in ’00-01.  In total, he scored 134 goals and 355 points in 327 games for the Blues, along with a +65 rating.  He was also solid in the playoffs, scoring 45 points in 50 games.  In short, he was a great first-line centre for St. Louis over a five-year span.  He left as a free agent, playing another 286 games for Dallas and Colorado, adding another 182 points to his career total (finishing with 1,327 career points).  Craig Conroy was also a useful player.  He had two seasons in the 39-43 points range, scoring 14 goals each year; the then fell off slightly, scoring 25-27 points over the next two seasons.  He finished with 151 points in 359 games before being traded with a seventh round pick for Cory Stillman.  Conroy blossomed into a solid offensive player with the Flames and Kings, scoring 390 points in 637 games after leaving St. Louis.  He played in a combined 996 NHL contests after leaving Montreal.  The Blues later flipped Stillman to Tampa Bay for a second-round pick that became David Backes, currently one of St. Louis’ better forwards (he has twice hit the 31-goal mark for St. Louis).  Rory Fitzpatrick only played three games before being dealt to Nashville for Dan Keczmer: his claim to fame was nearly making the NHL all-star game as a write-in vote when he was on the Vancouver Canucks.

The Blues got five seasons from a point-per-game #1 centre, as well as decent production and fantastic long-term value from the Conroy-Stillman-Backes chain (which is still contributing to the franchise some 17 years later).  And Montreal basically got one crummy season from Baron and four diminishing seasons from Corson.  I have no idea what made this trade sound like a good idea in the first place, never mind in hindsight.

#8: Montreal trades Mark Recchi to the Philadelphia Flyers for Danius Zubrus, a 1999 2nd Round Pick (Matt Carkner) and a 2000 6th Round Pick (Scott Selig) (March 10th, 1999)
Poor Mark Recchi.  Never mind the fact that his acquisition could never possibly be lived down, a hurdle that Phil Kessel faces with many Leafs fans.  In fact, Recchi’s arrival from Philadelphia will appear later on this list.  But even on the way out, Montreal messed up.  The players selected with the draft picks had absolutely zero impact for the Canadiens.  One pick became Matt Carkner, who never played for Montreal (he left for San Jose as a free agent).  He has played the bulk of his 184 games (as of the end of the ’12-13 season) with the Ottawa Senators and his current team, the New York Islanders.  The other pick was used on Scott Selig, who never played in the NHL.  Danius Zubrus scored 42 points in 73 games during his first full season in Montreal, and was on a similar pace the following season when he was traded.   Montreal dealt Zubrus, Linden and a 2nd round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a 1st round pick that was used to select Alexander Perezhogin.  Turns out Montreal read Zubrus wrong, too; he played another 748 games, recording 412 points (and he was still active with New Jersey as of the end of the ‘12-13 season).

Recchi meanwhile was far from done as an NHL player.  He didn’t have much of an impact immediately after the ’98-99 deadline, but he hit his stride in ’99-00 when he scored 28 goals and 91 points in 82 games, and then added 18 points in 18 playoff games.  In each of the next four seasons he scored 20+ goals and 50+ points, including two years in the 75-77 point range.  He finished his second Flyers’ tour with 127 goals, 365 points and a +55 rating in 402 games, along with 39 points in 65 playoff games.  After three consecutive years as a Canadiens’ representative at the all-star game, Recchi represented the Flyers at the 2000 all-star game.  He wasn’t finished after leaving Philly, either; he played another 479 games, adding another 121 goals and 332 points, as well as 50 points in 79 playoff games.  He won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, and then another in his final season (2011) with the Boston Bruins.  In total, he played 881 regular season games after leaving Montreal, scoring 697 points.  And he played in 144 playoff contests.  For which the Canadiens received the sum total of 139 games of Danius Zubrus.  The only thing that even marginally redeems this trade is the fact that that bringing Recchi in to Montreal was an even worse move than this one, through no fault of Recchi’s.  But we’ll come back to that one later.

#7: Montreal trades Jyrki Lumme to the Vancouver Canucks for a 1991 2nd Round Pick (Craig Darby) (March 6th, 1990)
This was a straightforward deal that simply failed to have any benefit for Montreal.  Craig Darby played 10 games for the Habs, registering 2 assists and a -5 rating.  He was dealt to the New York Islanders in the trade that brought Pierre Turgeon to Montreal (and sent Kirk Muller to Long Island).  Darby eventually wound up with the expansion Nashville Predators, where he failed to make the team.  Montreal then re-signed him as a free agent, and he played another 156 games for the Habs between ’99-00 and ’01-02; he scored 45 points and registered a -31 rating during his second tour, not exactly impressive stats.

Jyrki Lumme on the other hand went on to be become arguably the best defenseman in Vancouver Canucks history.  He spent 8+ seasons in Vancouver, and he was an incredibly productive two-way defenseman.  He had seven seasons of 30+ points, including a two in the 54-55 point range and two other 44-point seasons.  He was a solid playmaker, clearing the 30-assist mark four times.  His +/- was somewhat inconsistent, but he was +55 over a two-year span from ’91-92 to ’92-93.  In total, he scored 83 goals and 321 points in 579 games, along with a +21 rating and 37 penalty minutes.  He was also strong for Vancouver in the playoffs, scoring 40 points in 72 games (including 13 points in 24 appearances during their run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals).  He left for Phoenix as a free agent after the ’97-98 season.  Montreal got 166 games out of Darby, but only 10 of those games were the direct result of this trade.  They barely got one game from Darby for every season Lumme played in Vancouver.  Easily one of the best trades in Canucks history, and my vote for #7 on Montreal’s Worst-Of list.

#6: Montreal trades Claude Lemieux to the New Jersey Devils for Sylvain Turgeon (September 4th, 1990)
Having already discussed Pierre Turgeon, we now move on to his brother, come to Sylvain.  Sylvain Turgeon was drafted 2nd overall in the 1983 Entry Draft by the Hartford Whalers.  While a better selection than Brian Lawton (taken 1st overall by the Minnesota North Stars), take a look at the four players selected drafted immediately after Turgeon: Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barraso and John MacLean (not to mention Cam Neely, who was selected a few spots later).  Now I am not suggesting that Sylvain Turgeon wasn’t a quality NHL player, as he twice scored 40+ goals and twice more scored 30+ goals.  Unfortunately, none of those seasons happened while he played for Montreal.  After six seasons (three solid and three disappointing), the Whalers sent Turgeon to New Jersey for Pat Verbeek (in a trade that worked out very well for Hartford).  In his one season in New Jersey (’89-90), he did manage to score one 30 goals, but only 47 points.  At the end of the season, he was traded to Montreal for Claude Lemieux.

He had hernia surgery just before the start of the season, but the Canadiens must have believed he would recover quickly, because they acquired him less than two weeks after his surgery.  Unfortunately, between the surgery and a knee injury in Feb. 1991, he was limited to just 19 games in’90-91 (scoring 5 goals and 12 points).  The following season (’91-92) wasn’t much better: he only managed 9 goals and 20 points in 56 games.  Altogether, his stat line was 14-18-32 with a -6 rating and 59 penalty minutes in 75 games.  He wasn’t much better in the playoffs, getting just one goal (and no assists) in 10 playoff games over two seasons.  The Canadiens opted to leave Turgeon exposed in the 1992 Expansion Draft, where he was selected by the Ottawa Senators.  Turgeon rebounded for 25 goals and 43 points, but he had a brutal -29 rating for the woeful Sens.  He was clearly done as an impact player that that point; he appeared in 80 games over the next two seasons for Ottawa, scoring 22 goals and 45 points (along with a -26 rating). He then left the NHL for Europe, where he spent the next six seasons playing in Switzerland and Germany.

Claude Lemieux merely went on to become one of the most clutch playoff performers of all time.  He spent five seasons in New Jersey.  During his first three seasons he scored an impressive 101 goals, increasing his annual points total from 47 to 68 to 81.  While his regular season offense fell off after that, his playoff stats were just heating up.  He scored 18 points in 20 games during the Devils’ run to the Semi Finals in 1994.  In the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season, he scored 6 goals and 19 points in 45 regular-season games.  But he turned it on in the playoffs, scoring 13 goals and 16 points in 20 games as the Devils won the 1995 Stanley Cup; Lemieux won the Conn Smythe trophy as the Playoff MVP.  During the offseason, he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-way trade that sent Wendel Clark to the New York Islanders, and Steve Thomas to New Jersey.  Lemieux ended up with 125 goals and 259 points in 353 regular season games for New Jersey, along with a +19 rating.  He also scored an incredible 30 goals (and 47 points) in 59 playoff contests.  Lemieux was a winner throughout his career, getting Stanley Cup Rings in Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995, 2000) and Colorado (1996).  He also represented Canada at the 1996 World Cup.  Lemieux played in another 581 regular season contest after leaving New Jersey (although he did have a second stint as a Devil), scoring 157 goals and 338 points.  But even more impressively, he played in another 98 postseason games, scoring 28 goals and 66 points.  His 80 playoff goals are ninth all-time in NHL history, and an impressive 19 of those goals were game-winners.  Wayne Gretzky himself has the record with 24, while Maurice “Rocket” Richard (arguably the greatest player in Canadiens’ history) has 18.  After a five-year absence from the NHL, Lemieux had a brief comeback in 2008-09 with the San Jose Sharks at age 43; he played in 18 regular season games and one final playoff contest (his 234th).  To summarize… Lemieux scored 13 goals during New Jersey’s 1995 Playoffs alone, while Turgeon scored a total of 15 goals during a combined 85 regular season and playoff games for Montreal.  That trade is so ugly it’s “fugly”.

We are now on the precipice; the “Top 5” awaits.  What were the five absolute worst trades in the modern history of the Montreal Canadiens?  And how stomach-churning will they be?  For those answers and more, check out the trades that ranked #1-5.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1980s Los Angeles Kings

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season.

Team: Los Angeles Kings (1980-81 to 1989-90)
311-384-105, .454 WIN PCT, 3,241 GF vs. 3,487 GA, -246 Diff, 7/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Los Angeles struggled mightily during the 1980s: they only had three decades with above-.500 records, but four seasons below 70 points (including three seasons where their winning percentage was below 40%).  Fortunately they tended to play in the same division as the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets, who were each very up-and-down during the decade.   However, their playoff success was limited by the fact that they typically ran into either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames; the Kings never made it past the second round, and only won three playoff series (with two of those coming after the Wayne Gretzky trade in 1988).  Overall, L.A.’s win percentage was a very poor 45.4%, which ranked 15th out of 21 teams in the decade.  They were an offensive juggernaut: they scored an average of 4.05 goals per game, third in the league behind the afore-mentioned Oilers and Flames.  However, they were awful in their own zone: they allowed 4.36 goals per game, second-worst in the league (only Toronto’s 4.47 was worse).  The result was a poor -246 differential, 14th in the league.  So they were an exciting offensive team that was probably a blast to watch, but their lack of success (and relevance in the market pre-Gretzky) made them tough to cheer for.


Left Wing: Luc Robitaille (317 GP, 196-198-394, -14, 213 PIM, 20 GWG)
The Kings were certainly lucky when they drafted Luc.  He scored 45 goals and 84 points in his rookie season. He then scored 53, 46 and 52 goals over the next four, twice scoring 100+ points (and once scoring 98).  His +/- was poor at first, but improved: -27 his first two seasons, +13 the next two.  He also had 17+ powerplay goals three times, and had a respectable 20 game-winning goals.  He was always a threat on the ice, as evidenced by his 199+ shots each season.  One of the best offensive left wingers in NHL history, and definitely the best in L.A. during the 1980s.

Centre: Marcel Dionne (531 GP, 309-436-745, +44, 312 PIM, 31 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Bernie Nicholls
Bernie Nicholls was phenomenal after Wayne Gretzky’s arrival: he scored 225 points in 126 games before being dealt to New York in ’89-90.  In ’88-89, Nicholls scored 70 goals and 150 points, along with a +30 rating.  Bernie had seven other seasons of 27+ goals (maxing out at 46) and three other seasons of 95+ points.  But his +/- was pretty bad; excluding ’88-89, he was -71 (and never better than +2).  So Marcel gets the nod.

Dionne is arguably the greatest player in Kings’ history.  Gretzky may have been more talented, but Dionne was the driving force behind the franchise for a very long time.  Even though he was fading as the 1980s wore on, he was still incredible.  The centrepiece of the famed “Triple Crown” line, Dionne opened the decade with three straight seasons of 50+ goals, and he had four 100+ seasons during the 80s.  He never had less than 24 goals or 50 assists, and only once dipped below 92 points in seven seasons.  His +/- was fair at best, typically in the -10 to +11 range.  But remember, he played on some brutal teams, so this is quite respectable.  He scored double-digit powerplay goals in six of seven seasons, and had 31 game-winning goals.  He also had 300+ shots on goal four times, only once dipping below 278.  One of the most prolific scorers of his generation.

Right Wing: Dave Taylor (677 GP, 286-455-741, +64, 1,058 PIM, 26 GWG)
Taylor played much of his L.A. career on Dionne’s right wing, but this is not to suggest Taylor was in any way carried by Dionne (or Charlie Simmer, the other member of the Triple Crown line).  Taylor was a great player in his own right.  He played all ten seasons during the decade for the Kings, and scored 20+ eight times (including two 40-goal season and two 30-goal seasons).  He was defensively responsible, with a +/- typically in the -3 to +17 range despite playing on one of the most defensively-challenged squads of the 1980s.  He was also tough, posting 100+ penalty minutes five times (and never less than 76).  He had four seasons with double-digits in PPG, seven seasons of 141+ shots on goal.  Not quite as clutch as I expected (his 26 game-winners are 9% of his total), he was a great leader for the Kings and one of their best players of all time.


Defense: Steve Duchesne (304 GP, 74-156-230, +36, 311 PIM, 9 GWG)
Duchesne blossomed as a talented offensive defenseman in Los Angeles during the last half of the decade.  He improved from 38 to 55 to 75 points in his first three seasons, and had a balanced +/- rating overall.  24 of his 74 goals came on the powerplay, so he was clearly a major threat with the man advantage.  He also chipped in 9 game-winning goals, a healthy 12% of his total.  He also managed 190+ shots on goal three times as a defenseman.  He twice cleared 20 goals, and twice cleared 40 assists.


Defense: Larry Murphy (242 GP, 52-155-207, +2, 255 PIM, 4 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mark Hardy and Jay Wells
Larry Murphy was a Hall-of-Famer who spent his formative years in the yellow and purple Kings jersey.  In each of three full seasons to start the decade, Murphy had 14+ goal and 60+ points.  He was also chippy, posting 79-85 PIM per season.  22 of his goals came with the man advantage, and he fired 150+ shots on net each season.  Those numbers coupled with a decent +/- demonstrates that he was on his way to becoming a top defenseman in the NHL.  Mark Hardy and Jay Wells both get honourable mentions for strong performances over eight-year stretches, but Murphy was just a better player at a time when the Kings needed skilled players.  Hardy had consistently good offensive numbers: never less than 25 points, and four times hitting the 39-53 range; but he was terrible for +/- (-100 in eight seasons), only having two positive seasons and twice hitting -30.  Wells was much more responsible defensively, managing somehow to post a +1 rating over the same span as Hardy (and five times posting a positive rating).  But his offensive numbers were weak for most of his tenure, only twice exceeding 25 points.


Goalie: Mario Lessard (141 GP, 51-60-22, 5 SO, 3.91 GAA, 0.841 PCT*)
*NOTE: save percentage is for  ’82-83 and ’83-84 only
The Kings’ net in the 1980s was a veritable rotating door of players who simply didn’t manage to have a discernible impact.  Kelly Hrudey arrived at the end of the decade, but didn’t play enough to qualify for the Best-Of 1980s list.  Gerry Laskowski, Mike Blake, Bob Janecyk, Darren Elliott, Rollie Melanson and Glenn Healy were all “starters” for at least one season in Los Angeles (and by that I mean they ended the season with the most games played in net).  None of them lasted more than two seasons as #1, and of those who did, none of them managed decent numbers in their second season.  Mario Lessard lands the Best of the 80s label by process of elimination: he had close to a .500 record, and had a goals-against average below 4.00.  That’s it: those were the lone criteria by which he qualified for this list.  Nothing against Lessard, but when he’s the best goalie that the team had over an entire decade, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the Kings were the second-worst defensive team during the 1980s.

NHL All-Decade Team: 1980s Edmonton Oilers

This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s.  The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players.  Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season.

Team: Edmonton Oilers (1980-81 to 1989-90)
456-239-105, .636 WIN PCT, 3,817 GF vs. 3,020 GA, +797 Diff, 10/10 Playoff Appearances, 5 Stanley Cups

Stanley Cup 1980s EDM Stanley Cup 1990

The greatest team of the 1980s, as if anything else needs to be said.  The Oilers goal differential was +797, and they only played 800 games during the decade.  They averaged 4.77 goals per game, well ahead of #2 Calgary’s 4.29.  And they allowed 3.78 goals against per game, which ranked a respectable 10th.  Edmonton’s 63.6% win percentage was well ahead of 32 Montreal’s 60.6%, and no other team was above 60%.  They won 5 Stanley Cups during the decade, and lost a sixth final appearance against the New York Islanders.  They were the last great dynasty in the history of the NHL.  There have been some modern “extended” dynasties like the Red Wings, Devils and Avalanche, but none have come close to what the Oilers achieved (five cups in seven years).  They had just one sub-.500 season (’80-81), two seasons with win percentage so 74.4%, and three seasons with at least 50 wins.  They had six consecutive seasons of 100+ points from ’81-82 to ’86-87, (including twice hitting 119), and then just fell short with 99 points in ’87-88.  Without a doubt, the greatest team of the 1980s.

Left Wing: Esa Tikkanen (337 GP, 125-181-306, +97, 554 PIM, 20 GWG)
After a half-season stint in ’85-86, Tikkanen was a regular for the rest of the decade.  Three 70+ point seasons, three 30+ goal seasons.  Never lower than 23 goals or 63 points.  He was always positive for +/-. Including a high of +44 in ’86-87.  His 25 powerplay goals are decent, but his 13 short-handed goals (including eight in ’88-89 and then four in ’89-90) are incredible.  And 20 of his goals were game-winners, a whopping 16% of his goal total.  To top it all off, he was a super pest who had three seasons of 120+ PIM.  Exactly the kind of player you wanted to distract and agitate the opposition, especially if it meant their goons and tough guys came after him instead of your franchise player.

Centre: Wayne Gretzky (617 GP, 532-1,000-1,532, +536, 302 PIM, 55 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Mark Messier
Messier scored 368 goals and 937 points for the Oilers, including five 100+ point seasons and three 45+ goal seasons… and he still ranks second.  That tells you just how damned good Gretzky was.  Wayne Gretzky scored 1,000 assists for the Oilers during his eight seasons in the 1980s.  ASSISTS… not points.  With most other players, I’ve talked about 100+ point seasons.  Gretzky had FOUR seasons of 200+ points, and another with 196.  He scored 92 goals in one seasons, 87 in another, and had two more seasons of 71-73 goals.  He only scored less than 50 once: he put in 40 in ’87-88, partly because he only played 64 games (which still works out to 50-goal pace).

He was so dominant at puck possession and control that the other team virtually never had the puck; Gretzky had a +70 rating or better FIVE TIMES in eight seasons, and his worse rating was +39.  He almost hit triple-digits, with a +98 rating in ’84-85.  He had six seasons of double-digit powerplay goals, and two seasons of double-digit short-handed goals (including 23 SHG over a two-year span).  And he certainly wasn’t afraid to shoot: Gretzky had 324 or MORE shots five consecutive seasons, and never fired less than 211 times in a season.  What’s even more amazing is that he scored on 26.9% of his 324 shots in ’83-84.  Gretzky’s numbers go beyond insane to outright ludicrous.  This numerical insanity is evidence that his nickname of “The Great One” is more than justified.

Right Wing: Jari Kurri (754 GP, 474-569-1,043, +351, 348 PIM, 55 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Glenn Anderson
Glenn Anderson was an incredible offensive talent: nine 30+ goal seasons (including two 50-goal seasons), and three seasons of 100+ points (plus another of 99).  And yet he’s the #2 right winger during the 1980s for Edmonton.  Kurri played all ten seasons in the 1980s for Edmonton.  He never scored less than 32 goals, and only twice scored less than 90 points (his lowest was 75 points as a rookie in ’80-81).  He cleared 50 goals four times, including 71 in ’84-85 and 68 in ’85-86.  He added another three 40-goal seasons and another three 30-goal seasons.  He cleared 100 points six times (including a pair of 131+ point seasons), and had two others in the 93-96 range.  He had at least 200+ shots in all but one season (where he still managed 194).  He had seven seasons of double-digit PPG totals, and scored 5+ SHG three times.  What’s more, 12% of his staggering 474 goals were game-winners.  And he was capable of responsible two-way play, never posting a as +/- rating lower than +18 (including a high of +76 in ’84-85).  And for people who say he was dependent on Gretzky: in his last two seasons with Wayne, he scored 97 goals and 204 points along with a +44 rating.  In his first two seasons without Wayne, he scored 77 goals and 195 points along with a +37 rating.  The man was a Hall-of-Famer through and through.

Defense: Paul Coffey (532 GP, 209-460-669, +271, 693 PIM, 18 GWG)
The greatest offensive defenseman of the decade, bar none.  During a five-year stretch from ’81-82 to ’85-86 he scored between 29 and 48 goals, as well as between 89 and 138 points.  He cleared 40 goals twice, and cleared 120 points three times.  He had ratings of +52 to +61 four years in a row, and had six consecutive seasons of at least nine powerplay goals (plus 9 short-handed goals in ’85-86).  He had an edge to his play, contributing 100+ PIM in four seasons (and two others of 87 and 97 respectively).  As a DEFENSEMAN, he had 234 or more shots five years in a row, including 307 shots in ’85-86.  It’s unfortunate a contract dispute ended with his being dealt to Pittsburgh, because that was the first sign that salary constraints were going to break up the Oilers’ dynasty ahead of its time.

Defense: Charlie Huddy (641 GP, 76-265-341, +247, 468 PIM, 6 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Kevin Lowe
This was a tough one, but in the end I chose Huddy over Lowe.  Kevin Lowe was a heart-and-soul type who played all but 26 of the Oilers’ 800 games during the 1980s.  He had five 30+ point seasons (including three 40+ point efforts), and only had one season with negative +/-.  But Charlie Huddy’s numbers were as good in 130 fewer games (it took him two seasons to become a regular), and he doesn’t get nearly as much credit as Lowe.  Huddy had six seasons of 40+ points, including two 50+ point seasons.  He scored 20 goals once, and had two others in double-digits.  He hit 30+ assists five times.  He was a rock defensively.  He weakened in the post-Gretzky years, but from ’81-82 to ’86-88 he had a +/- rating of +17 or better, including ratings between +50 to +62 over a three-year span.  His lack of powerplay goals suggest either he was never a major presence on the power, or he was always passing the puck to Coffey or one of the forwards.  Huddy doesn’t get as much fanfare as other Oilers’ blueliners (even Randy Gregg seems to get more respect), but in my opinion he was the best defenseman not named Coffey for the Oilers’ during their glory years.

Goalie: Grant Fuhr (410 GP, 220-113-51, 8 SO, 3.71 GAA, 0.877 PCT*)
*NOTE: Save Percentage from ’87-88 to ’89-90 only
Honourable Mention to Andy Moog

It speaks to the insane depth of the Oilers that they have an honourable mention at C, RW, D and G (i.e. players who would arguably be good enough to rank on the 1980s Best-Of list for most NHL teams).  Moog shared the Oilers’ goaltending duties with Fuhr from ’82-83 to -83-84.  They went back and forth but typically played a relatively even number of games during that five-year span.  Moog was 143-52-21 in 325 games with a 3.71 GAA and a .886 save percentage, along with four shut-outs.  His numbers were actually slightly ahead of Fuhr’s, but Fuhr’s longevity (and the fact that he played more playoff games during their tandem period) gives him the nod.  Fuhr had 22+ wins in seven of his nine seasons during the 1980s, and the only two where he failed to hit that milestone saw him play less than 40 games.  He hit a high of 40 wins during Gretzky’s final season (’87-88), and only twice lost more than 12 games.  His goals-against average was up-and-down: he had three  seasons below 3.50, and five seasons above 3.80.  But Fuhr’s mission was never to get a shut-out (he only had 8 in 410 games): his mission was to make sure the Oilers allowed at least one goal less than they scored.  And considering he won 220 out of his 410 games, I’d say mission accomplished (in game where the result was attributed to Fuhr, he recorded 491 out of a possible 768 points, or a 63.9% win percentage).  He may not have had the best stats, but he was one of the greatest money goalies in NHL history, and definitely the best goaltender for Edmonton during the 1980s.

I also saw a picture of Wayne Gretzky from the heritage classic, which I’m sharing here.

For anyone who ever wondered what his time in Edmonton meant to him, the answer is in the gigantic smile on his face.  That is a bigger smile than he ever had during his time with the New York Rangers or that week he spent as a member of the St. Louis Blues.  And he always seemed more serious than joyful in Los Angeles, like he knew it was more business than pleasure (likely because he was the engine behind U.S. expansion, and because there really wasn’t much of a supporting cast around him for most of his tenure with the Kings).  If Gretzky had stayed in Edmonton, and that team had been kept together another few years, it could have been one of the greatest dynasties of all time instead of the greatest dynasty of the 1980s (apologies to the New York Islanders).

And with that, I give you one final picture:

That’s the confident come-hither look of a man who KNOWS he’s The Great One.  Arguably the greatest of all-time, and bar-none the best player on the greatest team of the 1980s.

The 25 Worst Trades in Toronto Maple Leafs History: #1 to 5

Links to the other individual articles in this series: Intro, #21-25, #16-20, #11-15, #6-10

And here we are, the five worst trades in the modern history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  What you’ve read up until this point is but an appetizer to the main course of self-loathing, depression and frustration that you are about to digest.  And if you haven’t read the previous trades, shame on you!  Before we begin, let us revisit #6-25 on the list.

  • #25: Ken Wregget to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 1989 1st Round Pick (Rob Pearson) and a 1989 1st Round Pick (Steve Bancroft) (March 1989)
  • #24: Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and a 2003 1st Round Pick (Boston selected Mark Stuart) to San Jose Sharks for Owen Nolan (March 2003)
  • #23: Dallas Stars receive Peter Zezel and Grant Marshall (August 1994) as compensation for Toronto signing Dallas RFA Mike Craig (July 1994)
  • #22: Laurie Boschman to the Edmonton Oilers for Walt Poddubny and Phil Drouillars (March 1982)
  • #21: A 2007 1st Round Pick (St. Louis selected Lars Eller), a 2007 2nd Round Pick (St. Louis selected Aaron Palushaj) and a 2009 4th Round Pick (Nashville selected Craig Smith) to the San Jose Sharks for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell (June 2007)
  • #20: Fredrick Modin to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cory Cross and a 2001 7th Round Pick (Ivan Kolozvary) (October 1999)
  • #19: Jim Pappin to the Chicago Blackhawks for Pierre Pilote (May 1968)
  • #18: Frank Mahovlich, Garry Unger, Pete Stemkowski and the rights to Carl Brewer to Detroit for Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Doug Barrie (March 1968)
  • #17: Larry Murphy to the Detroit Red Wings for Future Considerations (Cash) (March 1997)
  • #16: “Three G’s Salary Dump” (June 1996)
    • #16A: Todd Gill to the San Jose Sharks for Jamie Baker and a 1996 5th Round Pick (Peter Cava)
    • #16B: Dave Gagner to the Calgary Flames for a 1996 3rd Round Pick (Mike Lankshear)
    • #16C: Mike Gartner to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 1996 4th Round Pick (Vladimir Antipov)
  • #15: Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft (June 2006)
  • #14: Kenny Jonsson, Sean Haggerty, Darby Hendrickson and a 1997 1st Round Pick (Roberto Luongo) to the New York Islanders for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith (March 1996)
  • #13: Toronto’s Craig Muni becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent, signs with the Edmonton Oilers (August 1986)
  • #12: Boston Bruins claim Gerry Cheevers from Toronto in the NHL Intra-League Draft (June 1965)
  • #11: Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenville to the Colorado Rockies for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement (December 1979)
  • #10: The Tampa Bay Lightning claim Brian Bradley from Toronto in the 1992 Expansion Draft (June 1992)
  • #9: Jason Smith to the Edmonton Oilers for a 2000 2nd Round Pick (Kris Vernarsky) and a 1999 4th Round Pick (Jonathon Zion) (March 1999)
  • #8: Darryl Sittler to the Philadelphia Flyers for Rich Costello, a 1982 2nd Round Pick (Peter Ihnacak) and Future Considerations (Ken Strong) (January 1982)
  • #7: Doug Jarvis to the Montreal Canadiens for Greg Hubick (June 1975)
  • #6: Russ Courtnall to the Montreal Canadiens for Jon Kordic and a 6th Round Pick in 1989 (Mike Doers) (November 1988)

And now… on with the not-so-grand finale!

#5A: Toronto trades a 2nd Round Pick in 2000 (Ivan Huml) to the Washington Capitals for Dmitri Khristich (October 20th, 1999)
#5B: Toronto allows the Chicago Blackhawks to claim Steve Sullivan via waivers (October 23rd, 1999)

On the surface, the first trade looks harmless.  Boston didn’t do much with the draft pick, and Khristich’s numbers in year one (30 points in 53 games) suggest a decent hockey player.  But don’t let that fool you, he was AWFUL.  His second season (9 points in 27 games) was so bad the Leafs dealt him back to Washington for a 3rd round pick in 2001 (which turned into Brendan Bell… who then, in keeping with Leafs’ tradition, turned into 17 games and 5 points from Yanic Perreault).  Khristich is the closest thing to a Maple Leaf player that I hated besides Mike Craig.  Now you may be wondering why a moderate gamble of a second-round pick for a 6-time 27+ goal scorer (pre-Toronto) ranks so highly on this list.  Well, there are two very valid reasons.  First, there were rumblings (which I believe) that Boston walked away from Khristich’s arbitration settlement, which would have made him an unrestricted free agent.  But instead of simply SIGNING him, Leafs GM Pat Quinn traded a 2nd round pick to Boston for Khristich’s rights to “keep the peace”, after which point Quinn signed Khristich.

The second reason why this trade ranks so highly is because in order to make space on the roster for Khristich, Quinn put a young, small forward on waivers.  Quinn preferred veterans, and big tough players.  Sensing an opportunity, the Chicago Blackhawks plucked Steve Sullivan off waivers.  After leaving Toronto, Sullivan posted seven consecutive seasons where he scored 22+ goals and recorded 60+ points.  If those seven seasons had been in a Toronto uniform, five of them would have placed him SECOND in Leafs scoring, and the other two would still have been in the top five.  Yes, I am saying that in those seven post-Sullivan seasons, five of those seasons lacked a Leafs player scoring 60 or more points who wasn’t named Mats.  Sullivan scored 118 goals and 303 points in 370 games for Chicago, raising his stock to the point where the Nashville Predators acquired him at the 2004 trade deadline.  The cost was a pair of 2nd Round draft picks.  He then scored 158 points in 150 games for the Predators before sitting out the 2007-08 season due to injury.  And after coming back, he posted a pair of 17-goal, ~50-point seasons (’09-10 and ’11-12).  As of the start of the 2012-13 NHL season, Sullivan had 283 goals and 730 points in 969 career games.  Just a terrible, TERRIBLE trade, one that confirmed the Leafs squandered all the resources they received from the Doug Gilmour trade.  Depressingly, each of Sullivan, Jason Smith and Alyn McCauley can be found on this list.  Imagine how good that trade would look if those three players had spent the bulk of their careers in Maple Leaf uniforms.

#4: Toronto trades Randy Carlyle and George Ferguson to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Dave Burrows (June 14th, 1978)
Leaf fans recognize Randy Carlyle as their head coach, but many would be fairly surprised at finding out he was a former Maple Leafs player.  But those of you reading this list will likely NOT be shocked at the idea that trading him early in his career for veteran help worked out badly for Toronto.  The Leafs wanted a steady hand on their blueline, and so they approached the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Though hardly a powerhouse at the time (their struggles in the late 70s and early 80s eventually led to their getting Mario Lemieux first overall in the 1984 Entry Draft), they did have a player who fit the bill: Dave Burrows.  Unfortunately, Burrows did absolutely nothing for Toronto.  In two seasons and change, he recorded 32 points in 151 games, and played in just nine playoff games during that span.  He was then traded back to Pittsburgh in a deal that did nothing for either team.

The Penguins, meanwhile, made out like bandits.  George Ferguson recorded four straight 20-goal seasons, and was even a strong performer in Pittsburgh’s first-round playoff exits (15 points in 22 games).  But Randy Carlyle was the true gem of this deal.  He played 397 games as a Penguin, recording 323 points.  As a DEFENSEMAN.  In fact, he won the Norris trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman, recording 83 points in 1980-81.  He then went on to play another 564 games for the Winnipeg Jets, recording another 306 points.  Despite playing on some truly terrible teams that rarely made the playoffs, he still managed to contribute 31 points in 53 playoff games after leaving Toronto.  Again, as a defenseman.

But wait, it gets worse (as if we needed something worse giving up a consistent 20-goal man and a 1,000-game defenseman).  The Penguins further benefitted from this trade through BRILLIANT asset management.  Ferguson and the 1st overall pick in 1983 were traded to Minnesota for the North Stars’ first round pick and two players.  The players didn’t amount to much, but Pittsburgh selected Bob Errey, who spent a decade in a Penguins jersey, winning two Stanley Cups.  Meanwhile, Carlyle was traded to the Jets for a 1st round pick in 1984 and Future Considerations.  The draft pick ended up being Doug Bodger, while the FC became Moe Mantha.  Mantha recorded 168 points in 232 games for the Penguins, before becoming part of the Paul Coffey trade.  Coffey (after helping Pittsburgh win the 1991 Cup) in turn helped net the Penguins Kjell Samuelsson, Rick Tocchet and Ken Wregget from Philadelphia (which led to the 1992 Cup).  As for Doug Bodger, he contributed 167 points in 299 games.  Pittsburgh then traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for goaltender Tom Barrasso, an integral part of their back-to-back championship teams.  So the Penguins turned Randy Carlyle into various components of one of the few back-to-back Cup champions of the last 20 years, AND got another decade of service from a quality player for George Ferguson.  *sigh*  It’s very depressing writing about a team that knows how to continually turn over their high-value assets into new, long-term assets.  If only Craig Patrick had been Leafs’ GM… he would have moved Tucker, McCabe and possibly Sundin in 2005, rather than signing them to no-movement clauses after yet another 1st-round exit.

#3: Toronto trades Rick Kehoe to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Blaine Stoughton and a 1st Round Pick in 1977 (Trevor Johansen) (September 13th, 1974)
Rick Kehoe was a quality hockey with the Maple Leafs, scoring 33 goals and 75 points in his first full year with the team.  But his ice time decreased when Lanny McDonald and Inge Hammarstrom joined the team, and he wanted out.  Pittsburgh game along with a tempting offer of young talent, and the Leafs jumped at the deal.  Kehoe was an absolute beast for some pretty terrible Penguins teams.  Between ’74-75 and ’82-83, he averaged 33 goals and 65 points.  He never scored fewer than 29 goals or 50 points, and had a career-best 55 goals and 88 points in the 1980-81 season (the one where Carlyle won his Norris).  He suffered a neck injury in the ’83-84 season, when he was still scoring at close to a point-per-game, and he was forced to retire early in the ’84-85 season.  Over a twelve-year period, he never scored fewer than 18 goals or 40 points.

Johansen was a bust for the Leafs; in parts of three seasons, he contributed a total of 57 points and 282 penalty minutes over 286 games.  He ended up being shipped to Colorado for Paul Gardner, who then went to Pittsburgh with Dave Burrows (from trade #4) for Kim Davis and Paul Marshall.  Combined, Gardner, Davis and Marshall played just 56 games in Toronto uniforms.

Appearances to the contrary, this is NOT Jesus or one of the Bee Gees.

Now the good news is Blaine Stoughton turned into a tremendous NHL player.  But the bad news is, of course, it wasn’t in Toronto.  Stoughton played parts of two seasons for the Leafs.  His first showed promise: 23 goals and 37 points.  But he opted to leave Toronto for the WHA, just as Bernie Parent and many other Leafs prospects did.  Apparently Harold Ballard had a strict no-matching policy when players approached management with WHA offers, which cost the Leafs a significant portion of their depth and contributed significantly to their downward slide that bottomed out in the 1980s.  Stoughton was a member of the New England (later Hartford) Whalers when the WHA folded, and Toronto allowed Hartford to grab him in the 1979 Expansion Draft.  Stoughton celebrated his return to the NHL with four straight 43+ goal, 73+ point seasons, including a fantastic 56-goal, 100-point performance in ’79-80.  He ended up scoring 224 goals and 384 points in 371 NHL games after leaving the Maple Leafs.  It’s amazing that even when they are a part of a trade involving two youngsters who each became 50-goal scorers, the Leafs STILL find a way NOT to benefit.  I don’t care if that sentence is grammatically correct or not, because it is emotionally apt.  DAMN YOU BALLARD!!!

#2: Toronto trades Bernie Parent and a 2nd Round Pick in 1973 (Larry Goodenough) to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 1st Round Pick in 1973 (Bob Neely) and Future Considerations (Doug Favell) (May 15th, 1973)
There are bad trades… and then there are truly wretched trades.  Cam Neely from Vancouver to Boston.  Ron Francis from Hartford to Pittsburgh.  Phil Esposito from Chicago to Boston.  I could go on, but suffice it to say that this Leafs trade definitely falls into the second category.  Toronto had a young goaltender on their roster who left the club to play in the World Hockey Association, which instantly made him an outcast in the eyes of Leafs management and ownership.  Having played previously in Philadelphia (both with the NHL’s Flyers and the WHA’s Blazers), Parent requested a trade to Philadelphia.  His request was granted, and all he did in his first two seasons back with the Flyers was win two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe trophies as the MVP of the playoffs, and two Vezina trophies for helping the Flyers post the lowest goals-against total in the league.  So he was the best goaltender in the league, and the most valuable player on the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.  He was incredible during his second tour with the Flyers, posting a record of 177-60-57 in 298 games over six seasons.  And he also had a record of 33-22 in the playoffs.  Larry Goodenough was merely Decentenough (sorry), scoring 71 points in 129 games for Philadelphia, but he was a hero in their failed attempt to three-peat in 1976, scoring 14 points in 16 games.  He was eventually traded to Vancouver.

Meanwhile, in Toronto. Doug Favell was a complete bust.  He was decent for the Leafs in his first season, just plain AWFUL in his second, and gone just three games into his third season.  He was sold to the goaltending hell that was the Colorado Rockies.  For cash.  Now the trade with the Flyers DID give the Leafs three first round picks in the 1973 Entry Draft.  The Leafs were STELLAR with the other, selecting Lanny McDonald and Ian Turnbull.  But sadly, Bob Neely was who they chose with the pick acquired from the Flyers.  Neely posted decent-but-not-great numbers as a Leafs defenseman: he contributed 89 points and 264 penalty minutes in four-plus seasons, as well as 12 points in 26 playoff games.  But he played just 22 games after leaving Toronto.  And he too was shipped to the Colorado Rockies for cash.  That’s right; all we had left to show in for giving up on Bernie Parent in net was CASH.  Essentially, the Leafs received just over four seasons (three of them decent) from a mid-level defenseman and two seasons (one of them somewhat good) from a back-up goaltender, and cash.  In exchange for a hall-of-fame keeper who was possibly the best money goaltender in the 1970s.  BRILLAINT!!!  And in case it sounds like 20-20 hindsight is making me bitter, Parent posted better numbers in his two seasons in Toronto than Favell did in his entire career.  Never mind his stats from his first tour with the Flyers when they joined the NHL in 1967.  The man was clearly a talented goalie who deserved a roster spot in Toronto.

#1: Toronto trades a 1st Round Pick in 1991 (Scott Niedermayer) to the New Jersey Devils for Tom Kurvers (October 16th, 1989)
And here we are… the most infamous trade in Toronto Maple Leafs history (modern or otherwise).  Now earlier I stated that I ignore the draft choices made by other teams, because there is no guarantee that Toronto would have chosen that player (i.e. the Islanders choosing Roberto Luongo with the draft pick from the Leafs).  However, in this case I can argue that Toronto would almost assuredly have chosen a player of consequence.  Of the 22 players chosen in the first round, 17 played in at least 575 NHL games.  Of the other five, two of them still managed to play over 100 games (and one of them, Alex Stojanov, was traded by Vancouver for Markus Naslund).  That’s a 77% chance that Toronto would have had received 575+ games from a first rounder, and an 86% chance of receiving 100+ games (which is more than they got out of Tom Kurvers).  And the cream of the 1991 crop would be considered top-flight players in almost any NHL era.

Right off the bat, I will state this; Tom Kurvers by himself was NOT a bad acquisition.  The year before the Leafs acquired him, they went 28-46-6 (’88-89 season) and missed the playoffs.  With him in 1989-90, they went 38-38-4 and scored 78 more goals than the year before.  Kurvers recorded 52 points and a not-too-bad -8 rating in 70 games, along with 3 assists in 5 playoff games.  Quite decent, and demonstrating that Kurvers was worth trading for… just not at the cost of a first round pick.  But then the next season (’90-91), with just 3 assists in 19 games, the Leafs dealt him to Vancouver.  The Leafs would finish the season with a record of 23-46-11, missing the playoffs by 11 points.  In exchange for Kurvers, the Leafs received Brian Bradley.  Yes, that would be the very same Brian Bradley that the Leafs held onto for one-and-a-half seasons, before letting him go in the ’92 Expansion Draft (for nothing) to the Tampa Bay Lightning.  So in total, dealing their 1991 1st Round Draft Pick resulted in 55 points in 89 games from Tom Kurvers, and 42 points in 85 games from Brian Bradley.  To summarize, dealing the first rounder gave Toronto 97 points in 174 games.  And the WORST of it all was that Bradley left Toronto on June 18th, 1992, four days before the entry draft.  The draft hadn’t even HAPPENED yet, and the Leafs had already lost the trade.  Of the 17 players chosen in the first round of the 1991 Entry Draft with at least 575 NHL games played in their careers, Scott Lachance (a defensive defenseman) had the lowest point total (143 in 819 games).  Hell, Pat Peake only played 134 games, and HE still managed 69 points.  And so by this alone, the Leafs screwed up enough for this trade to end up in the top ten trades that make it possible for jerseys like these to exist:

And now comes the clincher, the reason why this trade is #1 with a bullet.  The Leafs were bad in 1990-91… so bad in fact that they were on pace to finish last in the NHL behind the Quebec Nordiques.  Toronto was feeling the sting of Kurvers not working out as expected, and they were terrified at how bad they would look if the cost of Kurvers was the first overall pick.  So the Leafs traded prospect Scott Pearson and a pair of 2nd Round picks to Quebec, which the Nordiques used to select Tuomas Gronman and Eric Lavigne.  The draft picks were busts: Gronman played 38 NHL games (none for Quebec), while Lavigne played exactly one NHL game for the L.A. Kings).  Pearson never really amounted to much in Quebec, and the Nordiques traded him to Edmonton for Martin Gelinas.  Unfortunately, the Nordiques let Gelinas go on waivers, and he went on to score the bulk of his 309 career goals for Vancouver, Carolina and Calgary.  In return for this package of failed potential, Toronto received Lucien DeBlois, Aaron Broten and Michel Petit.  DeBlois didn’t do much, but the Leafs did flip him to Winnipeg for Mark Osborne’s second tour of duty in Toronto, and he was a part of their deep playoff runs in ’93 and ’94.  Petit had decent offensive numbers for Toronto, and was a part of the blockbuster 10-player deal with the Flames that brought Doug Gilmour to Toronto.  Broten somehow managed to post a +12 rating in 27 games for the Leafs (but just 10 points), and was allowed to walk as a free agent.  So on the surface, this trade looks like a big win for Toronto.

But here’s the thing: “winning” this trade was not even remotely the priority for Quebec.  They sent three regulars players to Toronto.  Now they weren’t exactly all-stars, but they were regular players on a terrible team.  And their removal accomplished one key thing: it necessitated their replacement with younger, less talented players.  Therefore, it made Quebec worse.  The Leafs even picked up another Nordique (Claude Loiselle) near the trade deadline just in case.  Now why you ask would the Leafs trade Pearson (their 1988 1st Round choice) and a pair of second round picks for three players from the worst team in the league?  Because by making Quebec slightly worse and Toronto slightly better, it decreased the chances of Toronto finishing last overall in the league.  And it worked: in the end, Quebec’s 46 points put them 21st (out of the NHL’s then 21 teams), behind Toronto’s 57 points (which ranked 20th, three back of the New York Islanders).  So what could almost sound like a noble goal (improving your team at the cost of an opponent’s immediate success) clearly wasn’t done with noble intentions.  Because the SOLE reason the Leafs made this deal with Quebec was to avoid finishing dead-last, which would have given the first overall pick to New Jersey.  Which in turn would have resulted in New Jersey turning Tom Kurvers… into teenaged phenom Eric Lindros.

#01 Eric Lindros NHL Jersey#01 Eric Lindros Draft

Before with full historical perspective, you might be tempted to downplay my ominous tone. But keep in mind that in 1991, Eric Lindros was THE next great player.  Not an Alexander Daigle “he might be the next one” falsely-hyped saviour.  We’re talking a Sidney Crosby “he WILL be the next one”, a guaranteed marketing goldmine and game-changer for any franchise.  Lindros scored 71 goals and 149 points in 57 games during his last juniour year.  He was so good that he was picked as an 18-year-old to play on the 1991 Canada Cup team with Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Robitalle and more.  A team so deep that Steve f’n YZERMAN was cut from the squad.  And even though Lindros’ career can arguably be classified as disappointing, he still recorded 372 goals and 865 points in 760 games.  Four 40+ goal seasons, a positive +/- rating in his first eight seasons, and pretty much a lock for 30-50 assists a year.  He also almost brought the 1997 Cup to Philadelphia single-handedly, scoring 12 goals and 26 points in 19 games.

Fortunately for the Leafs though, their Quebec raids paid off and the Nordiques finished last in the league, giving Quebec the first overall draft pick.  Quebec chose Lindros and, after he refused to play there and held out for a year, Quebec traded him to the Flyers for a package (including Peter Forsberg and Ron Hextall) that transformed the Nordiques from laughing stock to (as the Colorado Avalanche) Stanley Cup champions.  And if the rumour mill is to be believed, Toronto offered a package including Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Dave Ellett and possibly Felix Potvin.  When all they would have had to do was NOT acquire Tom Kurvers three years prior.

But getting back to original Kurvers trade.  Lindros would have conceivably been the only true superstar that this generation of Maple Leafs fans have ever seen.  No offense to Gilmour and Sundin, but Gilmour’s run at the top was too short, and Sundin’s lack of individual accolades (and playoff success) held him back from Superstar status.  As it was, the Leafs breathed a sigh of relief when Quebec’s poor finish and the creation of the San Jose Sharks meant that New Jersey would pick third overall.

But the Devils chose very, VERY well; they picked Scott Niedermayer.  Niedermayer is one of the true great defenseman of this (or possibly any) generation.  He scored 476 points in 892 games and posted a +172 ratings in 12+ seasons with New Jersey, winning Stanley Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003 (and very nearly another one in 2001).  He then signed with the Anaheim Ducks as a free agent, where he added another 264 points in 371 games, as well as fourth Stanley Cup ring in 2007.  In addition to his incredible 740 career regular-season points, he also recorded 25 goals and 98 points in 202 playoff games.  Niedermayer’s success extended well beyond the NHL level: he also won a Memorial Cup (the championship for Canadian hockey at the juniour level), and gold medals at the World Juniour Championship, the World Championship, the World Cup (of hockey) and the Winter Olympics.  The man was a winner on every single stage that he played.  The truly sad part… picking first or third (assuming they were smart enough to pick Niedermayer) would have given the Leafs a TRUE franchise player who would have spent a decade in their line-up.  Any number of players from the 1991 draft could have boosted the club’s fortunes longer term than Kurvers/Bradley.  You want scoring?  Peter Forsberg went 6th overall, and other options from the first round included Brian Rolston, Alexei Kovalev, Markus Naslund, Glen Murray and Martin Rucinsky.  Defense?  Scott Lachance, Aaron Ward, Richard Matvichuk and Philippe Boucher all played 700+ quality games.  Even a “bust” like Pat Falloon still scored 322 points.

This was the trade that truly bottomed out the franchise at the end of 1980s.  Think of a 19-year-old Eric Lindros or Scott Niedermayer playing on the 1992-93 Leafs alongside Gilmour, Andreychuk, Clark and Potvin.  It would have completely changed the dynamic of the team.  And Sundin would have had some help in keeping the team from being awful in the mid-to-late 1990s.  Lindros or Niedermayer might have been enough to turn one of those Conference Finals runs into a Stanley Cup Final appearance… or heaven forbid, a championship.  And worst-case scenario, Lindros might even have helped out the Blue Jays.

But that’s both the beauty and the pain of professional sports… the what-if’s, the could-have-been’s, and the wish-they-weren’ts.  Then again, that’s also the reason why lists like this are possible.  Every team has their share of glorious moments and tragic instances, and it’s unfortunate that Toronto has had more than their share.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my selections for the Top 25 Worst Trades in Toronto Maple Leafs History as much as I enjoyed writing them.  And in an attempt to stave off dark thoughts and pending depression, I’ve already begun working on the best trades in Leafs history.  While I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of bad Leaf trades, we Leafs fans still cling to the hope that another Gilmour-type trade will bring the franchise back to life and finally get us a Stanley Cup parade of our own to cheer.  Go Leafs Go.