Yes, we know that Toronto is one of the Original Six and that playing for such a historical, legendary team comes with certain expectations. And yes, we know that living and playing in Canada might not be every NHL player’s first choice. But for those who do live and play the nation’s favorite sport in the nation’s most populated, most exciting city? They better give us a damn good show.
Seriously, though. It’s not really a surprise that an ESPN poll showed that hockey players’ no-trade clauses show that they want to live/play ABC. Anywhere But Canada. And can you blame them? The average temperature in January and February is -3 degrees Celsius/27 degrees Fahrenheit. The stereotype is that all Torontonians ever do is complain. Crime rates are not great – it ranks 14th on the list of most dangerous cities in the country. Housing is crazy expensive, with affordability reaching its lowest point ever this year.
But! Toronto is a city that eats, sleeps, and breathes its Maple Leafs. There was even a story about one Torontonian who had the Leafs emblem engraved on his tombstone. One site listed Toronto as the city with the second most loyal fanbase, only just tailing Montreal. Granted, they are a temperamental bunch who have been known to throw hissy fits (and food) when the boys in blue don’t play up to standard, but they did have a 13-year sellout streak. 13 YEARS!
So what the heck? With support like that, why on earth did these 15 guys hate being a Leaf so very much?
15. Joffrey Lupul
Lupul has been plagued with injuries. In fact, he’s missed about 40% of the Leafs games over the past four seasons. He hasn’t played a game since February of 2016.
Last year he failed the mandatory pre-season physical exam and was therefore ineligible to play hockey, and events over the past weeks have determined that he won’t be playing this year either. And boy, is he ticked off about this. When a fan mentioned his failed physical a few weeks ago, Lupul responded by claiming the Leafs’ “cheat,” implying that he’s just fine and management doesn’t want him on the ice. Of course, he later apologized for his outburst and is now going to undergo an independent physical exam, but the message is clear: Joffrey isn’t happy.
There have been suspicions regarding the Leafs’ use of the LTIR before, and I’d be ticked off too if my team put me on the injured list so they could use the loophole and save some cap space. In fact, I might even hate the team. Just like Joffrey.
14. Phil Kessel
It’s kinda hard to love a city or a team that continually boos you, even when you’re scoring more than 30 goals per year for them. It might help if you didn’t advertise to the city (and the world) that you spend your time off as far away from a rink as you can get.
Really, it was his introverted personality that the fans didn’t like, and by the time his tenure as a Leaf was up, Toronto all but packed his bags for him, not bothering to wave as Kessel boarded the plane for Pittsburgh.
The ad that Kessel placed in the Toronto Star may have been fictional, a creation of the satirical site Sports Pickle, but it was perfect. In it, Kessel said that the thought of having to play with the Leafs until the end of his career had made him sick, they didn’t know how to treat a player of his caliber, and he’s now got two Stanley Cups under his belt. So there.
13. Dion Phaneuf
In 2012, Sports Illustrated conducted an online survey to determine the NHL’s most overrated player. About 20% of the 161 players who participated in the survey voted for the Leafs then-Captain. In 2013, ESPN took a poll and Phaneuf was again voted “most overrated.” Congrats man! It was during his tenure as the Leafs captain that fans decided to start throwing things on the ice and/or at players on the bench, including multiple Toronto jerseys and frozen waffles. Waffles!
The Leafs are hockey royalty, really, as one of the Original Six. This means all of its players have a lot to live up to and therefore are particularly scrutinized. Phaneuf wasn’t exempt from this, especially since he was captain. He also had to live up to his 20-goal rookie season. That’s a lot of pressure.
Would you want to stay and play for a city where you were voted “most overrated?” A city full of fans who throw clothing and food, who hold you on a pedestal and expect miracles? Nope, didn’t think so.
12. Ron Wilson (coach)
Ron Wilson admits to hating the Leafs even now, saying that every time he watches them play on television, he roots against them. “I want all the players to do well,” he says. “But I just don’t want them to win. Collectively, I don’t want them to win…”
When he took the job he was told the team was being rebuilt, but that never really panned out. He kept being sent new talent instead of bringing up minors into the fold. The big salaries being paid out had to be worth it, right? Wilson may have been a master hockey team-building craftsman, but since he was only given one or two sticks to work with instead of power tools, what’s a guy to do? He must have hated being in a place, in a job where he was expected to work miracles. Solo.
11. Shayne Corson
He walked out on the team. During the playoffs. Who does that? Someone who really hates his job, that’s who.
Even though he played with his brother-in-law Darcy Tucker and the two of them were buddies with teammate Travis Green, Corson wasn’t happy. Having a tight-knit, manly trio didn’t shelter him from censure, nor did it help with the locker room drama. He’s been called a “clubhouse cancer,” and blamed for much of the team’s drama and disconnects during the 2002-03 season.
Despite having said that “to play for the Maple Leafs is a dream come true,” his battle with ulcerative colitis and anxiety were big reasons behind his exit from Toronto. To most people, though, it was pretty obvious that Corson was ticked off; he only played 46 games that year and had 15 points, versus 74 games and 33 points the year before. So ticked, in fact, he up and left them high and dry. Loving that he got to be with his best friend/brother-in-law all the time wasn’t enough to make him want to keep dressing in blue and white.
10. Dave Hutchison
Hutch was a fighter. He struck terror into the hearts of his opponents, I’m sure. His teammates, however, were much more fortunate and he stuck up for them as if they were his own family. In particular, Darryl Sittler benefitted from Hutch’s loyalty; the team’s general manager at the time, Punch Imlach, had it out for Sittler and wanted him gone, but the player’s no-trade clause posed problems for the GM. Instead, Imlach began a “reign of terror” and seemed to be trading every player that Sittler ever smiled at.
Hutchison proved to be an enforcer both on and off the ice, getting into fights during game time and sticking up for his teammates in his off-time. “Imlach’s campaign against Sittler is just ridiculous,” he said, and when he was later traded himself, he vented “I don’t like the thought of leaving the guys, but, God, anything to get away from the situation.”
9. Larry Murphy
Although he grew up a Leafs fan and was eager to move home to don the blue and white after being in Pittsburgh for more than four seasons, Murphy was miserable in Toronto. At one point he said that his not-quite two seasons there felt like 20 years.
Nobody really seems to know why Murphy was so despised, but every misstep he took, every stick he touched, every pass he missed, every puck he gave up, and every shot he didn’t take was scrutinized and criticized by thousands of Canadians. They booed him off the ice, out of the city, and out of the country, but luckily Detroit was a safe haven in the hockey storm. Not only did Murphy win two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, he became a Hall of Famer as well.
Toronto wanted to get rid of Murphy so badly, they didn’t even care that they were still responsible for two-thirds of his salary when he left for Detroit. I’m surprised Murphy himself didn’t pay Leafs management to let him go.
8. Frank Mahovlich
When the censure and abuse heaped upon you by your own team’s fans leads you to a nervous breakdown and subsequent hospital stay, you don’t stay. You get the heck out of Dodge.
Not only did the fans heckle, harass, and boo the once-beloved 1957 Rookie of the Year, but the coach himself, Punch Imlach, also bullied and belittled him. Imlach even made fun of him through the media, purposely mispronouncing the name as “Maholovich,” and the fans ate it up. Frank’s own teammates didn’t understand the coach’s or fans’ displeasure, stating that Mahovlich “poured his heart out for the Leafs and it just didn’t seem to be appreciated.”
In November of 1964, Mahovlich was admitted to hospital. He was diagnosed with depression and there was no doubt that the constant ridicule from both the stand and behind the bench were partly to blame.
7. Mike Walton
This guy proves that marrying into management doesn’t guarantee career satisfaction. Mike’s wife was Candace Smythe, the granddaughter of Conn Smythe and the niece of the Leafs’ president, Stafford Smythe, but the family ties didn’t prevent workplace bickering. It sure didn’t help make life under Punch Imlach any easier; the coach seemed to enjoy criticizing the CPHL and AHL Rookie of the year. He criticized everything from Mike’s reluctance to check on ice to his long hair and sideburns.
Tim Horton and George Armstrong took it upon themselves to attack Walton in his room and buzz of the hair and sideburns themselves. With things like this happening, can you blame poor Shakey for his unhappiness in Toronto?
6. Carter Ashton
If Ashton didn’t hate being a Leaf, he had a funny way of showing it. He kept finding reasons to not be on the ice, including a two-game ban for boarding a Flames player… and! A 20-game suspension for partaking in banned substances.
Whether or not his inhaler story is true, he didn’t appeal the suspension and served it quietly. As one newspaper said, though, “It’s hard to imagine anyone who has made sports his life’s work wouldn’t be a little more careful about bumming a buddy’s pharmaceuticals.” This is a solid point.
5. Brett Lebda
Check every “Worst Leafs Ever” list available on the internet and you’ll find Brett Lebda’s name. You’ll also find a mention of the game against Atlanta where he posted a minus-three rating, despite the Leafs’ 9-3 landslide. He was significantly better when he played in Detroit alongside Nik Lidstrom and Chris Chelios, so Toronto had high hopes for him.
And he was a bust. Everyone hated him. Some even called him a “terrible human being.” Can you blame them? Every time the guy was on the ice, he choked. He probably hated having play time as much as Leafs fans hated seeing him play.
You know how when you do something stupid and your mom finds out, she gives you the sad “I’m so disappointed in you” speech and you hate yourself? Every time she gives the speech, you hate yourself a little more. I wonder if that’s how Lebda felt in Toronto.
4. Vesa Toskala
Just as many of the players ushered into Toronto after the 2002-05 lockout, Toskala was proclaimed to be the one that would save the team from its downward spiral; he was definitely the key to the Leafs’ imminent success. That’s a lot of pressure! And, from the very beginning, he choked. His first game, although only an exhibition game, was ridiculously sad: he allowed a soft goal on the very first shot. Things went from bad to THE WORST when he allowed that 197-foot shot from Rob Davison into the net. He’s now one of the most hated names in Leafs’ history.
When he first arrived, he said that “Every player wants to play some point in their career in Canada to see how much bigger the hockey is here… And I think I can do that just fine.” But… he was miserable in blue. He just couldn’t do anything right. He ended his time in Toronto with a .874 save percentage and a 3.66 goals-against average.
After being shuffled from Toronto to Anaheim and back to Calgary, Toskala’s first night on ice with the Flames saw him block 27 out of 29 shots for a 5-2 win against Minnesota. That right there. That says it all.
3. Glenn Healy
Nobody liked Healy when he wore the blue. Sure, he was only a backup goalie, but he was still a terrible one. His save percentage never saw .900 and his 30 losses far outnumbered his 23 wins over four seasons. Part this was due to his size; he was a small guy, only 5’8”, and even he admits now that “You don’t draft a guy now who isn’t six feet tall.”
People hated Healy as a sports broadcaster too. He never held back and his criticism hit people hard, both players and fans, the Leafs in particular. People have said this was because he was bitter about his own career.
He also gets a lot of flack for how often he mentions his Stanley Cup win with the New York Rangers. I’d probably focus on that too if I’d had to put up with a horrible career in a horrible city like Toronto. It sure did seem like he was generally cranky and hateful towards the Leafs. Could someone read this hatred as a form of emotional transference…?
2. David Clarkson
He started his Leafs career with a 10-game suspension after leaping off the bench to join an on-ice brawl… during a preseason game!
“For a player being paid handsomely to provide experienced leadership, the transgression showed an utter lack of judgment.” Yep, it does. It’s almost like he didn’t want to be there.
The contract he signed with the Leafs was insane: $36.75 million for seven seasons. So if being back in his home city didn’t pump him up, those numbers should have. Why, then, did he get off to such a horrible start? And continue with an absolutely horrible, painful season? 26 points in 118 games isn’t going to make anyone happy, let alone someone who’s trying to earn his ludicrously expensive paycheck. The right winger was so stressed and so miserable trying and epically failing to live up to expectations that he was probably relieved to be sent to Columbus. And Toronto was so eager to get rid of him that they knowingly traded for an injured player.
1. Andrew Raycroft
He came to Toronto from Boston where he’d won the Calder in 2004. He was on a high. In two short years, though, he went from a 2.05 goals-against average to a 2.99. And a 3.92 the year after that.
As one story said, “There’s just something about the Toronto Maple Leafs that brings out the worst in Andrew Raycroft.” As far as I can tell, they’re not wrong. During an interview with the Globe and Mail, Raycroft said that he knew there had been two Hall of Famers before him that Leafs fans adored, that fans had been a bit “spoiled” over the last ten years. He also said that he never did understand why Toronto fans didn’t like him. Sounds like he’s slightly bitter, right? Comments like that aren’t going to increase your popularity, Andy, no matter how you meant them.
After two sad years in the T Dot, Raycroft signed with Colorado. And then Vancouver. And then Dallas. And then overseas. I don’t think he was happy in any colors after the Bruins’ black and gold.
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