The Toronto Maple Leafs were born in the 1927-28 NHL season after Canada’s largest city iced the Toronto Arenas from 1917 to 1919 and the Toronto St. Patricks from 1919 to 1927. The franchise was christened the Maple Leafs after being bought in 1927, but it’s not fair to hold previous regimes accountable for the sorry state of affairs ever since. The Maple Leafs were actually a pretty successful club in the old six-team league though and won 11 Stanley Cups to prove it.
However, when the NHL expanded, first to 12 franchises in 1967-68, the Leafs have been among the worst organizations in professional sports across the globe. There have been many reasons for their ineptness starting at the top with ownership and running all the way down the food chain to general managers, coaches, scouts, players, and even the fans. Since entering the league, the Leafs have basically been nothing more than a .500 team.
Things are looking a little brighter for the future though as the club has drafted and acquired some decent players in the past few years and look to build around their number one draft pick in 2016. There’s no guarantee the franchise will dig itself out of the huge hole it’s been in since 1967, but fans can at least hope. This is a list of just 20 of the many reasons why the Leafs have been one of the doormats of the NHL for the past half century.
20. Stanley Cup Victory Drought
We might as well get the Leafs most obvious awful statistic out of the way right from the get go. This team hasn’t managed to win the Stanley Cup since the 1966-67 season when the NHL was just a six-team league. The Toronto franchise has 13 Stanley Cups to its name, with two of them coming before the Maple Leafs were christened. The St. Louis Blues entered the league in 1967-68 and haven’t won a cup either, to share the Leafs current record NHL drought. Seventeen different teams have won the cup during the Leafs drought. This is one of the worst droughts in North American pro sports at the moments, but it still doesn’t compare to the Chicago Cubs of MLB who haven’t won a World Series since 1908. In fact, they haven’t even appeared in a World Series since 1945. There are also four NFL teams who haven’t made it to a Super Bowl yet.
19. Stanley Cup Appearance Drought
Along with not winning the cup for about half a century, the Leafs haven’t even appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals since the 1966-67 campaign. You can’t win a Stanley Cup if you don’t make it to the Finals, so the Leafs have a lot of work ahead of them. In the meantime, every other club in the league has been to the Finals at least one since the Leafs last hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup other than the Arizona Coyotes, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Some teams have been to the Finals several times since the Leafs last showed up. This means the Leafs have actually sat by and watched 24 other NHL clubs battle it out for the championship since 1967. The closest they came was in the 1992/93 campaign when they lost game seven of the semifinals at home to the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings then lost in five to Montreal in the Final.
18. Leafs Draft Three Belleville Bulls in First Round
The Maple Leafs took Scott Thornton third overall, Rob Pearson 12th and Steve Bancroft 21st in the 1989 draft when they happened to have a total of three first-round picks. The trio all played for the Belleville Bulls of the OHL and once in the NHL they combined for exactly 200 goals and 196 assists for 396 career points in 1,216 games. However, most of these points were scored with other teams. Granted, it wasn’t the strongest draft in league history, but it wasn’t the weakest either. Mats Sundin went first overall and the Leafs still could have had the likes of Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Bure, Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik, Mike Sillinger, Stu Barnes, Robert Reichel, Donald Audette, Dallas Drake, Travis Green and Patrice Brisebois, as well as goaltender Olaf Kolzig. Each one of those skaters above scored more points than the three players the Leafs took combined.
17. More First-Round Draft Woes
The Leafs have had a total of 45 first-round picks since the 1966/67 season and just half a dozen of them are still with the club and all of these were drafted since the summer of 2009. These are forwards Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Frederik Gauthier and Nazem Kadri as well as defencemen Morgan Rielly and Stuart Percy. Between the years 1968 and 2008, a total of 34 of Toronto’s 38 first-round draft picks were traded away. However, Brad Boyes, Luke Richardson and Wendel Clark were all reacquired before they retired. Two others, Ernie Moser in 1969 and Luka Cereda in 1999 never played a single game in the NHL, while Steve Bancroft of 1999 appeared in just six contests. Bancroft actually represents Toronto’s only first-round draft pick to play his entire NHL career with the club, but not one of the retired picks spent their entire pro careers with the Leafs.
16. General Managers With No Experience
Since they last won the Stanley Cup, Jim Gregory, Punch Imlach, Gerry McNamara, Gord Stellick, Floyd Smith, Cliff Fletcher, Bill Watters, Ken Dryden, Pat Quinn, John Ferguson Jr., Brian Burke, Dave Nonis, and Lou Lamoriello have all held the title of General Manager or Interim General Manager with the team. However, a total of seven of the 13 men never had any NHL experience as a General Manager before the Leafs handed them the job. Those with no prior NHL experience as GM were Gregory, McNamara, Stellick, Smith, Watters, Dryden, and Ferguson Jr. McNamara proved to be the worst of the bunch with a record of 166-302-67 and incredibly he was able to hold his job from 1981 to 1988. Stellick was basically an office helper when promoted to the position and he proved how little he knew when he traded away high-scoring forward Russ Courtnall to Montreal for enforcer John Kordic.
15. Playoff Problems
In total, the Toronto Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs 20 times since their cup-winning 1966-67 campaign. This includes missing the postseason nine of the last 10 years. They did happen to make it to the playoffs in the shortened 48-game season of 2012-13. We all know what happened then. The Leafs held a 4-1 lead over the Bruins in Boston with about 10 minutes to play and ended up losing 5-4 in overtime. To make matters worse, head coach Randy Carlyle simply stood by and watched the collapse of epic proportions without taking his timeout. They missed the postseason seven straight seasons from 2005-06 to 2011-12 for the longest streak of futility in franchise history. In fact, they also missed the playoffs the year after being crowned champions in 1967. The Leafs have made the playoffs 27 times since last winning the Cup and have been knocked out in the first round 13 times.
14. Sub-.500 Winning Seasons
When it comes to their winning percentage, the Maple Leafs have finished with a sub .400 mark in eight of their 88 seasons with seven of these coming between 1981-82 and 1990-91. Their worst-ever campaign saw them finish with a .300 winning percentage back in 1984-85 when they finished the year with an embarrassing Won-Loss-Tied record of 20-52-8. They’ve also managed to post shameful winning percentages of .325, .350, and .356 twice, as well as .379, .381, and .388. The team has finished at .500 or worse a total of 36 times. On the other side of the coin, they’ve managed to post a .600 or better percentage on just a dozen occasions with only three of those coming after the 1967-68 season. The team has also won 30 or fewer games in 47 of their 88 seasons and has won 40 or more games just 11 times. Their all-time winning percentage is a mediocre .503
13. Major Trophy Drought
Let’s look at the Leafs lack of achievement in major NHL trophies. The last time the team topped the league with the best record was in 1962-63 when it consisted of just six teams. Brit Selby was the last Calder Trophy winner in 1965-66 while Dave Keon took home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1966-67. The last Hart Memorial winner was Ted Kennedy in 1954-55 while Alexander Mogilny took home the Lady Byng in 2002-03. Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower were the last goalies to win the Vezina Trophy in 1964-65 and Pat Burns won the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 1992/93. Doug Gilmour won the Selke Trophy the same year. Jason Blake captured the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey in 2007-08. No Maple Leaf has ever won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring or the James Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman.
12. Too Many Goals Against
The Maple Leafs have rarely been mistaken for a great defensive team and the numbers tell the reason why. Out of their 88 NHL seasons, they’ve posted a goals-against-average of over 3.00 in 38 of them, which represents 43.2%. Between the 1979-80 and 1989-90 campaigns their goals-against average was over 4.00 in 10 of 11 seasons. It wasn’t much better in the other year either as it was a poor 3.94. Overall, the Maple Leafs goals-against-average stands at a less-than-impressive 3.05 throughout the team’s history. It seems when the Leafs did have a half-decent defensive team they couldn’t score goals and when they had a high-scoring squad they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net. There have been a few occasions when they happened to get the offensive and defensive balance right, but still have nothing to show for it. It’s either been a case of bad luck or bad management.
11. 67 Goalies Used Since ‘67
There have been a total of 67 goalies used in the Maple Leafs’ net since the 1966-67 season. Some of these goaltenders may have played just a few games for the team, but this also comes in an era where the team had several steady starting goaltenders who hung around for a few seasons. Some of these regulars were Bruce Gamble, Mike Palmateer, Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph, James Reimer, Ken Wregget, Alan Bester, and Ed Belfour. They tried out numerous others such as Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala, but none of them seemed to work out in the long run. Perhaps the team wouldn’t have had to use 17 different goaltenders since drafting Tuukka Rask in 2005 if they hadn’t have traded him to the Boston Bruins for Raycroft. Of course, Rask has been one of the best goaltenders in the league since being drafted and given up on by the Leafs.
10. Below Average Save Percentage
The NHL didn’t start recording goaltenders’ save percentages until the 1982-83 season. Since then, the Leafs have posted a save percentage of less than .900 in 18 of those 33 seasons. This represents 54.5% of the years. The Maple Leafs’ save percentage was actually below .900 for the first 10 years the records were kept by the league. In addition, they also had a five-year streak between 2005-06 and 2009-10 when their save percentage was also below .900. The team’s all-time low save percentage was .863 percent back in the 1984-85 campaign. They also managed to post just one shutout during that horrendous season. The previous year wasn’t much better either as the save percentage was .864 in 1983-84 and the club didn’t manage to record a single shutout. When a team’s save percentage and its goals-against-average are sub-par, the team doesn’t have much hope of making the playoffs let alone winning the Cup.
9. Shutouts Hard to Come By
Maple Leafs’ goaltenders have recorded two or fewer shutouts in 26 of their 88 seasons which represents 29.5% of them. They’ve also gone eight seasons without recording a single shutout in them. The team went through the 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons without a shutout and then managed to record just one the next season. However, the following year they weren’t able to shut their opponents out again. This meant they went three seasons in a four-season stretch without managing to register a shutout. In addition, they went eight seasons in the 1980s with just half a dozen shutouts in total and didn’t manage to record one in half of those campaigns. Turk Broda is the all-time Leafs leader in shutouts with 62 of them. Unfortunately, his last year with the team was way back more than 60 years ago in 1952. Broda also holds the team record in goaltender wins with 302.
8. Poor Penalty Killing
You’re not going to be a very successful hockey team in any league if you can’t manage to kill off penalties, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sin bin. This has been another of the Maple Leafs’ weakness over the years. Since penalty-killing records have been kept by the NHL, the club has killed off 80.6% of their penalties. While this may sound average or even quite good, it’s actually the opposite as their 80.6% represents the third worst in NHL history according to the record books. The only franchises with worst penalty-killing stats than Toronto are the Winnipeg Jets at 80.2% and the New York Islanders at 80.5%. The most penalized player in NHL history is Tiger Williams, who happened to spend several years with the Leafs and served 3,966 minutes in his career. Coming in at number three in all-time penalty minutes is another former Leaf Tie Domi with 3,515 minutes.
7. Six Shots On Net in Do-or-Die Playoff Game
The all-time low for shots on net in a playoff game is just six. This record of a dirty half dozen is held by none other than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The mark of postseason futility was set back in May of 2000 when the team faced the New Jersey Devils. It was game six of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series and Toronto was trailing the series 3-2. This meant the Pat Quinn-coached team was facing elimination unless they could pull off a victory in New Jersey. The Leafs embarrassed themselves and their fans when they mustered just six shots at all-star goalie Martin Brodeur and were shut out by a score of 3-0. They must have worn themselves out by posting half of their shots in the first period and taking another two in the second frame. When the game was on the line and push came to shove, the squad managed one more shot on goal during their final big push.
6. The Jinx of Being a Leafs Captain
The Leafs have had nine captains since 1967 with not a single one of them managing to retire from the club with the C still sewed on his sweater. Each and every skipper since 1969 left Toronto in controversial fashion. These include players such as Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Rob Ramage, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin, and Dion Phaneuf. Keon left for the old WHA (World Hockey Association) while Vaive had the C stripped from him after missing a practice. Sittler then ripped the C off of his own sweater. He was then reappointed captain and eventually traded in one of the NHL’s worst all-time deals when he went to Philadelphia for Rich Costello and a second-round draft pick. Clark, Gilmour, and Phaneuf were all traded with Clark and Gilmour being reacquired later. Sundin left as a free agent and Ramage was left unprotected in the 1991 dispersal/expansion draft. Perhaps it’s a good thing the Leafs don’t have a captain at the moment.
5. Can’t Win at Home or On the Road
The Maple Leafs have played a total of 6,188 regular-season games since the 1927-28 season, so conventional wisdom would dictate that they’ve played 3,094 of those games at home and the other 3,094 were on the road. The problem is, they’re not very successful at either place, but there’s nowhere else for them to play. The club has won just 41.1% of its home games over the years with 1,604 of them being victories. There’s not much point to fans following them on the road though since they’ve been even worse away from home. This is because they’ve been successful on just 34.8% of their road trips with 1,078 wins. No matter if it was Maple Leaf Gardens or the Air Canada Centre, the Maple Leafs sure haven’t given their fans much to cheer for over the past few decades. However, season ticket prices at home games keep going up.
4. Can’t Win in Overtime or Shootouts Either
The Maple Leafs have a hard enough time winning regular-season games in the regulation 60-minute time frame and things don’t get much better when they head to overtime and shootouts. The Leafs have lost the fifth-most overtime games in regular-season history at 128. If they should happen to survive the five minutes of sudden-death, they still don’t have much luck. The record books show that the Maple Leafs rank seventh-worst in the NHL when it comes to losing in shootouts. The NHL introduced the modern-day shootout to the game in the 2005-06 season as a way to decide games that weren’t settled in overtime. The Maple Leafs happen to lead the way in shootout losses since then with 60. One of the reasons the Leafs are so bad in the three-shot shootout is because the team is also third-worst in save percentage in shootout history at just 62.6 per cent.
3. Majority of Coaches Below .500
There has been a total of 30 head coaches who have taken up their position behind the bench in Toronto Maple Leafs’ history at one time or another. A few of them were just interim coaches and handed the duties for several games while others managed to last for several seasons. But out of the 30 head coaches listed, just 12 of them have managed to post all-time winning records during their time in Toronto, which is just 40% of them. The other 18 or 60% of them couldn’t do enough to get the team over the hump during the regular season. The worst of these head coaches with at least a full season behind the bench was former Leafs’ player Dan Maloney. He coached the team from 1985 to 1986 and put together a less-than-mediocre record of 45 wins, 100 losses and 15 ties in 160 games. This represents a total winning percentage of just .328. However, Maloney did go 6-4 in the playoffs.
2. Coaches Can’t Win in Playoffs
As we’ve just seen, Leafs’ coaches haven’t been very good during the regular seasons when it comes to winning games. Things don’t really change much when it comes to the playoffs either. On the bright side, of the club’s 30 all-time head coaches, a total of 18 of them or 60% have made the playoffs with just 40% of them not being able to reach the postseason. But things certainly go downhill from there. Just five of these 18 coaches have managed to post winning records in the postseason, which is just 27.8% of them. King Clancy and Mike Nykoluk had the worst luck of the bunch as they recorded winning percentages of just .143. Even former Coach-of the-Year Pat Burns, who happened to be one of the best coaches in Leafs’ history, couldn’t get over the hump as he posted a .500 playoff mark.
1. NHL’s Highest Ticket Prices
Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans have been rewarded for their patience, loyalty, and 50 years of some truly awful hockey by being asked to fork over the most money in the NHL for tickets. The Leafs have led the way in this category for many years now and there doesn’t appear to be any relief in sight for the club’s long-suffering fans. The bad news for Leafs’ supporters is the fact that season tickets will be going up 2% on average for the 2016-17 campaign even after the team tanked out in 2015-16. While the club would have you believe the prices relate to supply and demand, the majority of tickets are bought by large corporations. In addition, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) has taken to emailing members of Leafs Nation on game days over the past couple of years in a last-minute attempt to unload unsold seats.
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