With the salaries today’s NHL players make it’s hard to imagine any of them hating to play for their team. However, there are some reasons players want to leave town, such as unappreciative fans or incompatible teammates, head coaches, general managers or team owners. When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, several players hated skating for the team when Punch Imlach was head coach and/or general manager and Harold Ballard was the franchise owner. Some players simply didn’t get along with one or both of them and their life was made a misery.
Ironically, other players were huge supporters of Imlach and Ballard and vice versa and couldn’t have been happier anywhere else. Some players such as Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler had excellent seasons in Toronto and were quite happy for the majority of the time, but things turned sour towards the end of their days. Therefore, they’ve been left off this list of eight players who loved being a Maple Leaf and seven who hated it. These 15 players, some of them Hall of Famers, went through different extremes in Toronto during their careers there and either loved or likely hated it.
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15 Loved: Tiger Williams
Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams, the NHL’s all-time leader in regular-season penalty minutes with 3,966, may have been from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, but loved playing in Toronto from 1974 to 1980. It’s easy to see why since he played alongside talented teammates such as Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Borje Salming, Jim McKenny and Ian Turnbull. Williams was the team’s enforcer, but also had an offensive knack and finished his career with 241 goals and 513 points in 962 games with another 35 points and 455 penalty minutes in the postseason. The ultra-competitive Williams was never afraid to drop the gloves and the love Leafs’ fans showered upon him made his job much easier. But his biggest supporter of all was Harold Ballard. In fact, Williams hunted down a grizzly bear one year and presented Ballard with the skin as a present for his office. Like many players of his era, the only member of the team’s brass Williams clashed with was GM Punch Imlach, who traded him to Vancouver in 1979-80.
14 Hated: Shayne Corson
A player must hate playing for a team if he walks out on his teammates during a playoff run, which is exactly what Shayne Corson did back in April of 2003. The left-winger had made a name for himself as a useful player and consistent scorer with Montreal, Edmonton and St. Louis before joining the Leafs in 2000 as a free agent. He scored just26 points in his first season with the Leafs and 33 the next campaign while playing with his brother- in-law Darcy Tucker. He played just 46 games in his third season and posted 15 points. Corson was scratched by head coach Pat Quinn for two straight playoff games against Philadelphia and the player reacted by “resigning” from the team. Corson was allegedly a disruptive influence in the dressing room and was at loggerheads with both Quinn and fellow winger Gary Roberts. Corson’s contract was due to expire just two months later and it was reported that Quinn had no intention of offering him a new deal. Corson, who suffered from ulcerative colitis, played 17 more games in the NHL with Dallas before retiring in 2003-04.
13 Loved: Wendel Clark
There’s a common thread with all the players who loved being a Leaf when Harold Ballard owned the club, and that’s the fact they were all favourites of his. Once the boss had a player’s back, he could do no wrong in Ballard’s eyes. It also helped that these players were fan favourites because of the style of hockey they played and the heart they showed. Former captain Wendel Clark was another prime example. Clark, the first-overall draft pick in 1985 became another legend and hero to Leafs’ fans and was one of the city’s most popular athletes ever. Clark’s NHL career lasted from 1985 to 2000 and he showed his love for the Leafs by enjoying three separate stints with the club. Clark could do it all, skate, score, hit and fight and is the Leafs’ all-time leader in playoff goals with 37. He retired with 330 goals and 564 points in 793 games with 1,690 penalty minutes and 69 points in 95 postseason outings with 201 penalty minutes. Clark still remains with the Leafs as an ambassador.
12 Hated: David Clarkson
Thirty-two-year-old winger David Clarkson wouldn’t be human if he didn’t hate his short time as a Maple Leaf. He signed a ridiculous seven-year contract as a free agent with Toronto worth $36.75 million after leaving New Jersey in the summer of 2013. Most of the fans hated the contract even though Clarkson would have been insane to reject it. Clarkson’s Toronto career started badly as he was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2013-14 season for his foolish involvement in a pre-season brawl with Buffalo. He ended up playing 60 games that campaign and chipped in with a measly 11 points. Clarkson quickly became a target of the boo birds and the Leafs realized they made a huge mistake signing him. With an incredible stroke of luck, they were able to unload Clarkson and his contract to Columbus in 2015 for Nathan Horton. It seems the Leafs would rather pay the salary to an injured Horton than a healthy Clarkson at the time.
11 Loved: Doug Gilmour
The Leafs’ fortunes changed dramatically with the arrival of Doug Gilmour in a 10-player trade with Calgary in January of 1992. Gilmour was a great defensive centre, but could also rack up points with the best of them. He set franchise records for points with 127 and assists with 95 in his first season in Toronto and quickly became a fan favourite. The team posted its first winning record since 1978-79 and the Hall of Famer finished seventh in league scoring. Gilmour led his teammates to a pair of late playoff runs in the Big Smoke and was named captain after Wendel Clark was traded to Quebec. He had a special on-ice chemistry with winger Dave Andreychuk and was suddenly recognized as one of the NHL’s best all-round players. The love affair came to an end in 1997 though when Gilmour was traded to New Jersey. But like all good romances, Gilmour was reunited with Toronto in 2003 when the Habs sent him home at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, Gilmour played just one game and tore his ACL, leading to his retirement.
10 Hated: Dave Hutchison
Defenceman Dave Hutchison was somebody most players stayed away from since they never knew when he was going to snap and lose it on the ice. He was involved in an infamous stick swinging incident with the Leafs’ Tiger Williams during a playoff game in 1975 when Hutchison played for Los Angeles and was also taken to court in junior hockey over an incident. He was a guy you hated to play against, but loved to play with as can be attested to by his 116 career points and 1,550 penalty minutes. He joined the Leafs in 1978 and played 157 games before GM Punch Imlach traded him to Chicago. Hutchison and Imlach reportedly clashed quite often. Hutchison didn’t like the way Imlach was dismantling the team by trading away players such as Williams and Lanny McDonald and his treatment of Darryl Sittler. When Hutchison was sent packing he was quoted as saying, “I don’t like the thought of leaving the guys, but God, anything to get away from the situation.”
9 Loved: Tie Domi
It’s easy to understand why Tie Domi loved playing in Toronto. He was basically an enforcer with great skating skills, but had a limited touch around the net. But even with his average hockey skills, Domi was treated like a God while playing with the Leafs from 1994 to 2006. Domi was originally drafted by Toronto with the 27th overall pick in 1988 when Harold Ballard was still alive, but was traded to the New York Rangers the next year after playing just two games with the Leafs. Domi built a well-deserved reputation as being one of the league’s best enforcers and the Leafs reacquired him from Winnipeg in 1994-95. Domi had an eventful and colourful career in Toronto and generally had the run of the city along with Mats Sundin. However, the Leafs traded him to Nashville in June of 2002, but he re-signed with the Leafs as a free agent just a few weeks later. While Domi loved being a Leaf, he wasn’t a happy camper at the end of his career when coach Pat Quinn benched him for a playoff game in 2006. Domi made a public deal over it and the Leafs bought out the last year of his contract.
8 Hated: Miroslav Ihnacak
Forward Miroslav Ihnacak more or less put his life on the line when he defected to Toronto from Czechoslovakia to join his brother Peter with the Maple Leafs. However, he must have hated the fact that the team didn’t really give him a chance to show off his speed and offensive skills. He led his Czech league in scoring in 1984-85 with 66 points in 43 games after the Leafs drafted him 171st overall in 1982. Communist officials wouldn’t let him play anywhere other than the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia as they feared he may defect. He proved them right in December of 1985 when he made his way to Toronto after the Leafs paid $200,000 to help smuggle him over. Miroslav scored in his NHL debut, but was sent to the AHL after scoring six points in 21 games. He fared well in the minors and the Leafs gave him 34 more games, which resulted in 11 points. Ihnacak was released and signed by Detroit in 1988. He then proved to the Leafs that he should have been given a longer look as he proceeded to score 131 goals and 300 points in 292 AHL games before returning to Europe.
7 Loved: Borje Salming
Hall of Fame Swedish defenceman Borje Salming was an NHL pioneer as he was the first true European-born and trained player to make it as a legitimate star. Salming and forward Inge Hammarstrom crossed the Atlantic in 1973 to join their new teammates. Salming quickly became a hit with the fans and his teammates while Hammarstrom was a consistent scorer, but didn’t really adapt to the rough and tumble North American style. Leafs’ owner Harold Ballard took a remarkable shine to Salming and once claimed he wouldn’t trade him for God. Ballard also said Hammarstrom could go into the rink’s corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them. Salming became a certified All-Star and set several franchise records and Ballard even offered him the captaincy, but he turned it down. Salming felt so at-home and loved in Toronto that he spent 16 seasons there before breaking fans and Ballard’s heart by signing with Detroit in 1989-90 for his final NHL campaign.
6 Hated: Larry Murphy
Larry Murphy was simply one of the best defencemen to play the game. His numbers speak for themselves as does the fact he’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The three-time All-Star won four Stanley Cups during his career and registered 1,216 points in 1,615 games along with 152 points in 215 playoff contests. He set many NHL milestones and represented Canada at several international tournaments. However, Leaf fans made him a scapegoat for the team’s brutal play and mismanagement when he joined in 1995-96. After scoring 100 points for the team in 151 games the club sent him packing in somewhat of a mercy trade. Murphy was booed just about every time he touched the puck at Maple Leaf Gardens purely because he was the highest-paid player on the squad. Thankfully, he was traded as the fans didn’t deserve somebody of his caliber. He won a pair of Staley Cups back to back with Detroit immediately after the Leafs traded him.
5 Loved: Johnny Bower
The Leafs gave goaltender Johnny Bower a chance to prove his NHL worth at the advanced age of 34 when they took him in the Interleague Draft in 1958. Bower obviously appreciated the franchise for this and repaid the Leafs by winning four Stanley Cups in his 11 full seasons there, including three in a row from 1962 to 1964. He set several team and league age-related milestones and retired at the age of 45 in 1970. Bower was a huge favourite with Leafs’ fans and management, including GM Punch Imlach, and he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame six years after hanging up his skates. He also worked as an assistant coach with the Leafs from 1976 to 1978. Bower, is still one of the most beloved Leafs’ legend even though he will turn 92 years of age in 2016. He also showed his appreciation for the franchise and city by holding the Leafs’ unofficial record for most public community appearances.
4 Hated: Frank Mahovlich
The Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was perhaps the ultimate power forward of his time and certainly knew how to put the puck in the net and skate like the wind. He had some excellent seasons in Toronto, but imagine what the Hall of Famer might have achieved if he had actually been happy there. The left-winger was often the target of head coach and GM Punch Imlach’s bullying tactics and this really depressed him. Mahovlich was appreciated by the fans after joining the Leafs in 1957, scoring 20 goals and being named Rookie of the Year. The big winger helped the Leafs win three Stanley Cups and usually led the team in goals. The problems with Imlach began in 1962 when Mahovlich left the team in training camp after he felt the Leafs low-balled him in a contract offer. Chicago then offered $1 million for the player, and was told they had a deal. However, Toronto reneged on it the next day and signed Mahovlich to a contract he was happy with. The fans appeared to side with Imlach at this time and Mahovlich was often booed at home. He was admitted to hospital in November, 1964 with depression and again in 1967 before being traded to Detroit in March of 1968.
3 Loved: George Armstrong
Right-winger, former captain, and Hall of Famer George Armstrong was another player who loved being a Leaf so much that he’s spent most of his life with the organization. He’s been a player, coach, assistant manager, and scout and had a hard time saying no to the club. In fact, he announced his retirement in 1967, but returned every season until finally keeping his word in 1971. Armstrong played 21 seasons for Toronto, was named captain at the age of 27 and wore the C for 13 years. He helped them win four Stanley Cups, including the last one in 1967. Armstrong grew up in the Toronto Marlboros junior organization and returned to the OHL team after retiring. He coached the club to a pair of Memorial Cup Championships before returning to the NHL. Armstrong finally said no to the Leafs when they asked him to become head coach in 1977 and he joined the Quebec Nordiques as a scout. However, he finally relented 10 years later and was named the bench boss in 1988-89 when he became a Leafs’ scout and assistant GM. He coached just 47 games though and went back to scouting, where here reportedly remains today.
2 Hated: Mike Walton
Mike ‘Shakey’ Walton is probably the only player in NHL history who was traded by his club on the advice of an independent psychiatrist. Things were so bad for Walton in Toronto he thought he would lose his mind if he stayed there. Ironically, the talented centre was married to Candace Smythe, who was the granddaughter of Conn Smythe and the niece of Stafford Smythe, the Leafs’ president at the time. Walton often clashed with head coach Punch Imlach and Stafford Smythe even though he had helped the Toronto Marlboros to a Memorial Cup and was named Rookie of the Year in both the CPHL and AHL in successive seasons. Imlach got on Walton’s case whenever possible about his on-ice play and off-ice things such as the length of his hair and his clothing. Walton won the Stanley Cup with Toronto in 1967 and led the team in scoring the next year, his first full season. Adding to the conflict with Imlach was the fact that Alan Eagleson, another nemesis of the coach, was Walton’s agent. Walton demanded a trade and left the Leafs at one point in 1970-71 after Imlach was gone, but returned shortly after. However, he obviously wasn’t happy there and after the NHL appointed a psychiatrist to hear Walton out, the Leafs dealt him to Boston soon after.
1 Loved: King Clancy
Legendary Leaf King Clancy did it all for the club he loved. Clancy played, coached, helped manage the team and was virtually inseparable from Harold Ballard in later years. Wherever Ballard went Clancy was sure to be by his side and the pair spent hundreds of games together in the owner’s bunker at Maple Leaf Gardens. Clancy’s son Terry even played with the Leafs for a brief period of time in the late '60s and early '70s. King Clancy made his NHL debut in 1921 with Ottawa and was traded to the Leafs in 1930, where he remained until retiring in 1936-37 as the league’s all-time top-scoring defenceman. Clancy then refereed in the NHL for 11 years before turning to coaching. He rejoined the Leafs’ organization in the early 1950s and led their Pittsburgh AHL farm team to the Calder Cup championship in 1951-52. He was coaching the Leafs by 1953, became assistant manager three years later and was named vice president in 1969. Ballard took control of the team in 1971 and the Hall of Famer Clancy remained with him in the front office until Clancy passed away in 1986.
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