When was the last time you met a happy Leafs fan? Probably not for a long time, because, at least in recent years, the terms "happy" and "Leafs fan" simply do not go together. It’s an oxymoron. In fact, your best chance of coming across a happy Leafs fan would probably be to find one who's just woken up from a 49-year coma—although even then it would only be a short-lived happiness, until that person discovered that Toronto hasn’t won the Cup since Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister, at which point the Maple Leaf malaise would inevitably sink in.
But it hasn’t all been bad since that final 1967 championship team. In five decades, there are bound to be a few bright spots. And despite their perennial losing ways, there have been some pretty good players in franchise history, and some of them have even played within the last few years.
Here are the 8 best and 7 worst Toronto Maple Leafs players since the turn of the century. While finding 7 of the worst players took no effort at all (ask who’s the worst Leaf in a room full of Toronto fans and you’re bound to be inundated with a variety of responses), we’ll admit that it took a bit of effort to come up with 8 of the best (in fact, we had to put together a think tank of some of the brightest minds in the country, who worked tirelessly for months on end, in order to come up with players who aren’t named Mats Sundin).
25 BEST: Darcy Tucker
Darcy Tucker never scored 30 goals in a season (although he was well on pace to do so in 2006-07, with 24 in just 56 games), but he added offensive consistency to a lineup that, with the exception of Sundin, at times was in dire need of it. And on top of his ability to put the puck in the net, he was more than willing to get physical, reaching or surpassing the 100 penalty minutes mark four times in eight seasons in Toronto, even playing the role of enforcer at times by getting in a few scraps.
Then-GM John Ferguson said of him at the time: “Darcy is one of those unique players that possesses an exceptional combination of grit and goals… He has been a big contributor in so many ways for many years now, both on and off the ice.”
24 WORST: Mike Komisarek
Mike Komisarek was coming off an All-Star season with the rival Montreal Canadiens when the Toronto Maple Leafs picked him up. Together, he and Andrei Markov had made one of the best defensive pairings in the league, and were a big part of the Habs’ first place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08.
The Leafs were hoping that he’d bring the same physicality and shutdown defense to Toronto that he’d brought to Montreal, but they quickly learned that that would not be the case, as Komisarek’s +/- plummeted to a -9 in his first season with the team, playing in just 34 games due to a season-ending injury. And he would never be the same after that injury, scoring just 19 points in four short seasons, with a combined -30. Not that he was much of a point scorer to begin with, but he didn’t even contribute with physical play, which he was lauded for in Montreal, collecting just 86 penalty minutes in his only full season with the team.
23 BEST: Bryan McCabe
There are probably just as many Leafs fans who would put this guy in the “worst” category as there are those who would put him in the “best.” That’s because Bryan McCabe, who certainly had the skills necessary to be a great player, was often inconsistent during his time in Toronto, with a solid +/- one year and a poor one the next. And for every good fight he had (like his marathon bout against Matthew Barnaby), there was a bad one (like the time he got absolutely ragdolled by Zdeno Chara).
That said, his accomplishments cannot be overlooked, and, at least when he was good, he was one of the best defensemen the Leafs have had in the 21st century. In 2005-06, he set career highs in goals (19) and points (68), behind only Niklas Lidstrom and Sergei Zubov for points by a defenseman that season.
22 WORST: Staffan Kronwall
Drafted 285th out of 291 players in 2002, in his three years with the organization, Swedish defenseman Staffan Kronwall split time between the AHL and the NHL. With the Marlies, he’d shown signs of offensive talent, with 63 points in 131 games, but all that talent disappeared whenever he was called up to the big club, managing just 1 point (an assist) in 52 games.
At the very least, Kronwall could have contributed with a few fights or some body checking, but he shied away from virtually all physical play, collecting just 21 penalty minutes despite being a giant at 6’5” 225 pounds. The Leafs already had one awkward tall guy who couldn’t fight (the sad thing is, you probably can’t tell if I’m talking about Nik Antropov or Hal Gill), and they certainty didn’t need another.
21 BEST: Gary Roberts
What Gary Roberts’s stats don’t show is the experience that he brought to Toronto. More important than the 83 goals that he scored in 237 games, including a team leading 29 in 2000-01, was his leadership. After Sundin’s season came to an end in 2002, Roberts stepped up to the role of team captain and led the Leafs all the way to the Eastern Conference finals with a team high 19 points in 19 games during the playoffs.
Even though his best days offense-wise were behind him, the case could be made that Roberts arrived in Toronto at the most opportune time for both himself and the team, as they got the veteran leadership they desperately needed and he got one last chance at a Stanley Cup.
20 WORST: Dion Phaneuf
This one might be a bit controversial, since he certainly wasn’t one of the worst players talent-wise. But there’s no denying that Dion Phaneuf was one of the worst in terms of not living up to expectations.
After five stellar seasons in Calgary, where he’d put up impressive career highs in goals (20), points (60), and penalty minutes (182), the Leafs were hoping that he could be the guy to lead the team into the future. That, however, would not be the case, as Phaneuf saw his numbers decrease across the board, achieving a positive +/- only once out of his seven seasons in Toronto. And aside from one brief playoff appearance, the only thing he ever led the Leafs to was the brink of destruction, as Toronto finished the 2015-16 with the worst record in the league.
Adding insult to injury, after Phaneuf (and his burdensome $7 million per year contract) was shipped off to Ottawa, roughly 66% of fans said that the trade was “great news for the Leafs,” according to a poll conducted by the Toronto Star.
19 BEST: Curtis Joseph
The Leafs had some of the greatest netminders of the 20th century (Turk Broda and Johnny Bower come to mind, but also Terry Sawchuk, who was in net the last time they won the Cup), but, with the exception of a few bright spots, the 21st century has been a different story. One of those bright spots was Curtis Joseph, who was between the pipes for Toronto for four successful seasons, posting a combined .915 save percentage from 1999-2001 while leading the Leafs deep into the playoffs.
Cujo gets the nod over the other great 21st century Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour, who arguably had better numbers, because of the consistency that he brought to the position. From 1998-2002, he played in 249 of a possible 328 games, and he gave his team a pretty good chance of winning whenever he was behind the net.
18 WORST: Curtis Joseph
That’s right, Curtis Joseph was one of the best and one of the worst Maple Leafs players since 2000. His career is something of a paradox: yes, he has the fourth most wins all time for a goalie, but he also has the second most losses all time. And like the Stephen King career he’s nicknamed after, Cujo’s time in Toronto started off loveable but ended horrifyingly.
Joseph’s second and final stint with the Leafs, which was pretty much just an excuse for him to end his career in Toronto, was far less successful than his first, spending most of his time as a backup to Vesa Toskala and posting a porous .869 save percentage. He won his 448th game that season, passing NHL legend Terry Sawchuck on the all-time list, but he also lost his 352nd, tying Lorne “Gump” Worsley for most regular season losses of all time (which was later broken by Martin Brodeur; although Brodeur had more than 200 more wins than Joseph).
15 BEST: Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel’s time in Toronto may have been met with more fat jokes than praise, but there’s no denying that he was one of the best goal scorers the team had seen since Sundin left for Vancouver.
Last season aside—which was admittedly pretty awful, even though he still led the team in assists and points—he scored at least 30 goals each year with the Leafs, not including the lockout shortened 2012-13, which was arguably his best, rallying the buds to their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade.
The fact that Kessel was the best player on the Leafs for six years should probably tell you something about the lack of talent in Toronto this decade. Sure he scored a lot of goals, which earns him a spot on this list (remember, it’s not the 8 most valuable players, it’s the 8 best players), but his individual efforts did little to help the Leafs win, posting a team worst -34 in his last season before heading to Pittsburgh, where he immediately won a Stanley Cup.
14 WORST: Aki Berg
Aki Berg’s name, a name that has become synonymous with the woes of the 21st century Leafs, still strikes fear into the hearts of Toronto fans to this day. In his memorable (for all the wrong reasons) time with the team, he registered just 42 points, once going an entire season without scoring a single goal. But it’s not really fair to judge him based on his offensive output, considering he was a stay-at-home defenseman. That’s the thing, though: for a defensive-minded defenseman, he wasn’t very good at, well, defense. Whenever Joe Bowen would announce that Berg was on the ice, Leafs fans around the country would collectively hold their breaths, knowing that the chances of letting up a goal had just increased exponentially.
13 BEST: Tomas Kaberle
At times it seemed like Tomas Kaberle was the lone bright spot on a roster full of darkness after Sundin left. Yet even before that, he stood out as one of the team’s most consistent contributors, on both defense and offense, with a career best 58 assists and 67 points in 2005-06.
Named to four All-Star teams, Kaberle quietly became one of the best defenseman in the game, despite not being a top prospect when he first entered the league in the late 90s. Only Borje Salming, one of the best offensive defensemen of all time, had more points as a defenseman in franchise history.
Since he left the team in 2011, the Leafs front office has scrambled to find a defenseman as consistently solid as Kaberle, but as you’ll see in the second half of this list, they haven’t had much luck.
12 WORST: Carter Ashton
Look up into the rafters on any given night at the Air Canada Centre and you’ll see the jerseys of some of the greatest names to ever play the sport: Tim Horton, Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Ted Kennedy. Yet for every great, there was an absolute stinker, the ones whose jerseys you’ll never see flapping in the rafters (unless the Air Canada Centre decides to dedicate a section of the arena to the not-so-greats in Leafs history, but then again there probably wouldn’t be enough room for it). One of those names is Carter Ashton, whose forgettable time with the team included just 3 points (all assists) over 54 games.
Not only did he not contribute on offense, but it also seemed like whenever his skates hit the ice the opposing team would score. Playing in just 15 games in 2011-12, he somehow managed to post a -10 rating. Heck, they would have been better off just playing shorthanded.
But believe it or not, Ashton wasn’t even the worst Leafs player since 2000…
10 BEST: Alexander Mogilny
While Alexander Mogilny’s time in Toronto was brief (just two and a half seasons), it was nevertheless successful, averaging nearly a point per game and leading the team in scoring with 79 in 2002-03, outpacing Mats Sundin for the first time since he’d joined Toronto in 1994.
Mogilny’s best seasons had come with the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks, where he’d established himself as one of the most electric goal scorers in the game, with a career best 76 goals in just 77 games in 1992-93, but he still had plenty left in the take when he came to Toronto.
His best performance with the team came during the 2002 playoffs, when he stepped up for an injured Sundin by scoring 8 goals in 20 games. His efforts, however, were for not, as the Leafs would ultimately lose to the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference finals.
9 WORST: Brett Lebda
Brett Lebda played in just half a season’s worth of games for Toronto, yet in that short period of time he managed to leave quite the mark (or perhaps stain would be more appropriate), registering just 4 points with a -14, leaving fans scratching their heads as to why he was even in the lineup in the first place.
Infamously, in a game against the Atlanta Thrashers that the Leafs won 9-3, somehow Lebda managed to finished with a -3, proving that even when the team was winning, he had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Before coming to Toronto, Lebda had played five somewhat successful seasons in Detroit, with a career high 18 points in 2006-07. However, he happened to be playing alongside some of the best defensemen in the game in Nik Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, and Brian Rafalski, so once he came over to Toronto, all of his weaknesses were exposed.
8 BEST: Mats Sundin
Who else could take the top spot on this list? For thirteen seasons, Mats Sundin was the face of the Maples Leafs franchise, which I guess is like being the captain of a sinking ship.
All joking aside, Mats, who was drafted first overall in 1989 and spent four seasons with the Quebec Nordiques before coming to Toronto, was one of the best players in Leafs history, at the top of the leaderboard in several franchise categories, including most points, most goals, and most game winning goals.
Nowadays, the Leafs sorely miss the presence of a leader like Sundin, who helped Toronto make it to the playoffs eight times. In fact, after he left they didn’t make it back to the postseason until 2012-13, and if last season was any indication, they might not be back for a long time.
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