Yep, this year is the 100th anniversary of the NHL. As the website says, we are “Celebrating a century of great players, unforgettable plays & magic moments.” As much as we love to celebrate the magical moments, though, there are many, many players and plays that the fans would actually love to forget.
As one of the “Original Six,” this is also the year the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise officially reaches its 100th year. It’s obviously one of the longest running, but also one of the most popular teams in the NHL. The fans are devout, dramatic, and actually quite wealthy! Toronto’s home ice at the Air Canada Centre, which seats 18, 829 adoring members of the Leafs Nation, recently went through a period of 13 years of game sellouts. If that’s not proof that the fans are wild for Maple Leafs hockey, I don’t know what is.
There have been several truly great players to don the blue and white over the years, including Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour, and Wendel Clark, to name a few. Dave Keon was recently recognized as the franchise’s greatest player of all time, to no one’s surprise.
And what about the worst players of all time? Every single person who claims to be a Toronto follower has their own ideas of who should be on a list like that, including me. It’s easy for any lover of hockey to recite names of the Leafs they despised, but to compile an educated roster of terrible players requires looking at the game at every angle, at every position. It’s hard to say that a ridiculous goalie was a worse player than a left winger, or a centreman was worse than a defenseman.
Comparing apples to apples is the only way to do this properly.
15 Centre: Philippe Dupuis
Bottom line: he played 30 games without any points.
So the guy joins the Leafs in 2001, plays one whopping year, and got no points at all. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nil. For that matter, he didn’t have much success playing for Colorado either; 18 points in three seasons is beyond lame for a young, healthy centreman like Dupuis.
He was an awesome junior league player though! In the Quebec junior league he played with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for the 2004-05 season, and his coach even said “Philippe was a brilliant scorer.” The following year he won the Presidents' Cup with the Moncton Wildcats, having racked up 108 points in 56 games in the regular season. And he did fairly well when he was sent to the Toronto Marlies, scoring 15 goals in 42 games.
There were 315 valuable minutes of NHL hockey where Dupuis was on the ice for the Leafs. Was any of it useful? No. Was any of it valuable? No. Was all of it wasted? Yes. Could that time have been better used with a completely different player in his place on the ice? Yes! What the heck happened?
14 Centre: Rickard Wallin
Another player who only served one season with Toronto is Wallin. When he first signed, Brian Burke praised the centreman’s “solid presence,” but we’re still not sure where that presence was exactly. He was presently taking ice time that could have been put to better use, that’s for sure.
He scored six goals and offered four assists during his time with Minnesota, and he did win a bronze medal playing for Sweden in the 2009 World Championships. So, really, it wasn’t a huge shock when Toronto added him to the lineup later in 2009. But, to say that he had “absolutely no offensive upside or any physical presence” is the understatement of NHL history.
Nine points in 60 games does not please the fans. Or the coaches. Ultimately, Wallin headed back to Sweden to play for the Swedish Elite League again after the 2008-10 season. He’d played for the SEL before he was originally drafted in 1998. Probably should have just stayed there, dude.
13 Centre: Ryan Hollweg
Although we are proud that he chose hockey over soccer, essentially choosing his Canadian mother’s influence over his Brazilian-German father’s, we aren’t proud of Hollweg’s performance on professional ice.
Acquired by the Leafs for a fifth-round pick at the 2009 draft, Hollweg had previously played three seasons and 200 games with the Rangers and scored 12 points. Even at that time, he already had a reputation as one of the worst players in the league.
So why did Toronto even bother? We’re not totally sure. He was known to be tough, to be a fighter, but the truth was that while he certainly was aggressive he wasn’t actually good at it! The boards got the brunt of his force more than any opposing players did. He spent 38 minutes in the penalty box for the 25 games he played with the Leafs, acquired two points, and was on ice for seven opposing goals; these numbers don’t exactly scream “I’m a fighter!”
12 Right Wing: Carter Ashton
All – er, each – of Ashton’s three points came from assists he made during his 54 games with the Leafs. If he were in any other line of work, offering three weak successes in three years on the job wouldn’t make a strong case for continued employment. The guy was even suspended for 20 games when he failed a drug test. Whether or not his inhaler excuse was true, it didn’t look good for him.
Scouts watching his Western Hockey League performance had predicted that he would grow in to a solid, powerful player who would easily become comfortable as either a right or left winger. And he did garner a bit of pseudo-praise during his time in the AHL, thanks to his awareness and determination on the ice. Some said he went “from a solid to great player in the American Hockey League.”
The NHL is a different story entirely. He choked. With his shoddy scoring abilities, 32 penalty minutes, a minus-12 standing, and that blasted suspension scandal, Ashton was nowhere near the “great player” the Leafs had hoped he would be.
11 Right Wing: David Clarkson
Wow, $36.75 million for a player who was a sporadic scorer at best. For a player who began his time with Toronto by leaping off the bench to join in a brawl and receive a subsequent 10-game suspension. For a player who boasted a minus-25 rating after playing 118 games in less than two seasons. For a player who was more keen to punch more faces than to score goals.
Clarkson was beyond a disappointment. When playing for the New Jersey Devils he had been a wicked enforcer, with 770 penalty minutes, 141 faceoff wins, 806 hits at even strength, and 104 takeaways. No doubt Dave Nonis was dazzled, leading to the astronomical contract offer and Nonis’ infamous “not worried about [years] six and seven” comment.
But, looking now at Clarkson’s 26 points with the Leafs, which included only 15 goals and 11 assists in 118 games, it’s pretty obvious that Nonis is eating his words. The contract was just as much of a disappointment as the player.
10 Right Wing: Colton Orr
Orr was another player acquired to fill the roll of an enforcer, but after watching him play a mediocre first season, we were all left wondering if being tough was really all this guy was good for. Six points in 82 games and only 79 shots attempted that year, he wasn’t a total disappointment but didn’t inspire much confidence. His first season, with his career-best 4 goals, was his best though, and he seemed to get worse as the years passed and the league valued his muscle less and less. As awareness of the dangers of concussions rose, enforcers fell out of favour, and so did Orr.
During his 477 NHL games, Orr scored only 24 points. But it wasn’t his scoring abilities that caught the eye of then-general manager Brian Burke’s eye. In those same 477 games, the 6’3”winger used his 220-odd pounds to command respect on this ice, finishing with over 100 fights. At the time, Burke thought that “pugnacity,” “truculence,” and “belligerence” were necessary to win games, and although Orr appeared to have all of the above, his efforts decreased as the seasons increased.
For the 2013-14 season, which was essentially his last with the Leafs (he played only one game the following season, then retired), he played 54 games and ended with zero points. End scene.
9 Left Wing: Frazer McLaren
His November 29, 2009 goal against Roberto Luongo of the Canucks was a thing of beauty. His brute strength is unnerving. And his fanbase is nonexistent.
Again, here we have a player whose bite was far worse than his bite. McLaren was chosen for his imposing stature (6’5” and 230 lbs) and his eagerness to swing his fists, a bulky addition to coach Randy Carlyle’s plans to use fighters on the fourth line.
McLaren did have an impressive 2012-13 season. In 35 games he shot 3 goals and offered 2 assists, all within an average 5:09 minutes on ice. His 102 minutes in the box and 36.4% faceoff wins show that his aggressiveness was definitely an asset in certain situations. To sum up, he wasn’t totally useless, but the once-beloved enforcers were no longer valued, and McLaren just wasn’t what they needed. His -27.45 Corsi score gave the Leafs even more cause to keep him on the bench.
After 27 games and zero points for the 2013-24 season, McLaren was done. And nobody really cried about it.
8 Left Wing: Bates Battaglia
If you ignore all the media coverage of Battaglia’s The Amazing Race win, you’ll remember that this American was once a Maple Leaf. He was even a pretty good Leaf for one season.
Battaglia was a big, solid 6’2” and 205 pound Chicago native, and he had a decent start as a skating brute with the Carolina Hurricanes, accumulating 281 total minutes in the box and 150 points in 402 games. But when the lockout of 2004 occurred, Battaglia and his younger brother Anthony decided to play for the Mississippi Sea Wolves in the ECHL, and he stayed for two seasons. And maybe it was this choice that somehow ruined his potential. Given his moderate success with Carolina, the Leafs allowed him to play all 82 games in the 2006-07 season, and he brought in 31 points. Not so bad, right? He followed this with absolutely zero points in 13 games in 2007-08.
So, to sum up, he played his best season in 2001-02, with 46 points in 82 games, took two seasons off to play ECHL, and eventually played 13 games for zero points in 2007-08. How does that happen?
7 Left Wing: Al Secord
Anyone and everyone on the internet will tell you that management made a huge mistake when they traded Rick Vaive, Steve Thomas, and Bob McGill to the Blackhawks and got Ed Olczyk and Al Secord. Huge.
He was an average junior hockey player, and had some decent years with Boston (23 points in his first season, 39 in his second) before moving on to the Blackhawks. It was in Chicago that he seemed to have found his groove, and he rocked an insane 75 point in 1981-82 and 86 points the following season.
By the time he moved to Toronto, however, Secord was past his prime. His 221 minutes in the penalty box during his first season is evidence that he tried to be tough and fill an enforcer-type role. He also posted seriously negative numbers in both his Toronto years: minus-21 and minus-13. It seems that management must have realized their glaring trade mistake too, since they shipped Secord off to Philly after only half a season in 1988. Really, Secord wasn’t the worst left winger in the NHL, but he sure didn’t do Toronto any favours.
6 Defense: Brett Lebda
This guy just didn’t seem to know what to do with himself! His alma mater, Notre Dame, has him listed as an “offensive-minded defenseman,” and he often took the offensive side far more seriously than he should have during his time wearing the blue. Oftentimes, he would “[rush] the offensive zone as if he was a forward, and he [pinched] at the most inopportune times.”
Lebda’s numbers are infamous. Only three of his seven seasons saw him post a positive plus/minus rating, and the worst of those was the year he played for Toronto, of course. The minus-14 listed under his name for the Leaf’s 2010-11 season speaks louder than any of his other seasons, especially considering that his average time on ice that year was only 13:20.
When Toronto played Atlanta on January 8, this particular defenseman was on ice for all the opposing goals. The Leafs beat the Thrashers 9-3, but it was Lebda who was utterly, thoroughly, completely thrashed that night, not the Thrashers.
5 Defense: Staffan Kronwall
The claim that older siblings are great at teaching their younger siblings and helping them succeed can be proven wrong by studying the Kronwall brothers. Defenseman Niklas has played for Detroit since 2003, has racked up 378 points, and has his name on a Stanley Cup. Younger brother Staffan, however, only lasted four seasons in the NHL, scored four points, and only one goal.
Young Staffan spent most of his time with in Toronto actually playing for the Marlies, no doubt due to poor performance during his first season in 2005-06. He played 34 games that first year and scored one measly goal. Overall, his stats as a Leaf included a minus-5 rating, a measly 21 penalty minutes, and only 12:19 minutes of ice time per game. The numbers were a little better in the AHL: for six seasons and 193 games played, Kronwall managed 100 points and a +19 rating.
If only big brother Niklas had spent less time winning awards and games and more time coaching his baby bro. If only.
4 Defense: Aki Berg
Finland produces some astonishing hockey talent. This particular Finn, however, has been a disappointment to more teams than just the Leafs. He showed great promise as a youngster and joined the Finnish league SM-liiga at age 16, and at the time he was the youngest player ever at this level. He showed impressive coordination, had a heavy shot, and was solid in size, and the L.A. Kings took notice. They drafted Berg in 1995, only to find he wasn’t at all what he seemed.
Maybe the big leagues were intimidating for him? Either way, the promise of a budding defensive star went dim as he played five seasons with the Kings and posted a minus-17 rating. He wasn’t any better on Canadian ice; Berg wasn’t fast, couldn’t really shoot, and definitely couldn’t pass. How and why the Leafs gave him an average of 17:05 on ice each game over five years, nobody’s really sure.
It’s funny how after the lockout and his retirement from the NHL, Berg went back to play for the Swedish Elite League and became one of their top defensemen. It sure seems that intimidation played a big role here.
3 Goalie: Vesa Toskala
Oh Toskala. Some have likened him to a petulant child, others come right out and say it: he’s THE worst goalie the team has ever seen, and is often at the top of “Worst Goalies of All Time” lists. A case can easily be made for Toskala being named the worst goalie in the league for a time; for the 2009-10 season, his .880 save percentage was the lowest of all NHL goalies. If you compare his save percentage (from that season) to the percentages of the worst goalies from the previous 10 years, all but one are still better than this Finnish tender.
In his two-and-a-bit seasons with the Leafs, he played 145 games, started in 139 of them, and lost 54. His save percentage was a sickening .894, his goals-against average an appalling 3.08, and he let in one of the worst goals in franchise history.
Every Leafs fan from this century cringes when they hear Toskala’s name, because all they can think of is the 197-foot shot by Rob Davison that Toskala LET INTO THE NET. Everyone at that game was slack-jawed in astonishment and disgust. Everyone watching that on television threw their drinks at the screen. Anyone watching it now wonders how and why that guy wasn’t thrown off the team that very night.
#Sorrynotsorry that your career highlight was when you allowed a 200 foot goal. Brought that on yourself, Mr. Toskala.
2 Goalie: Andrew Raycroft
If there’s one trade the fans will never forgive the Leafs for making, it’s the one that lost them Tuukka Rask and gained Andrew Raycroft. Sure, Raycroft won the Calder and therefore looking like the shiniest of prospects. It seems he was a one-season wonder, though, since he sure didn’t pan out of the Leafs. And we’ve all noticed that Rask has earned a Stanley Cup AND a Vezina since that trade.
Raycroft’s performance during his 2003-04 Calder-winning season included a .926 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against average for 57 games played. And the Bruins won 29 of those games! Two short years later, however, his first season with the Leafs garnered a .894 save percentage and 2.99 GAA. Since we can assume that the 205 goals he let in during 72 games didn’t happen while his eyes were closed, the fact that he didn’t improve much (or at all) after that Calder trophy is pretty obvious.
He wasn’t given much of a chance to let in more goals in the 2007-08 season; he only played in 19 games, giving the starting position to Vesa Toskala (hindsight!) instead. We were done. And he was toast.
1 Goalie: Glenn Healy
Granted, most people dislike Healy more for his non-sugar coated opinions expressed during his time as an analyst, but it’s only a fraction less than they liked him as an actual goalie. He played four seasons with Toronto and remained consistently terrible each year. In his first season with the Leafs he boasted goals-against average of 2.98, in 1999-00 it went up to 3.04, and back down to 2.62 in his final 2000-01 season. Not exactly stellar.
Most goalies are over six feet tall, but Healey and his 5’8” stature wasn’t exactly intimidating between the pipes. What’s extra ironic is how Healy himself, when discussing height and style of previous goalies, said that “You don’t draft a guy now who isn’t six feet tall.”
A simple Google search will show overwhelming dislike for Healy, and although most of this criticism is the same directed at any loud-mouthed sports commentator, there are still a few who mention his shoddy goalkeeping.
It seems the old adage is true: those who can’t do, teach.