Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is this the worst it's ever been? Part two

In part one, we took a look at the Ballard years. This time around, we move into the Cliff Fletcher and Pat Quinn eras.


Shanahan avoids eye contact,
lest he get "hextalled".
The good: Pat Burns arrives and immediately teaches the team a groundbreaking technique call "playing defence". Doug Gilmour scores 127 points, a new Leafs record. Overage Russian rookie Nikolai Borschevsky scores 34 goals. Rookie goalie Felix Potvin shines, allowing the Leafs to deal Grant Fuhr to the Sabres for a package that includes 50-goal man Dave Andreychuk.

The Leafs manage 99 points, then shock the hockey world with a 21-game playoff run that features Potvin's brilliance, the greatest five-man defensive unit of all time, the Foligno Leap, Borschevsky's OT winner againt the Wings, Gilmour's double-spinarama against the Blues, and Wendel's heroics against the Kings.

Toronto-based jails and hospitals are empty since there is no longer any crime or illness in the city. Flowers bloom during winter time. Racism ends.

The bad: Kery Fraser chokes on the biggest call of his career, then lies about it. The NHL responds to the scandal by cancelling the rest of the playoffs, so no Stanley Cup is awarded in 1993. Meanwhile, a young John Ferguson Jr. ends his minor hockey career as an utter failure, and decides to maybe give the management side of things a shot.

How bad was it? 10/100. Short of a Stanley Cup win, this was as good as it can possibly get.


The good: The Leafs start the year 10-0, establishing a new record for best start to a season and briefly establishing the team as consensus Stanley Cup favorite for the first (and only) time in a generation. Wendel has the best year of his career despite playing with one knuckle still embedded in Marty McSorely's eyeball. Gilmour is brilliant again, and Andreychuk scores another 50. Another long playoff run is highlighted by the Leafs shutting the doors on Chicago Stadium, leading to a second straight appearance in the conference finals.

The bad: The Leafs bow out sort of meekly against a Canuck team they should have beaten. Gary Bettman changes the names of the divisions to something more American-friendly, and hockey starts getting worse every year.

How bad was it? 20/100. This season was sort of like 1992-93's not-quite-as-cool younger brother. Leaf fans are finally starting to think that their suffering is at and end and long-term success is near.


The good: At the 1994 draft, the Leafs acquire Mats Sundin from the Nordiques in exchange for Wendel Clark.

The bad: At the 1994 draft, the Leafs acquire Mats Sundin from the Nordiques in exchange for Wendel Clark.

Also, half the season is wiped out by the lockout, Doug Gilmour manages fewer points than Mike Ridley, and the Leafs lose in the first round of the playoffs. The Devils win the Cup, proving that incredibly dull defense can win out over talent. Gary Bettman can't see any problem with this.

How bad was it? 40/100. Clearly just a temporary bump in the road, probably due to the lockout. We'll be contending again next year.


The good: Wendel Clark returns (part one), and scores on one of his first shifts back in maybe the last truly great Gardens moment. Sundin has another good year on an otherwise veteran squad. The Leafs bring in a bunch of veteran stars like Larry Murphy, Kirk Muller and Dave Gagner and have a great team on paper. Felix is still pretty solid. The always under-rated Dmitry Yushkevich is acquired, and Tie Domi returns to Toronto at the trade deadline.

The bad: After three years, the team starts to tune out Burns and he's eventually fired late in the season. Nick Beverely takes over as coach and infamously calls the team "nimrods". Andreychuk is traded. The Leafs slump through the second half, finish under .500, and lose in the first round of the playoffs to Wayne Gretzky and the Blues.

How bad was it? 60/100. What the hell is going on? We'd better do some serious damage in the playoffs next year.


Kirk Muller cuts in front of Chris Chelios,
who was too old to skate 12 years ago.
The good: Clark scores 30 goals, even though everyone will later claim he wasn't any good in his second stint with the Leafs. Sundin is great again, and rookie Sergei Berezin is strangely intriguing.

The bad: New coach Mike Murphy crashes and burns. The Leafs miss the playoffs, then watch the Islanders use their first round pick on Roberto Luongo. Larry Murphy is terrible, and the fans turn on him. Felix is starting to struggle. Doug Gilmour is traded to the Devils at the deadline in a deal that lands the Leafs three good young players but officially ends the "Passion Returns" era. Fletcher leaves the team at the end of the season.

How bad was it? 80/100. Oh god, no... it's all happening again!


The good: Absolutely nothing. Oh god this team is so bad I am so depressed won't somebody help me...

The bad: Other than Sundin and Clark, the Leafs prominently feature players like Derek King, Mike Johnson and Igor Korolev. Felix Potvin is officially bad. Nobody else from the 1992-93 run is even on the team anymore except for Jamie Macoun, playing the role of Dizzy Reed. At the end of the season the Leafs move out of the Norris (cough, Central) division.

How bad was it? 90/100. The '93 and '94 runs seem like a lifetime ago. It becomes clear that the Leafs will never ever make it to the conference finals again.


No seriously, I'm fine back here.
All five of you guys go play offense.
The good: The Leafs make it to the conference finals again! Pat Quinn and Curtis Joseph arrive and combine to instantly transform the team back into contenders. Sundin is solid, Steve Thomas is great, Berezin is flying, young guys like Steve Sullivan and Freddy Modin are contributing, and the Leafs somehow lead the league in scoring by a mile.

Even better, the blueline is young and talented as Tomas Kaberle debuts, Danny Markov plays his first full year, and Bryan Berard is acquired mid-season. The Leafs shock everyone with 97 points, then beat the Flyers and Penguins to advance to the final four.

The bad: Somehow, the Leafs manage to lose to the Sabres in the conference finals even though Hasek is hurt for half of the series. The team also moves out of Maple Leaf Gardens and into the corporate mausoleum known as the ACC.

How bad was it? 30/100. It wasn't quite the Gilmour/Clark squad, but this was a heck of a fun team to watch.


The good: The Leafs are even better this year, recording 100 points for the first time in franchise history. Joseph is awesome once again, Darcy Tucker appears on the scene, and Jonas Hoglund arrives and plays for the Leafs until 2003 but still apparently manages to be Mats Sundin's linemate for 14 straight years. And most important of all, Wendel returns (part two) and proves to be a post-season inspiration.

The Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, which is sort of sad since they're a Canadian team and their fans are kind of cool.

The bad: Bryan Berard has his eye carved out by Marion Hossa during a horrifying play that I am imagining because it never, ever happened according to the Ottawa media. The Leafs lose a tough second-round series to the eventual Cup-winning Devils.

How bad was it? 30/100. The Leafs were winning, and had a semi-young core. Times are good.


The good: Gary Roberts arrives and immediately grabs the town by the throat. The Leafs trade Alexander Karpovtsev, who is a bad player right now, for Bryan McCabe, who won't be a bad player for four more years. The Leafs are a tough, veteran squad that doesn't take any crap. They sweep the Senators and their fans out of the first round, which is fine since those guys are getting kind of lippy.

The bad: The Leafs lose a seven-game heartbreaker to the Devils. The series is remembered for Tie Domi's horrifying elbow to the head of Scott Niedermayer, which injures the Devils' star so badly that doctors take his pulse on the ice and he is feared dead right up until he's out of camera view and immediately pops up and starts making cell phone calls.

How bad was it? 40/100. They're not getting any closer to the Cup, but at least the Leafs are contenders every year.


The good: Ho-hum, another 100 points, and this time combined with another trip to the conference finals. Alexander Mogilny becomes the latest free agent star to sign in Toronto, and the team continues to pound opponents into submission.

Despite a growing injured list, the Leafs beat the Islanders in a seven-game series that may have been the most vicious of the modern era. They then pull off a shocking comeback to eliminate the Senators again, providing those whining crybabies with yet another playoff loss to choke on.

The bad: Everyone finally gets healthy early in the third round, just in time to lose to the vastly inferior Carolina Hurricanes, which not only eliminates the Leafs but also convinces the world that Paul Maurice knows how to coach. Curtis Joseph bails in the off-season to sign with Detroit. That little sellout, see if we ever forgive him.

How bad was it? 30/100. Oh well, we'll get 'em next year.


The good: Ed Belfour replaces Joseph and is just as good, if not better, as the Leafs manage another strong year with 98 points. Alexander Mogilny tops the team in scoring, marking the only time Sundin doesn't. Sports Illustrated calls the Leafs the most hated team in hockey, which some people would consider a negative but I thought was pretty cool.

The bad: Quinn makes a disastrous deadline deal for Owen Nolan, who doesn't contribute much during his time in Toronto beyond his awesome "boo-hoo" reply to the Sens after the Flu Game. Quinn's other big deadline move is to re-acquire Doug Gilmour, who plays one period before suffering a career-ending knee injury. The Leafs lose a first-round playoff matchup for the first time in seven years, bowing out to the Flyers largely thanks to a series of meltdowns by Bryan McCabe.

Late in the off-season, Richard Peddie hires fresh-faced go-getter John Ferguson Jr. as general manager, presumably after losing a bet.

How bad was it? 50/100. Hey, remember when losing in the first round was considered a bad thing, and not a best-case scenario?


I double-checked the math. It turns out
"four" is still a lot more than "zero".
The good: Sundin is great, McCabe has a career year, Joe Nieuwendyk joins the fold, and Ed Belfour is spectacular again. On their way to a team record 103-point season, the Leafs gear up for a long playoff run by adding future Hall of Famers Ron Francis and Brian Leetch at the deadline. The Leafs open the playoffs with a seven-game win over the pathetic Senators, whose cheap-shotting players and thumb-dicked fans can all go choke on demon chymus in hell.

The bad: The Leafs lose to the Flyers in round two when Jeremy Roenick's overtime winner sets off a massive celebration that's briefly interupted by the funeral of Sami Kapanen.

How bad was it? 40/100. This was arguably the best Leafs team of the post-expansion era, which made their second-round exit all that much tougher to take.

Coming up next: In our final installment, we look at the JFJ era and beyond...


  1. great installment in this series!

  2. Curtis Joseph bails in the off-season to sign with Detroit. That little sellout, see if we ever forgive him.

    No kidding. That little SOB.

    Despite a growing injured list, the Leafs beat the Islanders in a seven-game series that may have been the most vicious of the modern era.

    By a mile. It was simply incredible.

    Sports Illustrated calls the Leafs the most hated team in hockey, which some people would consider a negative but I thought was pretty cool.

    Me too. Might as well hate us for a reason.

    the team continues to pound opponents into submission.


  3. The Leafs lose to the Flyers in round two when Jeremy Roenick's overtime winner sets off a massive celebration that's briefly interupted by the funeral of Sami Kapanen.

    One of the worst nights of my life. Going from sheer ecstasy to crushing agony in ten seconds.

  4. Great read. A nice look back. We fuckin' had Brian Leetch on our blue line. I had a crazy erection when we landed him.

  5. Awesome post. Should be mailed to every media type in the city whose rendition of Leafs history is somewhat different:

    "the leafs won a cup in 67 and have been the worst team in hockey every year since"

    BTW I popped wood too when we landed Leetch. Hard to believe that the Leafs had 103 points that year.

  6. Another brilliant post, you had me cracking up at work. It was good to remember those days.

    For me, the thing that gives me the most joy are the playoff wins over the hated Sens. When the day comes that they finally win a series, it will be a sad day indeed. Definitely 100/100.

  7. Going from sheer ecstasy to crushing agony in ten seconds.

    Or as we call it these days, "opening night".

  8. What a post! Most impressive.

    I remember when racism ended. That was awesome. Everyone hated it so much. I still kinda do.

    Until this last year, losing to St. Louis and Keenan and Gretzky was the worst I've ever felt at the end of a season. That was like eating dirt. I never wanna go through that again.

    Murphy the coach and Murphy the defenceman were both terrible. I didn't really feel too bad when they failed.

  9. This post makes me feel like a goddamn manic-depressive, so much good but so much bad.

    Tuckers axe murdering of Kappenine was the only reason I didn't go on a murderous rampage of my own that night.

  10. HOnestly? This is EXACTLY as I remember it.

    Especially the part about Clark in 1997, which was awesome in that through sheer serendipity my one game of the year was that one.

    Vs. Dallas as I recall.

    Bonus points for cancer of the AIDS

  11. I think the Leaf team with the best chance to win was the 2000-01 Leafs. They did not have a good regular season due to lack of chemistry at the beginning of the season ... but towards the end they got their act together. They slaughtered the Sens in the first round, and tooks the champion Devils to 7 ... if they got past the Devils, they would have been in the finals.

    Pat Quinn made a horrible trade after the 2000-01 season : Markov+Berezin for Reichel+Renberg+Green. Had Markov remained, they would have had a good #4 D-man for years to come ... instead we had to deal with Aki Berg, Lumme, etc.

    Calling this the "Fletcher, Quinn" era is somewhat appropriate. But I wouldn't overlook the contributions by Ken Dryden either. Along with Hedberg and Smith, he laid the foundation for the 1998/99, 2001/02 teams.

    The 2003-04 team was great on paper, but IMO all the teams from 99-02 were better.

  12. Domi was acquired the previous year