The 2016–17 Toronto Maple Leafs season has the team’s fans spewing the f-word. But for once, it’s the positive version: These guys are… fun.
We don’t really know if they’re good yet. They’re certainly better than they’ve been in years, and probably far better than just about anyone predicted. They’re holding down a playoff spot, sure, but have also lost more games than they’ve won, so the jury’s still out.
But fun? There’s really no debate. This year’s Leafs are young, fast and play high-event hockey, even when their coach doesn’t want them to. Love them or hate them, there may not be a team in the league right now that’s more entertaining to watch.
Maple Leafs fans haven’t had many great teams to cheer on over the last half-century. The team hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, which is a fact that you might be familiar with if you’ve studied your history and/or ever spoken to anyone who doesn’t like the Leafs for more than three seconds. Since then, Leafs Nation hasn’t even had a trip to the final to cheer about.
But when it comes to fun teams, Leafs fans have enjoyed a few. Not as many as other teams, maybe but enough to fill up an arbitrary list.
So today, let's make that list, by counting down the top 10 fun Maple Leafs teams since that 1967 championship.
No. 10: 2012–13
Fun is relative. When a team is consistently good, fans can start to get a little spoiled, somehow finding things to complain about even as their team rumbles its way to yet another 100-point season. (Yes, we're all looking at you right now, Blackhawk fans.)
The flip side is that when things are bad, you take whatever fun you can get.
That's why this season cracks the list, if only barely. Sure, finishing third in your division in a lockout-shortened season isn't much to brag about. But when you've suffered through seven straight years without a playoff appearance, you'll take it. And this really was an entertaining team, one that had Phil Kessel doing Phil Kessel things, a breakout season by Nazim Kadri, strong goaltending from the perpetually chipper James Reimer, and a lineup full of face-punchers who were always doing face-punchy things.
It all added up to a rare playoff berth. And despite going into their matchup with the Bruins as underdogs and falling behind 3–1 in the series, the Leafs scrapped back with a pair of hard-fought wins to force a seventh game.
I PVR'ed that game and haven't watched it yet, so nobody tell me how it ends.
No. 9: 1989–90
A rare appearance on our list by a season from the 1980s comes from the only Leafs team of the decade to so much as finish .500. But this team was a sneakily entertaining entry, one that finished third in the league in both goals scored and goals allowed.
They were still the Maple Leafs, so I don't need to tell you that it ended badly. They went out meekly in the first round of the playoffs, losing in five to the Blues in a series best remembered for Allan Bester giving up Sergei Momesso's overtime goal from outside the blueline. Far worse, this was the season that GM Floyd Smith decided it would be a good idea to trade a future first-round pick for journeyman defenceman Tom Kurvers, costing the team a shot at Eric Lindros and Scott Niedermayer.
But there was a bright side. The season's breakout star was winger Gary Leeman, who became the second player in franchise history to score 50 goals. He'd never come close to that total again, but that temporary boost in value would pay big dividends for the team in a few years.