As we near maybe the most overhyped period in the NHL season, we take a look back at the good, the bad and the ugly for the Toronto Maple Leafs since the NHL Trade Deadline evolved into a landmark day in the late 1970s.
1978 – An improving Leaf team under new coach Roger Neilson was in desperate need of a quality skilled tough guy. Leafs GM Jim Gregory chose to pay a steep price to acquire Dan Maloney from Detroit. Even Maloney once told me that upon hearing of the trade he said to himself “all that for me?”
The price was the skilled Errol Thompson along with two first-round selections and one second-round selection for Maloney and a second-round selection. Maloney did seem to help in the short term as the Leafs had some long-overdue playoff success and reached the semifinals. The two first-round picks did not come close to the caliber of how Boston decades later parlayed the picks acquired for Phil Kessel into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. The Red Wings used the first-round picks to select Brent Petersen in 1978 and Mike Blaisdell in 1980.
THE BIG SPLASHES:
Leaf fans may not fully realize that the NHL salary cap came at an inopportune time as it was just when the well-funded MLSE ownership group was willing to spend big amounts on player salaries.
The Leaf payroll was among the highest in the NHL at $55 million in 2002-03 and $62 million in 2003-04. Keep in mind that the salary cap started at $39 million in 2005-06 when NHL hockey resumed after the one-year Lockout.
2003 – The Leafs acquire Owen Nolan, Glen Wesley, Doug Gilmour and Phil Housley.
The cost was Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and a first-round pick for Nolan; a second-round pick for Wesley; a sixth-round pick for Gilmour and future considerations for Housley. None of the draft picks came back to haunt the Leafs.
2004 – The Leafs acquired Brian Leetch for a prospect, a first-round pick and a second-round pick and Ron Francis for a fourth-round pick. Hard to believe that two future Hall of Famers became Leafs on the same day. None of the draft picks traded became NHLers who had long careers.
SECOND TIME AROUND
The Leafs actually did a decent job in reaquiring some former Leaf players for a second go round with the Blue and White.
1992 – Acquired Mark Osborne from Winnipeg for Lucien DeBlois. The former GEM line scorer (with Eddie Olczyk and Gary Leeman) would have a couple of seasons on the strong checking line with Peter Zezel and Bill Berg.
1995 – Acquired Tie Domi from Winnipeg for Mike Eastwood and a third round pick. The larger-than-life NHL prospect when he first left became a larger-than-life NHL player when he returned.
1996 – The return of Wendel Clark. Nice to have him back and have him retire as a Leaf, but his best seasons were behind him at this point and the Leafs paid a steep price in sending Kenny Jonsson, a high first-round pick (that became Roberto Luongo) and Sean Haggerty to the New York Islanders for Clark, Mathieu Schneider and then-NHL prospect and now-Toronto Maple Leaf assistant coach D.J. Smith.
2003 – Part of the ‘Big Splash’ was the return of Gilmour from Montreal for a sixth-round pick. The previously durable Gilmour didn’t even last one period the second time with the Leafs as he suffered a career-ending injury in the first period of his return in a game against Calgary.
2006 – Luke Richardson from Columbus for a fifth-round pick. An ordinary second go-around from someone who is still considered a future NHL head coach. No harm, no foul!
2007 – Yanic Perreault from Phoenix for a second-round selection. Puzzling deal. Then-GM John Ferguson Jr. made the trade, but then-head coach Paul Maurice used Perreault sparingly and he didn’t make an impact. That second-round selection was later traded to Nashville and ultimately used to select Roman Josi.
GOT DECENT FUTURES:
1982 – Actually Gerry McNamara made a couple of nice trades in acquiring Miroslav Frycer from Quebec for Wilf Paiement, and then Walt Poddubny from Edmonton for Laurie Boschman. Frycer and Poddubny would play on a solid second line in the 1982-1983 season that was centred by Peter Ihnacak.
1989 – In my short time as Leafs general manager we traded goaltender Ken Wregget to Philadelphia for two first-round selections. No need to point out that the two first-round picks were used to select two of the three Belleville Bulls who were selected in the first-round by the Leafs in that year’s NHL Draft (Rob Pearson and Steve Bancroft). The Leafs used their own selection to take Scott Thornton.
1979 – A year after giving up skill to add toughness in Maloney, the Leafs added scoring in acquiring Paul Gardner from Colorado for Don Ashby and Trevor Johansen.
1994 – Cliff Fletcher loved making trades and thought he had a trade for Mike Ricci from Quebec (for Dave Ellett and Landon Wilson) at the deadline. When it fell through in the final hour he quickly made a trade with the New York Rangers that sent one future Hall of Famer in Glenn Anderson for another in Mike Gartner.
FREE AT LAST:
1997 – Larry Murphy was mercifully freed from the shackles and wrath of the Toronto Maple Leaf crowd to salvage his future Hall of Fame career and win more Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.
PUNCH IMLACH’S SWAN SONG:
1981 – The 1980 trade deadline saw the New York Islanders acquire Butch Goring from Los Angeles for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis. Goring’s prominent role in helping the Islanders win their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups was the beginning of the deadline evolving to a higher-profile level, where it remains today.
George “Punch” Imlach’s second go-round as Leaf general manager finished before the end of the 1981 calendar year. His last trade deadline involved three quick, but low profile trades in rapid fire succession.
Robert Picard was sent to Montreal for goaltender Michel “Bunny” Larocque. Then Ron Zanussi was acquired from Minnesota for a second-round selection. Lastly, goaltender Jim Rutherford (current Pittsburgh Penguins general manager) was sent to Los Angeles for a fifth-round selection.
A NAME THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY:
2001 – Aki Berg from Los Angeles for Adam Mair and a second-round selection. Berg seems to be the lightning rod and the butt of jokes that this trade, rather than upgrading a pretty solid Maple Leaf roster, actually marked the start of a period when trades worked less and less in the Leafs’ favour as the team fell from their height as a consistent and decent playoff performer.
Berg was recently back in Toronto in a very surprising role. He was an equipment guy for Team Finland at the World Cup of Hockey. He was sharpening skates in the building where most Leaf fans wondered if his skates were sharpened enough during his short Leaf career.
As for that second-round pick that was sent to Los Angeles? It was used to select Mike Cammalleri! Ouch!