Until we hear “hockey’s back!” the two most glorious words in sport remain “Game 7.”
For a fun exercise — because, really, what else is left? — we spun through history and selected the ultimate, all-time Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup we’d dress in a Stanley Cup final Game 7.
Heart and grit, hands and experience, leadership and skill… these 20 serial winners have the right balance to take the prize.
Naturally, you will disagree with almost all of our choices (sorry, Charlie Conacher; deepest apologies, Phil Kessel), so we will socially distance ourselves from the comments.
First line: Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, George Armstrong
Yep, we’re kicking it old school for puck drop. Imagine the thunderous tone set by Keon as he glides to the dot for the opening draw, a potential 10-point night to the greatest Maple Leafs left, the final goal-scorer of the Original Six era to his right. Three Hall of Famers, three long-serving Toronto captains, three sure-fire talents.
Second line: Auston Matthews, Mats Sundin, Mitch Marner
Lefty Matthews slides to wing so he and Sundin take draws on their strong sides, and Marner gets to work his magic and set up the big boys for tap-ins and one-timers. Because the Keon line draws the harder matchups, this deadly second unit feasts on the opposition and is primarily given offensive-zone starts.
Third line: Frank Mahovlich, Syl Apps, Lanny McDonald
Yes, Mahovlich is the highest-scoring left winger in franchise history, a six-time Cup champ, a Summit Series winner, and one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history. But he’s also a big body with soft hands.
Apps — another former captain renowned for his character as well as his strength and athleticism — acts as the unit’s chief puck-distributor and shutdown guy. (Legends Milt Schmidt and Ted Lindsay both dubbed Apps the greatest centre they ever went head-to-head with.) McDonald injects heart, leadership and the high possibility of a clutch goal.
Fourth line: Doug Gilmour, Ted Kennedy, Wendel Clark
Featuring another trio of captains, the ultimate all-time Leafs fourth line brings snarl and heart and the threat of depth scoring. Any coach would feel comfortable rolling all four lines with this group. The feisty Gilmour is happy to inject energy farther down the bench, just as he did with the golden 1987 Canada Cup squad, and the onetime Selke champ would have no issue defend the best in the biz.
Kennedy — the Leafs’ most recent Hart winner and cornerstone of the NHL’s first dynasty — made a fierce forecheck his calling card. And Clark? Well, when the whistles get tucked in Game 7, a little toughness can go a long way. (Bonus: If one of the six defencemen gets injured, Clark can slide back to the position he grew up playing.)
First pairing: Borje Salming, Tim Horton
With a thinner crop to choose from on the blue line, the top defensive pairing is nearly a no-brainer. And considering they’ll have all summer to rest, we might just throw Salming and Horton over the boards for 40 minutes. Salming — one of the 100 greatest players and the best Leafs defender or fight me — can drive offence, control pace and inject fear. The sturdy Horton is calm under pressure, and his elite vision and hands allow him to carry the puck out of the zone.
Second pairing: Tomas Kaberle, Ian Turnbull
As the second-highest-scoring Leafs defenceman, Kaberle can run one of the power-play units all day and spark the rush 5-on-5. The six-foot, 200-pound Turnbull slides in as the duo’s anchor, while still capable of blasting the puck past goaltenders. He still holds the league record for goals by a defenceman, which he set in 1977 by firing five (on five shots!) past the Red Wings.
Third pairing: Morgan Rielly, Allan Stanley
Slick-skating Rielly, so often the fourth man in the rush, should thrive in a sheltered third-pairing role. To his side, knowing where to stand, is stay-at-home Stanley. A four-time Cup champ and Hall of Famer, Stanley earned the nicknames “Snowshoes” and “Silent Sam” for his slow feet, but that’s OK. Rielly can fly; Stanley can guard the fort, kill penalties and clear out the crease.
Starting goalie: Johnny Bower
No. 1 in your program, No. 1 in your heart, No. 1 on our depth chart. When everything’s on the line, sources say you go with the four-time Cup champ and two-time Vezina winner. Beware the poke check.
Backup goalie: Turk Broda
If Bower is having an off night, we can always turn to the Leafs’ other two-time Vezina winner. A five-time Cup hoister coming off the bench? Yes, please.
Emergency backup goalie: David Ayres
Head coach: Pat Quinn
Assistants: Pat Burns, Punch Imlach
If this group can’t motivate the players, no one can. Sure, these vibrant A-type personalities would inevitably clash over time, but three elite hockey minds can come together for 60 minutes of magic.
Healthy scratches: King Clancy, Hap Day, Red Kelly.