For 100 years, Toronto, Canada has been home to one of the two oldest teams in the National Hockey League (NHL). Throughout its history, this team franchise has celebrated 3 different names, many of hockey’s legends, 13 Stanley Cup trophies and a community-rich organization. (Five different names and 15 Stanley Cups, if you trace the team’s ‘roots’ back to the ‘Toronto Pros’ in 1906 and include the 2 Cups won by the ‘Blueshirts’ - the team that formed the basis of the first official Toronto Maple Leafs franchise, the Toronto ‘Arenas’ ).
The National Hockey League (NHL) was formed in 1917 by four of five teams in the National Hockey Association (NHA) - or, National Hockey Association of Canada. They were the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the Quebec Bulldogs, and Ottawa Senators. The four teams’ franchise owners met in November that year and decided to incorporate a new parallel league [to the NHA] as a measure to get rid of then Toronto ‘Blueshirts’ (and Shamrocks) team owner, Eddie Livingstone. Apparently, the NHA’s existing constitution prevented the other NHA owners from voting him out, so they created a brand new league and extended NHL franchise offers to four of the five NHA teams (themselves), excluding ‘Blueshirts’ owner Eddie Livingstone. Livingstone had purchased the Toronto ‘Blueshirts’ team - his 2nd NHA franchise - without first acquiring league permission, and then done a few more things that pissed off some of the other team owners. In any event, Eddie’s Blueshirts players, under a temporary franchise (lease) were transferred to The Arena Company, owners of the Arena Gardens. Even in the midst of all the ongoing turmoil, the team came out strong in their first season to win the first ever ‘NHL Stanley Cup’ in 1917. After a couple of tumultuous seasons as the ‘Toronto Arenas’, the Arena Company had to suspend its operations in February 1919, due to mounting legal bills from a law suit filed by Livingstone. The team franchise was sold in February 1919 to a group of investors who renamed the team the Toronto ‘St. Patricks’, or ‘St. Pats’ as they were known. By then, the 1917 Stanley Cup team was in shambles as the Arena Company had been forced to sell off its best players to defend the law suit (ironically, Livingstone was suing to get his players back, in addition to damages). After rebuilding the team, the St. Patricks won the 1922 NHL Stanley Cup. It wasn’t until 1927 - after hockey legend Conn Smythe assembled a small group of investors to purchase the franchise for $160,000, closing the deal on February 14 (Valentine’s Day), 1927 - that the team’s name was changed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Having purchased the franchise and serving as its head coach, Smythe worked hard to rebuild the organization. As the years marched on, the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise would become one of the best in the world. They would go on to win three Stanley Cup trophies in a row and hold the record for the most championship titles, a record that their rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, had previously held. The Leafs proudly retained this record for a decade. In 1961, Conn Smythe sold most of his shares in the team, or so he thought, to his son. In actual fact, his shares were purchased by a group comprised of three investors that included his son, Stafford Smythe, Toronto Marlboros president, Harold Ballard, and Toronto Telegram owner, John Bassett. Smythe completed the sale of the franchise for $2.3M, representing a hefty return on his investment. The Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves once again under new ownership, and surged forward again, winning another three Stanley Cup trophies in a row led by hockey legends captain George Armstrong and coach Punch Imlach.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the quest for the Stanley Cup trophy has led the team down a few bumpy roads of wins and losses. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs have always picked themselves up after a really bad season and improved the organization with new player talent, new management or a combination of both. Over the past 100 years, the Maple Leafs have attracted hockey legends such as George Armstrong, Bobby Baun, Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Curtis Joseph, Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, and Wendel Clark.
In 1976, when legend Darryl Sittler became the new captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the world was confident the franchise would make a major comeback. Darryl Sittler ended the season with 100 points, scoring 41 goals before the team even made it to the playoffs. Ten percent of those points, Darryl earned in a single game (February 7th) - in only 60-minutes of play - against the Boston Bruins. In the 1977-78 season, Darryl beat his own 1975-76 season’s scoring record by earning 117 points, a record that would remain intact until 1993 when Doug Gilmour finally surpassed it. However, Darryl’s record for scoring 10 points in one game, has yet to be broken and this year (February 7th, 2016) marked the 40th anniversary for what, with each passing year, is proving to be an even greater achievement than Darryl himself could have ever anticipated. Darryl Sittler will forever be remembered as one of the greatest NHL hockey legends. Between 1957 and 2007, thirteen different team members have donned the Maple Leafs jersey bearing the No. 27, but ask any die-hard Maple Leaf’s fan who No. 27 was, and they will undoubtedly blurt out “Darryl Sittler!” In the 1992-93 season, the Maple Leafs posted a winning record in the regular season, finishing third in their division. Hockey legends Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark led the team in scoring, with each player posting significant points for the season. The Toronto Maple Leafs were poised to go after the Stanley Cup once more. By 1998, management had recognized a large gap in talent and took the steps necessary to fill the position. They found another hockey legend, Curtis Joseph, who would become an immovable force for the Leafs as they made the trip back to the finals.
In the midst of the 2000’s, Toronto’s coaching team knew they needed to make some drastic changes. One of the major changes came when the Maple Leafs signed Phil Kessel in a trade with the Boston Bruins for a first round draft pick. Kessel was the first of many hockey legends to be found and cultivated over a short time period. The Leafs would also sign future hockey legends Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, Fredrik Sjostrom, and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. In 2010, the Maple Leafs installed Dion Phaneuf as the team captain, hoping to make it back to the playoffs, but it wasn’t until 2013 that this would become a reality. Leading the team was James Remier, who stopped 43 of 44 shots in game 4. Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel would each post a goal to keep the series going in game 6, forcing a game 7. In the battle of the decade, the Maple Leafs dominated the game and went into the 3rd period with a 4-1 lead. With a comeback by the Bruins, the game went into overtime ending with a heartbreaking loss.
In 2014, the Leafs hired Brendan Shanahan as the new President of Hockey Operations. His first priority was to reevaluate every aspect of the franchise. Immediately following the season, he discovered many weaknesses and conducted a complete house cleaning. After a full revamp of the franchise, the Maple Leafs are, today, in an excellent position to acquire new talent, develop new on-ice and off-ice systems, and off season training to come out strong for the beginning of the upcoming season. Heading into the 2016-17 season, Shanahan is confident in his team once again. With new coaching staff, a renewed sense of team bonding, high caliber scouting and a top quality training staff, the Toronto Maple Leafs are excited about the upcoming season. The NHL, also Celebrating 100 years, has announced plans for a commemorative season in which the Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Detroit Red Wings at BMO Field in Toronto on January 1, 2017. It has been dubbed the “Centennial Classic” and will mark 90 years since the first meeting of these two franchises in 1927.