19. Quinn recovers, but Leafs don't
May 28, 2002
This wasn't so much a blunder as a case of a good intention that back-fired.
But it occured during the last time the Leafs were close to a Cup, just seven victories shy.
General manager/coach Pat Quinn developed an irregular heartbeat early in the Eastern Conference final against the Carolina Hurricanes and was advised to stay under medical observation for some or all remaining games. But with the Leafs down 2-1 in the set and Game 4 at home, Quinn's condition improved enough that he could sign himself out of the hospital (where he was under police guard from over-enthusiastic fans) and make a surprise appearance behind the bench.
But the Leafs' dressing room had a different dynamic at the time, with veterans such as Gary Roberts in charge and a player injury crisis at the time. Though glad to see Quinn back at his post, the extra media distraction was not needed for a key home game. Instead of being inspired by their boss' return, they fell behind 3-1 in the series before losing in six games.
20. Say goodbye to the kids
June 12, 1969
Not long after the Leafs won their last Cup, their pipeline of young talent was shut off.
The universal NHL draft of 1969 marked the end of direct sponsorship of junior teams and so the Leafs lost their in-house production line, the junior Marlies, having already ended their equally beneficial relationship with St. Michael's College.
One of the most dominant Memorial Cup teams was the 1963-64 Marlies, who defeated the Edmonton Oil Kings for the title. Future Leafs Cup winners Ron Ellis and Pete Stemkowski were on a line with Wayne Carleton. Others included Mike Walton, Rod Seiling and the colourful Jim McKenny. The coach was future Toronto GM Jim Gregory.
"I don't think we realized how good we were back then," Ellis told the Toronto Sun years ago. "It's not until you can look back now and see that we had everything -- size, aggressiveness, defensive and offensive players. We had all the right ingredients for a championship team."
The Marlies had won Memorial Cups going back to 1929, when their leaders were future Leafs stars Charlie Conacher and Harvey Jackson. In the mid-1950s, more Cup-winning Leafs were bred, such as Bob Pulford, Bill Harris and Bob Baun, They'd win more Cups into the 1970s, but by then, other NHL teams were in on the secret and players such as Steve Shutt and Mark Napier became Cup champions with other teams and players such as Gordie Howe's sons (Mark and Marty), Jim Peplinksi and Sean Burke made their names elsewhere.
From the St. Mike's side came four NHL Hall of Famers: Tim Horton, Mahovlich, Keon and Red Kelly. All but Kelly were from Northern Ontario.
"The north country has produced most of the all-time Leaf greats," said ex-Leaf and author Brian Conacher, "boys who came down to Toronto with the determination to give their hearts for the Leafs."
21. Hal hides the heraldry
Oct. 11, 1990
In the Montreal Forum, the Canadiens' 23 Cup banners were always on display, along with a galaxy of retired numbers of Les Glorieux. You couldn't swing un chat in the seats without hitting a Richard, Beliveau or Cournoyer, who would offer encouragement to the next generation of Habs, sometimes just by sitting in the vicinity of the bench. Passing the torch and all that.
But under owner Harold Ballard, who was jealous of the success attained by others, Leafs accomplishments were hushed up. And most of the team's greats stayed away, rarely wanting to associate with the regime which had aliented stars such as Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler, changed the logo, took down their famous Cup banners and used some as drop cloths for Gardens' renovations.
Some greats did stay on as club employees, but that meant catching Ballard's wrath on many occasions. Johnny Bower, who was a scout, was temporarily fired one day because Ballard had no idea how the junior draft worked. When told the Leafs could not draft all the players Bower had made notes on during a trip out west, an angry Ballard assumed Bower was gold-bricking and told him to clear out his desk.
The banners returned officially on this date after Ballard's passing and a proper Leafs alumni association was formed in 1995.
But 25 years had elapsed without positive input from a star-studded group that had a lot to offer the next generation.