The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most storied franchises in the entire NHL. And as one of the “Original Six” teams, they’re also one of the oldest teams. The team has won the second most Stanley Cups of any team in NHL history, with 13. The only team with more is their bitter rival, the Montreal Canadiens. Despite excellent support, with plenty of money at their disposal, the Maple Leafs have struggled in recent years, unable to revive their past glories.
history of maple leaves
The Toronto Maple Leafs were originally the Toronto Arenas, owned by the Arena Company. They arose after the league that preceded the NHL, the National Hockey Association, dissolved due to a disagreement with the aggressive owner of that league’s Toronto Blueshirts organization. In the new NHL, the Toronto Arenas soon became a team when the league decided there could be no NHL without a franchise in Toronto. How right they were in that! The Arenas, however, were short-lived. Under new ownership, the team was renamed the Toronto St. Patricks, and in fact had green as its primary jersey color.
It wasn’t until 1927 that the Toronto Maple Leafs, or officially, the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club, were created as we know them today. Wearing the classic blue and white jerseys, the team had a sense of dignity and respect from the start, which would be justified by the handful of championships to follow.
The team was named after a World War I regiment called the Maple Leaf Regiment. There was also a baseball team in Toronto called the Toronto Maple Leafs for some time before the hockey team became known as such. Since the regiment’s name, Maple Leaf, is a proper noun, the word Leaf does not change to its normal plural of Leaves, hence the spelling, Toronto Maple Leafs.
When remembering the golden years of the Maple Leafs, people often refer to the 1940s, when the Leafs won five Stanley Cups. The team also won four in the 1960s, marking a decade in which their arch-rival, the Montreal Canadiens, also won four championships. The last of these titles, and the last Stanley Cup the Maple Leafs won, came in 1967 against guess who, the hated Montreal Canadiens. The Canadians were heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup that year, however the Leafs pulled it off, including winning an all-time classic double in overtime in game three. The other three championships of the 1960s were won consecutively, from 1962 to 1964.
All of these championships, along with another in the 1930s and one more in the 1950s, were held while the team was playing at its longtime home, Maple Leaf Gardens. The Gardens amazingly housed the team from 1931 until 1999, when the team moved to the Air Canada Centre. The new stadium has all the amenities of a modern stadium and was designed to be a multi-purpose sports and entertainment complex. But of course, it lacks that classic aura of nostalgia and prestige that Maple Leaf Gardens had.
Air Canada Center is owned by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., the group that owns not only the Maple Leafs but also the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. In fact, the Air Canada Center was originally designed primarily for basketball, until the MLSE bought both the Raptors and the new stadium in progress, finding a new home for the Leafs in the process.
Most popular team in the NHL
The Toronto Maple Leafs have an extremely large and wide-ranging fan base, affectionately known as the Leafs Nation. This has made them the most valuable franchise in the NHL, estimated at nearly half a billion dollars. It has also made the Maple Leafs the most despised team in the NHL, similar to how the New York Yankees are the most loved and hated team in Major League Baseball. From 1946 to 1999 at Maple Leaf Gardens, the team sold out every home game, a truly miraculous feat.
However, this large and dedicated fan base has added ever-increasing pressure for the Maple Leafs to win. The team is in an extremely long drought when it comes to the Stanley Cup Championship. It seemed like the early 1990s would be the time when the Maple Leafs would finally break through once again. Stars like franchise leading scorer Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk and goaltender Felix Potvin led the team close, but not quite. In the early years of the 2000s, the team also made several playoff runs, but always came up short.
This led to the team not bringing back captain Mats Sundin. The team has now decided to focus on a youth movement, an injection of fresh faces and good attitudes, with a hard and focused game. The Maple Leafs are now managed by Ron Wilson, one of the most respected coaches in the NHL. Wilson hopes to impart a sense of discipline and renewed success to a now-suffering fan base that dreams of the glory years of decades past. Wilson is also a former Leafs player, he was drafted by the team in 1975 and played almost three seasons with the club.
The Leafs recently hired Brian Burke as their new General Manager and Club President. Burke was hired to replace interim general manager, Cliff Fletcher, who replaced John Ferguson, Jr. as general manager of the Maple Leafs. Fletcher was originally expected to remain as general manager until the end of the 2008-2009 season. Burke resigned his general manager job with the Anaheim Ducks, where he won a Stanley Cup championship in the 2006-2007 season just weeks before accepting his job with the Leafs.
Burke had spent three seasons with the Ducks. Prior to that, Burke had been a general manager for the Vancouver Canucks and worked for the NHL front office. Prior to those positions, Burke also spent a stint as General Manager of the former Hartford Whalers, and was Director of Hockey Operations for five years with the Canucks under Pat Quinn. He is also currently the general manager of the US men’s hockey team for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which will be held, elsewhere, in Vancouver.
As quickly as he jumped at the chance to be the general manager, Burke wasted no time making moves as soon as he got his job. Just a week after being hired, he placed Dave Nonis in the position of Director of Hockey Operations. This follows the time the two spent with the Canucks. The two worked together for six seasons there, with Nonis replacing Burke as general manager in 2004.
The future remains to be seen for the proud Maple Leafs franchise. The team needs to bring back the fans, who have faded from their peak, after a perceived mistreatment and lack of success. Yet that passion is eternally there, and fans are just hoping that under the new coach and general manager, the players will show it too.