It’s the first game of the preseason and you can’t tell the players without a program. Actually, you probably can’t tell most of them with a program either, given there are 70 different players in camp including 30-odd from the rookie camp.
Despite the presence of all these people vying for positions, Brian Burke insists that there is but one job available – that of the third-line left wing. This has led to an annoying new meme amongst the local wags: “How can a team that has missed the playoffs so many years have all its positions set?”
I’ll use small words.
Because they brought in people to fill the other open spots.
See how that works?
Anyhow, for a number of years I have maintained a list of who I consider to be the best Leafs ever to wear each uniform number. I revisit it every year to see whether I still agree with it and to see whether there’s anyone new who should join. There are always a couple of changes to be made.
In doing this exercise, I learned a few things about this team – for one, the Leafs have always had a LOT of player turnover. By and large, players come and go REAL quick. Further, since the Leafs rarely retire anything, you see a lot of great players concentrating around a handful of sweater numbers. Numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 21 and 27 could all have been retired more than once. (Well, maybe only once for 21.)
Meanwhile, numbers like 16 and 18 are really tough to pick because they’ve been worn by an infinite number of subs. It’s also too bad that TML management always gives short shrift to the Arenas and St. Pats, as there were some REAL good players there and you never hear of them.
This is my list, along with the expected bearers of each number this coming season.
(note – sometimes a great player wore a different number during a call-up – like Frank Mahovlich in #26 – I don’t count these. However, if a modern player is the only person to wear a given number (see the magical case of Pavel Kubina), he’ll show up twice.
Some players, like Ellis, could arguably appear in more than one place (numbers 6 and 8), while for others, they wore a bunch of numbers and I’ve had to make a call. Barilko, for example, wore #19 longer than #5, but #5 is retired for him, so I have to list him at #5. It’s the same problem for Gus Mortson, though he never had anything retired. When in doubt, I’ve tended to go with the lower number, since in the old days a low number led to a better sleeping berth on the train and players tended to want them.)
The Best at Each Number
1. Turk Broda – all time leader in wins and shutouts, won 5 Stanley Cups. Honourable mentions to Johnny Bower and Harry Lumley. Plante was very good, but not around all that long. 2011-12: Mark Owuya has been given this number, though I’m not sure we’ll see him this year.
2. Harry Cameron – I always thought of this as a choice between Carl Brewer and Red Horner, both of whom were great and are entirely deserving. I’d forgotten, however, all about Harry Cameron. Cameron was an original Toronto Blueshirt, one of the premier rushing defensemen of his era and a key component of the first three Stanley Cup winners in Toronto – 1914, 1918 and 1922. He was a Toronto fixture for a decade, playing for the Blueshirts, Arenas and St. Pats. As a defenseman, he was top ten in NHL goal scoring four times, led the league in assists twice and was fourth in overall scoring in 1921-22. As much as we all love Schenn, he’s got his work cut out for him to displace Cameron. Other mentionables – Wally Stanowski, Jim Thomson, Ian Turnbull, Bob Goldham. Leetch was interesting while he was here. 2011-12: Luke Schenn
3. Gus Mortson – #3 is surprisingly difficult. It seems to be a number that nobody wore for particularly long and while there are a couple of good names associated with it (notably Hap Day, Wally Stanowski and Marcel Pronovost), it seems to be a number they only wore for a short time (well, Pronovost had it the whole time, but the whole time wasn’t that long). Looking for people who actually had it for a number of years, you start looking at guys like tough guy Ken Randall (Blueshirts/St. Pats), Bob Neely and Jim Benning. Mortson was a key Leaf on the Cup teams of the late 1940’s. He combined toughness and mobility and you certainly knew when he was on the ice. If Phaneuf can be a key piece, this slot is his in maybe 3 more years. 2011-12: Dion Phaneuf
4. Hap Day – hard call between Hap Day and Red Kelly. Red won 4 Cups and was a HoFer, but Day did it all – he was captain, coach and GM. First captain of the Leafs and a bridge from the St. Pats to the Leafs. Other notables – Harry Watson, Reg Noble, Dave Ellett.
5. Bill Barilko – hard to argue against the guy they retired the number for. Still, Corb Denneny was an excellent player for the St. Pats and from 1918-23 scored 91 goals in 106 games. 2011-12: Retired
6. Babe Dye – I said for Barilko that it is hard to argue against the guy they retired the number for, but Babe Dye is the forgotten Toronto superstar. As good as Bailey was, and his numbers suggest he was very, very good indeed, Dye scored goals like it was nobody’s business. Ron Ellis was a good #6 as well, but was never the scorer either Bailey or Dye was. Dye gets forgotten because Leaf management inexplicably wants to pretend the team didn’t exist prior to 1927. 2011-12: Retired
7. Tim Horton – this is really tough one. Get a load of some of the other 7’s: Max Bentley, King Clancy, Joe Primeau (really #10, though), Lanny McDonald, Gary Roberts, Rocky Saganiuk. OK, maybe not Rocky. Tim put 18 seasons into the Toronto blue line and gave us the best doughnut chain in the universe. He holds the Leaf record for consecutive games, was a multiple All-Star and was known as the strongest man in hockey.
8. Sid Smith – Leaf captain and Cup winner, Sid won two Byngs and was a three-time All-Star. Good thing. 8 is a thin number. Ron Ellis was a good #8 for a lot of years and Gus Bodnar was pretty good as well. Pete Langelle was a favourite of some, but his career was short in Toronto. When he retired, Sid trailed only Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and Ted Lindsay amongst active goal scorers. 2011-12: Mike Komisarek
9. Ted Kennedy – This is maybe the toughest pick of all. Charlie Conacher is arguably the most doiminant player the Leafs have ever had. He owned the ’30s. Kennedy was the heart and soul of the team for a decade, captained them to two Stanley Cups and was a complete warrior. He defined what it meant to be a Leaf through their greatest seasons. Though #9 is in the rafters for both of them, the Leafs honoured Kennedy first. Other notables: Dick Duff, Norm Ullman. 2011-12: Colby Armstrong
10. Syl Apps – As much as you want to pick George Armstrong, I think you have to go with Apps. Armstrong won more Cups (4 vs. 3) and was captain longer, but I think Apps was a more impactful player during a shorter career. Conn Smythe called Armstrong the greatest leader he ever had, but Conn was kind of prone to living in the moment when he said things. Joe Primeau was also fantastic in this number. Other notables: John Anderson, Vince Damphousse.
11. Busher Jackson – a great winger for this team. Busher played the left side on the Kid Line. He was a fantastic skater with a great shot. A five-time All-Star, he led the league in scoring in 1931-32. Notables: Tod Sloan (also a 15), Gary Leeman, Howie Meeker, Sweeney Schriner. A lot of people forget that Schriner was goal-for-goal with the Rocket in his 50-in-50 year until he broke a leg in mid-season. 2011-12: Philippe Dupuis is listed here, but I don’t see him necessarily making the team.
12. Gord Drillon – 12 is another thin one, at least in terms of stars. Drillon, who was sort of the proto-Kovalev, was the last Leaf to lead the league in scoring. He had all the ability in the world, but it wasn’t always apparent whether you would get it. Notables: Ron Stewart, Mark Osborne, Errol Thompson. 2011-12: Tim Connolly
13. Mats Sundin – one of only three Leafs to wear this, the others being Ken Linseman and Gary Yaremchuk.
14. Dave Keon – A tremendous skater and two-way player who finally came back from the cold (well, Florida isn’t that cold) for the 40th anniversary of 1967. This was a definite highlight for me though I’m not sure we’ll see him again. Too bad. Other good 14’s include Dave Andreychuk and the oft-injured Mirko Frycer. Stajan had some tenure.
15. Tomas Kaberle – When I first put together this list, this pick seemed absurd to me. Now, it’s odd to think there’s another player in it. Tomas ended his Leaf tenure as the second-highest scoring defenseman in club history. Once you’re past Kaberle, number 15 seems to have been something worn mainly by subs and call-ups. In the old days, when rosters were real small, numbers 15 through 22 were worn for the most part by guys who were in for a game here or there. Some big names wore it briefly as they broke in (Primeau, for example), then switched to something lower. Other names: Pat Boutette, Pat Hickey, Ken Doraty, Billy Harris. Tod Sloan also wore 15 for a good stretch and is a worthy choice, but Kaberle has tenure and wore this his whole career. 2011-12: Matthew Lombardi
16. Darcy Tucker – touch and go with Ed Olczyk. Olczyk was a bigger piece of the puzzle, but Tucker has longevity on his side. #16 is the most-worn number in Leafs history, changing hands on average about twice every three seasons. Another really good #16 was Bert Olmstead, who helped the Leafs pull out of their 1950’s funk and become champions in 1961-62. Mike Walton had a lot of talent, but showed it best elsewhere. 2011-12: Clarke MacArthur
17. Wendel Clark – nobody else is close. Cal Gardner is maybe the biggest other name that wore this number for any length of time. Floyd Smith did, too. Dick Duff was a good 17 briefly before switching to 9. 2011-12: Nobody has the nerve.
18. Jim McKenny – probably had the most talent of the 18’s, which are also a bit thin. Peter Ihnacak, Garth Boesch, Jim Pappin are others. Brewer wore 18, but I’m counting him at #2. 2011-12: Mike Brown
19. Bill Derlago – did I mention that 15-22 were mainly worn by subs? Derlago was actually a very good centre on the Leafs’ best line during a very, very bad period of time. Other notables: Tom Fergus, Kent Douglas, Paul Henderson. 2011-12: Joffrey Lupul
20. Bob Pulford – I thought that if Belfour could put in a couple more good seasons, he’d threaten Pulford. He didn’t, and he doesn’t.
21. Borje Salming – beats out Bob Baun as the best of the 21’s.
22. Rick Vaive – 3 50-goal seasons and played well despite everything going on around him. Should never have been traded. Others: Tiger Williams, Brian Conacher. 2011-12: Cody Franson
23. Todd Gill – try telling that to someone around 1988. Gill wore this number for a long time and was a very solid player by the end. Others: Eddie Shack, Dave Hutchison, Pat Quinn. 2011-12: not Brett Lebda (Giving Lebda Gill’s old number was probably not the best choice.)
24. Bryan McCabe – A couple years back, I considered Brian Glennie here, but he was never an all-star. McCabe had the most upside of all the 24’s, including Glennie, and Dan Daoust. He wound up 6th all-time for scoring amongst Leaf d-men. A bad end doesn’t erase the good times he had. 2011-12: John-Michael Liles
25. Peter Zezel – I had hopes for Nieuwendyk here, but no-go. His one season was good, but his time was too short. Terry Martin worked hard and wasn’t bad.
26. Allan Stanley – thank heaven for Allan Stanley. Why? After him, you are left with Chris Kotsopoulos and Mike Krushelnyski. Van Ryn was good, but his time was too short. 2011-12: Mike Zigomanis, assuming we see him
27. Darryl Sittler – how do you pick between Sittler and Frank Mahovlich? Frank won more Cups, Sittler was the captain and the Leafs’ all-time leading scorer (for a while). Miro Ihnacak, oddly enough, just doesn’t fill the void.
28. Tie Domi – the only other players to wear this number for any length of time are Dave Farrish and Brian Curran. (I’m sure there will be pressure to retire this….) Carl Brewer wore it during his 1979-80 comeback. 2011-12: Colton Orr – this one is kind of appropriate.
29. Felix Potvin – as great as Palmateer was (before his knees went), Potvin got the Leafs closer to a Cup than any goalie since Bower. Motor City Smitty was an interesting non-goaltender #29. Ken Hammond, who was briefly threatened by Lebda as my most disliked Leaf defenseman, was also #29. 2011-12: Matt Lashoff
30. Terry Sawchuk – short time in Toronto, but won a Cup and a Vezina, which Allan Bester and Bernie Parent never managed to do. 2011-12: Ben Scrivens (again, assuming we see him)
31. Curtis Joseph – was here longer than Grant Fuhr and was better than Ken Wreggett. Pavel Kubina was the first non-goaltender ever to wear this in Toronto, but gave it up for Cujo.
32. Steve Thomas – Stumpy always played hard and came up with the big goals when needed. Better Leaf than Daniel Marois or Mike Eastwood…. 2011-12: Joe Colborne
33. Al Iafrate – tons of talent, a colossal shame about the knee. Remember when 33 was considered a high number? When Iafrate first donned it, it was the highest number on the Leafs. 2011-12: Luca Caputi
34. Jamie Macoun – old and immobile at the end, Macoun was a revelation when he arrived in Toronto in the Gilmour deal. He’d step on the ice, and all of a sudden, all the nonsense would stop and everything would calm right down. Bryan Berard is a sad case of what-might-have-been. If Reimer can keep up his level of play for two more years and drag this team back to respectability, this slot is waiting for him. 2011-12: James Reimer
35. J.S. Giguere – This one is tough, though not really for any good reasons. The three key candidates are goalies Jeff Reese, Vesa Toskala and Giguere. Toskala’s first year really wasn’t that awful, but the rest was (even though I suspect he is the last goalie in the world Allaire should ever have been working with). Reese was a backup most of his career but had a couple of really interesting moments. He left as part of the Gilmour deal. Giguere was OK in spurts, but rarely spectacular.
36. Dimitri Yushkevich – a real warrior of a defenseman and far better than Frank Bialowas and Len Esau. Stralman looked interesting here and there, but then it was off to Columbus for a pick that played into the Kessel deal. What will Gunnarson become? 2011-12: Carl Gunnarson
37. Tim Brent – Doug Shedden was a real good #37 for about 5 shifts before tearing a knee apart. Ian White was well on his way, but then switched to #7. Before Tim Brent and his 20 points came along, I had to give this slot to Trevor Kidd.
38. Yannick Tremblay – one of four 38s, with the others being Dave Harlock and Chris Snell (remember them?). Yannick showed some promise as a puck-moving defenseman in the early Quinn years. 2011-12: Jay Rosehill
39. Travis Green – beyond Green, you’re talking Clark Wilm, John Mitchell and Simon Gamache. Green was a good #3 centre and scored some big playoff goals. 2011-12: Matt Frattin
40. Ken McRae – nobody ever wore 40 for a full season. McRae at least managed not to hurt himself on the ice. 2011-12: Jussi Rynnas has this assigned. The spot is his if he manages to play.
41. Nikolai Kulemin – Kulemin’s 30-goal season and all-around play pushes the glacial Jason Allison out of this slot. Allison pushed Eric Lacroix, who seemed to be a decent enough up-and-comer before being dealt off. Jiri Tlusty wore this for half of a season. 2011-12: Nikolai Kulemin
42. Kyle Wellwood – took over from Cup-winner (not in Toronto, go figure) Kevyn Adams, who worked real hard and had more success than David Cooper. Even though his last year stunk and he’s been all over the place since, that half season of point-per-game was better than anything Adams did here. If Bozak can put together a season remotely like his first one, this spot is his. Actually, if he manages to stay in shape all season, it might be his anyway. 2011-12: Tyler Bozak
43. Nazem Kadri – Nate Dempsey, the old best #43, had a couple shots at the Leafs, once up front and once on the blue line where he was briefly everybody’s darling. He moved on and at least became a regular for a time. Jay Harrison, the other 43 of any note, still isn’t really establised anywhere. Nazem showed promise last year, sort of like Dempsey in his last callup, but Nazem is younger and should play a role this coming season. Honestly, even if Kadri wears #43 all season, hockey is still worth watching. 2011-12: Nazem Kadri
44. Yanic Perrault – Bryan Bradley and Anders Eriksson were both disasters. Perrault was pretty good. For those who didn’t like what they saw with Brayden Irwin, remember that the previous bearer of #44 was Ryan Hollweg. 2011-12: Brayden Irwin – I think he’s still around, isn’t he?
45. Viktor Stalberg – His 9 goals trump the 7 points Carlo Colaiacovo got in ’05-06. (Zedenek Nedved and Karel Pilar (briefly) are the others) 2011-12: Marcel Mueller
46. Joey Crabb – Joey becomes the first player to actually record a point in this number. Ben Ondrus had none and was a -10 in 22 games in ’05-06. 2011-12: Joey Crabb
47. Darryl Boyce – Boyce, who other than Gustavsson is the only #50 in Leaf history, takes over from tough guy Nathan Perrott – the only other 47 in Leaf history. 2011-12: Darryl Boyce
48. Jeremy Williams – not the goal-per-game player he once was, but still the best here. Being the only #48 helps. 2011-12: Ryan Hamilton, who I don’t expect to see this year.
49. Dmitri Yakushin – Remember him? I can’t really say that I do, either.
50. Jonas Gustavsson – The Monster stomps all over Darryl Boyce, who on Jan. 24, 2008 became the first player ever to wear #50 in Toronto. Unfortunately for Boyce, he wore it for all of 3:20 before getting hurt. Will this be a bounce-back year for Gus? I sure hope so. 2011-12: Jonas Gustavsson
51. Rickard Wallin – Actually, I’m really torn here. Jeff Hamilton also wore this and scored a similar number of points, but Wallin put in a full (if uninspiring) season. 2011-12: Jake Gardiner, who I really hope does something special, even in a goofy number like 51.
52. Alexander Karpovtsev – especially since Sean Haggerty only saw a couple shifts.
Robbie Earl showed promise here.
53. John Pohl – Wore this number as a call-up in ’05-06, a season in which he earned himself a contract, a roster spot and a real number (21).
54. Kris Newbury – Played pretty well in spurts, but not enough to stick.
55. Danny Markov – Larry Murphy was actually pretty good in his time here as public whipping boy, but Markov was here longer and was just fearless. Blake had his moments but was generally not a favourite. 2011-12: Korbinian Holzer
56. Andy Wozniewski – Believe it or not, the Woz was actually better than somebody. That person was Andre Deveaux.
59. Keith Aulie – The Wookie displaces Jamie Sifers, who took over from Bob Wren, the original #59.
67. Robert Svehla – either was courageous or obtuse. Not sure which.
71. Mike Foligno – because #17 was taken. We all know by whom.
72. Mathieu Schneider – Presumably wanted 27, which he’d worn elsewhere, and briefly wore 28. Mathieu was not my favourite. Often injured and listless-looking when he wasn’t, Leaf fans should have jumped on Schneider instead of Larry Murphy. Schneider left town and found his mojo again.
73. Pavel Kubina – Wore this for the start of the ’06-07 season, most likely because the north american 7 looks something like a Euopean 1, making his new number look something like his old #13. Didn’t help. He switched to 31 after a rough start. Also tried 31 and 77.
77. Pavel Kubina – is unique in that he is the only person to have two spots on this list. We never had a 77 in Toronto before or since.
80. Nik Antropov – Nik broke in as number 9, switched to 11 after a bunch of injuries. He gave up #11 to Owen Nolan and wore #80 for the rest of his Leaf days. Was born in ’80.
81. Phil Kessel – There has only been one #81, but fortunately it was a good one. 2011-12: Phil Kessel
84. Mikail Grabovski – See #81 – Kessel, Phil. 2011-12: Mikail Grabovski
88. Eric Lindros – 33 games, 22 points. Eric, we hardly knew ye.
89. Alexander Mogilny – All the talent in the world, but I don’t think it ever really clicked here. Too bad. Injuries certainly didn’t help.
92. Jeff O’Neill – Had his moments, just not enough of them.
93. Doug Gilmour – not the only 93 the Leafs have had. Remember Alexander Godynyuk?
94. Sergei Berezin – a good late pick. Too bad the league figured out that little hesitation move. Yanic Perrault wore it for his third Leaf go-round.
96. Phil Housley (ick)
99. Wilf Paiement – maybe the second best 99 in history. No – defintitely the second best 99 in history. There are worse things you could be (like, say, the guy traded for Lanny McDonald, but we won’t go there.)