Over the course of 40-plus years (my lifespan) the Toronto Maple Leafs have introduced us to many players who not only could play the game, but had character or were characters. It’s a big part of what made some bad Leafs teams watchable and some good teams even better.
The current Buds roster can be described in one word: bland. Name one player that stands out as having any chutzpah. Aki Berg would feel right at home in this group; it is hard to recall a more disinteresting collective.
As a boy growing up without a father in the 1970s, Lanny MacDonald’s moustache became my surrogate dad every Saturday night. His upper lip had more star quality than any of today’s Maple Leaf sweater holders.
In the early 70s, the great Eddie Shack was at the tail end of his career. Luckily, along came Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams to pick up the torch. Tiger and Lanny’s Hungryman commercial is still a favourite childhood memory.
Many names from that decade stand out as pillars of Leafs lore; record setters such as Darryl Sittler and Ian Turnbull and innovators like Borje Salming and Mike Palmateer and a whole bunch of future NHL coaches. It was a breeding ground of talent.
Leafs fans have been treated to a lot of great captains. Hall of Famers Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Sittler, all-time fan favourite Wendel Clark and the franchises’ first 50 goal scorer, Rick Vaive.
Where does Dion Phaneuf rank in this group? Dead Last, in every possible way.
Sure, Mike Brown is an aggressive agitator and a colourful guy. However, he cannot hold a candle to some of the great dirt disturbers in TO over the years. Darcy Tucker and Tie Domi knew how to stir a pot, and don’t forget Ken Linseman. ‘The Rat’ spent a short time mucking it up as a Leaf too.
When it comes to loose cannons, the boys in blue had one of the loosest in Al Iafrate. He became known, more so in Washington, as ‘The Wild Thing’. The moniker was well deserved.
Perhaps the loosest cannon of all time, sadly, was the late John Kordic. The only predictable thing about him was that at some point, he was going to go off in spectacular fashion.
The franchise has had some explosive coaches behind the bench.
Who can forget watching John Brophy horse collar Kordic to keep him from joining an on-ice scrap from the bench? Brophy’s face would start out red at game time and quickly move to purple.
The two Pats, Quinn and Burns, were fiery to say the least. Some of the best nights featured them blowing their tops at a referee or picking a fight with the opposing team’s coach.
It remains to be seen if Coach Randy Carlyle can light a fire under this team. It may just be that any excitement in 2012/2013 will be supplied from the bench, not the ice.