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Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs were founded in November of 1917 as the Toronto Arenas, replacing the Quebec Bulldogs as one of the four teams in the then brand new National Hockey League. Lawyer Eddie Livingstone was the founder and the Arenas played their first game on December 19, 1917. Despite winning the Stanley Cup in the league's first year, the Toronto Arenas would struggle and in 1919 would go on to become the Toronto St. Patricks. By 1922 the St. Pats were surprising many pundits, defeating Ottawa and Vancouver in the playoffs to win Toronto's second Stanely Cup championship. But in 1927 a new company headed by Conn Smythe and Hugh Aird purchased the club and renamed them as the Maple Leafs. They also began construction of the Maple Leaf Gardens, where the Leafs would begin playing in the 1931-32 season. Their first season in the new building also saw them win the Stanley Cup, sweeping the New York Rangers in three straight games.

Throughout the rest of the 1930s, the Maple Leafs appeared in numerous Stanley Cup finals, but were unable to take home the ultimate prize. In 1940 Hap Day took over the reigns as coach of the Maple Leafs. He would oversee what was for the longest time the greatest comeback in sporting history, when the Leafs came back from a three games to none deficit in the 1942 playoffs to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in their best of seven series. The comeback brought the Stanley Cup back to Toronto after a ten year absense. The Leafs had the Red Wings' number in 1947 as they defeated the Detroit club in another seven game final to win the Stanley Cup. The latter half of the 1940's would be dominated by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The "Blue and White" would win four straight championships from 1947-51 defeating Montreal and Detroit, twice each. 1955 saw the end of a Maple Leafs era as Conn Smythe stepped down as general manager of the club. The Leafs would struggle for the rest of the decade, finishing last overall for the first time in the 1956-57 season. By 1958 Toronto had signed Johnnie Bower, Carl Brewer, hired Punch Imlach as general manager, and acquired Eddie Shack.

By 1960, the Maple Leafs were back in the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the Montreal Canadiens. After a ten year drought, the Leafs brought home the cup in 1962 by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks. This win began a streak of three straight championships and a total of four for the decade of the 1960s. They defeated the Detroit Red Wings in 1963 and 1964, and the Montreal Canadiens in 1967. Meanwhile on the ownership front the team switched hands to Harold Ballard. Even though he was charged with tax evasion and spent a year in jail, Ballard would go on to operate the Maple Leafs with an iron fist for the next two decades. Though no where near the powerhouse team of the 1940s or 1960s, the Leafs played a competitive brand of hockey. One of the highlights for the franchise was a 1976 game against the Boston Bruins when Darryl Sittler recorded an NHL record high 10 points in one game. The late 1970s were converted into a sideshow by Harold Ballard. His antics included firing Red Kelley, hiring Roger Nielson, firing him and hiring him back, and once again firing him along with Bob Davidson - all in the span of weeks.

On the ice, the Leafs were in and out of the playoffs. They missed the postseason four times in eight years through the 1980s. Toronto fans were still entertained by numerous individuals stars like Rick Vaive and Wendel Clark. April 1990 saw the passing away of Harold Ballard, leaving the venerable Toronto Maple Leafs franchise in a mess. As the front office troubles was being worked on, the Leafs were a struggling team on the ice. 1991 saw the arrival of veteran hockey executive Cliff Fletcher as the president and general manager of the club. Fletcher would make several on and off ice moves to start the rebuilding process. He acquired Doug Gilmour in a multi-player deal with his ex-team, the Calgary Flames; replaced Tom Watt with Pat Burns behind the bench; and acquired Grant Fuhr. The 1992 regular season saw an upstart Maple Leafs team guided by Pat Burns accumulate 99 points in the regular season. They defeated the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings in seven; battled the St. Louis Blues in a seven game series; before losing to the Los Angles Kings in a controversial seven game series. In 1994 the Maple Leafs lost in the conference finals, this time to the Vancouver Canucks. By 1996 the once mighty Maple Leafs seemed to have landed on hard times. They went through a cost cutting binge as players like Mike Gartner, Dave Gagner, Doug Gilmour, and Dave Ellet were traded. The team finished last in the central divison and led to the termination of Cliff Fletcher as its general manager. Ken Dryden was hired and formed the core of a management team handed the job of rebuilding the team once again.

Pat Quinn was hired as coach in 1998 and employed an 'offense first' system opening up the game. The high scoring Leafs were a hit with the fans, but were unable to achieve playoff success in a defense minded NHL. On February 20, 1999, the Maple Leafs officially moved out of the fabled Maple Leaf Gardens and opened their new home, Air Canada Center. Their first game was an exciting 3-2 overtime win over longtime rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. Success continued in Toronto as they finished the 1999-2000 season above the 100 point barrier for the first time in franchise history, in the process winning their first division title in 37 years. The Leafs made quick work of the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the post-season, but lost out to the tight checking New Jersey Devils in six games. The following year's playoff run once again saw the Leafs face off against Ottawa. They swept the Senators in 4 games behind an exceptional performance by goalie Curtis Joseph. But again, they lost to the defensively tight Devils in six games in the second round.

With things clicking in Leaf land the team was a shoe in for the 2002 playoffs. They overpowered a young and fiesty New York Islanders team in a rough seven game series. The second round had them face their provincial rivals from Ottawa and the Leafs took the Senators in a seven games set. But they ran into the Cinderella story of that year's playoff in the Carolina Hurricans and their diminutive goaltender Arturs Irbe. The Hurricanes defeated the Leafs in a six game series. By this time Pat Quinn was in control of hockey operations (as general manager and coach) and the Leafs were unable to re-sign free agent star goalie Curtis Joseph. As Joseph signed with the Red Wings, the team quickly turned around and signed Eddie Belfour and did not really miss a beat in the regular season. But the playoffs were a different story as the Leafs lost in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Leafs post-lockout era began with the team signing several free agents, including Eric Lindros and Jason Allison. The team though never got on a positive roll and spent the season trying to stay in the playoff hunt. They missed the playoffs and that was the end of Pat Quinn as coach, to be replaced by Paul Maurice. The team bought out enforcer Tie Domi and goalie Ed Belfour, and made a trade to acquire Andrew Raycroft from the Boston Bruins.

Toronto Maple Leafs Overview:
Team name: Toronto Maple Leafs
Founded: 1917
Formerly known as: Toronto Arenas (1917-1919), Toronto St. Patricks (1919-1926)
Arena: Air Canada Centre
Stanley Cups won: 13 (1918, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967)

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