The Starting Six series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the Toronto Maple Leafs all-time lineup.
Starting Six: Toronto Maple Leafs All Time Lineup
With over 100 years of history, the Toronto Maple Leafs are among the most storied franchises in North American sports, let alone the National Hockey League. As such, the team has seen many great players over the past century. From the Toronto Arenas to the days of the St. Pats, as well as the past 90 years as the Maple Leafs, many players are deserving to be in this lineup. However, only six of the greatest Maple Leafs of all time will be featured, one at each position, starting at centre ice.
Center: Dave Keon (1960-75)
Voted the greatest Maple Leaf player of all time in “The One Hundred” series Toronto organized last year, Dave Keon’s career as a Leaf was truly remarkable.
One of the best all around players of all time, Keon’s abilities led the Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups in the 1960’s, including three consecutive from 1962 to 1964. His scoring touch combined with his shut down defensive play made Keon a force throughout his career in Toronto.
While Dave Keon may not have the same scoring numbers as other Leafs greats such as Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin, his defensive play sets him apart. Keon’s teammate Jim Pappin spoke about his play, saying “If he wanted to, he could have scored 30 or 40 goals every year, but without shutting down great players like he did, we wouldn’t have won those championships.”
Standing at 5-foot-9, Keon’s speed and skill made him an offensive force, while his defensive play made him as valuable as one player can be to a franchise. Leafs coach and general manager Punch Imlach was quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t trade Dave Keon for Gordie Howe.”
Keon’s totals and accolades as a Maple Leaf speak for themselves. 858 points in 1,062 games over 15 seasons, six of which as captain. A Calder Memorial Trophy in 1961 after a 45 point rookie season. Lady Byng Memorial Trophies in 1962 and 1963. A Conn Smythe in 1967, the lone Toronto player to win the award. And of course, four Stanley Cups, in 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.
Unfortunately, Dave Keon’s unceremonious departure from the franchise thanks to Harold Ballard resulted in a generation of fans who didn’t know the great. Things have begun to turn around, however, as Leafs president Brendan Shanahan has welcomed Keon back into the fold.
His number 14 was finally honoured and retired at the start of the 2016-17 season, 35 years after his retirement from the NHL. A statue of Keon resides in Legends Row outside of the Air Canada Centre.
Left Wing: Frank Mahovlich (1956-68)
Frank Mahovlich was one of the best goal scorers in Leafs history. He was the first Toronto player to reach 40 goals. Mahovlich’s highest single season total as a Maple Leaf, 48, stood as the highest mark for a Toronto player for 21 years. His 48 goal season is still the sixth best single season goal scoring mark in Toronto, even though he set the mark in 1961.
His 1960-61 season is one of the most impressive in Leafs history. With 48 goals and 84 points, Mahovlich was named to the NHL All-Star First Team on the left wing. He finished second in goal scoring, behind only Bernie Geoffrion, and third in points, behind Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau.
“The Big M” was an incredibly tough player to play against due to his size and skill. Hall of Fame defenceman Bill Gadsby spoke about Mahovlich, saying “He was one of the toughest guys in hockey to defend against. He’s big, fast, strong, and an excellent stick-handler with a two-way shift and an extension ladder reach. He either just moves the puck out of your reach or bulls you out of the way.”
As a Maple Leaf, he was named to six First and Second NHL All-Star teams, a Toronto record. Mahovlich won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1958 after a 36 point rookie campaign. He was a major component of four Stanley Cups in Toronto throughout the 1960’s. The Big M’s number 27 hangs from the rafters at the Air Canada Centre, while a statue in Legends Row greets you at the entrance.
Right Wing: George Armstrong (1949-71)
As the franchise leader in games played, postseason games played, seasons, and seasons as captain, it would be hard to keep George Armstrong out of this lineup.
“The Chief” made his Leafs debut in 1950 and would go on to play 21 years in Toronto. Over 1,187 games, Armstrong would score 296 goals and 713 points. Those totals place him sixth in goal scoring and fifth in points as a Maple Leaf.
Known for his consistent, durable, and hard-working play, Armstrong made for the perfect captain. For ten years, George Armstrong led the Maple Leafs with the “C” on his chest. Over that ten year span, the Leafs won four Stanley Cups, in 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967. Conn Smythe once described Armstrong as “the best captain, as a captain, the Leafs have ever had.”
A perennial playoff performer, Armstrong scored 60 points over 110 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the prime of his career, “The Chief” was dynamite in the Leafs Stanley Cup efforts in 1962, 1963, and 1964. In those three years, Armstrong played 36 games, producing an impressive 34 points.
George Armstrong was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. His number 10 was honoured and raised to the rafters in 1998. A statue of “The Chief” is also outside of the ACC in Legends Row.
Defenceman: Borje Salming (1973-89)
One of the driving forces behind the European invasion, Borje Salming quickly became a premier defenceman upon his arrival in Toronto in 1973.
Over 16 seasons in Toronto, Salming became the one of the franchise’s all time greats. He sits third in games played with 1,099, one of just two defencemen to play over 1,000 games with the Maple Leafs.
In addition, Salming is the franchise leader in points for a defenceman. He scored 148 goals and 768 points over his career in Toronto, over 200 points clear of second place Tomas Kaberle. In fact, Salming is fourth in franchise scoring, a very impressive feat from the blueline. Salming’s vision and passing were superb, allowing him to record 620 assists in the blue and white, the highest total of any player in Leafs history.
The best year of his career came in 1977 when Salming produced 78 points in 76 games. Although he finished in the top five in voting seven times, Salming never quite broke through to win a Norris Trophy. He finished second in 1977 and 1980, losing to Larry Robinson both times.
Borje Salming’s number 21 was honoured in 2006 by the Leafs, fully retired last season. The change forced James van Riemsdyk to swap his number 21 out for number 25 for the 2016-17 season and beyond. In 2015, a statue of Salming was placed in Legends Row.
Defenceman: Tim Horton (1950-72)
More than just an owner of a coffee shop, Tim Horton is one of the best defencemen in Toronto Maple Leafs history. Second all time in games played, Horton’s 1,185 games are the most for a Leafs defenceman.
Horton manned the blueline for the Leafs for 20 seasons, helping them to four Stanley Cups in the 1960’s. The bruising defenceman recorded 458 points and a whopping 1,389 penalty minutes over his Leafs career. Horton was named to three NHL All-Star First Teams and three NHL All-Star Second Teams.
Tim Horton’s strength made him one of the most feared and respected players in the league. Hall of Fame winger Bobby Hull said of Horton, “There were defencemen you had to fear because they were vicious and would slam you into the boards from behind. But you respected Tim Horton because he didn’t need that type of intimidation. He used his tremendous strength and talent to keep you in check.”
Not only was Horton an intimidating player, but he was durable. He still holds the Leafs consecutive games record, at 486 regular season games. The total was the record for defencemen until broken in 2007 by Karlis Skrastins.
In 1977, Horton was posthumously named to the Hockey Hall of Fame. His number 7 was honoured by the Leafs in 1995 and was named to Legends Row in 2016.
Goaltender: Johnny Bower (1958-70)
A fan favourite, Johnny Bower is the oldest player to wear a Maple Leafs uniform. Retiring at age 45, Bower played 12 seasons with the Leafs. A major component in the Leafs three consecutive Stanley Cups, he was also a part of the Leafs most recent Cup in 1967.
Johnny Bower played 472 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning 220 games and posting 33 shutouts. In 1959-60, he set the Leafs single season record in wins, with 34. The total wouldn’t be beaten until 1999 when Curtis Joseph won 35 games in Toronto.
Over his career, Bower had a 2.51 goals-against-average. He won the Vezina Trophy in 1961 and 1965, although his best statistical season came in 1964 with a 2.11 GAA and a .933 save percentage.
Bower was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976. He was one of the original three named to Legends Row in 2014, along with Darryl Sittler and Ted Kennedy. His previously honoured number 1 was retired in 2016 as well.
via Last Word on Hockey, by Kyle Cushman
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images