A few weeks ago, a friend and I were trying to come up with segments for our future radio show at our college station. We came up with one while playing older “NHL” video games and laughing at the Maple Leafs rosters over the last few years, so we decided we should try and create a list of the worst skaters to don a Leafs uniform over the past 15 years. It took awhile to complete, and through many laughs, as well as intense debates about the rankings on the list, we were able to come to a consensus and finish it.
We decided to set the timeline at 15 years for two reasons. First, because if you go beyond that, there have been so many Leafs who could qualify for the list that it would take days to complete (the Ballard years alone could justify their own top 50 worst). Also, being two young guys, these are the players we grew up watching with are own eyes and are familiar with. Finally, the players chosen had to play a significant amount of time with the Leafs to qualify (approx. 45+ games), so “greats’ such as Adam Mair and Jeff Farkas will not be featured. Other than that, there was not really any specific criteria that made a player a “worst” Leaf, we were choosing from players who we simply could not stand to watch while they were in Toronto.
Even with limiting to the last 15 years, we still had a hard time trying to keep the list to 25, so here are the honourable (or dis-honourable) mentions that just missed the cut: Travis Green, Chad Kilger, Clarke Wilm, Mikael Tellqvist, John Pohl, Mark Bell, Jonas Gustavsson, Alyn McCauley, Jason Blake, Garnet Exelby, Kyle Wellwood, Brett Lebda, and while they were not players, former GM John Ferguson Jr. and assistant coach Rick Ley make this list as well (If you have never read the story of Ley trying to teach the players the trap, or his scoresheet error, check them out, they are hilarious).
25 Worst Maple Leafs of the Last 15 Years: Part One #25-15
#25 – Paul Ranger
Ranger was last year’s feel good story out of training camp, making the Leafs after a terrific comeback year with the Marlies in 2012-13. Ranger’s on-ice play last year though quickly turned him into one of the most loathed Leafs of 2013-14, with his slow foot-speed and his ability to get burned on the wing during a rush seemingly at least once a game. One season of paltry play was enough for the Leafs to wave goodbye to Ranger.
#24 – Rickard Wallin
Coming to Toronto in 2009 along with Gustavsson, Wallin was supposed to be a nice third-line depth skater for the Leafs who could maybe chip in 10-15 goals. Wallin did not deliver on that, not even close. He scored all of two goals in 60 GP and was a -7, and was back in Sweden by 2010.
#23 – Kris Versteeg
Acquired in the summer of 2010 after two very good seasons in Chicago, Versteeg was supposed to be the the second-line winger who could score at least 20 goals and bring championship pedigree to Toronto. That did not happen, and Versteeg was a bust. While Versteeg had 14 goals, Brian Burke was fed up with his lackluster play and shipped him and his -13 rating to Philly after 57 games.
#22/#21 – Alex Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov
These two Eastern European boys, who would probably be in the top three if this list were simply “worst skaters,” were both taken by Mike “Lets prove European superiority in hockey” Smith in the 1998 draft (Antropov at #10 overall, ahead of Mike Ribeiro, Simon Gagne, and Scott Gomez). While their numbers do not look horrible, the fact that these two were the best the Leafs could give Mats Sundin as options on the wing for a large chunk of time after the 2004-05 lockout is embarrassing. Watching these two awkward giraffes slowly trudge up the ice night in and night out was painful, but not as painful as two other Sundin linemates on this list…
#20 – Lee Stempniak
Stempniak, who was acquired in Brian Burke’s first deal as Leafs GM in Nov. 2008, was only a little over a year removed from a 27-goal campaign in St. Louis. Like Versteeg, he was supposed to give an anemic Toronto offense some secondary scoring punch, but had that actually happened, he would not be on that list now would he? In a combined 123 GP in Toronto, Stempniak scored a mere 25 goals, plus, trading for him hurts even more in hindsight, as the Leafs surrendered Alex Steen to acquire Stempniak.
#19 – Owen Nolan
Looking for another piece to solidify the Leafs as contenders in 2003, GM Pat Quinn traded for San Jose’s Owen Nolan, a player know as a gritty tough guy who could also put the puck in the net. He was going to help the Leafs with a deep playoff push, someone who could maybe put the Leafs into the upper echelon of teams. While Nolan scored two goals in his first game as a Leaf, he was nowhere to be found in the Leafs first-round loss to Philly. Toronto expected more out of him in 2003-04, but only saw 19 goals from Nolan, his lowest total since 1998-99. After a “mis-diagnosed” injury before the 2004 playoffs sidelined him, Nolan never played another shift in Toronto.
#18 – Robert Reichel
After the Coyotes rejected Reichel’s proposal of a $3 million a year deal, they eventually traded his rights to Toronto, who were happy to give him a 3-year contract worth $9.75 million. Instead of using that money to finally provide Captain Mats with suitable linemates, that money went to a combined 43 goals from Reichel over 228 GP. Also, when the team really needed contributions from the lower lines in the 2002 playoffs, Reichel turned his useless meter up to full blast, scoring a mere three assists in 18 games.
#17/#16 – Jonas Hoglund and Mikael Renberg
While Ponikarovsky and Antropov were bad, Hoglund and Renberg were awful. Maybe the Leafs thought they were hitting one out of the park by trying to reunite the Swedish chemistry between these two and Sundin, but it was a failure. Hoglund did score 29 goals in his first year in T.O., but his production slid every year after that, and yet he continued to get first line minutes with Sundin. Renberg, whose best days as the weak link of the “Legion of Doom” in Philly were behind him, was totally useless in his three years as a Leaf, never once scoring more than 14 goals, despite playing a large portion of that with Sundin. These two leeched off of Mats for four and three years respectively, wasting #13’s talents in the process, at a time when the team had unlimited resources to spend to create a real top line.
#15 – Hal Gill
The first (of many) John Ferguson Jr. moves to make the list, Gill was signed in the summer of 2006. He was so slow-footed, he made Antropov look like Pavel Bure. He was durable and somehow managed 40 PTS over his 145 GP in Toronto, but the turnovers and poor play in his own end cancelled out any any good he brought to the table.
Agree or disagree thus far? Leave a comment below if so. Tune in soon to see who we ranked as the #14-#1 worst Leafs of the last 15 years.
For the latest in sports injury news, check out our friends at Sports Injury Alert.
Have you tuned into Last Word On Sports Radio? LWOS is pleased to bring you 24/7 sports radio to your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. What are you waiting for?