Did you hear that John Tavares is going to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer? They just have to figure out how to work in his cap hit after trading for Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson.
OK, nobody really thinks that will happen. But you’ve probably heard some jokes about the possibility, since it plays into an old stereotype about Leaf fans — that they arrogantly assume that every star player is destined to wear the blue and white before their career is up, and anyone who doesn’t wind up in Toronto must have just missed.
Like most stereotypes, this one is hurtful and untrue. So just for the record: No, Maple Leafs fans don’t actually believe that every single star player to ever grace the league was this close to playing in Toronto.
Just almost all of them.
Seriously, it’s kind of a thing. And in fairness to Leafs fans, it’s not like we’re all just engaging in wishful thinking. There’s a long history of star players being linked to the Maple Leafs. Whether it’s a trade, a free-agent signing, or something more nefarious, the list of hockey legends linked to the Leafs is a long one. And most of those stories don’t come from delusional fans, but rather from media, executives or even the players themselves.
How long a list? Well, long enough to fill out a full roster. Which is what we’re going to do today. Consider it a warmup as we head towards the trade deadline and the Maple Leafs hype train revs up. And also a reminder that every Leaf fan you know might not be as crazy as they sound.
Centre: Wayne Gretzky
Our first pick is an easy call. Gretzky was rumoured to be headed towards Toronto pretty much since he first arrived on the hockey scene, although much of that was admittedly just the fever dream of desperate 1980s Leafs fans. But the Great One really did almost become a Maple Leafs during the 1996 off-season. He was an unrestricted free agent and wanted to finish his career in Toronto. Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher was on board, but the Leafs’ board of directors shot the idea down for financial reasons.
Winger: Rocket Richard
The idea of Richard in a Maple Leafs’ sweater seems unthinkable — the sort of sacrilege worthy of 100 million moths. But while Richard would become the Canadiens’ most iconic superstar, there was a time early in his career when he was viewed as an injury-prone disappointment, and the team was reported to be shopping him to Toronto, among other teams. The Leafs missed their chance at the time, but GM Conn Smythe would later set his sights on The Rocket, offering a ransom to pry the winger away in both 1949 and 1951. The Canadiens resisted the temptation, and Richard finished his career in Montreal.
Winger: Ted Lindsay
The Maple Leafs were the first …read more