Ups and Downs Within The Crease


    Someone recently asked me a trivia question that got me thinking. The question was, “How many major individual awards have been won by Maple Leaf players since the last Stanley Cup win in 1967?”

    My answer was two, which was correct. Doug Gilmour won the Selke Trophy in 1993 and Alex Mogilny the Lady Byng in 2003.

    If you were to count the Masterton Trophy, Jason Blake won it last year, but most don’t consider it one of the major individual awards.

    In that same stretch, 42 players from the Montreal Canadiens won major individual awards, a majority of them coming from the goaltending position.

    So, I set out to examine the last 41 years of goaltending ups and downs since the last cup. No less than 54 men have strapped on the pads in a Leafs jersey since the cup win in 1967.

    No Vezina trophies, but remarkably six of them had won a Vezina prior to their arrival in Toronto, and one, Bernie Parent, won the Vezina after he left.

    Let’s examine some of the names we have had in goal over the past 41 years.

    Bower and Sawchuk led a team of veterans to the cup in 1967, before Sawchuk was deemed expendable in the expansion draft and vacated the position for the Los Angeles Kings.

    In comes Bruce Gamble. Now there’s a blast from the past. A mediocre goalie at best, the rotund puckstopper shared the duties with Bower until the latter’s retirement after the 70-71 season, and then had to share them with legend Jacques Plante the following year before being shipped off to Philadelphia for Bernie Parent.

    Parent, himself was a puzzle. Having started his career in Boston, he went to Philly in the expansion draft of 1967, spent four years there, before landing in Toronto. After two mediocre seasons here, he jumped to the WHA, then landed back in the NHL for the 1973-74 season with the Flyers, where he went on to have a hall-of-fame type career.

    Ed Johnston was another short-lived Leaf goalie of note. He had won two cups with the Bruins and spent part of the 1973-74 season with the Leafs, along with Doug Favell and Dunc Wilson.

    Gord McRae played for the Leafs, off and on, for several years, prior to the arrival of Mike Palmateer, and was in goal for the first-round upset of the Los Angeles Kings in 1975. Palmateer, one of the characters of the game, patrolled the Leaf net in two separate stints. He was famous for his wild curly hair and penchant for eating popcorn as his pre-game meal. He also provided the Leafs with prolonged stellar goaltending for the first time since their cup run.

    He left during the tumultuous 1979-80 season, but returned in 82-83 to play that season and the next.

    The heirs apparent, a tandem of Ken Wregget and Allan Bester, surfaced the following season and handled the majority of work throughout the eighties, playing sporadically well, and also stinking up the Gardens on more than one occasion.

    During this decade, several other goalies came through Hogtown, including forgettables like Vincent Tremblay and Jiri Crha, and former Vezina winners like Bunny Larocque, and Don Edwards.

    The nineties brought more change and a hope for the future with the arrival of Felix Potvin and the one and only Grant Fuhr. Potvin was the future, Fuhr was the star veteran who would carry the load for the time being.
    Fuhr lasted through two seasons before it was clear that Potvin was ready for the task, and he carried the Leafs through the nineties, mostly backed up by Damian Rhodes and later, Rick Wamsley.

    The end of the Potvin era occurred in 1998-99 when the Leafs acquired Curtis Jospeh and traded Felix to the Islanders for Bryan Berard.

    Cujo became the second Leafs goalie to carry the team on his shoulders since the cup win in 67.

    And carry them he did, until he bolted for the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. The Leafs countered by signing free agent Eddie Belfour, who gave the Leafs two great seasons before toiling through a third average one and being released in 2006.

    Andrew Raycroft was supposed to be the saviour, but we all know how that went. Toskala the same, and he is now floundering a bit.

    So, 41 years, 54 goalies, no cup, no Vezina trophies. Is it time, once again, to get a franchise goaltender?

    What do you think?