With not much going on in Leafs land over the next couple months, I had planned to start a weekly article like this to try and promote some of the great literature that exists regarding Toronto hockey history. The books listed here are all relatively easy to get a copy of (some easier than others given how old they are), and most would provide great insight into the people and personalities that helped to mold everybody’s favorite team. This also may help to dispel the myth that times have never been worse in Leafs history.
The first book that I would highly recommend to all is titled “Inside Maple Leaf Gardens, The Rise and Fall of the Toronto Maple Leafs” written by Mr William Houston, formerly of The Globe and Mail. The book starts out with the same theme that most of this era embodies, that of the imbecilic nature of the Leafs operation when run by Mr Harold Ballard. There is some brief history of the team as run by NHL legend and late owner Maj. Conn Smyth, but most of the book is an in detail account of the unprofessional nature of the club from 1967 into the 1980’s.
To borrow a passage from Houston that I think is very relevant today, in the opening paragraph he writes
“The 1987-88 season like so many, had started with optimism. There had been encouraging signs from the previous year, which had been John Brophy’s first as head coach, when at the midway point the team had been only 1 game under .500. However, they slipped in the second half and finished in fourth place in the Norris Division. Only 4 teams in the 21 club league had poorer records. Still, by the modest standards established in Toronto over the previous years, this was viewed as somewhat satisfactory. The 32 victories after all were the most in a regular season in eight years. The 42 losses were 6 fewer than the previous season. And in the playoffs, they redeemed themselves by upsetting the St. Louis Blues and pushing the Detroit Red Wings to a seventh and deciding game.” – William Houston
If you take that paragraph and make a couple small amendments, it almost describes last season to a tee. The Leafs are obviously no longer in the Western Conference, and the Norris division has for years ceased to exist. The Red Wings have been a model of success since early in the 90’s, and since the league expanded to 30 teams, a playoff spot is harder to come by. The early rounds of the playoffs are also played within the conference, the division round has not existed since the league expanded.
The point to take out of this book, and I think that most will, is that while things look difficult right now, it is going to get better. During these years it was far worse and people felt the same way. Not long after this, Steve Stavro steps in for the deceased Harold Ballard, and the team gets straightened out. It was rebuilt twice in the span since this book was written, and each rebuild ended with two appearances in the conference finals. If nothing else, it gives perspective on a different age of NHL hockey, when the highest grossing team in hockey refused to spend a nickel too much on items such as sticks and tape. The team has evolved since then and as history has shown, when the ownership group changes, so do the expectations. History also has shown that the results are not very far behind.
In closing, take the time to visit the local library or hop on to amazon.com and get a copy of Inside Maple Leaf Gardens, I promise you will not regret it.