20 Years Ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs Acquired a Superstar Defenseman

Ottawa Senators v Toronto Maple Leafs
Ottawa Senators v Toronto Maple Leafs / Graig Abel/GettyImages

For all his criticism as the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, it was 20-years ago that John Ferguson Jr added a big name to the club for the stretch drive.

During the 2003-04 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in a dog fight for first place in the Northeast Division which they would eventually lose out by one point to the Boston Bruins.

A week prior to the trade deadline, GMs around the league got very active seeing players like Alexei Kovalev join the Montreal Canadiens, and Sergei Gonchar brought into Boston. Ferguson Jr made an equally great move by bringing in one of the greatest defenseman in league history when he acquired Brian Leetch from the New York Rangers.

The cost for acquiring Leetch, was prospects Maxim Kondratiev who had just made his NHL debut after being selected in the sixth round three years prior, and Jarkko Immonen who was playing in Finland, along with first and second round picks. The two players would play a combined 53 NHL games after the trade with both returning to Europe to play in the KHL and the Finland's top league.

The first round pick was used on Kris Chucko, while the second round pick turned out to be Mike Sauer. Both drafted players were promising prospects, unfortunately, concussions sustained by both ended their careers before they really got started.

Leetch Would Stablize the Toronto Maple Leafs Blue-Line

Leetch would create a strong defensive core that would make today's Maple Leafs fans quite jealous. He joined Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle and Ken Klee in the top four, and more importantly, pushed Aki Berg down into the bottom pairing.

The future Hall of Famer would dress one day after the trade and it wouldn't take long for him to endear himself to Maple Leafs fans, as seven minutes into his first game he helped set up Mats Sundin on the powerplay. Five minutes later, he would again show his powerplay skills by setting up Bryan McCabe for his 14th goal of the season. Leetch would finish his debut with three powerplay assists in nearly 25 minutes of ice-time.

Down the stretch drive, the Boston College alumni would register 15 points in as many games while averaging 26:26 of ice time per game.

In the playoffs Leetch was equally as good as he led the team in assists, while finishing second in points with eight. He shared the heavy bulk of the work with Bryan McCabe by averaging 28:29 through the 13 playoffs games.

Despite his strong play, the Maple Leafs would be bounced for the second straight year by the Philadelphia Flyers, this time in overtime in Game 6 that saw the iconic Jeremy Roenick celebration.

When Leetch was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he had an additional year left on his contract, however the lockout the next season ruined a second season of him in a Maple Leafs uniform. He would become a free agent the year after and sign on with the Boston Bruins for one final season in the NHL.


Here is the question the Leafs face today: Can current GM Brad Treliving pull off a move as good as the one the reviled John Ferguson Jr pulled off?