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Maple Leafs the best in class for all the wrong reasons

TSN.ca Staff

6/11/2010 2:31:21 AM

When Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head on Wednesday night, the longest championship drought in the National Hockey League came to a conclusion. And now, the Toronto Maple Leafs own the dubious distinction of having the longest rolling Stanley Cup dry spell - the only team left that has not experienced the ultimate victory since the Original Six era.

"It's official: Leafs are NHL's biggest losers," read the front page of Thursday's Toronto Sun.

With no championship since 1967, the Maple Leafs have gone 43 years without a Stanley Cup win, tying the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues for the longest streak of futility. But there's another distinction that long-suffering Leafs fans take to heart - it's also been 43 years since the team has been to the Final, something the Kings and Blues have done since.

They have been to the Conference Final five times since 1967, but stumbled on each occasion. Their closest run came in 1993 against the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings, when a controversial non-call for high sticking on Doug Gilmour in Game 6 proved deadly.

With the game tied at four in overtime, Gretzky accidentally clipped Gilmour in the face with the blade of his stick. Many thought that a penalty should have been called, but Gretzky was not penalized and went on to score the overtime goal moments later, evening the series at 3–3. The rest of course, is history.

The Leafs have also missed the playoffs 16 times since 1967, and in 26 campaigns since 1984, they have missed out on the postseason on 12 occasions - almost every other year since.

And of course, the Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs each season since the end of the NHL lockout. 

And when it comes to the NHL Entry Draft, there have been more misses than hits for the Maple Leafs. That was no more evident than the late 1980's and late 1990's. There was the selection of three Belleville Bulls teammates (Scott Thornton, Rob Pearson and Steve Bancroft) in the first round of the 1989 draft. Names like Brandon Convery and Grant Marshall (1992), Jeff Ware (1995), and Luca Cereda (1999) followed later.

There have been a few bungled trades along the way as well - including one of the most infamous trades in Maple Leafs history.

In 1989, general manager Floyd Smith acquired veteran defenceman Tom Kurvers from the New Jersey Devils for a first round pick in 1991 - easily dubbed 'The Lindros Draft.' While the eventual third overall selection didn't produce The Big E, it turned out to be future Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer.

In 1997, Toronto traded defenceman Kenny Jonsson, forwards Sean Haggerty and Darby Hendrickson and a first round pick to the New York Islanders for prodigal son Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith.

"Draft Schmaft," general manager Cliff Fletcher told a Toronto reporter when questioned about dealing his first rounder.

And with a deep draft class that summer, the Islanders used their pick to select netminder Roberto Luongo.

Speaking of goaltending, the Leafs had two top promising prospects on their hands in 2006 with Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask. General manager John Ferguson Jr., decided to keep Pogge, while Rask was dealt to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft was eventually run out of town after two seasons and Pogge flamed out in the minors. With the Bruins, Rask has replaced Tim Thomas as the top dog in Boston.

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was hailed as a saviour when he was handed the keys to run the franchise, but even after some bold moves - landing a franchise defenceman in Dion Phaneuf and a sniper in Phil Kessel - there's still a long way to go before ending this current run of five straight years without a postseason berth.

Coming off a 2009-10 season that saw the Leafs post a 30-38-14 record - 29th out of 30 teams, and without a first-round pick in this year's (and next year's) Entry Draft, the sense is the Maple Leafs are showing no signs of ending the Cup drought anytime soon.

With files from TSN reporter James Cybulski