Sunday, May 16, 2010

Position in the Spotlight: Toronto

With the baseball playoffs, NFL season, NCAA tournament, and early baseball season predictions out of the way, it might finally be time to bring Position in the Spotlight back after a 7 month hiatus. In case you are a newer reader to the site, Ryan and I started writing alternating posts last summer about which position is the most meaningful to a city, and in-turn has the most pressure for someone assuming that role to succeed at. Some examples in the past include Baltimore Orioles shortstop, Oakland Raiders head coach, and Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker. Click on the Position in the Spotlight link on the bottom of this post to see them all in their entirety (It only shows the last 20 out of 24 posts so far, so it begins in the April 2009 archives). I'm the one to blame for this long delay between posts for 3 reasons: 1. I got tied up doing NFL power ranks and NFL related posts for a long time. 2. I had to do Toronto next, which means I need to write about hockey. 3. I was disgusted by Ryan's dead-wrong pick for San Francisco.

So let's get into talking about Toronto. Toronto is the only Canadian city which we chose to cover for this series, because they have a team in 3 of the 4 major American sports leagues, including Canada's only baseball and basketball teams thanks to recent moves by the Grizzlies and Expos. The Toronto franchises, especially the most important one to any red-blooded Canadian, the Maple Leafs, have enjoyed a lot of success over the years, but the past 15 years or so have been rough. This 15 year span encompasses the entire history of the Raptors, but hey, Vince Carter made some nice dunks for a while. The Blue Jays started playing in 1977 and within 10 years had become a competitive team in the American League, ultimately leading to a few division titles and capping off their run of successful teams with back to back World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993. The Maple Leafs are one of the original 6 NHL teams, and have won the Stanley Cup 11 times, but are currently suffering through a 43-year drought of winning the championship with no end to it in sight any time soon. However, Toronto citizens sure love hockey, and the obvious pick for Position in the Spotlight is Toronto Maple Leafs Center.

The Maple Leafs have a long and storied history that is almost a century old, so I'm going to limit my discussion to centers on their Stanley Cup Championship teams and since 1967 to keep this shorter. The Leafs won their first Stanley Cup in 1932, and their star center was Hall of Famer Joe Primeau, who led the NHL in assists 3 times and later coached the Leafs to a Stanley Cup. Primeau was replaced by the legendary Hall of Famer Syl Apps, who played for the Leafs from 1936-1948 and led the Leafs to 3 more Stanley Cups (he was off fighting in WWII during the 1944-45 cup winning season).

While Apps was away at war, another great center rose to the occasion by the name of Ted Kennedy. No, not the enormous-headed Senator (the Leafs hate the Senators!) but the NHL Hall of Famer. Ironically, the hockey player passed away last year, 11 days before the Senator with the same name. Kennedy was part of 5 of the Maple Leafs "dynasty" championships between 1945 and 1951. Max Bentley (yet another hall of famer), who was acquired from the Blackhawks to replace the retiring Syl Apps, was another center that contributed a lot to the final 2 cups in that run.

Those players eventually aged and the Leafs spent most of the 50s rebuilding. They developed Frank Mahovlich and Bob Pulford during this time, but were missing a center to round out their offense. They got their center in Hall of Famer (notice a trend?) Dave Keon. Keon spent 16 years with the Leafs, winning 4 more Stanley Cups from 1962-1967.

Then, the Maple Leafs sunk into their drought, but they had no shortage of great centers. Darryl Sittler is another Hall of Famer that was a top scorer for the Leafs in the 70s. In a changing league where no one stays on one team forever, the Leafs found centers in the form of Ed Olczyk, Vincent Damphousse, and Doug Gilmour in the 80's and early 90's, who were just passing through town.

The Leafs acquired Mats Sundin from the Nordiques in 1994 and he starred as the center on their team all the way until 2008. With 564 career goals, he is almost surely a hall of famer as well, continuing that Maple Leaf tradition. Sundin is now retired, and the Leafs are rebuilding once again. Can center and '09-'10 leading scorer Phil Kessel be the first piece of the puzzle that leads the Maple Leafs back to the Stanley Cup? In hockey-crazy Toronto, and with all of those hall of famers, those are some big shoes to fill...

Honorable Mention
Toronto Maple Leafs Goalie - Turk Broda was the goalie for 5 Stanley Cups, and then Johnny Bower won 4 more. Combined, they pretty much dominated the goalie position for about 35 years. More recently, they had a nice few years with Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph.
Toronto Blue Jays 1st Base or Right Field - At 1st, they had John Olerud and then Carlos Delgado. Current 1B Lyle Overbay is nothing to write home about. In RF, they had the legendary Joe Carter and a few good years from Alex Rios. In reality, the Blue Jays need to find a way to get out of the AL East so that they can be competitive again.

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