Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who's idea was it to celebrate the Leafs of the 80s?

Last night the Maple Leafs did a tribute to the Leafs of the 1980s. They invited Wendel Clark and Russ Courtnall, 2/3 of the Hound Line for a pre-game ceremony and showed tons of videos from 1980 teams. Wisely, Gary Leeman must have decided to stay at home.

Any Leaf fan, even the most rabid ones knows that the 1980s was a disaster for the Leafs. There were very few highlights and way too many low-lights. What marketing genius came up with this one?

The Leafs didn't have a single winning season that decade and the best season was only 75 points. Four seasons they didn't make the playoffs and in 1984-85 they finished last oveall with only 48 points. They only advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs twice.

Owner Harold Ballard was the linchpin to this disastrous period. It began with the return of Punch Imlach as coach and GM. Imlach traded Lanny McDonald to undermine his friend Darryl Sittler's influence on the team. Sittler himself was gone two years later. The McDonald trade sent the Leafs into a downward spiral that took a decade to recover from.

Despite finishing near the bottom of the standing each season, they only had one successful high draft pick, Wendel Clark in 1985. There were a few highlights including Rick Vaive's 3 straight 50-goal seasons.

For the last 3 seasons in the 1980s the team didn't even have a captain. The coach and GM offices had to be fitted with revolving doors. GMs included Imlach, Gerry MacNamara, Gord Stellick, Floyd Smith. The list of failed coaches is even longer: Floyd Smith, Imlach, Joe Crozier, Mike Nykoluk, Dan Maloney, John Brophy, and George Armstrong.

There were some awful trades in the 1980s. Here are some of the worst:

Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville for Wilf Paiement and Pat Hickey
Darryl Sittler for Rich Costello and Peter Ihnacak
Russ Courtnall for John Kordic

Perhaps the darkest hours of the decade were revealed years later when it came out that boys were sexually abused at the Gardens. Fortunately Ballard died in 1990 which allowed the team to restore some respectability though not much more success.