Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Have I Really Waited Seventeen Years For This?

This is a post that I've wanted to do for a while.

Just 3 days after Phaneuf was acquired, it was announced that Komisarek's season was finished for shoulder surgery. Since then I've been anxiously waiting to see the Leafs top-six defenders suit up together, though I thought it would never come. After enduring the summer-long agony of Kaberle's trade window in solemn isolation, I can finally look forward to opening night and seeing the most promising six-man unit on the blue line since 1993.

Or is it ever?

Dimitri Mironov vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Mironov was a rookie in the 92-93 season with just 7 NHL games under his belt before that. He had a decent impact in the regular season with 31 points in 59 games, but he appeared in just 14 of the Leafs 21 playoff games, registering only 3 points in very limited ice-time. The following season, a greatly improved Mironov would play in all 18 post-season games, racking up 15 points.

After an injury-riddled 3rd season, Mironov was shipped out in the summer, along with a 2nd round pick to Pittsburgh for Larry Murphy. Pittsburgh would then flip Mironov to Anaheim in November for three players and Mironov would go on to have his break-out season, recording 52 points. The following season he recorded 43 points, got traded at the deadline to Detroit, and won a Stanley Cup. Mironov then finished his career with three seasons in Washington under head coach, you guessed it, Ron Wilson.

There's not too much to say about Gunnarsson. Seems to have what it takes. 43 games played in his rookie campaign, 15 points, and a team leading plus 8. Sky is the limit for this kid's potential right now.

Jamie Macoun vs. Luke Schenn

Jamie "Crazy Legs" Macoun came to the Leafs from Calgary on January 2nd, 1992 as part of the Gilmour-blockbuster, and immediately gave them a savvy veteran presence on the blue line. Currently, Luke Schenn is entering his 3rd season in the NHL and what he lacks in veteran savvy he makes up for with poise and diligence.
Schenn is a strong, hard-hitting, stay at home defenceman, a cornerstone of the future here in Toronto. Jamie "Crazy Legs" Macoun had crazy legs. They wiggled and wobbled this way and that, like elastic bands wrapped around jellO. It was very difficult to get the puck past or through Macoun's awkward defensive style, for even when he was on his rump, his feet were still moving, legs flailing about. He wasn't dirty, but he was crafty, and often matched up against the league's top stars.

Macoun gave the Leafs more then 5 solid seasons before being traded to Detroit in '98, and winning a Stanley Cup, his second, alongside former teammate Dimitri Mironov. The 4th round pick the Leafs received in return for Crazy Legs turned out to be Ponikarovsky.

Sylvain Lefebvre vs. Francois Beauchemin

Sylvain Lefebvre only played 2 seasons for the Blue and White, but his impact was enormous. He was one of the most poised and reliable stay-at-home defenceman the Leafs have ever seen. His first season in Toronto he had 2 goals to go along with 12 assists and 90 penalty minutes and he was a major presence defending the Leafs goal in the magical playoff run of '93. The following year, Lefebvre chipped in 2 goals again, along with 9 assists, 79 penalty minutes, and a team leading plus 33. Once again, Lefebvre was a significant part of the '94 blue line that went back to the final four.

Lefebvre was also involved in one of the '93 team's most iconic moments, and were it not for Joe Bowen's masterful eruption, one wonders where we would all be? For how could there be a blog called DownGoesBrown if that had never happend? And truthfully, if there was no DownGoesBrown, I probably wouldn't be blogging and YOU wouldn't be reading this. You'd be doing something else, just think about that. And then thank Sylvain Lefebvre.

In the summer of '94, Lefebvre was traded to the Nordiques with Wendel Clark as part of the huge Sundin-blockbuster. After one season in Quebec, the team was moved to Colorado where Lefebvre won (ho hum) a Stanley Cup.

Beauchemin is entering his 2nd season with the Leafs and gives them the same quiet, reliable depth on the blue line as Lefebvre once did, often counted on to be the shut-down specialist in tight games.

Bob Rouse vs. Mike Komisarek

Bob Rouse was a very hard-nosed, low maintenance, reliable defenceman. Like Lefebvre, he seemed quiet and unassuming, but played a tough physical game that was hard as nails. Rouse was another stay-at-home defenceman that stood up for his teammates on many occasions. In '92-'93, Rouse's 2nd season with the team, he had 14 points and 130 penalty minutes. The following year, 16 points and 101 penalty minutes in 63 games.

Rouse, of course, also assisted on one of the Leafs most important and iconic goals of the '93 playoff run. In the summer of '94, after his second consecutive trip to the final four, Rouse was signed as a Free-Agent by Detroit and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1997, and again in 1998 with former '93 teammates Dimitri Mironov and Jamie Macoun. Why, Lord, why did we let these guys go?

Mike Komisarek is coming back from shoulder surgery and is expected to be the physical, nasty presence that the Leafs need. As long as his health holds up, Mike is a hard working soldier that backs down from no one. If Komisarek can play a more refined, retrained game, he'd make a good version of a bigger, better, stronger Bob Rouse.

Todd Gill vs. Tomas Kaberle

Todd Gill is awesome and don't you dare say otherwise. Same goes for Kabby.

After that there's not much in the way of similarities between these two. Maybe there's a perception that they give the puck away a lot. I think it's over-exaggerated. Who cares. Awesome. I could write a million posts about it so don't get me started!

What Todd Gill lacked in talent he made up for in heart. And when you think of how much talent he lacked, you realize that's a whole hell lotta heart. Gill was a in his 9th season as a Maple Leaf in 1992-93. He wore the blue and white proudly, as proud as any Leaf before him or since. The 92-93 season was his break out year as a better-then-atrocious defender, scoring 11 goals and 32 assists for 43 points in 69 games, leading the defence in scoring and good for 4th on the team overall. You better believe it. Gill gave the Leafs timely contributions and gritty shifts game-in, game-out and was the embodiment of the Leafs' Never Say Die spirit.

Todd Gill appeared in 19 NHL seasons - after 12 with the Leafs, he had stops in San Jose, St. Louis, Detroit, Phoenix, Detroit again, Colorado, and finally Chicago, but never did win a Stanley Cup. This year Kaberle is entering his 12th season as a Maple Leaf - the 2nd highest scoring defenceman in Toronto's history, and perhaps the most under-appreciated.

Another interesting thing to note about the career path of Gill, is that he was one of only 3 players in '93 still with the Leafs since the last time they'd made the playoffs in 1990. Can you name the other two? Wendel is the easy one. And the other is a trick question - the returning Mark Osborne, who'd been traded to Winnipeg for Dave Ellett, and then reacquired.

Dave Ellett vs. Dion Phaneuf

Dave Ellett came to the Leafs in November 1990 as part of a trade that saw popular Leaf forwards Ed Olczyk and Mark Osborne heading to Winnipeg. After suffering through two terrible seasons and missing the playoffs twice, things finally came together in the 1992-93 season with the additions of Lefebvre, Rouse, Macoun, and Mironov. And while Ellett was suddenly surrounded by a solid group of capable defenders, he remained the top dog, and the most steady puck-carrier on the blue line.

In 92-93, Ellett had 6 goals and 34 assists for 40 points, and was an impressive plus 19, The following year, Ellett put up similar numbers, 7 goals, 36 assists, 43 points. In the 39 playoff games from those two seasons, Ellett contributed 30 points; 7 goals and 23 assists.

Ellett patrolled the Leafs blue-line for more then 6 six seasons until he was finally traded, along with Doug Gilmour, to New Jersey, bringing Steve Sullivan, Jason Smith, and Alyn McCauley to Toronto. His NHL career spanned 16 seasons, 1129 games, scoring 568 points.

Dion Phaneuf is now not only the top-dog on a stacked blue line, this year he comes to camp as the team's first Captain in three seasons. Expectations include ending a six-year playoff drought and restoring some semblance of pride and glory, not to mention some fine truculence, to this beautiful, loved, and yet oft-forsaken franchise. Phaneuf is entering his 6th NHL season with 238 points in 404 career games.

Well, so this post was not really a comparative analysis so much as a lazy, self-indulgent juant through nostalgia-town, but I had fun with it anyways. I loved all those guys from the '93 and '94 playoffs, and that six-pack on defence under Burns' first two seasons was the best group of defenders from top to bottom that I can ever recall playing for the Blue and White.

That is, I'm hoping, until this year.

This September, the one thing I'm excited about most is seeing a group of defenders together for the first time that might become the best group of Maple Leafs defenders I've ever seen.


LeafFanInVan said...

Love it. Great post! Some fun memories, there..

Needs more Yushkevich, though. ;)

general borschevsky said...

Thanks LFIV. What I really remember about Yushkevich is how he came into his own once the Leafs got Quinn and Markov. He was a bulldog.

eterrible said...

I can't imagine Jamie Macoun playing in todays NHL. Maybe it is just me but I remember yelling at the TV every time he would clear the puck over the boards. With no statistical facts to back it up I am going to say he is the all time NHL leader in pucks cleared over the boards in a season.

Bergei Serezin said...

Great post! I've been hoping for a "this year vs. 92-93" comparison. Nice work.

general borschevsky said...

@eterrible: Great comment!

@Bergei Serezin: Thanks! Great username.

Marc Pilgrim said...

Thanks for the memories and insight. :D

Future Considerations said...

Bravura post

general borschevsky said...

Cheers Marc!

@Future Considerations: Very kind of you.

Ralph Googlefuckoff said...

Fun look back at our old glories, General. Excellent post, even if you did invoke the name of Todd Gill.

I kid!

general borschevsky said...

Thanks Kohma!