Last week, on October 4, the puck dropped on the National Hockey League (NHL) season as the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins began their title defense with a 5-4 overtime loss to the visiting St. Louis Blues. The Penguins have won five Stanley Cups since joining the NHL for the 1967-1968 season. The Blues, who also joined the league that year, have yet to win their first championship. The Blues’ title drought is a long one—49 years—but it is not the longest in the NHL. That dubious honor belongs to one of hockey’s signature franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs, winners of 13 Stanley Cups, have not fared well since their last trophy was hoisted 50 years ago at the end of the 1966-67 season.
Toronto is one of the NHL’s oldest and most storied clubs. The team was one of the four original members of the NHL when it was established in 1917 (the other three were the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, and the Ottawa Senators). Toronto, then known as the Arenas, won the first NHL Stanley Cup in 1918. The team nickname was changed to the St. Patricks in 1919 and finally to the Maple Leafs in 1927.
The Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup again in 1922 and 1932, but the team’s greatest years came from 1942 to 1967. During that period, Toronto won an impressive 10 Stanley Cups, and many Leafs stars from those teams were later elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame (which is also in Toronto). Toronto’s success ended with the expansion era, however, as six new teams (all in the United States) entered the NHL for the 1967-1968 season. Toronto struggled through turbulent years in the early 1970's, but the team managed to reach the NHL semifinals in 1978. The Leafs’ troubles resumed, however, and lasted until 1993, when the team roared back to prosperity before losing a tough conference finals to the Los Angeles Kings. Toronto returned to the conference finals in 1994, 1999, and 2002, but failed each time to reach the coveted ice of the Stanley Cup Final.
There is hope on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario, however. Last season, Toronto—led by budding superstar center Auston Matthews—finished tied for third in the NHL’s Atlantic Division before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs. Matthews, barely 19 years old when he debuted a year ago, won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding rookie player. Maple Leafs fans hope that a strong offense led by Matthews and fellow young forwards Mitch Marner and William Nylander can help end Toronto’s long wait for a Stanley Cup championship.
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Image: Toronto Maple Leafs players rejoice during their Stanley Cup Final victory over the Detroit Red Wings in 1942. The Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups, but none since 1967. Credit: Archives of Ontario