A complete history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, as told by the players, coaches, and reporters.
On December 19, 1917, the Toronto Arenas took to the ice for the first NHL game ever played. Over the next hundred years, the franchise changed names twice, home rinks twice, and won 13 Stanley Cups on its way to becoming one of the most successful and storied franchises in NHL history.
The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History gives the most comprehensive record of the team from its formation to the present day. With first-hand accounts of some of the biggest names ever to play the game Syl Apps, Darryl Sittler, Mats Sundin as well as coaches, managers, and commentators, Eric Zweig gives readers the full insider history of Canada’s most iconic team.
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About the Author
Eric Zweig is a managing editor with Dan Diamond & Associates, producers of the annual NHL Official Guide & Record Book since 1984. Eric’s books include Twenty Greatest Hockey Goals and Art Ross: The Hockey Legend Who Built the Bruins. He lives in Owen Sound, Ontario.
Read an Excerpt
1917 TO 1926: THE ARENAS AND ST. PATS
During the winter of 1916–17, Canadian soldiers were completing a second full year of fighting on the fields of Europe during the First World War. Canadian citizens were increasingly questioning why some fit young men were giving their lives overseas while others were being paid to play sports at home. Many amateur leagues suspended operations for the duration of the hostilities, and even though professional hockey was thought to be good for morale on the home front, attendance was dropping and teams were beginning to fold.
For the 1916–17 season of the National Hockey Association (NHA), a team of hockey-playing soldiers from the 228th Battalion was admitted to the league. Though based in northern Ontario, the team played out of the Arena Gardens (later the Mutual Street Arena) in Toronto. The soldiers did well on the ice and helped boost the box office takings in the cities they visited. When the Battalion was unexpectedly called overseas in February, however, the NHA had a real problem.
The 228th shared the Toronto market that winter with the hometown Blueshirts. At the time, it was considered important that there be two teams in Toronto to help make the long road trips by train from Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa worthwhile. Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone had never been popular among his fellow NHA owners. Faced with the loss of the 228th Battalion, the league decided to abandon Toronto entirely and play out the season with just four teams: the Montreal Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, the Ottawa Senators, and the Quebec Bulldogs. Livingstone’s Blueshirt players were scattered among those four teams to help bolster their rosters.
Come the fall of 1917, the NHA was in serious trouble. During a series of meetings that November, the organization suspended operations.
Before the meetings got underway, the Toronto Daily Star reported on November 10:
The NHA meeting will be held in Montreal to-night, and the upshot of the whole professional hockey tangle will be a four-club league, with Ottawa, Canadiens, Wanderers, and Toronto on the circuit.
The Toronto Arena directors have purchased the Toronto franchise, and all players will go with the purchase. Quebec will drop out and a four-team league will be in vogue.
The deal was closed yesterday, and the Toronto directors immediately wired Charlie Querrie, the Tecumseh lacrosse star and manager, asking him if he would undertake to manage the hockey club. Querrie replied that he would be willing to manage the club if given absolute control of the players and all matters pertaining to the playing end of the club.
Two days later, Elmer Ferguson of the Montreal Herald and Telegraph , wrote, “Canadiens, Wanderers, Ottawa, and either Toronto or Quebec will form [a] new league, although officials of the NHA today made solemn assertions that they knew nothing about it their fingers probably being crossed at the time, however.
“It leaks out from Saturday night’s meeting that the condition of Quebec is a trifle shaky…. On the other hand, with Eddie Livingstone out of any new league, there would be no further objection to the entry of a Toronto team.”
Reports and rumours ran rampant in the weeks to come.
“The management of the Toronto club has been offered to Charlie Querrie, who has not as yet made any definite arrangements regarding taking over the team, but it is probable that he will assume control as soon as the situation is cleared up.…
The proposed formation of the new league will likely stand in abeyance in view of the decision of Quebec to drop out…. Prospects for the new league, no matter what its composition, are not bright.”
Toronto Daily Star , November 17, 1917
“The successor to the NHA will likely be known as the National Hockey League instead of the Eastern Hockey League. The former name is favoured and it is understood that the substitution of the league for association will overcome any legal difficulties that may arise from the similarity of the names.”
Tommy Gorman, Ottawa Citizen , November 20, 1917
“There seems to be a feeling that Quebec is ‘stalling’ for better terms and certain men, in connection with the pro hockey situation…. This is all to be decided at the meeting to be held Thursday or Friday, with the understanding that Toronto is still ready to plank in a new team…. If Quebec finally decides to drop out Toronto will get a franchise to make up the four-team schedule. That much seems certain at any rate.”
Ottawa Journal , November 21, 1917
The NHA would soon be replaced by the National Hockey League (NHL), but until the end of the meetings, which began on November 22 and concluded on November 26, it remained unclear whether or not Toronto would be included in the new league.
“During the past two or three weeks, there have been rumours and denials galore regarding the Quebec Club’s hockey intentions this winter, but on the eve of the gathering of NHA clubs in Montreal tonight word, which can almost be taken as official, came from the Royal City to the affect that Quebec had definitely decided to suspend operations this winter…. Of course it is understood that with Quebec dropping out, the Toronto Arena Company will be given a franchise.”
Ottawa Journal , November 22, 1917
“Quebec Club Is Still Stalling/Nothing Done At Last Night’s Hockey Meeting./Bulldogs Given Until Saturday to Decide Intentions.”
Ottawa Journal headline, November 23, 1917
“The pro hockey clubs will meet in Montreal again tonight, and it is confidently expected that the tangle, which now exists regarding the make up of the league for this season, will be straightened out. The Quebec owners, though they have been given every chance to make up their mind about operating this winter, are expected to drop out.”
Ottawa Journal, November 24, 1917
“The new senior professional hockey body to take the place of the National Hockey Association will come officially into existence this afternoon with a four-club schedule of two matches a week, the Star says. The new National Hockey League will be composed of Ottawa, Canadiens, Wanderers, and Toronto.”
Montreal Star story reported in Ottawa Journal , November 26, 1917
On November 26, the Globe announced: “The professional hockey league tangle was finally straightened out this afternoon at a conference of the clubs interested, when the National Hockey League, to take the place of the National Hockey Association of Canada, now suspended, came into existence.
“The five clubs which operated in the old body are represented in the new, but only four will operate this season. These four are Ottawa, Toronto, Wanderers, and Canadiens of Montreal. The Quebec club retains its place on the directorate of the new body.”
In the days that followed, there was much stir about the new league. The Toronto Daily Star wrote on November 27:
The inauguration of the new organization is a revival of the National Hockey Association, under the name of the National Hockey League, and was apparently a move to bring about a change in the ownership and management of the Toronto club more than anything else….
The Wanderers, who are the weakest club in the league, on last season’s form, have been given their choice to strengthen them up. Toronto is well supplied with players, while Ottawa have signed the majority of their men up, and Canadiens are in as good a position as a year ago. The only man they will lose will be Reg Noble, who played with them after the Toronto club was suspended, and afterwards reverted back to the Toronto club….
All the players that wore the blue and white uniform last year will again be with the Toronto club. It is expected that the team will get down [to practising] about December 3.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Stan Fischler
1. 1917 to 1926: The Arenas and St. Pats
2. 1927 to 1934: Conn Smythe and the Maple Leafs
3. 1934 to 1945: The Great Depression Gives Way to the Second World War
4. 1946 to 1951: The First Leafs Dynasty
5. 1952 to 1961: Tough Times Finally End When Imlach Era Begins
6. 1962 to 1969: New Leafs Dynasty … Until Expansion
7. 1970s: The Ballard Years Begin
8. 1980s: Tough Times
9. 1990s: Cliff, Pat, and Dougie
10. 2000 and Beyond: Success, Setbacks, and the Shana-Plan