Monday, February 21, 2011

Nikolai Kulemin, Longest serving Leaf

Nikolai Kulemin has played 210 career games for the Toronto Maple Leafs with Tomas Kaberle being traded, amazingly Kulemin is now the longest serving player with the franchise. The Leafs have never iced a team without having a player that had been with them for at least the four previous seasons. As they sit now, albeit with some better prospects and higher quality youth, the Leafs are akin to a third year expansion squad. It's as if they were granted an NHL franchise three years ago and started from scratch. By the power and vision of Brian Burke they have indeed cleaned the slate, the question is, will it work?

The last time Toronto had a team without a player of at least five years tenure was the end of 1996/97. On February 25, 1997 Doug Gilmour with just over five years Toronto experience and Dave Ellett with just over six years, were traded to New Jersey. This left Mats Sundin as the longest serving Leaf skater, much like Kulemin, just completing his third full season in Toronto. The difference then was goalie Felix Potvin was almost through his fifth full season in Toronto. As well, Toronto of late 96/97 still had Wendel Clark on his second stint in Toronto. Although only his first full year back in the fold it was his 11th Leaf season overall.

The season before, 1995/96, the team still had Todd Gill in his 10th full season with the club.
Toronto always had at least one guy with at least five years tenure prior to the mid 1990's. From Peter Ihnacak and Dan Daoust to Rick Vaive and Borje Salming. Before them Sittler, McDonald, Jim McKenney and Dave Keon, there was never a gap without a long-tenured Leaf player. Prior to that there was George Armstrong, Tim Horton, Ted Kennedy and Harry Watson.

In 1949/50 the Leafs had Bill Ezinicki in his fifth season as the longest serving skater but more than made up for it with goaltender Turk Broda who was in his twelfth full season. The season before there was Don Metz was in is fifth full year, but they still had Broda. One year before that was Syl Apps' last of ten full seasons.

In 1940/41 Nick Metz was in his seventh year and was the longest served Leaf, and 39/40 was Red Horner's last of 12 straight Leaf seasons. Before them there was Hap Day with 13 Toronto years dating back to the St.Patricks years.

So, the current Leaf team really is a rarity in franchise history. They are indeed on the same development level as a third year expansion squad. Whether or not this is the route to a successful future is still to be determined.

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