Friday, January 23, 2015

Is This The Worst Maple Leafs Squad Ever?

On December 16, 2014 Toronto beat the Ducks of Anaheim 6-2. Their record of 19-9-3 was good for 6th in the Eastern Conference, 3 points out of first place. Toronto was 7 points up on 9th place. Then, the World Junior Championships moved into the Air Canada Centre and the Maple Leafs played 13 of their next 17 games on the road. To say it has not gone well is an understatement. Toronto has gone 3-14 to the All-Star break and plummeted out of the playoff picture.

Five goals scored during the current six game losing streak has raised the question on many fronts; "Is this the worst Leaf team in recent history?" Since Toronto won the Stanley Cup in 1967, the worst Leaf edition before this year would have to be the edition from exactly 30 years ago in 1984/85. This memorable squad  which is ingrained in my childhood memory finished with 48 points and a record of 20-52-8, good for last overall in the NHL. The current Leafs have gained only one less point than the 84/85 team did all season, so they should end up with a fair bit more when all is said and done. Remember, the record of the current squad has just crossed the .500 level (in the wrong direction of course), so could it realistically be worse than the 84/85 last place team? Let's compare these two wonderful squads, by looking at the top-9 forwards, top-6 defenders, 2 goalies and prospects from each.
2014/15 Forwards (Age)
Phil Kessel (27)
James van Riemsdyk (25)
Tyler Bozak (28)
Nazem Kadri (24)
Joffrey Lupul (31)
Mike Santorelli (29)
Leo Komarov (28)
Peter Holland (24)
David Clarkson (30)

1984/85 Forwards
Rick Vaive (25)
Bill Derlago (26)
John Anderson (27)
Miroslav Frycer (25)
Dan Daoust (24)
Peter Ihnacak (27)
Greg Terrion (24)
Stew Gavin (24)
Russ Courtnall (19)

The nine guys from '85 averaged 24.6 years of age, the NHL average for forwards that season was 25.6. Each and very one of them would play at least 400 career NHL games, Vaive scored over 400 goals, Courtnall and Anderson topped 200 goals. The current squad averages 27.3 years of age at forward, slightly above the current average. Kessel, the current version of Rick Vaive will likely top 400 career goals and Lupul is close to 200 career goals, vanRiemsdyk should get their...the rest, who knows. Overall, the mere presence of David Clarkson makes me prefer the forward core from 30 years ago.
Edge: 84/85

2014/15 Defence
Dion Phaneuf (29)
Cody Franson (27)
Roman Polak (28)
Stephane Robidas (37)
Morgan Rielly (20)
Jake Gardiner (24)

1984/85 Defence
Borje Salming (33)
Jim Benning (21)
Al Iafrate (18)
Gary Nylund (21)
Bob McGill (22)
Bill Root (25)

Jeez, what's to like about either of these groups? Other than Bill Root (who was marginally a 6th D this season anyway) every one of the 84/85 group played over 600 NHL games, and Salming topped 1000 and is in The Hall. Even with him, this sextet averaged 23.3 years old, two full years under the NHL average. From the current group, Phaneuf and Robidas should make it to 1000 games, but unless Jake Gardiner is moved to Centre and turns into Red Kelly 2.0...none of them are getting into the Hall of Fame without paying. 
Edge: 84/85

2014/15 Goalies
Jonathan Bernier (26)
James Reimer (26)

1984/85 Goalies
Tim Bernhardt (27)
Ken Wregget (20)

Both pairs of goalies are well under the league average in age. Bernhardt would play more than half of his NHL career games in 84/85, Wregget however went on to a 575 game NHL career (48th most in history). Bernier seems to be a slightly above average NHL goaltender as evidenced by his higher than average Save Pct. James Reimer is a serviceable number two man. I have to begrudgingly take the current pair over the old one.
Edge: 14/15
2014/15 Prospects
William Nylander (18)
Josh Leivo (21)
Frederik Gauthier (19)
Connor Brown (21)
Andreas Johnson (20)
Rinat Valiev (19)
Greg McKegg (22)
Sam Carrick (22)
Stuart Percy (21)
1984/85 Prospects
Steve Thomas (21)
Gary Leeman (20)
Todd Gill (19)
Craig Muni (22)
Alan Bester (20)
Walt Poddubny (24)
Cam Plante (20)
Dan Hodgson (19)
Jeff Reese (18)
This one is tougher to judge, as we're only speculating on the future of the current prospects but there doesn't seem to be many first or second liners other than (hopefully) Nylander. The 84/85 roster produced 1000 game men Todd Gill and Steve Thomas, 50 goal scorer Gary Leeman and "three assists in one game" goaltender, Jeff Reese.
Edge: 84/85

One other thing to remember about the 1984/85 team is that, in finishing last overall, they were able to draft 1st overall pick Wendel Clark. The current Leafs will likely not be drafting a player of that calibre this off-season. So, even though this year's team will accumulate more points and finish higher than the one from 30 years past, I really believe the older team had a better overall roster and was better set up for the future. Yikes.

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