Doug Gilmour, the 1993 Maple Leafs, and the need for perspective

Our friend Jeff Veillette from
Leafs HQ and Marlies HQ will stop by from time to time to give us his perspective on the Marlies and ruminate on the Leafs. Today, he takes issue with a Maple Leafs fan poll that listed Doug Gilmour as the best centreman in Leafs history.

Remember that team? The one that was one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals after a couple of dismal seasons? Their regular season and playoff points leader may have been a little bit on the short side, but his dazzling passing ability brought the team back from the dead.  Then, who could forget the whiz kid sniper! He may not have been from around here, and his production may have dropped come playoff time, but he was always good for a goal that lifted you off your seat. How about the veteran leader, who’s best days were thought to be behind him, but still had a solid year and a massive trio of playoff rounds?

That’s not even all, we’re only naming a few. How about the guy who could pitch in goals, but also throw the body around and drop the gloves when necessary? The chippy, misunderstood former first round pick who really came into his own in terms of effectiveness this year? The sharpshooter that nobody expected to leave his team not even a year before? The reliable, lunch bucket bottom six? Even passing by the forwards, how about the defence core, consisting of a lot of names that would be somewhat familiar to the average fan, but worked together to be a steady, shutdown core held together by that new French Canadian coach’s defensive system?

One thing’s for sure, the new GM, who’s beginnings came from an original six team, really knew what he was doing. We all thought going with that goalie was risky, with his age constantly being questioned, but he unexpectedly had a stellar year.

This was an underdog team. People will point out that they were 8th overall going into the playoffs, and only let in about 240 goals that year, but still, I refuse to see them as anything else. I really do believe they could’ve won the cup if they faced that Canadian team from the other conference in the finals. In any event, their next season saw them in blue in white uniforms, trying again. 

Pencils down, kids. Let’s see what you got in this fill in the blanks test.

If your team was the 1992/93 Leafs, your short playmaker was Doug Gilmour, your sniper was Nikolai Borschevsky, your veteran was Glenn Anderson, your hitter/fighter/scorer was Wendel Clark, your first rounder was Rob Pearson, the sharpshooter was Dave Andreychuk, your bottom six had the likes of Peter Zezel and Mark Osborne, and your defensive core reminded you of Todd Gill, Jamie Macoun, Dave Ellett, and many others. Pat Burns was the new coach, Cliff Fletcher the new GM, who started in Montreal. The risky goalie due to his age? None other than Felix Potvin. They would have beat the Habs.

Your mark is a zero.

Building a narrative

The correct answer was the 2010/11 Tampa Bay Lightning, your midget disher was Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos was lighting the lamp, Vincent Lecavalier showed us he still had it, Ryan Malone proved his utility, Steve Downie is still misunderstood, Simon Gagne was destined to remain a Flyer before July 1st, your grinders include Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim, nothing about Matthias Ohlund, Pavel Kubina, or young Victor Hedman particularly jumped out at you this year, but they got the job done, allowing a near identical amount of goals in to the ’93 Leafs, under the guidance of Guy Boucher. Former Detroit Red Wings player Steve Yzerman really knew what he was doing when he gave Dwayne Roloson his last gasp. It’s a shame they never got to face the Canucks though, losing in game seven to the Bruins.

I mean, I could’ve thrown in that the team that eliminated them had someone who very recently became a villain to Leafs fans for somebody else’s judgement play the best game of his career to date late in the series, but you would’ve probably thought of Wayne Gretzky and his high stick instead of Tyler Seguin and the Phil Kessel trade.

"Why did you do that? Nobody cares about the Tampa Bay Lightning! They’re just a good, but not great team that not only didn’t win the Cup, they didn’t even make it to the finals!"

Today, something that at face value is really insignificant happened – the Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled the results of a Facebook survey of their 650,000 readers, deciding who the best Leafs centre of all time is. Anybody who can look at this objectively will have an argument for one of Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, or Ted "Teeder" Kennedy. All four of these guys were with the Leafs for eons, were the long term faces of the franchise, and dwarf most people’s end contributions with the team. George Armstrong can be thrown into the conversation, along with many others.


    Games Goals Points HR Point Shares
1 Mats Sundin 844 389 916 81.9
2 Darryl Sittler 905 387 904 105.3
3 Dave Keon 1062 365 858 83.2
4 Ted Kennedy 696 231 560 59.4
5 Norm Ullman 535 166 471 42.9
6 Doug Gilmour 393 131 452 41.1

The people chose Doug Gilmour. I was floored. Gilmour’s 92/93 year was probably the best single season anybody has had in a Leafs uniform, and nobody will really try to deny that. He was putting up absurd numbers the half season before and the year after, but after that, saw three seasons as a very good but not mind-blowing centre. All combined, he played parts of six years in Toronto, but it was really closer to five.

The best Leafs centre of all time? Not a chance. But it’s the 92/93 romanticism—where every player on that roster, especially the high impact ones, are put on pedestals that would lead you to believe the team won five Stanley Cups before folding immediately. They won two out of four rounds and then proceeded to do that three more times in the next decade, but none of those runs are talked about now.


Doug Gilmour is my all time favourite Leaf. I devoted countless hours I should’ve been focusing on school sketching Felix Potvin. I memorized The Passion Returns and The Leafs Are The Best. But that run was 20 years ago. To this day, it’s a gold standard for a fanbase that hasn’t seen true success in a long time. The fanbase’s wants and expectations for the team today seem to be shaped around it.

The perspective of the team’s 95-year history has been warped by it. It’s time to move on. The 1993 Leafs were just another team, like the 2002 Maple Leafs or the 2011 Lightning, that came close to the Final and didn’t quite make it.

  • elseldo

    my romanticized time with the Leafs was 99-lockout, and Mats was the centre of it all.

    (hey? yeah? get it?)

    92-93 is history for me, the season gretzky became a villain and then, once i learned that was NOT the elimination game after years of assuming, the Leaf lost at their chance to come back from the adversity of game 6.

    i’m happier for not having lived through it. i got a longer run of potential success, and lots of eliminating the Sens as my initiation into Leafs nation.

    makes the bitterness all the more fresh…

  • elseldo

    Great post! I’ve long since been burned out about the 1993 team (I’ve known more than a couple people who legitimately think the NHL rigged the conference finals) as the Best Leaf Team of all Time or whatever and especially on the cult of Gilmour. For my money, the best Leaf of my lifetime is Sundin. Why he doesn’t easily get that credit blows my mind.

  • elseldo

    It’s time to move on I agree but I don’t think any Centreman that has suited up for the #Leafs made a bigger impact on the team than Doug Gilmour did in 93 & 94. Sundin missed a majority of games in 1999 playoffs & 2002 playoffs. Sundin, Sittler & Keon were great so was Armstrong. But did they make as big of a impact on the Leafs that Gilmour did those 2 years?