The 2002-03 Toronto Maple Leafs season will always be a special one in my eyes, for it’s the first year I really remember watching the team in the regular season. Certain playoff memories from previous years are still in my mind, but it was this team where I first experienced the joys of weekly Saturday night games and the odd mid-week game. And what a season it was.
The Leafs finished second in the Northeast Division behind Ottawa and fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The 2002-03 season and preceding offseason was a rather active and strange one in Leafland. Perhaps the two weirdest trades were the first two on the list, as neither Domi nor Joseph signed with the team they were traded to. (Joseph went to Detroit while Domi returned to Toronto the next season.) Bringing back Doug Gilmour, bringing on Owen Nolan, getting an aging Phil Housley and trading away a seven-year team vet in Dmitri Yuskevich were all part of a very eventful and active season.
Oh, and the Leafs brought in a great goalie duo via free agency: Ed Belfour, who would become the starter, and Trevor Kidd, who would replace Corey Schwab as he signed in New Jersey.
This is all you need to know about the season. In his first game back, Gilmour suffered what turned out to be a career-ending injury.
But in all seriousness, the season was a rather exciting one.
Starting off the year with just three wins in October, you can bet there was some panic among the management and the fanbase. The Leafs bounced back from that 3-6-2-0 record, however, and were up to even at 11-11-2 by the time December rolled around. Following a strong final month of 2002 which included a five game point streak, the Leafs saw themselves at 19-14-4-1 entering the new year.
January saw a three-game losing streak to Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Colorado (their first since October), where the Leafs scored just one goal in three games. They responded by winning five in a row. Hockey’s funny sometimes.
The month of February was rather good in Toronto, as the Leafs went 9-3, which included three wins from the aforementioned hot streak. By the time March rolled around, the Leafs were sitting at 36-23-4-1, and were cruising to make the playoffs barring any major spills along the way. Games 65-77 of the season saw the Leafs win just four games in that stretch, but the Leafs won four in a row before dropping the final game of the season to Ottawa to close out the year.
Courtesy of Rob Viper, here’s some highlights from a rather eventful season.
The Leafs matched up against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, a series which went the distance but saw its best games come before the conclusion. The teams traded wins in the first three games in the series, with Toronto taking a 2-1 lead. Philadelphia stormed back to win the next two games, but Toronto won a big Game 6 at home in overtime thanks to goals by Travis Green and Robert Reichel. However, Game 7 was anything but fun for Toronto, getting blown out 6-1 on the road in Philadelphia.
Team Leading Scorers
Mats, for once, wasn’t on top of the team, though he was right there on a slightly unbalanced lineup. Alexander Mogilny led the team with 79 points on 33 goals and 46 assists, while Sundin put up 37 and 35 to manage 72 of his own. Eight other Leafs had more than 10 goals (led by Nik Antropov’s 16), but it was actually Tomas Kaberle who was third in team scoring with 11 goals and 36 assists.
Rethinking The Team
- The Doug Gilmour trade didn’t really help the team much. But for a sixth round pick, it could’ve been something fun to watch if he had found a way to stay healthy.
- Though Nolan played at nearly a point per game pace after being picked up in March, Brad Boyes turned into a two-time 30-goal scorer and a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL, as he’s still providing service to the league today. Not to mention the additional first round pick added, a rather hefty price to pay for an aging Nolan.
- I wouldn’t have lost Game 7. That probably would’ve helped in moving forward.
- 2002-03 was ultimately just an average season for a rather strong Leafs team in the early 2000s, but rather