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Is any Maple Leaf good enough to win a big-time individual trophy? It feels like it's been a while since we won one....

In modern times, the Maple Leafs have not produced many individual award winners.  I’m referring specifically to the major NHL trophies, like the James Norris (top defenseman), Hart (most valuable player), Calder (best rookie), etc..

Not many of our guys, for that matter, have made the end-of-season NHL All-star team.  I’m not referring to the mid-season All-Star team, which for me, is a popularity contest and has little to do with being a true All-Star.  As with baseball's mid-season "All-Star" game, fans help to vote guys in so it really means little- except for the hoopla.  The really elite guys are the ones named at the end of the season, based on their tremendous work over the full 82-game NHL regular-schedule.  (In fact, I’m trying to remember who the last Leaf was who earned that honor.  I’m thinking it was Borje Salming in the late 70s, but I’m not one hundred per cent sure. Did Doug Gilmour make it one year in the early-mid '90s? I don't think Wendel did in the mid '80s...I know Bryan McCable was a second-team end-of-season All-Star here once, when he played his best hockey for Pat Quinn in the early 2000s.)                                                                                                                                         

When it comes to individual awards, I recall that Gilmour won the Selke in the early '90s, but I think we have to go all the way back to the 1965-’66 season to come up with a Leaf who won a major NHL award.

That season, Brit Selby was named rookie of the year.

Selby was a young winger who burst onto the scene that year with a big-time impact.  I remember, because I was a rabid Leaf fan at the time, all of 12 years old that season.  Here’s what I remember:  Selby was a young guy, pretty speedy, not that fancy.  In a fairly veteran line-up (they had brought up Ronnie Ellis the year before, but overall it was a pretty experienced squad) he gained notoriety early on by scoring 11 goals in the first half of the season.  Now, you have to keep in mind that, in those pre-1967 expansion days, the schedule was only 70 games long, and scoring 20 goals in a season was a big number. Now, for a rookie—on a fairly defensive team like the Leafs were in those days—to score 11 goals in the first half of the season was a fairly stunning thing to accomplish.  To put things further into context, Selby, who had come up through the junior Marlborough ranks like so many other young Leaf stars of that era, was only 20 years old that season.

It's noteworthy to recall that, in those days, voting for these individual awards was done twice—once at the mid-way point in the season, then a separate vote was held to take into consideration only the second half of the season.  The league totaled up the ballots from both halves and the winner was declared.  That’s very different, of course, from how things are done today, when there is just the one vote conducted at the end of the regular-season.

Selby ‘won’ the first half vote by such an overwhelming amount, that, though he slumped offensively in the second half, netting only three goals, I think it was, he still managed to earn the Calder Trophy. (Ron Ellis had come close the season prior, but I believe Roger Crozier, the fine young goalie with the Red Wings, edged him out for the honour…) I've included a great photo of Harold Barkley's on the left of a young Selby in action against the Habs at the Gardens.  That's Selby (#11) with Ellis just behind him and Tim Horton a little further back.  Montreal's rugged John Ferguson is in the picture as well on the left.

Had the modern method of voting been in place, Selby would likely not have won the award, based on his overall play that season.  His second half “numbers” would probably have done him in.  But he still stands as the last Maple Leaf to win one of the traditional big-time awards (the Selke, as we know,  was not introduced until relatively recently).

To me, the interesting thing about Selby was that, in my mind, at least, he actually played better when he returned to the Leafs after spending two seasons with the expansion Philadelphia Flyers.  (The Leafs lost him in the original expansion draft in the summer of ’67.  He had been hurt, as I recall, through much of the Cup-winning ’66-’67 season, and didn’t play in the playoffs for the Leafs that spring.) What I thought I noticed when he came back to the Leafs, in the post-Punch Imlach era, was that he seemed more relaxed.  He always had a lot of speed and could score a bit, but he  maybe lacked the confidence needed to  have as good a career as he might have otherwise had.

Selby spent some time with the St. Louis Blues, before completing his professional career in the WHA with a few different clubs, including the old Toronto Toros before they moved to Birmingham.  He retired in 1975.

I still hand fond memories of Selby, but I’m sure some other 12 year-old Leaf fan out there now, as I was back in 1965, would like to see some young Maple Leaf (heck, any Leaf) capture one of those end-season awards, like Selby did more than 45 years ago.  Dion...Phil...Joffrey....anyone listening?

For fun, why not throw in a name from today's Leaf roster that you think has the potential to be a legitimate end-of-season All-Star, or might some day be able to win one of the individual league awards...


  1. If Stamkos and Malkin were injured Kessel could easily win the Rocket Richard Trophy...epecially if JVR works out or they trade for a center.

    With Bozack as center Kessel was only 4 goals behind 3rd place Gaborik.

    Perhaps that's not major but I would be happy.

  2. That's a good point DP...I hand't actually thought about the Richard trophy.

  3. well, I do have a Matt Frattin rookie card.. Autographed. Game worn jersey. Limited edition (63/100). it has 'Calder Contender' written on it in fancy gloss lettering. So, there's that. :/

    Seriously though, the only (IMO) 'potential' trophy winners on the club are Kessel, Kulemin, Gardiner and Rielly.

    DP does raise an excellent point - there really are so many variables.. Kessel *could* challenge for the Rocket Richard trophy, if... Kulemin *could* challenge for the Selke, but that usually goes to a centre.. Scrivens *could* come into camp looking to win the Calder, Hart, Vezina and Conn Smythe, lol..

    Mogilny won the Lady Byng, but that mustn't be among the prestigious trophies. He wasn't even there to receive it, IIRC..

    But most importantly, this was a beauty read Michael. I was exactly 3 years old when Selby retired. Sittler is the first captain I remember. Your blogs, like memoirs, if you will, have cemented your position amongst the best in the barilkosphere.. Thanks for sharing..

  4. The individual trophies based on stats are fairly awarded but those that are based on votes are not always given to the right player in my opinion.

    First of all in the Doug Gilmour era Douggie was absolutely a legitimate HART trophy contender by the pure definition of the role. However the sense at the time was there was no way he was going to get that award and the Selke as basically a consolation prize.

    Fast forward to this past season does anyone really think that Erik Karlsson is the best D-Man in the league? If you had a dispersal draft of all NHL players are you telling me he would be the first defenseman taken? We all know the answer to that.

    The only way a Leaf will win a major trophy will be purely on stats - Rocket Richard or something similar and Kessel does have a legitimate shot if things fall into place. Namely a legitimate #1 playmaking centre.

  5. I loved the rookie card reference, the Surreal McCoy- when our youngest was just getting into hockey years ago, he collected a ton of hockey cards and it brought me back to my own collecting cards. We had so much fun! Keep that Frattin card- you never know!

    I think your list of "potential" winners is reasonable. Gardiner does have serious potential.

    I forgot about Mogilny- I guess, as you mention, he did too!

    Thanks for your kind words. Hearing that helps to keep me motivated to continue to post.

  6. Thanks The Meatriarchy- excellent post. Your point on stats is no doubt true.

    I agree that Gilmour was a legit Hart candidate...the Selke was indeed a trade-off of sorts.

    I, too, was surprised Karlsson won the Norris so early in his career. I goes voters looked at basic stats, as you say.

  7. I think this post sums up what has been wrong in TO for years. When was the last time the absolute best player in the NHL suited up for TO? When was the last time the best player at a posistion played in TO? Long before my time (just turned 40) anyway. As for legit trophy winners right now in TO. Nobody. Kessel might have the best shot at it but still is a long shot in my opinion, in 7 years he hasn't even cracked 40 goals yet. Whatever the reasons or excuses are, how many players after 7 years in the NHL all off a sudden turn into 50 goal scorers?

    I think that is one off the problems here in TO we mistake good players for great players. Maybe the bar has just been set to low or maybe we are so desperate for any good thing to happen we always inflate players. Kessel is a good player, but I'm sick of hearing how he has 40 maybe even 50 goal potential. Show me, the guy has only cracked 35 once in seven years. Heck Brad Boyes has a 40 goal season, which is one more than Kessel and he's been traded what 5-6 times? Sundin was a good player, very good even but he wasn't even close to being the best. Hall of Famer for sure, but a first ballot Hall of Famer not even close. None of this is to rag on Kessel or Sundin both very good players. It is to rag on TO managment that I want a perennial trophy canidate at every posistion. I want a Norris, Vezina and a Hart, heck I'd even settle for a Calder. Unfortunatley, I don't see anybody on the current roster or the farm who qualifys.

  8. Hey Willbur...there is no question that the bar in Leaf world has been lowered substantially since 2005, beginning with the Ferguson era. That we are still in "building mode" is a shame.

    I hear you on our never quite obtaining or developing the best at any one position. It is unusual that things have unfolded that way over the years.

    Thanks Willbur.

  9. hey wilbur,
    It took Crosby(best player in the world) a few seasons before he hit 50, so although I do agree with you in a sense that I dont think Kessel will hit that number, its not out of the question. Also, Sundin IS a first ballot hall of famer so I dont know where you get off saying "not even close".

  10. Anon...I think, to Willbur's point, for a lot of people Mats was a wonderful player, and deserves to be in the Hall. They perhaps just don't see him as a first-ballot guy, though he has indeed become that....

    Thanks for posting.