With Dion Phaneuf retiring from the National Hockey League, it seemed like a good time to look at defencemen in Toronto Maple Leafs history and where Phaneuf might compare.
There are some challenges when trying to evaluate players across eras. There are more stats available now so modern players get a more thorough evaluation. Nevertheless, these are all players that have been significant parts of the Maple Leafs blueline since they last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.
This is a subjective ranking, because it is trying to measure the value of players across eras but also specifically towards their contributions to the Toronto Maple Leafs post-1967. There also had to be some kind of service time to establish a player’s value. Brian Leetch was an amazing player but he played a grand total of 15 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs so he was not considered.
Here, then, is a Top 10 list of the best Maple Leafs defencemen since their last Stanley Cup championship.
1. Borje Salming
There is little doubt for the Maple Leafs’ best defenceman since 1967. Salming leads Maple Leafs blueliners in virtually every category. That includes scoring 768 points (148 G, 620 A) in 1,099 games and finishing Top 5 in Norris Trophy voting for seven straight seasons from 1973-1974 through 1979-1980.
2. Tomas Kaberle
While Kaberle was never among the league’s best, he had a long and productive stay in Toronto. In 878 games, he produced 520 points (83 G, 437 A) and modern advanced stats did not start until Kaberle was starting to decline. Nevertheless, he was a heady puck mover who could quarterback the power play. In 2005-2006, Kaberle scored 51 of his 67 points with the man advantage.
3. Tim Horton
After the Stanley Cup win in 1967, Horton played less than three seasons for the Maple Leafs but he finished third and second in Norris Trophy voting in those first two years. He is an all-time great for the Maple Leafs but he had played 15 seasons, winning four Stanley Cups before the timeline being considered here.
4. Ian Turnbull
A high-scoring defenceman during the 1970s, Turnbull had an abbreviated career and was out of the league before he was 30. Nevertheless, in 580 games for the Maple Leafs, Turnbull contributed 414 points (112 G, 302 A) as well as 1,845 shots on goal (3.18 shots per game). He added 45 points (13 G, 32 A) and 185 shots on goal in 55 playoff games.
The leader on the Maple Leafs’ current blueline, Rielly went through some growing pains early in his career, but he has emerged as a playmaker and the Maple Leafs have outscored the opposition by 57 goals during 5-on-5 play in the past four-plus seasons.
6. Bryan McCabe
While he was maligned at the end of his run in Toronto, McCabe was a huge part of the Maple Leafs blueline during the 2000s. He had two seasons in which he finished in the Top 10 in Norris Trophy voting and ended his time in Toronto with 297 points (83 G, 214 A) in 523 games. He added 26 points (10 G, 16 A) in 51 playoff games.
7. Jake Gardiner
A brilliant skater who made some glaring mistakes, Gardiner consistently pushed play in the right direction and the Maple Leafs outscored opponents with him on the ice. He also contributed 245 points (45 G, 200 A) in 551 games, adding 12 points (2 G, 10 A) in 26 playoff games.
8. Dave Ellett
A steady puck-moving defenceman who produced 223 points in 446 games for the Maple Leafs after coming over in a trade from Winnipeg. Ellett added 32 points (7 G, 25 A) in 52 playoff games.
9. Dion Phaneuf
Appearing on 423 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs, Phaneuf delivered 196 points (45 G, 151 A) and 1,113 hits. His importance to the Maple Leafs could be found in his usage. He averaged 24:22 of ice time per game and was over 25 minutes per game in his first three-plus seasons. Only Bryan McCabe had a higher time on ice average among Maple Leafs defencemen though that stat does not cover ice time for the likes of Horton, Turnbull, and McKenny. It may have been too much ice time for Phaneuf but noting his shortcomings in Toronto without considering how much responsibility he was shouldering is not fair either.
10. Jim McKenny
The Maple Leafs’ top puck-moving defenceman before Ian Turnbull took over, McKenny recorded more than 40 points five times on his way to 327 points (81 G, 246 A) in 594 games. He also contributed 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in 37 career playoff games.
Honourable Mention: Jim Dorey, Dmitry Yushkevich, Jake Muzzin, Cody Franson, Pavel Kubina, Ian White