Lou Lamoriello stunned the Devils and most of the hockey world with the announcement that he is leaving New Jersey for the role of GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Devils’ fans will be furious because Lou was their GM until he stepped down from that role a few months ago, but this move makes sense. Building a cup winner in Toronto would be the perfect cap to his career.
Of all the tortured fan bases in sports, the Maple Leafs’ are probably the saddest. That’s because they have been sold a bill of goods that says they were once a great, great franchise, and now they are a joke. Both parts are somewhat true, but there are two vital factors to remember about the NHL where Toronto won 13 cups.
1- There were almost always only six teams in the league when they won.
2- Territorial rights were in existence for a lot of the time they dominated.
Let’s start with the six teams. Yes, Toronto is part of the “Original Six” but that term should really be re-coined “Remaining Six”. The NHL as we know it got started at the end of WW1 with four teams, two in Montreal, one in Toronto (not the Leafs), and one in Ottawa. The Leafs showed up a few years later, the Bruins in 1924, and the Rangers, Blackhawks, and Red Wings in 1926. They were joined at various times by teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Hamilton, St. Louis, and a second team in New York. By 1942, only the “Original Six” remained and that is where the term came from.
But the Canadian teams had a second advantage besides a small number of opponents- territorial rights. Each team had an exclusive right to players within a 50-mile radius of their home. So, Montreal scooped up lots of talent in Quebec, Toronto got a lot of talent in Ontario, and the Rangers got to go looking in Trenton for their next great player. (Is it any wonder they didn’t win a lot? Seriously, draw a 50-mile line around any other Original Six city and you can come up with some hockey hotbeds. Around New York the only ice you found back then was in the drinks.)
And since 1967, when territorial rights disappeared and expansion came to the NHL, Toronto hasn’t won a Cup. Maybe that’s bad luck, you could argue that, but maybe it is also simply a reflection of a franchise that got way too caught up with a history that wasn’t as glorious as they would like to pretend it was.
But don’t try telling that to the people in Toronto. As far as they are concerned, they are waiting for the restoration of their dynasty. Lou is probably the perfect person to undertake that challenge. I hope he succeeds, after I see the Rangers hoist another Stanley Cup.