The Leafs Start Over Again

Sylvain Martineau

Do you want to hear an absolutely amazing stat that will knock your socks off? I can almost guarantee that you will find this fact so coincidental and unbelievable that you’ll have to double-check it yourself.

With last night’s 4-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues, the Toronto Maple Leafs have completed their pre-Olympic schedule. They don’t play again until March, so this incredible statistic won’t change until then. Hold on to your seats, here we go; since 1917, in the long history of the Toronto franchise in the NHL, the Toronto Arenas/St. Patricks/Maple Leafs have scored 18,351 goals. They have also allowed exactly the same number of goals against, 18,351. Unbelievable, but true. Get a copy of the most recent annual Official NHL Guide and Record book and add in this season’s numbers. In all-time NHL history, the Leafs have scored exactly the same number of regular season goals as they have allowed.

Your first reaction may be a shrug with a “so what?” After all, one might expect that over a long period of time, these things like goals-for and goals-against tend to balance out, right? Not really. You see, the NHL was not born in 1917 with 30 teams. There are only two franchises in existence today that have been around since Day 1, Toronto and the Montreal Canadiens. So really, there is only one other team that the Leafs can compare themselves against in this particular statistical category. The Montreal Canadiens, who also played their first game in the NHL on December 19, 1917, have scored 19,446 goals and have allowed 15,928, a positive difference of 3,518. Does that make the Canadiens exceptionally good or the Leafs exceptionally bad? Actually, a little of both.

As the NHL has added expansion teams over the years, it has usually taken at least five seasons before a new team has become established to the extent that it begins to score more goals than it allows. This rule of thumb applies on average and over time. For example, the new Ottawa Senators who began play in 1992 have been a very competitive team for most of the past 10 years, yet they are still operating at an all-time deficit of minus-45 in goals for/against. Their first few years in the league were atrocious and they are still in the process of catching up, like most of the newer NHL franchises.

The teams that scored all these goals against the newer teams are the established teams, or the franchises that have been around awhile, like the Canadiens. The Habs have the biggest positive margin of difference between all-time goals for and goals against of all NHL teams. Next in the list is the Boston Bruins who entered the NHL in 1924. The Bruins have scored 18,534 goals in their NHL history and have allowed 17,014, a positive difference of 1,520 goals. It’s interesting to note that even though the Bruins started play seven seasons after the Maple Leafs, they have scored more goals. Also of note is the fact that no team has allowed near as many goals in all-time NHL history as the Leafs. This won’t change for many years to come, if ever.

Next are the Philadelphia Flyers who entered the NHL in 1967 and have an all-time plus-1,449 in goals for/goals against. There are a total of ten NHL teams that have a positive all-time scoring ratio, including Detroit, Buffalo, Calgary and Edmonton.

So what happened to Toronto? Actually, it wasn’t a great franchise that Conn Smythe purchased in 1927 and renamed the Maple Leafs. It took until 1934 for the Toronto Maple Leafs to become a team with more all-time goals scored than goals against. Rarely did the Toronto Arenas/St. Pats score more than they let in. By 1979 though, the team had accumulated an all-time surplus of 763 goals. Unfortunately, the 1980’s were a disaster. The franchise under Harold Ballard was a joke. How the Leafs even retained any of its fan base from that period is incomprehensible. The 1990’s were an up and down wash, but by 2004, the Leafs were once again showing an all-time surplus of goals scored versus goals allowed. The past few seasons since the lockout have been terrible again.

And so, the Leafs of February 13, 2010 are exactly where they started at before they played their first NHL game. Same number of goals scored as number of goals given up.

  • Chris

    It’ s pretty easy to do that when you consider that the Montreal Canadiens were allowed to draft two “cultural players” or French Canadians before anybody else got to draft. When you consider the fact that there were not a substantial number of Europeans in the league until the 1990s, most players came from Canada. The two biggest populations were in Ontario and Quebec. This means that no matter how good the Habs were, they were always entitled to the best French Canadian player; in today’s terms that’s like having the #1 and #2 pick overall every single year no matter what. Maybe if the Leafs got first pick of every English Canadian they’d be calling Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull etc. alumnists and would have a few more goals for and a few more banners in the rafters. I seriously put an astrisk beside almost ever Hab Cup win until 1986.

    • Mike Moore

      Chris, do some homework. The NHL Amateur draft was instituted in 1963 to gradually phase out the old Sponsorship system and give teams finishing last a chance to acquire the best talent. Yes, it was agreed at the time by all League Governors that the Montreal Canadiens were permitted to forego their draft selection by selecting two “Cultural picks” before any team could select anyone else. After 1969 this rule was scrapped, allowing the Buffalo Sabres to select Gilbert Perreault first overall. Between 1963 and 1969 the Canadiens exercised this option exactly and only 3 times. In 1968 they took Michel Plasse and in 1969, they chose Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif. Although these three did play for the Canadiens in the NHL, they were hardly the foudation of a Canadiens dynasty. Before 1963, the whole world was wide open to all teams. That’s how the Leafs were able to sign their best player of all time, Dave Keon of Noranda, Quebec. Other Original Six teams regularly scouted the province of Quebec for top talent. That’s how French Canadian Hall-of-Famers Marcel Pronovost ended up in Detroit and Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle were signed by the New York Rangers, to site just a few examples. The Canadiens success can be attributed to superior managerial decsions which led to the recruitment and development of top players, no matter what the rules of the time.

  • SecondBestDad

    This is a really cool piece of trivia! Thanks for uncovering it…

  • DJ

    So how many games have these teams played????