For many Leaf fans the drought between the team’s playoff appearances in 2003-04 and 2012-13 was a real rough patch. A time where it was hard to watch the performances the team strung together during those seasons. What was kind of interesting during those dark days though, was the plethora of big names the team brought in to try and steer the ship towards the playoffs.
The team collected the likes of Jeff O’Neil, Eric Lindros, Mike Peca, and Jason Blake. Each of them had a history of being big time players during their primes in the NHL, but each failing to bring that magic with them to Toronto. And as quickly as each of them were brought in to the city they were each shipped out almost as fast. One other peculiar name you could add to that list is veteran centreman Jason Allison, but for Allison he may have been one the Leafs would have liked to stick around.
Doning the Blue and White
Allison joined the team following the lockout season of 2004-05, after having also sat out the 2003-04 season, meaning the North York, ON native joined the club after a two year hiatus from the NHL. Allison arguably was amongst a handful of new Leafs given the task to fill the void left by many names who were shipped out or not resigned by then general manager John Ferguson Jr. That list includes Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan, Brian Leetch, and though he didn’t play too much, the great, Ron Francis.
It’s safe to say that the chips were definitely against the group, but much to the chagrin of the Leafs fan, Allison had a fairly productive season with the Buds before having his season cut short due to a hand injury. The, then 31-year-old, collected 17 goals and 60 points in 66 games with the team.
A Season of Heartbreak
The team ultimately failed to make it to the post-season, which at the time was the first team the Leafs had failed to do so since the 1997-98 season. In fact the Maple Leafs missed out on the last playoff spot in the east after the New York Islanders defeated the New Jersey Devils in a shootout, a shootout that had the Devils won, would have propelled the Leafs into the post-season; what could have been if the Devils had started future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur in the game.
That season the Maple Leafs relied heavily on their power play which was one of the strongest parts of their game during the season, finishing second in the NHL with a 21.4% success rate, while collecting 107 goals with the extra skater, the most in the league. And Allison was arguably the catalyst of what made the team’s power play such a success. He tallied nine goals and 39 of his points on the power play.
The Leafs and Allison Part Ways
Ultimately it was a collection of things that made this season with the Leafs the last of his career. On top of the injury that ending the season, the 6-foot-3 centre finished the season with a plus-minus of minus-18, second last on the team behind O’Neil’s minus-19. And though his production on the power play was his bread and butter, it seemed that he may also have been a one-trick-pony. Allison was never used on the penalty-kill and only recorded 35% of his points at even strength, not to mention that at his age he wasn’t the most prolific skater on the team either.
The Career Comes to an End
In the end Allison’s career was never able to pan out the way it seemed like it might. He is still remembered for putting together one of the greatest World Juniors performances in the tournament’s history in 1995, recording 15 points in seven games for Canada. He played just nine seasons in the NHL due to a string of injuries, but still managed to record 485 points over 552 games and even captain the Boston Bruins Nov 8, 2000 to Oct 24, 2001 when he was traded to Los Angeles.
Allison tried to give it one last go in the NHL in 2009 when he trained with the Maple Leafs during the off-season hoping to make the team. Ultimately, after the pre-season came to an end, head coach Ron Wilson made the decision that Allison’s dream would not come to be and just like that his NHL career came to an end.
The book is closed on Allison now, but back during the 2005-06 season he provided the Leafs with a bit of hope. It is too bad that fans will never know how the team might have fared had he remained healthy both for the team’s final games during that heartbreaking season, and the many more that followed.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.