For an NHL franchise that began playing in 1917, it took a long time – 65 years – for one player to finally score 50 goals in a season. No other franchise has taken anywhere near as long to crack the milestone.
Despite the rich and storied history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the franchise has only three members in the celebrated 50-goal club. They are: Rick Vaive, Gary Leeman and Dave Andreychuk.
The Leafs’ Almost-50-Goal Scorers
In 1960-61, Frank Mahovlich took a run at Maurice “Rocket” Richard’s milestone 50 mark, netting 48 goals. Midway through the season, it looked like a sure thing. However, he cooled off in the final stretch, especially when his center, veteran Red Kelly, was injured. Though the magical marker eluded him, Mahovlich eventually helped lift the Leafs to four Stanley Cups.
In the 1970s, Lanny McDonald had 46- and 47-goal seasons. Darryl Sittler’s career best season was 45 goals, in 1977-78. Wendel Clark put up 46 goals in 1993-94.
Three-time Member of the Leafs’ 50-Goal Club
Scored 54 goals in 77 games during the 1981-82 season.
Scored 51 goals in 78 games during the 1982-83 season.
Scored 52 goals in 76 games during the 1983-84 season.
Rick Vaive was selected fifth overall by the Vancouver Canucks at the 1979 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut with them but was quickly traded to the Maple Leafs with Bill Derlago in 1980 after only 47 games played.
The trade blindsided Vaive. “It was devastating,” said Vaive. “You’re the fifth pick and you are expecting you’ll be there for a while. It was a shock. I’m only 20 and I’m wondering if I’m done.”
Soon thereafter, in 1981-82, the Leafs named the 22-year-old the team captain, replacing Darryl Sittler. “I don’t believe I was ready for that,” Vaive said. “I wasn’t asked to be captain; I was just told by (owner) Harold Ballard. If I said I wasn’t ready, I think he would have traded me.”
The bold move led to immediate results. Vaive responded by join the NHL’s 50-goal club and becoming the first Maple Leaf in franchise history to score 50 goals in one season. The Ottawa-born power forward strung together three incredible back-to-back-to-back prolific 50-goal seasons.
Derlago, a creative playmaking center, was often Vaive’s set-up man, feeding him the puck so he could unleash his booming slapshot. Pat Hickey filled out the line.
Besides his lethal shot, the tenacious winger had size and sandpaper. He was often crumbling bodies against the boards and willing to drop his gloves. Despite all his personal success and impressive goal totals, the team never made it too deep in the playoffs. He once confided that he’d trade his 50-goal campaigns for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Member of the Leafs’ 50-Goal Club
Scored 51 goals in 80 games during the 1989-90 season.
Surprisingly, Gary Leeman was a standout defenseman in the WHL before being chosen 24th overall at the 1982 Entry Draft. The Toronto native had wheels and soft hands and became a gritty scoring machine with the Maple Leafs as a right winger.
He patrolled the blueline for the nearly three full seasons until an anemic offense forced then-coach Dan Maloney to experiment with Leeman up front in an attempt to add some toughness and scoring. It worked.
Starting with the 1986-87 season, Leeman was a top goal scorer with Toronto and had four straight 20-goal seasons. His breakout season came in 1989-90 when he became the second Leaf to reach the 50-goal plateau and the first player ever drafted as a defenseman and convert to a forward to hit that mark.
He played on a line with Ed Olczyk and Mark Osborne. Together, they formed the ‘GEM Line.’ It was an acronym using each of the player’s first names.
Looking back at Leeman’s career, his 51-goal campaign was a bit of an anomaly. His second highest goal total came in 1988-89 when he potted 32. After his magical season, Leeman failed to crack the 20-goal plateau again.
Two-time Member of the NHL’s 50-Goal Club
Scored 54 goals in 83 games during the 1992-93 season.
Scored 53 goals in 83 games during the 1993-94 season.
Dave Andreychuk is one of the highest scoring left wingers in NHL history and is currently the league’s all-time leader in power play goals with 274. He commonly held court in front of opposing goaltenders, using his 6-foot-4, 220 pound frame, strength and skill to score goals.
After being drafted 16th overall by the Buffalo Sabres and playing 11 seasons with them, he was sent up the QEW to Toronto in a multiplayer deal in exchange for Grant Fuhr. That season, despite splitting time between the two clubs, he notched 54 goals – his career-best total.
In Buffalo, the line of Andreychuk-Pat LaFontaine-Alexander Mogilny was as dynamic as any in the history of the NHL. Had Andreychuk not been dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February, the line most likely would have achieved something never done in the NHL: have all three players on a line score each 50 goals in the same season.
Andreychuck added 25 goals for the Maple Leafs, bringing his season total to 54. So, at the end of this season, with Mogilny’s 76 and LaFontaine’s 53, these three linemates scored a staggering 183 goals. “I guess you can say I was able to feel what it might have been like playing for the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s,” said LaFontaine.
Related: Buffalo Sabres’ 50-Goal Scorers
Andreychuk became the first player (and still only) player to join the 50-goal club while scoring 25 or more for two different teams. The Hamilton, Ontario-born left winger followed that up with another sensational season, posting posted 53 goals and 99 points. He also helped advance the Maple Leafs to the conference finals in both 1993 and 1994.
After 22 seasons pursuing a Stanley Cup, Andreychuk finally hoisted the hardware with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017.
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Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”