Toronto Maple Leafs History of Black Hockey Players

In their 105-year-old history, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a total of 977 players suit up to don the blue and white. Only eight of these 977 players are black, equaling a total of 0.82% of the team’s entire history of players.

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds is the first Black player to play for the Maple Leafs since Mark Fraser in 2013-14 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In honour of Black History Month, I decided it would be cool to take a look at the Maple Leafs’ entire history of black players. Some of these players made household names out of themselves, whether it be with the Leafs or during their time in the league. Others, however, you may not have heard of. With that, let’s have a look at who these players are and what they accomplished during their time in the league.

Val James (1986-87)

Born Valmore Edwin James, the Florida native only suited up for four games with the Maple Leafs during the 1986-87 season. However, the impact he left on not only the Maple Leafs but the game of hockey as a whole stems way beyond that. James was the first-ever black American to suit up for an NHL game and played both left-wing and defense. Known for his fighting ability, he started his career with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)’s Quebec Remparts and was a 16th round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 1977 after two seasons.

Val James Rochester Americans
Val James, Rochester Americans (photo courtesy Rochester Americans)

While he never played a game for the Red Wings, James ended up signing with the Buffalo Sabres in 1981. He spent most of the 1981-82 season with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Rochester Americans and made his NHL debut that same season, appearing in seven games. He also scored the winning goal in the 1983 Calder Cup under rookie coach Mike Keenan.

After spending three more seasons in the AHL, James would suit up once again in the NHL, this time for the Maple Leafs. Although he was unfortunately forced to retire at the age of 31 due to a shoulder injury, he would teach hockey for 10 years after his retirement before leaving the sport altogether. He is a trailblazer for fellow black Americans and published an autobiography titled “Black Ice: The Val James Story” in 2015.

Grant Fuhr (1991-1993)

While Grant Fuhr only spent a season and a half in Toronto, he, without a doubt, has the most storied career of any of the players on this list. A native of Spruce Grove, Alberta, Fuhr’s hockey career started with the Western Hockey League (WHL)’s Victoria Cougars. He made an impact over two seasons for the Cougars, including a Memorial Cup appearance in 1981, and was rewarded for his success with an eighth overall selection by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1981 NHL Draft.

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Fuhr’s success carried over from the junior level, as he would immediately join the Oilers and what would end up being the winningest team of the 1980s. Along with fellow goaltending partners Andy Moog and eventually Bill Ranford, Fuhr would win five Stanley Cups with the Oilers. He was traded to the Maple Leafs in a seven-player deal ahead of the 1991-92 season and appeared in a total of 94 games with the team. He finished his tenure with a record of 38-42-9 and was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in 1993.

Grant Fuhr, Edmonton Oilers
Grant Fuhr won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers (NHL.com)

Fuhr would play for the Sabres, the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues, and the Calgary Flames before retiring in 2000. His time in hockey didn’t end there, however, as he would become a goaltending coach with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004 and stay there until 2009. He’d retire a six-time all-star, a five-time Stanley Cup champion, and the first black hockey player to ever win a Stanley Cup and be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Following his career, he also collaborated on a biography titled “Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend.”

John Craighead (1996-1997)

A native of Richmond, Virginia, John Craighead is a former right-winger who grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He went undrafted but spent one season playing for the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, and appeared in five games for the Toronto Maple Leafs that year. He went on to play four seasons in Germany, along with one more year in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose, before playing out the remainder of his career in England. Craighead retired from the game in 2005.

Jamal Mayers (2008-2010)

A native of Toronto, Ontario, Jamal Mayers would go the route of playing in the NCAA rather than playing junior hockey like most Canadian players. He blossomed into a star player for Western Michigan University and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the fourth round of the 1993 NHL Draft after his freshman season.

Related: San Jose Sharks History of Black Hockey Players

After three more seasons in the NCAA, Mayers made his debut for the Blues in 1996-97. He would go on to play parts of ten seasons with the Blues before getting traded to the Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2008 third-round pick. He was immediately named an alternate captain for the Maple Leafs and appeared in 105 games for the team before getting traded to the Calgary Flames in a blockbuster deal that brought Dion Phaneuf back to Toronto in 2009-10.

Tyler Cuma
Jamal Mayers with the Blackhawks in 2012 (Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE)

Mayers would sign with the San Jose Sharks for one season before spending the last two seasons of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks. Fifteen years into his career, he won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2012-13, and although he didn’t play a game for them in the playoffs, he was the third member of the team to raise the Cup, a gesture for his time spent in the league. His name is engraved on the Cup from that season, and he now works as an analyst for NHL Network.

Robbie Earl (2007-08)

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Robbie Earl played minor hockey in Los Angeles before joining the U.S. National Team Development Program. He committed to the University of Wisconsin, where he was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the sixth round of the 2004 NHL Draft after registering 27 points in 42 games during his freshman year.

Robbie Earl
Robbie Earl playing for EV Zug. (Photo by Fabien Perissinotto/Wiki Commons)

While Earl only played in nine games for the Maple Leafs, he had a couple of productive seasons with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies before getting traded to the Minnesota Wild in 2009. He spent two seasons with the Wild organization before kickstarting a career in Europe. He’s spent the better part of the past 10 seasons playing in Switzerland, along with brief stints in Sweden and Austria. He last played with the SCL Tigers of the Swiss League in 2020-21 but hasn’t formally retired yet.

Andre Deveaux (2008-2010)

Andre Deveaux, Hockey, NHL, Sweden
Andre Deveaux with the Connecticut Whale in 2011-12 (Credit: Chris Rutsch)

Born in Freeport, Andre Deveaux is the first-ever player born in the Bahamas to appear in an NHL game. He moved to Welland, Ontario, at a young age, where his parents would raise him. He suited up for the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)’s Belleville Bulls and was a sixth-round selection in the 2002 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens.

Deveaux never played a game for the Canadiens, but after bouncing back and forth between the AHL and the ECHL for four seasons, his fighting ability, along with his intimidating frame at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, earned him an NHL debut with the Maple Leafs in 2008. He spent parts of two seasons with the Maple Leafs, appearing in 22 games with the team before signing with the New York Rangers in 2011.

He ended up playing all over the globe, including stints in Russia, Sweden, Czechia, Slovakia, and England, before retiring in 2019. He now works as a firefighter with Toronto Pearson Airport’s fire and emergency services.

Mark Fraser (2013-2014)

A defenseman from Ottawa, Ontario, Mark Fraser spent two seasons with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers before being drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2005. He served as the Rangers’ captain in his second season and made his NHL debut with the Devils the year after.

After bouncing between the NHL and the AHL in the Devils’ organization for six seasons, Fraser was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in December 2011 before getting traded to the Maple Leafs three months later. He spent nearly the entirety of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with the Leafs and started the following season with the team before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in January 2014.

He spent time with the Oilers, Devils, and Ottawa Senators organizations over the following three seasons before taking his talents abroad. He played in Finland, Slovakia, and Germany before retiring following the 2019-20 season. In Feb. 2021, the Maple Leafs would bring Fraser back into the organization, hiring him into a player development role on the organization’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion team. He now works in the community and alongside players to create a more welcoming environment for players entering the organization.

Wayne Simmonds (2021-present)

Wayne Simmonds is the only player on this list who currently plays for the Maple Leafs. A native of Scarborough, Ontario, he started his hockey career with the Owen Sound Attack in 2006-07 and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings following his first OHL season. He made his debut for the Kings in 2008-09 and scored his first NHL goal in his third game.

After three seasons with the Kings, Simmonds was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers along with Brayden Schenn in a blockbuster trade that saw Mike Richards join the Kings. It was in Philadelphia where Simmonds truly broke out, with two 30-goal seasons and six 20-goal seasons over eight years with the Flyers. He was traded to the Nashville Predators in 2018-19 and was the NHL’s recipient of the Mark Messier Leadership Award for community work on and off the ice in 2019.

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs Right Wing (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After brief stints with the Devils and Buffalo Sabres, Simmonds signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs ahead of the 2020-21 season. He instantly became a fan favourite, dropping the gloves with Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot in the first game of the season and scoring five goals in his first 12 games.

After the 2020-21 season ended in disappointing fashion for the Maple Leafs, Simmonds signed a two-year contract extension with the team, citing that he didn’t get an opportunity to play in front of fans in his hometown. Simmonds is still a Maple Leaf today, and along with his continued work in the Toronto community, he’s a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance with fellow players, including former Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri, Anthony Duclair, Matt Dumba, and Akim Aliu.

Representation in Hockey Matters

Having players like Simmonds speak out against racism in all levels of hockey is important for so many reasons, but most of all, it gives young BIPOC hockey players somebody to look up to. Having somebody in the league to represent them and to let them know that while there are still issues in hockey culture that need resolving, there’s work being done every day to make the game a more inclusive space for them.

Related: NHL Needs to Partner with Hockey Diversity Alliance to End Hate

Representation matters. And while eight players is a staggeringly low number compared to the overall amount of players who have ever taken the ice for the Maple Leafs, hopefully we have more than eight black players to talk about over the next 30 years.