Is Leap Year Lucky For The Leafs?

- February 28th, 2012

Hawks-Leafs

When the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks hook up at Chicago’s United Center on Wednesday evening, Feb. 29, it will mark the 12th leap year that has rolled over Leaf Nation since Toronto last won the Stanley Cup.

 

That’s enough water under the bridge to ask oneself: “What does it all mean? Is leap year — and specifically leap day — lucky for the Leafs? Does their past record of leap-day performance tell us whether the Leafs will win on Feb. 29 and, more importantly, advance to the playoffs?”

 

The short answer is … No.

 

The long answer is that Feb. 29 is neither lucky nor unlucky for the Leafs. There’s no pattern except this — on leap days and in leap years, the Leafs win some and lose some. Their leap day record doesn’t mean a darn thing.

 

What were you expecting? Some kind of miracle or future-defining sign?

 

Well, actually, I was kind of hoping a pattern would emerge or else I wouldn’t have wasted my time looking back at the Leafs’ four-plus decades of futility. Such are the desperate measures to which we sad members of Leaf Nation are driven by this team.

 

Some interesting things did turn up, however, so let’s take a look at the Leafs’ leap-day record anyway.

 

Of the 11 editions of Feb. 29 that have passed since the Leafs last won the Stanley Cup, Toronto did not play on six of them, won on three and lost on two.

 

In 2008, the Leafs lost 3-2 (OT) on the road in Tampa.

 

In 2000, the Leafs won 4-0 on the road in Atlanta.

 

In 1992, the Leafs won 6-5 (OT) at home against Chicago.

 

In 1984, the Leafs won 3-1 at home against New York Rangers.

 

In 1968, the Leafs lost 4-1 on the road in Boston.

 

The team didn’t play on Feb. 29 in 1972, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1996 or 2004.

 

So there really isn’t any pattern you can hang your hat on. You might take some consolation from that 1992 win against Chicago but that game was at home and really it was just another game 20 years ago — EXACTLY 20 years ago, but 20 years ago nonetheless.

 

Let’s look at those five leap day games and see if there’s any omen I’ve missed, any sign whatsoever of things to come:

 

1968-69 Topps Hockey #31 Frank Mahovlich

Feb. 29, 1968

Leafs lost 4-1 in Boston. That pretty much summed up the Leafs’ entire 1967-68 season when the Stanley Cup champions went into the dumper and ended up not making the playoffs in the first year of the expanded NHL. That Feb. 29 loss sealed the deal on the big trade March 3 that sent Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Gary Unger and Carl Brewer to Detroit in exchange for Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Doug Barrie. (The 1968-69 Topps card, above, still shows the Big M in his Toronto jersey.) The Leafs went on a roll after the leap day game — and the trade — and won nine of their last 15 games (after having lost 12 of the 15 games before Feb. 29) — but still didn’t make the playoffs.

derlagovaive

Feb. 29, 1984

Leafs beat the Rangers 3-1 in Toronto. Well, based on the 1968 game, you’d think winning on Feb. 29 probably meant the Leafs had a pretty good 1983-84 season. Of course not. It was the depths of the Harold Ballard era and the Leafs had one of their worst seasons ever, winning only 26 games in an 80-game schedule. Rick Vaive had 52 goals but the team finished in last place in the Norris Division. And that win on Feb. 29 didn’t help at all: Toronto lost 10 of its final 15 games.

Doug-Gilmour

Feb. 29, 1992

Leafs won 6-5 in overtime at home against the Blackhawks. What did that portend for the season? I’ll give you a hint: The big trade with Calgary that brought Doug Gilmour to Toronto had just happened in January and Grant Fuhr had already come over from Edmonton earlier in the season. But the Gilmour career season you’re thinking of was the next one, 1992-93. Leafs ended the ’91-92 season in last place in the Norris Division, out of the playoffs again. The Leafs had more wins than the Minnesota North Stars, but were edged out of that last playoff spot on total points.

sundin

Feb. 29, 2000

Leafs won 4-0 on the road in Atlanta. That game was typical of a great year for the Leafs. It was Pat Quinn’s second season as coach and the team was loaded with talent that clicked: Sundin, Berezin, Thomas, Hoglund’s career year, Kaberle, Antropov,  Korolev, Perreault (even with a broken arm) and a late addition in Darcy Tucker. It was also Wendel Clark’s last hurrah and the year of Bryan Berard’s eye injury. Leafs had their second consecutive 45-win season, racked up 100 points for the first time and led the Northeast Division. In the playoffs, Leafs beat the Senators (of course) in the conference quarter-finals and were knocked out in six games by the Devils (of course) in the conference semi-finals.

old-sundin

Feb. 29, 2008

Toronto lost 3-2 in overtime in Tampa Bay. It was the end of the dismal John Ferguson Jr. era and the Leafs would finish out of the playoffs for the third year in a row. Consider the Leaf lineup on Feb. 29, 2008 (just a few weeks after Ferguson had been fired as GM): Only four Leafs had more than 50 points that season — Mats Sundin (78), Nik Antropov (56), Tomas Kaberle (53) and Jason Blake (52). Blake had just signed a five-year, $20-million contract. The Toronto netminders were Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala. Shudder. It seems so very long ago — much more than four years. And yet that legacy of futility and loss still seems to be hanging around, even if the current team’s roster is entirely different.

Like I said before, there’s no pattern, no omen waiting to be foretold in the outcome of Wednesday night’s game in Chicago. Except one: Both times the Leafs lost Feb. 29 games, they were loser teams in disarray and finished out of the playoffs.

 

The three times they won on Feb. 29, they were respectively (1968) a team just one year off winning the Stanley Cup, (1992) a group with promise just one year away from becoming one of the Leafs’ most exciting teams ever, and (2000) a smooth, veteran team at the top of its game.

 

So, if you’re superstitious, better hope for a win Wednesday — or kiss Toronto’s fading playoff hopes goodbye for another year.

 

 

≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈ ≈

 

 

For a day that only comes around once every four years, Feb. 29 has produced a few events of note in NHL history.

Henri-Richard

One of my favourite all-time players, Henri Richard (the Pocket Rocket), was born on Feb. 29, 1936. Happy 76th birthday, Henri.

84-85LEAFS-DDaoust

And former Maple Leaf Dan Daoust, a 1980s Toronto fan favourite, was born Feb. 29, 1960. Dan still lives and works in the GTA, so if you run into him, wish him a happy 52nd birthday.

 

To the best of my knowledge, only two currently active NHL players were born on Feb. 29 and they’re both in the 2011 photo below.

 

simon-gagne-cam-ward-jay-harrison

From left to right, Simon Gagne (then a Bolt, now a King), Carolina netminder Cam Ward and Carolina D Jay Harrison.

 

Harrison’s the odd man out since Gagne was born Feb. 29, 1980, and Ward was born Feb. 29, 1984.

 

On the same day Simon Gagne was born, two other notable hockey events took place.

 

 

Howe Whalers

Gordie Howe, then a Hartford Whaler, became the first player to score 800 NHL goal on Feb. 29, 1980. He got one more NHL goal after that before retiring at the end of the 1979-80 season. Since we’re talking birthdays, wish Gordie a happy one too — his 84th is coming up at the end of next month.

 

Dave-Christian

And Dave Christian still holds the record he set on Feb. 29, 1980, for fastest goal scored by a player in his first NHL game: 7 seconds. Christian scored his fastest-rookie goal in his first game as a Winnipeg Jet  just one week after winning Olympic gold with the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team. Christian went on to score 339 more goals in an NHL career from 1980 to 1993, playing for Winnipeg, Washington, Chicago, Boston and St. Louis.

 

 

Categories: News

Subscribe to the post

1 comment

  1. alan.parker says:

    To quote: “Kiss Toronto’s fading playoff hopes goodbye for another year.”

Leave a comment

 characters available