Sunday, June 6, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 1988-89 Season

The 1988-89 was best remembered as the Gord Stellick season. Stellick was a well-liked, personable young man who has worked his way up in the Leaf organization but over his head as the general manager of a professional sports franchise. He was just 30 years old, the youngest GM in NHL history. At the Amateur Draft the Leafs pick Scott Pearson 6th overall who turns out to be a dud.

Once again the Leafs finished 19th out of 21 teams and out of the playoffs with a pathetic record of 28-46-6. They were managed by a inexperienced rookie, coached by an unqualified veteran and with no captain. The team has still not replaced Rick Vaive.

Brophy who had been feuding with the previous general manager, Gerry McNamara, had hoped to replace McNamara but instead the job went to Stellick. Brophy didn't last much longer as coach. After an equally poor start to the 1988–89 season, and despite being a favourite of Leafs owner Harold Ballard, Brophy was fired in December 1988, 33 games into the season. He was replaced by George Armstrong. Armstrong had coached the 1974-75 Toromto Marlies to a Memorial Cup Championships. Throughout that season he had repeatedly tried to quit because he hated coaching. Ballard repeatedly tried to get Armstrong to sign a multiple year contract but he would have none of that.

Stellick made an effort to rebuild the team but he also made what I thought was one of the worst trades in the history of the Maple Leaf franchise. He traded Russ Courtnall to Montreal for John Kordic. Courtnall was a gifted skater and decent scorer who had been playing on the "Hound" line with Wendel Clark and Gary Leeman. The previous season, Brophy had attempted to get him to play a more physical game which caused a drop off in his offensive production. That partly may have led to the trade for an enforcer. Kordic had drug and alcohol problems as well as a terrible temper. Courtnall played 10 more seasons after the trade while Kordic died on August 8, 1992, after overdosing on drugs and being involved in a struggle with police at his hotel. He was just 27 years old.

Gord Stellick who had repeatedly stood up to Ballard throughout the season resigns in August rather than give in to the whims of the owner.

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