Thursday, November 11, 2010

43 Years of Maple Leaf Frustration: 2002-03 Season

On July 1, 2002 Curtis Joseph spurned a better offer from the Maple Leafs to sign with the Red Wings. The attraction of winning a Stanley Cup with Detroit combined with the Olympic snub from Pat Quinn was just too much to handle. Cujo was made to wear the Maple Leaf and he neither he or the Leafs would ever equal the succes the experienced together. The Leafs quickly signed free agent Ed Belfour who had lost his starting job with the Stars to Marty Turko.

The Maple Leafs would stumble out of the gate winning just two of their first nine games, as the team adjusted to their new goalie. During that period Belfour was heckled repeatedly by Leaf fans who were still angry over the Joseph fiasco. However the Leafs began to find their way in mid October and quickly rode up the standings in the Northeast Division. However, their struggles against the Ottawa Senators would prevent them from getting over the top as the Maple Leafs won just one of five fight filled games with their rivals.

Hoping to improve the team at the deadline the Maple Leafs made several big trades. As always they traded away their future at a long shot in the playoffs. Management always underestimated the talent on the roster. The Leafs acquired Owen Nolan from the San Jose Sharks, and reacquired Doug Gilmour from the Montreal Canadiens. However the dreams of a great comeback from Gilmour were squashed early as he suffered a season ending knee injury in his first game with the Leafs, which ended his season and his career as Gilmour announced his retirement after the season. The Leafs also picked up Glen Wesley and Phil Housley at the trading deadline. In these deals the Leafs gave up Alyn McAuley, Brad Boyes, and 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th and 9th round picks.

The Leafs did go on to have a solid season finishing in second place with a record of 44-28-7-3. Alexander Mogilny was their leading scorer with 79 points and Mats Sundin led the team with 37 goals. It was the height of the dead puck era as only these two players scored over 20 goals. Belfour finished well with 2.26 GAA, .922 SAV% and 7 shutouts.

In the playoffs the Leafs were matched up against the Philadelphia Flyers. After splitting the first two games in Philadelphia the Leafs took a series lead with a dramatic 4-3 win in double overtime on a goal by Tomas Kaberle. However, the Flyers would bounce back to take Game 4 in triple overtime. After losing Game 5 in Philly the Leafs staved off elimination with a 2-1 win in double overtime on a goal by Travis Green. However, with Game 7 in Philadelphia the Leafs simply ran out of gas losing 6-1.

All that young talent and only 3 playoff wins to show for it.

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