Sunday, November 09, 2008

From Spineless to Incompent: A History of Leafs' GMs, Part II

A History of Leafs' GMs, Part II

1989 - 1991 Floyd Smith

Floyd Smith (AKA Sleepy Floyd, Count Floyd, Trader Smith) gets his own blog entry, not so much for what he did as a GM (make a million trades and see his team hit rock bottom) but because of all the turmoil that surrounded the Leafs during his tenure.

The similarities between JFJ’s run and Floyd Smith’s are amazing – from conflict at the Board Level to an initial effort to go with youth that resulted in whole sale trades of draft picks and prospects; from a promising start to a search for a new executive to come in as a new President and GM of the Leafs to clean up the horrible mess.

Winning %: .428

Playoff Appearances: 1 for 2

Drafted: Felix Potvin, Yanic Perreault, Alexander Goodynyuk

Best Trade: Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse acquired for Al Iafrate

Worst Trade: Tom Kurvers acquired for a first round pick (Scott Niedermayer).

The Back Story

When Gord Stellick resigned in August of 1989, Harold Ballard offered the Leafs’ GM job to Frank Bonello, who was the GM of the Marlies Club that won the 1975 Memorial Cup. Ballard low-balled the salary offer to Bonello and the deal fell through. The very next morning, Ballard announced that former Leaf coach Floyd Smith was the Leafs' new GM.

Floyd Smith's team actually managed to put up a respectable record in his first year, going 38-38-4 (the Leafs first .500 season in more than a decade - since 1978-79). Toronto qualified for the post season, but were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in five games (in the land before Internet, I remember lying on the floor of a dorm room in Ottawa doing everything I possibly could to try to maintain a static riddled, weak AM radio signal of that final Leafs' game. I can still hear the cry of "Momesso" when his slap shot from out near the redline eliminated put my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs down 3-0 in the series).

One of the most infamous bad trades in the history of the Leaf franchise went down on Smith's watch: a first round pick to New Jersey for Tom Kurvers. The deal was pulled off by Smith in the fall of 1989 when the Leafs were a mid-pack club. Neither the media, the fans or the club saw what was coming: in his second season as GM, the wheels completely fell off.

The 1990-91 season pretty much couldn’t have gone worse for the Leafs who flirted with last overall pretty much from day one. The team lost 13 of their first 16 games and Smith was ordered to revamp the roster. He would go on to make eight trades over the next nine weeks and while a few of the trades brought some pretty important talent to the club, the Leafs’ never recovered. I can remember seeing New Jersey Devil jerserys with Lindros’ 88 on the back.

The death of Harold Ballard led to a huge legal battle over the future of the franchise. Donald Giffin and Steve Stavro, the co-executors of Ballard’s estate, ended up in a protracted legal battle over the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization.

Giffin wanted to keep Smith on as GM and bring in one of John Ferguson Sr., Mike Nykoluk, or former Leafs GM Jim Gregory to run the hockey organization. Stavro was desperate to depose Floyd Smith and bring in a business person to oversee the Leafs; his first choice was Lyman MacInnis, who was the then-head of the Entertainment division of Labatt’s.

Ultimately, Steve Stavro won the court case, the decision allowed him to replace Giffin with a Chief Operating Officer who would turn out to be Cliff Fletcher.

The Good

The Leafs first .500 season in a decade made it seem like this team was finally on the right track.
Harold Ballard died.

A few key future Leafs acquired: Zezel, Rouse, Potvin...

The Bad

Better pull up a chair…

The Leafs started the 1989 season with three wins in their first 16 games and then started the 1990 calendar year by going winless in 10 (0-7-3).

The Leafs had actually collected a number of early draft picks most of whom were shipped out of town when Smith pulled off eight trades in November and December of 1990. In addition to the prospects, in a desperate attempt to right the ship, Smith also traded three of the four first round draft picks.

The Leafs goaltending tandem was Raycroftian. Alan Bester, who never returned to form after giving up the famous Sergio Momesso playoff goal, would find himself spending a portion of the year in the minors with the Newmarket Saints, while Peter Ing was clearly in over his head.

The Crazy

On the one-month anniversary of Smith's hiring, the ever classy Ballard told the media that he’d gladly hire a different GM if someone better came along.

With defenceman Todd Gill struggling, Brad Marsh returns to action after being a healthy scratch for two months, only to have coach Tom Watt decide the Leafs will go with a five-man defensive rotation.

With all of Smith’s wheeling and dealing, the 1990-91 Toronto Maple Leafs dressed a team record 48 players that season.

Prior to being traded, Al Iafrate went through a very messy, public divorce, a paternity suit in St. Louis and his teammate Gary Leeman began publicly dating Iafrate's ex-wife.

Smith would finally trade Tom Kurvers to Vancouver for Brian Bradley. Bradley was goaless in his first season with the Leafs, putting up 11 assists in 26 games as a Leaf. The following season, Bradley continued to struggle scoring goals, potting just 10 in 59 games. Eventually, Bradley would be traded to Tampa Bay where he threatened to break the fifty goal mark in his first year with the club and would eventually score 42 in his first go ‘round with the Lightning.

Floyd Smith thought so much of defenceman Brad Marsh (who couldn’t crack the Leafs line-up and was not protected when the Senators expansion draft occurred) that Smith planned to offer the Leafs coaching position to him.

Smith puts Cliff Fletcher’s name forward to the Board of Directors, he told the Toronto Star: "Sure I knew it would probably cost me my job, but I recommended very strongly that they hire Cliff Fletcher to run the show.”

On the patented DGB How bad was it? 100 point scale: 93 – Just like JFJ’s tenure, Floyd Smith’s Leafs qualified for the post-season in Smith’s first year and seemed to have things going their way. Board interference and an inability to stick to plan made Smith’s second year one of the most tumultuous in Leafs history. Picks and prospects were shipped out of town by the truckload; the dressing room saw some unparalleled conflicts and the starting goalie lost all confidence and ability. And once again, Cliff Fletcher was brought to town to help clean up the mess…


  1. Gah. I hate Floyd Smith.

    One note: the Momesso goal didn't eliminate the Leafs, although it did make the series 3-0. I remember because I was at the game -- the only playoff game I ever saw at MLG.

  2. Great post, MF. A history lesson for a young buck like me who got into the Leafs around 1991 when Dougie came along.

    Some thoughts:
    - Ten straight years of below .500 hockey? Yikes. I hope to never go through lean years like you have, my friend.
    - So Floyd Smith is the man behind the infamous Kurvers deal, eh. Brutal. Just brutal.
    - I remember Peter Ing and Allan Bester. I think "Raycroftian" is an apt description.
    - Peter Zezel was a beast at faceoffs.
    - I would have loved to see Marsh and Larry Murphy in a race. Well, if you could call that a race.
    - Love the DGB scale of fail. Floyd does sound a lot like JFJ - making it up as you go along.

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