When hockey's losing Leafs left fans nostalgic for glory years

In 1984, for the second time in three years, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to make the NHL playoffs and fans were demoralized.

Some thought owner Harold Ballard was to blame for 1984 playoff drought

Leafs fall in spring

39 years ago
Duration 1:28
Fans are despondent as the Toronto Maple Leafs are left out of the NHL playoffs for the second time in three years.

It had been an agonizing 17 years since fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs had last seen their team win the Stanley Cup.

In 1984, that trend showed little sign of stopping. The team had failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years.

CBC reporter Terry Walker took a nostalgic look at the team's past to a time when when the Leafs won the Cup 11 times as part of the six-team league.

"They were the best. The very best," said Walker, as viewers of CBC's Saturday Report were treated to scenes of the Leafs scoring goals and parading the Cup through downtown Toronto.

Members of the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Champions get their photograph taken during a ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007 in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"And they weren't just Toronto's team. Many fans across the country cheered for the blue and white."

But those glory days were over — replaced, Walker said, by "bad hockey."

"Toronto is hockey tradition, but right now the organization just doesn't have it," said a passerby on the street near Maple Leaf Gardens.

Another fan said he wasn't disappointed by the team — because he'd already lost any "great expectations" for their success.

A fan club with a difference

"Whatever happened to the Stanley Cup?"

39 years ago
Duration 1:50
Disillusioned Leafs fans write a song about the team's poor showing in 1984.

Other fans did more than just throw their hands up in defeat.

One group, calling themselves the We Hate the Leafs Fan Club, got together and recorded a song called Leafs Lament with such lyrics as: "We're sick of losing/We're fed up/Whatever happened to the Stanley Cup?"

The club's apparent leaders, who would only reveal their names as "Mr. S. and Mr. W.," had some ideas for the team.

"We're going to trade the entire team to the Soviet Union," said Mr. S.

"And if that doesn't work, we're moving them to Markham. That's it," added Mr. W.

Leafs captain Rick Vaive wasn't happy with the team's performance, either. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

Team captain Rick Vaive wasn't thrilled with the team's performance, either.

"Any time you don't make the playoffs, it's always a very disappointing year," he said while at a team practice.

More than the injury-plagued players, though, Walker said people blamed owner Harold Ballard for the team's troubles. He had gone through seven head coaches since the team's last Stanley Cup win in 1967.

"I feel feel sorry for the players," said broadcaster and former player Jim McKenny. "You can't get that extra work out of yourself unless you know you're going to get some respect for the job that you do."

Walker wrapped on a familiar phrase.

"What was once one of the proudest organizations in professional sports continues to tell its fans, 'Wait until next year.'" 

As of 2021, 37 years after this report, the Leafs are still waiting to win another Stanley Cup. 

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