Doug Gilmour

There is a modern generation of fans who probably think Doug Gilmour is the greatest player to ever wear the blue and white jersey of the Toronto Maple Leafs. While his tenure in comparison to other Leafs greats was short, those fans might just be right.

Gilmour was a spectacular player. He played with a contagious enthusiasm and passion that so few players can match. He is one of the most intelligent superstars in league history. Although never a top goal scorer he was as good a playmaker in his era other than Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Yet unlike those two the brilliance of Gilmour’s game was his status as a defensive player with few peers. He also was a great leader, always leading by example. Though he was tiny by NHL standards, he played with a level of fearlessness that instantly won over the hearts of NHL fans everywhere.

For years Doug Gilmour was one of the best kept secrets in the National Hockey League. He was drafted only 134th overall in 1982 and played in relative obscurity in St. Louis for 5 solid seasons. He was earning rave reviews for his defensive excellence right out of junior hockey and for his spunk, but it wasn’t until 1985-86 when he erupted with a spectacular playoffs. After post his typical 53 point season Doug Gilmour established himself as one of the game's best. The upstart St. Louis Blues made it all the way to the Campbell Conference Championship only to lose out to the Calgary Flames. The Blues went on to play in 19 post season matchups. Gilmour and teammate Bernie Federko ended up tied for the post season scoring crown, as Gilmour posted 9 goals and 12 assists for 21 points. Doug Gilmour had arrived.

Gilmour proved it was no fluke when in 1986-87 when he emerged with a 105 point season which included a career high 42 goals. Yet he maintained his gritty defensive game.

During the summer of 1987, Doug Gilmour was named, perhaps a surprise to some, to Team Canada in the 1987 rendition of the Canada Cup. His competitiveness and savvy were exactly what Team Canada was searching for, as the lineup boasted many top guns. They were looking for Gilmour's intangibles and passion to help them win. Gilmour didn't disappoint either. After seeing limited ice time in the round robin portion of the tournament, Gilmour rose to the occasion in the final 3 games against the Soviets. He was arguably the best Canadian player – particularly in game one of the finals.

The 1987-88 season reaffirmed Gilmour's excellence, scoring 36 times and adding 50 helpers. After leading the team with 17 points in just playoff ten games, the Blues felt they needed to make a change in order to solve the team's lack of playoff success. So in what turned out to be one of the greatest trades of all time, Gilmour was moved to Calgary in a 7 player deal. Gilmour then teamed with Joe Mullen to be one of the top offensive tandems in the league. Gilmour scored 26 goals and 85 points his first season in Calgary, plus added 22 points in 22 playoff games as Gilmour won his first Stanley Cup that spring.

The Calgary Flames were a scoring machine during the 1980's, so Gilmour became just one of many scorers on that team. His tenacious checking however is what assured him of plenty of ice time. While he became somewhat overshadowed in Calgary, there is no doubting just how important he was to that team.

A contract dispute eventually saw Gilmour moved to Toronto in what proved to be perhaps the biggest trade in hockey history, at least in terms of bodies exchanged. Gilmour was the centerpiece of the 10 player deal in January of 1992. Gilmour would finish the season with Toronto with 49 points in 40 games, but more importantly proved that he was ready to step out from the shadows of others and take the next step to establish himself as a superstar.

Gilmour's first full season in Toronto was simply amazing - 32 goals, 95 assists and 127 points. He set team records for assists and points in a season. He finished second in Hart Trophy voting, but did pick up the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward. It is kind of ironic how he finally got recognized as the league's best defensive forward in his most explosive offensive season! Gilmour also led the Leafs to 21 playoff games, this after the Leafs had missed the playoffs the previous two years without "Killer." Toronto's trip to the Conference finals was marked by Gilmour's team record 25 assists and 35 points.

Gilmour followed that season up with an 111 point campaign, based on 27 goals and 84 assists. Again, the Leafs made it to the Conference finals based on a 6 goal - 22 assist - 28 point effort on behalf of Gilmour in 18 games. However they failed to advance once again.

That season proved to be Gilmour’s last as a scoring superstar. In 1994-95 he, like the team and especially his linemates, struggled through the NHL lockout-shortened schedule. Over the next two years he seemed to have slowed a bit – perhaps age and his lack of size were finally catching up with him.

The Leafs traded Gilmour to New Jersey in the 1996-97 season. It was hoped Gilmour could be the final piece of the Devil’s championship puzzle, but it was not meant to be. While he continued to play excellent defensively, he really struggled offensively – picking up just 4 assists in 10 playoff games.

In a way that playoff season summed up most of the remainder of Gilmour’s career. He toiled for parts of two seasons with each of the Devils, Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres, but never could live up to his reputation as the great player from his younger days – particularly his days in Toronto. His play was actually very good, even if his offensive contributions were not. Many people started calling for Gilmour’s retirement, but that competitive fire in his heart could not be extinguished.

Instead of retiring Gilmour signed on with the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-2002. After a slow start, Gilmour was instrumental in returning the injury and illness plagued Habs to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

One thing is for sure. Doug Gilmour is one of the game's all time best players. In fact, it is arguable that, despite only playing 392 of his 1500 (and counting) career games in a Leaf's jersey, he deserves consideration as the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of all time. That is quite a compliment considering the rich and deep history of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs of the early 1990’s were his team, and few players in Leaf history reached the zenith of a hockey players career that Gilmour did.


Anonymous,  5:12 AM  

Led the Leafs in the '93 post season on a broken ankle and was still the best player on the ice.

matthew 1:11 AM  

I watched the Flames all through the 80's; they had amazing players but Gilmour is the one that put them over the top. What a run '89 was; hard to take the Connie from MacInnis, but I'm sure Gilmour was the runner-up.

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