May 2, 1967 is a long time ago for anybody, but for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs it must feel like an eternity. For that is the date of the last Stanley Cup win for the Leafs, the longest current drought in the NHL.
There was no celebrating the anniversary in Toronto, Leaf fans are busy ignoring the current Stanley Cup playoffs, the seventh consecutive postseason they've missed. Some are following the Toronto Marlies, still alive in the AHL playoffs. If they even knew May 2, 2012 was 45 years to the day since Jim Pappin scored the series winner in a game Terry Sawchuck made 41 saves in, most kept it to themselves. It's been so long that it's no longer even worth complaining about and the anniversary is not even mentioned on the Leafs website.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 13 Stanley Cups
When the Leafs last won the Cup - they beat Montreal that year in six games in the final - it would never have occurred to Toronto fans of the day that they'd likely never see another one. At that time the win was their 4th Stanley Cup in the past six NHL seasons and overall their 13th - unlucky 13 for them - tying them with the Canadiens for Stanley Cup wins in the NHL.
Montreal now has 24 Cups, winning an incredible 10 since 1967, a 23 percent success rate (due to the lockout in 2004-05, the Cup was only awarded 44 times in that span). Meanwhile, in those same 44 seasons, the Maple Leafs missed the playoffs 18 times, or 40 percent of the time They have made it back to the semi-finals 5 times but they've never been back to the final in all those years. Ouch.
The Vancouver Canucks have played in the Cup final three times since joining in 1972, the Buffalo Sabres joined the same year and have been twice. Even the Florida Panthers and L.A. Kings have made it and the Carolina Hurricanes have been twice and won it once. The Calgary Flames have also been twice and won it once while the Edmonton Oilers, 12 years away from NHL existence when Toronto last won the Stanley Cup, have won it 5 times.
Leafs dominate pe-expansion NHL
When you consider that when Toronto was winning Cups there were but 6 teams for most of the time and, due to territorial rights conferred on each club, only Montreal, the Detroit Red Wings and the Leafs were able to build strong teams, Toronto has never really accomplished great things in the NHL. Or at least certainly the notion that they were once a flagship franchise is arguably an overstatement.
Leafs current GM Brian Burke, 12 in 1967, wasn't about to hold a parade to commemorate the anniversary, and not just because mentioning it puts the franchise in a bad light. He is busy strategizing about draft picks and signings, in short, trying to find a way forward. Because they are not lovable, these Leafs, they're not the Bad News Bears of the NHL, it's been too long for them to be lovable. They are just bad, for years and years they've been bad and that 45 year anniversary reflects how desperate they are to find that way forward.
Four and-a-half decades is a long time indeed - Pierre Trudeau was a year away from being the Canadian Prime Minister, Barack Obama was but 5-years-old - and it is not likely to end anytime soon. But with the right draft picks, a timely trade or two - Roberto Luongo a Leaf? - they just might get back to the playoffs.
We may be dealing with a 45-year-old futility streak, but it's going to require baby steps.