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Leeman recalls blockbuster that sent him to Calgary for Gilmour

Former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Gary Leeman, right, plays in a charity hockey tournament in Charlottetown earlier this season.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Gary Leeman, right, plays in a charity hockey tournament in Charlottetown earlier this season. - Jason Malloy

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Gary Leeman was a late addition to a trade that help transform the Toronto Maple Leafs into a Stanley Cup contender a quarter of a century ago.

Leeman was shipped from Toronto to Calgary in January 1992 in what, at the time, was the biggest trade in terms of number of players in NHL history. The Leafs landed Doug Gilmour in the swap.

“I wasn't supposed to be in the deal originally,” Leeman said recently. “When I made the (trade) request, there was already something on the table, so I went in place of another guy.”

Leeman was only the second Leaf to score 50 goals in a season when he accomplished the feat in 1989-90. The first was Islander Rick Vaive in 1981-82.

Leeman lived through the instability of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the 1980s. He said he had nine coaches and four general managers in his nine seasons with the Leafs.

“Any good business, any good operation, starts with stability at the top,” Leeman said.

He said the situation began to improve when Cliff Fletcher took over in 1991.

At the beginning of the 1991-92 season, Fletcher asked Leeman if he wanted to be moved. At the time, there were talks the Leafs were trying to acquire goalie Grant Fuhr from Edmonton and Leeman didn't want to go through another rebuild with the Oilers.

Leeman stayed put and the Leafs acquired Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube for a package that included former first-round picks in Vincent Damphousse, Luke Richardson and Scott Thorton.

Gilmour won an arbitration case with the Flames in mid-November and by New Year’s Eve the centre knew his time was up in Alberta. The deal occurred, but Leeman’s stay with the Flames would be a short one. Leeman asked to be traded and ended up in Montreal after 59 games as a Flame.

“It was a bit of a process and, unfortunately, I had to fire an agent to get out of Calgary,” he explained.

The Leafs went on to make it to the semifinal in 1992-93 and 1993-94 while the Flames missed the playoffs both seasons.

Leeman said it wasn’t tough to see the Leafs succeed after he left.

“Toronto deserved to have good team. They deserved to have strong management that treated the players properly.”

Toronto’s two deep playoff runs included a loss to Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference final in 1993.

“I happened to win the Cup that year (with Montreal) so it didn't bother me one bit,” Leeman said.


Leeman deals

A look at the two times Gary Leeman was traded during his NHL career.

Jan. 2, 1992 – The Toronto Maple Leafs trade Leeman, Craig Berube, Alexander Godynyuk, Michel Petit and Jeff Reese to the Calgary Flames for Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville, Ric Nattress and Rick Wamsley.

Jan. 28, 1993 – The Calgary Flames sent Leeman to the Montreal Canadiens for Brian Skrudland.

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