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March 24, 2013

Maple Leafs Re-Vaive-al

In 1981-82, Rick Vaive set Toronto Maple Leafs history as he became the first player in Toronto’s storied history to score 50 goals. That is such a huge accomplishment. Frank Mahovlich, Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler, among others, are all among the most favored Leafs in history. But it was Vaive who scored 50 first.

First and then often. Playing regularly with Bill Derlago and John Anderson, Vaive followed that year with two more 50-goal seasons - 51 in 1982-83 and 52 in 1983-84. During this period of time, Toronto's captain scored more goals than everyone in the NHL except Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.

A player of Vaive's character and scoring statistics should be considered one of the greatest Maple Leafs of all time. In addition to all of the 50 goal seasons, Vaive was a tremendous battler, willing to absorb punishment in the corners and in front of the net in order to score goals, especially while on the power play. He, not unlike the overly popular Wendel Clark, was passionate and emotional, dropping the gloves on more than a few occasions and earning the respect of opponents.

Sadly, Rick Vaive is the most overlooked Toronto superstar in that franchise's long history. Vaive's short fuse and emotional approach actually worked against him. After Darryl Sittler was traded away and Borje Salming refused the honor, Vaive was given the team captaincy at the tender age of 22. He was unable to handle the additional pressures, and fell into disfavour with several Leafs coaches, most notably Don Maloney, John Brophy and Mike Nykoluk.

They didn't like Vaive's lack of focus on defensive play nor his undisciplined drinking and partying. When he overslept and missed practice during the 1985-86 season, he was stripped of his captaincy, greatly wounding the veteran.

Through it all Vaive remained productive, scoring 35, 33 and 32 goals in respective seasons. In 1987-88 Vaive and Steve Thomas were traded to Chicago in exchange for Al Secord. Rick spent a season and a half with the Blackhawks before a trade took him to the Buffalo Sabres midway through the 1988-89 season. He finished out his NHL career with Buffalo, notching two 25-goal seasons over the parts of four years he was with the Sabres.

Vaive played in three All-Star Games (1982, 1983, 1984) over his 13-year NHL career. He had nine consecutive 30-goal seasons and retired from the NHL in 1991-92 with career totals of 441 goals, 347 assists and 788 points in 876 regular season games.

The off-ice controversies aside, why did Leafs fans never warm up to Rick Vaive? It is a question I never really have understood

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