The best Toronto Maple Leafs’ player ever? The player who best epitomizes the franchise? Until someone like Mats Sundin finishes his career, many would have to say classy Darryl Sittler, the flashy London Knights’ junior star, who compiled 916 career points with the Leafs, most of any player in team history.
Sittler was the Leafs' first pick in the 1970 draft and endured some struggles in his first two seasons – due to broken ribs which sidelined him for three months in his first season and being shifted to left wing because the Leafs were strong down the middle with Norm Ullman, Dave Keon and Jim Harrison.
In his third season, with Ullman and Keon defecting to the WHA, Sittler was back at his customary centre spot and notched 77 points. In the following two seasons, he reached the 80-point plateau and had risen to become one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive weapons. The year 1976 was a momentous one, especially in two heart-stopping games: 10 points in one game Feb. 7 against the Boston Bruins and his OT winner in September to secure victory for his home country in the first-ever Canada Cup.
"Most fans remember the 10-point game but the highlight of my career would have to be the goal I scored to beat Czechoslovakia in the Canada Cup," Sittler told this magazine. "To score the winning goal while representing your country is special. I knew that the Czech goalie liked to come out so I pulled over to the left side and saw an empty net."
Sittler’s 10-point game (six goals, four assists) against Boston’s Dave Reece survived the Gretzky and Lemieux eras and likely will never be matched, considering the trap-defensive hockey so prevalent in the game today. "What happened in that game," Sittler said, "is that after the second period I had seven points, and I went into the dressing room and statistician Stan Obodiac told me that Rocket Richard held the record for most points in one game with eight. To tie the record and get three points was something. Near the end of the game, I got my 10th point and final goal when my shot went in off (Boston defenceman) Brad Park."
Sittler’s best season was 1977-78 when he collected 117 points. He went on to spend close to 12 seasons with the Leafs and finished off his NHL career with stints in Philadelphia and Detroit, retiring after the 1984-85 season with 1,121 points.