'It wasn't meant to be': Why the Leafs went all-out in 2003 and how it all went wrong (2023)

Doug Gilmore remembers thinking it was his chance to get a storybook ending.

back toOak LeafAnd finally he won the Stanley Cup, successfully concluding a brilliant career! – Back to Toronto. Gilmore, who is about to turn 40, still has a house in Toronto. Last spring, the Maple Leafs reached the Eastern Conference Finals. Their Mats Sandin, Aleksandar Mogierny and Ed Belfort appear to be among the best goalkeepers in the league. They are strong candidates for the Cup.


Everything makes sense.

call fromcanadiansThere is not much left before the March 11 trading deadline.

"Pat Quinn asked about your return," Gilmour said, referring to the then-Leafs general manager and head coach.

The Canadiens themselves aren't far from a playoff spot, but that looks like fate for Gilmour. He will play Gilmour and will be the team captain, along with Lanny McDonald.fiesta1989 World Cup Finalsnational hockey leagueseason. Gilmour dropped his trade no-deal clause and became a member of the Leaf again.

Due to injury, his return lasted 4 minutes and 51 seconds.

“I thought it wasn't intentional,” Gilmour recalled nearly 20 years later. "I'm very excited about it."

The 2003 trade deadline was indeed history for the Maple Leafs.

They weregrande. It's not just Gilmour, the popular former captain is back in Toronto looking for trophies.

Quinn acquired San Jose forward Owen Nolan in his biggest deal as General Manager of the Maple Leafs. He also worked hard on the blue line, inducting future Hall of Famers Phil Housley from Chicago and Glen Wesley from Carolina.

Whether due to injuries, poor performance, or both, most of these plays were busts: the Maple Leafs were knocked out in the first round and knocked out by their opponents in seven games.Philadelphia Flyers

With any luck, though, Quinn's hard work preparing the Leafs for the Stanley Cup could pay off.

Here's what happened to each player and what (mostly) went wrong.

Douglas Gilmore

obtained from: March 11 Canadians
in exchange of: 2003 sixth-round pick (Mark Vlad)

Canadians in Florida ready to gopanthersWhen Gilmour got the call to return to the Maple Leafs.

"It wasn't a problem against Montreal, but Toronto looked great on paper and that's why I went," Gilmour recalled years later. "You'll play a limited role, but you know, why wouldn't you want to be a part of it?"


Gilmour went on a business trip, returned to Montreal and bought some clothes. The next morning, he flies from Montreal to Toronto, then from Toronto to Calgary to join his new (old) team, which will play the Flames the next day.

He was very tired when he arrived around 5 in the morning.

"Pat said we needed a third-tier guy," Gilmour said. "'You're not going to play all the Game of Thrones stuff.' He told me everything I needed to know and I accepted the role just to be a part of it."

Quinn paired Gilmour with Nick Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovski in his debut. Gilmour remembers coming close to scoring in the opening match.

"The first period was not bad," he said. "I'm tired again."

In hindsight, and in hindsight, Gilmour wonders if he should have played that night after all the trips he's made from Florida to Montreal, from Toronto to Calgary. Perhaps he should rest up for the night and prepare to make his Vancouver debut two nights later.

Gilmour can still perfectly envision his first turn in the second quarter. He even has a photo of it.

Dave Lowry "was outside the blue line" when the Flames stormed into the box, he recalled. "He turned and came towards me," Gilmour said. “Then my leg got caught on the back of his leg and my knee fell back. So I got off the ice.

"I felt like a Charlie horse. I was like, okay. I'm going, I'm going, not bad, not bad, and then yeah, bad. But I didn't know it at the time."

Gilmour returns to the Maple Leafs locker room. The doctor immediately told him: This is the anterior cruciate ligament. Gilmour had never had an ACL injury before.

"But that can be fixed with a brace," Gilmour said.

That was his plan: play with a torn ACL, postpone the inevitable surgery, and return to the Leafs that season.


He recalled that the medial collateral ligament tear took a long time to heal, between two and six weeks. Gilmour had been in rehab for four weeks when the playoffs began. He is skidding slightly. Yes, it hurts, but Gilmour still intends to return if the Leafs go ahead.

He didn't get a chance and never played in the NHL again.

"At the end of the day, it's one of those things where I can honestly say, well, I came back and played one game in a Leafs jersey and then I retired, so that's okay," Gilmour said. "And my playoff performance is also good, how?"

'It wasn't meant to be': Why the Leafs went all-out in 2003 and how it all went wrong (1)

(Dave Sanford/Getty Images)


obtained from: hurricane of March 9
in exchange of: 2004 Second Round Selection (Kyle Walton)

When then-Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford called Glenn Wesley aside after practice, he knew what was coming. This is Wesley's sixteenth season in the NHL. The Hurricanes live in the basement of the league. He's seen conversations like this with teammates before. The defender has a non-transfer clause and is in the last year of his contract.

Wesley reached the Stanley Cup Finals three times and lost three times. He wanted another chance. Rutherford told him that both the Maple Leafs and the Flyers were interested.

In 2004, Wesley agreed to give up his NMC to go to Toronto in exchange for a second round pick.

"I am at the mercy of what is best for mecarolinaAt the time," Wesley said. "I said I preferred Toronto, as a Canadian, and I grew up watching them on TV. "

The Maple Leafs' plan is becoming clearer: bring in veterans galore in hopes of making the playoffs in the long run. Wesley picked up his team in Carolina and joined the Maple Leafs in Edmonton.

He joined a team that said they understand that "these opportunities are rare."

Wesley made the most of his minutes in the first six games against the Leafs and it looks like he could give the team an offensive advantage in the playoffs.


In his seventh game, he blocked a shot and broke his foot. The full extent of his injuries is unknown to the public. Wesley rushed back, but lost Games 1 and 2 against the Flyers.

"When I came back, I wasn't 100 percent. But I still wanted to be a part of it. That's the frustrating part, when I got to the playoffs, I wasn't 100 percent," Wayne said.

Wesley's injury was compounded by the weight he had to bear. Wesley played nearly 41 minutes in Game 4 before overtime.

“Those are sacrifices you make,” Wesley said.

What if Wesley hadn't broken his foot and been healthier for the Maple Leafs?

Wesley returned to the Hurricanes the following season as a free agent, where he ended his career. This included winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

'It wasn't meant to be': Why the Leafs went all-out in 2003 and how it all went wrong (2)

(Dave Sanford/Getty Images)

Phil Housley

obtained from:black hawksMarch 11th
in exchange of: 2004 fourth-round pick (Karel Heromas) and 2003 ninth-round pick (Chris Porter)

As the 2002 trade deadline approached, Phil Housley had the Maple Leafs on his mind.

At 38, his chances of winning his first Stanley Cup are dwindling. The Maple Leafs have shown interest in Housley in a Northeast Division title shot, to the point that Housley actually believes he'll be traded to Toronto.

But the deal never materialized. So when Housley entered the 2002-03 season (which would be his last season), changing teams was the least of his worries.

Housley sprained his ankle in a lockout that season. He was still on crutches as the deadline approached. His plan is to limit unnecessary physical stress and complete his contract with the Blackhawks. He is already thinking of retiring.

He had reason to be "hesitant" when the Blackhawks approached him about a possible trade deadline.

“I wanted to stay in Chicago,” Housley said.


So it came as a surprise when the Blackhawks front office told Housley on March 11 that he had been traded to the Maple Leafs.

"I don't think they really made a trade for me," Housley said.

Housley was told he would be fully healthy in eight weeks, which coincided with the start of the playoffs. One question for Housley remains pertinent and hard for him to articulate: What kind of impact can he really have on this Maple Leafs team?

“At that time the team was picking up speed in the final stages and these games were important. Housley said. Explain. "You weren't in the trenches with them."

Perhaps none of the veterans the Maple Leafs acquired before the 2003 deadline embodied the riskiness of this strategy the way Housley did.

He ended up playing a regular season with the Maple Leafs, but he still wasn't 100%.

Mentally? She's not in the same place as the rest of the battle-tested team members. His performance in the playoffs seemed terrible.

"Coming into the playoffs, I just wanted to get on a moving train," Housley said.

Housley plays almost exclusively on adrenaline. He played almost 21 minutes in the first game, 19 in the second and a paltry 1:4 in the third game, his last game with the Leafs, his last game in the NHL.

"I don't think people understand how sad we are," Housley said. "Although on paper we look like a very strong team."

Midway through the second season, with no NHL team to offer him a contract, Housley opted to retire. In 2015, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as one of the greatest American-born defensemen of all time.

His time in Toronto remains a footnote in his storied career.

"You're chasing your dreams," Housley said, "but you're not 100% successful."

'It wasn't meant to be': Why the Leafs went all-out in 2003 and how it all went wrong (3)

(Dave Sanford/Getty Images)

owen nolan

obtained from:SharkMarch 5th
in exchange of: 2003 first-round pick (Mark Stewart), Brad Boyce, Alyn McCauley

While Gilmour seemed like the brightest prospect to (re)join the Maple Leafs before the deadline, with his enormous popularity in town, Nolan would actually be the biggest game changer.

The Maple Leafs paid big to sign him: that summer's first-round pick (who would become linebacker Mark Stewart), rookie Brad Boyers and reliable young center Alyn McCauley.

The deal was seen by some as the biggest for the franchise since the return of Wendel Clark in 1996, and the biggest deal Quinn has made with the franchise as general manager.

Nolan is also looking for his first Stanley Cup.

“He brought us closer and gave us a better opportunity? It can, but there's no guarantee," Quinn told the Toronto Star at the time.

Nolan just turned 31 but is not far from finishing fifth in the Hart Cup competition. In the 1999-00 season, he scored 44 goals for the Sharks. At 6-foot-9 and over 200 pounds, he was a legitimate striker who could attack a forward group led by Sundin and Mogilny, who scored more than 30 goals for the Leafs that season.

Gary Roberts missed most of the year after undergoing double shoulder surgery in the off-season. Antropov was still young. Darcy Tucker had a bad year offensively. Jonas Hoglund and Mikael Lemberg are 30 years old.

Nolan provided more ammunition for the hunt.

"I think everyone is excited. He is underrated in many aspects of the game. He is fast. He shoots very well. He sees the ice. The most important thing is that he is a tough guy," San Ding told The Star.

Trading is not without risk (again, in terms of health).

Most notable was the back problem Nolan suffered in his final days with the Sharks. There are also questions about his willingness to play in the Maple Leafs' spotlight.

Nolan was the captain of the Sharks at the time of the trade, but he was known for being a reluctant star, more comfortable hunting on land he owned near San Jose than in the spotlight. Nolan could not be found for this story.

When Nolan scored twice in his debut, Quinn looked like a genius. Nolan scored seven goals in his first 14 regular season games with the Leafs. Then there are the playoffs. Nolan didn't score once. The Maple Leafs' largest deal before the deadline allowed just two assists in seven games.

"Has anyone seen Owen Nolan?" read the Star's headline after Game 5.

"I wasn't happy with the way I played this series," Nolan said after the Maple Leafs lost 6-1 and were eliminated in Game 7. "Actually, I'm embarrassed."

Quinn said that Nolan was limited by a hip injury, but Nolan denied that this was an excuse.

In the end, only Wesley lived up to the hype during his stint with the Maple Leafs. He averaged almost 28 minutes per game in the playoffs.

Of course, Gilmour didn't play anything. He and Housley never played in the NHL again. Nolan played one more season with the Maple Leafs before joining the Phoenix Coyotes after the suspension of the 2004-05 season.

After the season, Quinn was succeeded by John Ferguson Jr. as general manager.

Outside the team's locker room after Game 7, then-team president Richard Peddie told the Star: "We made a trade in time, but in the end, Philadelphia played very well and our hopes weren't realized."

(2003 Doug Gilmour Feature Photo: Christine Muschi/Toronto Star via Getty Images)


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