The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the 1930s with a young, but promising roster. In the 1930-31 season, star centre Joe Primeau was just 25 years old and goal-scorer Charlie Conacher, finished third in the NHL with 43 points in just 37 games, was only 21 years old. The Leafs finished at third in the NHL out of the ten teams then in the league. It was primarily their offense that led the way, but netminder Lorne Chabot performed adequately as well. The Leafs weren’t able to capitalize in the playoffs and fell out in the first round.
The 1931-32 season featured two less teams, making the NHL an 8-team league. While the Leafs didn’t perform poorly (they again finished third in the NHL), their strengths and weaknesses were accentuated. The Leafs dominated offensively, finishing first in the NHL with 155 goals for in their 48 games. Busher Jackson and Joe Primeau finished 1-2 in point scoring and Conacher tied Bill Cook for the lead in goals with 34. Primeau’s 37 assists also set a new NHL single-season record. Despite this dominant offense, the Leafs finished 6th out of 8 teams in goals against per game. It’s hard to determine who was at fault for this, but regardless, the Leafs looked primed for another mediocre playoff run unless they could shore up their defense. Perhaps spurred on by the new hire of the legendary Dick Irvin, the Leafs surged in the playoffs, all the way to their first Stanley Cup of the era.
Proving to at least be consistent, the Leafs again finished third in the NHL in the 1932-33 season, this time in a 9-team league. The Leafs were a much more rounded team in this season, with defenders King Clancy and Hap Day holding their own admirably on the back end. After finally breaking Frank Boucher‘s grasp on the Lady Byng trophy in the 1931-32 season, Primeau was back to finishing 2nd in the voting for the 1932-33 season. The well-balanced team bested the strong Canadian division, but fell to Cook and the Rangers in the Finals. The offense of the Leafs was stifled in the playoffs and led to their eventual downfall.
Determined not to easily have their offense shut down, Toronto exploded out into the 1933-34 season, scoring at a scorching rate. Conacher led the NHL in goals and points with 32 and 52 respectively while Primeau finished second in points and first in assists with his 32 assists. Jackson played in only 38 games, but still managed a point per game, finishing at 38 points. Not only did they have a strong offensive presence from the forwards, but from the defensemen as well. Clancy led the NHL’s defenseman in assists while Red Horner and Hap Day finished 5th and 6th in points respectively among defenseman. Even American Alex Levinsky finished 7th, giving Toronto four of the top seven offensive defenseman in the NHL.
The Leafs dominated the NHL, finishing with a 26-13-9 record and a .635 point percentage.They also finished with a 3.63 goals for per game, more than an entire goal ahead of the second place Rangers. Their defensive play was middle-of-the-pack, finishing 5th out of the nine teams. Gone was goaltender Chabot and in came 38-year old veteran George Hainsworth who played well given his age. Clancy, Conacher, and Jackson were all on the NHL First All-Star Team while Primeau was on the second while finishing second in Byng voting. Unfortunately for the Leafs, they were upset by a strong Red Wings team in the first round of the playoffs.
The Leafs ended their half-decade with a bang. The 1934-35 season was another very strong season for Toronto as they again led the NHL with a 30-14-4 record. Conacher again led the NHL in both goals and points, scoring 36 goals, the highest total the league had seen since Cooney Weiland’s 43-goal outburst in the 1929-30 season. Jackson also finished 5th in points with 44 points and tied for third in goals with 22. The 1934-35 season also saw the first bits of future star defenseman Flash Hollett, as he finished 2nd in points behind Eddie Shore. Clancy again performed admirably, as was the usual for him. Despite being 39 years of age, Hainsworth stood on his head and helped the Leafs to finish with the third best defense in the NHL, a good complement to their top-grade offense, which finished first. Jackson and Conacher again finished on the First All-Star team and Conacher finished second in Hart voting. After beating the top challenger Boston Bruins 3-1 in the first round, the Leafs smelled an easy Cup win; however, they were stunned by the underdog Montreal Maroons in a 3-0 series sweep in the Cup Finals, giving the Maroons one last hurrah before they folded a few years later.
The Maple Leafs of the early 30s started a bit slower, but quickly ramped up into the mid 30s for some dominant seasons, including their surprise 1932 Cup win in what was their worst regular season of the half-decade. The two most winning goaltenders of the five seasons were Chabot and Hainsworth, something that speaks to the success of the Maple Leafs during that period. Clancy, Day, and Horner finished 3rd, 5th, and 6th in points over the period, showing the depth the Leafs had on the blue line over that time. Conacher led all players in points with 233 in his 210 games as well as 147 goals over those five seasons. Jackson finished second with 210 points in his 219 games. Joe Primeau led the NHL in assists with 142 in 214 games, even besting fellow playmaking star Frank Boucher. This era would set the Leafs up for a new era of players in the late 30s, followed by a dominant reign in the 40s.