Among the witches and hobgoblins and pintsized Britney Spearses at the New York Islanders' kids Halloween costume contest before a game against the Phoenix Coyotes last month, Michael Conslato's outfit leaped out for its topicality. The seven-year-old paraded in a white Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with fake blood on the front and a bull's-eye on the back, a costume accentuated by his black eye and bloodied face. The crowd of more than 12,000 fans roared its approval for the homemade outfit that was meant to evoke Darcy Tucker, the Toronto pot-stirrer who had low-bridged Islanders star Michael Peca onto the operating table with a torn left ACL last spring during an intense and ugly first-round playoff series.
The Halloween getup struck a chord not only with Islanders fans still hungry for revenge but also with many players and executives inside the game who share ill will toward the Maple Leafs. To put it in trick-or-treat terms: In a poll, Toronto would be the team voted most worthy of an egging.
The Maple Leafs, who represent the undisputed capital of hockey—Greater Toronto supplies nearly 7% of NHL players—have evolved from a simple franchise into a monster over the past decade. The Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 and spent the two decades after that victory as the Maple Laffs because of their ineptitude, but in many minds they have become the New York Yankees of hockey, save for the championships and the quiet dignity that has enveloped the Bronx in recent years. The Leafs are relatively successful but they are also jack-hammer loud. They yap at referees, dive to get calls and bait officials at decibel levels that resonate throughout the league. "They have good players with a lot of skill," says Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray of the team that is the only Eastern Conference club to win a postseason series each of the last four years, "but the diving and the screaming cheapen the game."
"They expect to get all the calls, but when something is called against them, they whine," says Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Moran. "It's nonstop."
Tucker agrees that the moaning is "one of our downfalls as a team," but the example is set at the top. Pat Quinn, Toronto's coach and general manager, is only too willing to carp about officiating. While acknowledging his voluble approach, Quinn, an emotional man in an emotional sport, thinks resentment toward the Maple Leafs has more to do with their record the last several seasons than his broken record. "It goes along with success," he says. "If you think about teams which have succeeded and had a margin of physicality to them—whether they crossed the line or not is subjective—you'll see we hated the Big Bad Bruins [of the early 1970s], and we hated the Flyers when they were the Broad Street Bullies [in the mid-70s]. Both won Cups. We haven't won a Cup, but Toronto has been pretty successful, and there's a margin of physicality to some of our players. So when it comes to hating someone...."
Where to start? Maybe with right wing Tie Domi, the veteran enforcer. Domi committed one of the most vicious acts this side of Marty McSorley in the final minute of Game 4 of the 2001 playoffs when he cold-cocked New Jersey Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer with an elbow to the jaw a mile behind the play. The blow caused a concussion and earned Domi an eight-game suspension. That ban was not the first of his NHL career. During a match against the New York Rangers on Oct. 14, 1995, Domi sucker punched Ulf Samuelsson, a cheap shot that caused a concussion that was also worthy of an eight-game ban.
Then there is forward Shayne Corson, Tucker's brother-in-law and fellow Bruise Brother whose chippiness has increased in direct proportion to his decline as an offensive player. In Game 6 of that series against the Islanders last spring, he attempted to kick New York defenseman Eric Cairns during a fight, earning a one-game suspension. Toronto added to its mix of malfeasants last summer by signing free-agent goaltender Ed Belfour, formerly of the Dallas Stars. In March 2000 Belfour tried to out-Regis Regis when he allegedly offered Dallas cops $1 billion if they didn't throw him in jail after Belfour was arrested following a scuffle at a swank hotel.
Tucker, however, is the Leafs' lightning rod. He's skilled enough to occasionally play on the first line with the superb Mats Sundin (Tucker scored 24 goals last season) and theatrical enough that former teammates dubbed him Sideshow Bob. "I played with Darcy and like him off the ice," Montreal defenseman Craig Rivet says, "but I can't stand him on the ice, diving all over, embellishing whatever happens. Other guys suck it up and move on with the game. Not him."
Tucker, who played with even more of an edge earlier in his career with the Canadiens (1995-96 through '97-98) and the Tampa Bay Lightning ('97-98 through '99-2000), was not vilified until he arrived in Toronto. He cemented his notorious reputation by blowing out Peca's knee with that unpenalized hit. Somehow, Tucker also escaped suspension, but his low check did not go unnoticed. In a tape of unacceptable hits compiled by NHL vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy and disseminated to every team during the preseason, the first clip was Tucker's low-bridge on Peca.
"That was crap," Buffalo Sabres enforcer Rob Ray says of the league's lack of discipline on Tucker, "not fining or suspending him and then sending out a tape saying this can't happen. Why didn't they do anything when it happened?"