Alright we’re BACK, and bigger and better than ever.
First of all, let’s get one thing straight - our Leafs are NOT a contender… yet.
How incredible would it be to watch the Leafs go on a bit of a run. This city would be absolutely buzzing in the warm weather.
Yes, the Leafs have the talent and a window to do some damage in this league. But damn, do a lot of things have to go right for this team to be true contenders come June 2019. Let’s enjoy the ride, and don’t you dare become complacent or take this for granted. In today’s NHL, teams rise and fall in record time. Clubs that have the makings of a dynasty are quickly reverted back to mediocrity. A lot has to go in your favour, and a lot can quickly go awry.
Example 1A - as fun as our mortal enemies’ respective tire fires have been to watch, the Habs were a powerhouse and the Sens were a game 7 overtime goal away from being in the Cup final just a couple of years ago. Let us have gratitude for this every day.
Right here, right now, the Leafs are in the midst of arguably the most exciting time since the eve of the 1961-62 season, when a 21-year-old Davey Keon lifted the Leafs to three straight Cups and a fourth (!?) in good ol’ ‘67.
Let us appreciate this time, because it was absolutely wild today to look back at my notebook where I scratched in the prospective Leafs lineup to start the 2015 season, where Kadri and PA Parenteau ended up being our most productive players on the year with 45 and 41 points respectively, and Joff Lupul had 14 points in 46 games. (Truly).
Now, as camp unfolds, there are so many interesting storylines to watch and be hopeful for. Firstly, the individual journeys of the player’s fighting for one of the few available roster spots. It’s fun as observers for hockey to be back and watch and debate how the battles will play out. It’s easy to overlook that these guys are pouring their heart and soul into finding a way to make the big club. Sleepless nights anticipating what will become of their future and the childhood dreams of becoming a full time NHLer. At the end of it all, the coaching staff is going to sit you down in the office and tell you you’re sticking around and going to earn an NHL salary, or you’re heading back to the minors to wonder if you’re going to get another shot.
Most notably, this squad cannot be considered contenders with the defensive performance we saw throughout last season. Apart from injuries, this is probably the most crucial variable in having all those little things go the right way. Can this group take a big, collective leap forward? I feel reserved optimism. I think we can expect a rebound season from a now healthy Nikita Zaitsev, and a back-end bolstering from the likes of a very highly-skilled Travis Dermott and the steady potential of Igor Ozhiganov.
As we’re seeing already, it’ll be very interesting to see how Dubas & co are able to maneuver to build within this restrictive cap complex with the riches of talent the Leafs have been blessed with. Interesting to note that no team in the cap era has won the Cup with a double digit earner. Next season there will presumably be three teams with two players making 10+ mil - Chicago (Kane, Toews), LA (Kopitar, Doughty), and the Leafs (Tavares, Matthews).
There are Toronto newspaper articles written after the ‘67 Cup victory suggesting the Leafs winning had become sort of commonplace as they won championships so frequently. Nobody at that time could have predicted or even imagined what was to come. 51 years and counting without even making it to the final. Decades of mediocre teams riddled with misguided management, and ownership only looking to take as much as they could from the never-ending lineup of loyal diehards. Certainly the hunger for profit has not changed. But just about everything else feels different. What we can be thankful for is that the board of directors of MLSE have more or less stepped aside to allow Shanahan and the hockey minds navigate the dismantling, rebuilding, and now the rise to power of this hockey club. I always had a sense, through all the suffering and disappointments, that something great lay ahead. And the ride would be even sweeter because of those years (decades). The sweet ain’t so sweet without the bitter. Leafs fans are possibly the most embattled, loyal and passionate of all the teams across the 4 major North American sports. We care so much. We don’t know why. We just do. There are millions of us. We are spread across the globe. It is truly a special thing to be a part of. So… we deserve this.
Now drop the puck already!