I’ve been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan for ages. Don’t ask, because I don’t know. I grew up watching the games–you know, back when the team had names like Clark, or Sundin, or Tucker on the roster. I’ve seen them play actually good postseason hockey. Hell, I’ve seen them actually make the postseason. But in recent years, I quit the team by about the end of January. Why? To make a long story short, we suck. But this year, despite the fact I haven’t been able to watch much hockey by virtue of academia pretty much owning my life, I find myself not just staying interested but actually trying to coordinate my schedule so I can catch 10 minutes of the game just for kicks.
It completely baffles some folks when I tell them. But I do it mostly because we might actually make something of this band of rookies this time around. Do I think we’ll make the playoffs? Hell no. We’re good, but not that good. Not yet. But provided things don’t fall apart between this year and next, we could potentially get that good. And that’s where Leafs management comes in.
Every general manager in recent years–and by recent, I mean 2004–has come in with an idea. They test out that idea for a season or two, get bored with it, rip it apart and start over. Then they either leave or are told to leave because the team’s imploded, someone new takes over, and the old GM’s efforts are blown away and the process starts from square 1. And the end result of all of that tinkering and reshuffling is we’ve only made the playoffs once since 2004, it was in a shortened NHL season, and Boston dropped us out of the playoffs in 7 games. In short, we suck.
This year, though, we actually have a team I don’t mind watching on game 82, even if that game 82 won’t be pretty. Yes, we should be doing better than we are. Yes, we probably could have won an extra game or two if John Q. Player had been where he should be. But when half your lineup is playing its first or second full NHL season, you’re going to have those moments. I’ll complain, and loudly, if these same things happen with the same players in another year or two. But for right now, I’ll take it.
This Leafs management seems to have a clue or two. They’ve put together something with more promise than I’ve seen in Toronto in way too long. Besides, they got us Austin Matthews. But I’ve seen this act before. The challenge will be if these same people are still here in a year or two, and if they’re still not bored with what they’ve got. Translation: they built it, but let’s see how long before they break it.
For the first time in several years, I’m actually interested in hockey beyond the first few months. For the first time since 2004, I’m actually interested in the Maple Leafs beyond the first few months. I like this feeling. I like this team. Leafs, please, don’t kill it. You’ve done that enough already.