The start of the season is within sight. The Overdrive boys are two weeks away from being back and preseason moves are starting to take place. There’s a certain calmness before the start of the hockey year. Every team is equal, every team has a chance to make the playoffs and every team has a chance to finish dead last. It’s the deep breath before trying to lift a barbell where you increased the weight more than you are used to. You might lift it with ease and breeze through your reps, you might struggle while putting forth a valiant effort, or you might fail and look like a complete buffoon.
This year is different, no one is expecting a playoff push. But, if the Flames could do it just 2 years ago, why not us? No one is expecting to bottom out completely, but if the Flames could do it a year ago*, why not us? We have always seen Cinderella stories, we have always seen dumpster fires, and that’s where we stand. We don’t know exactly which one we will be and that’s the thing about the month before preseason starts. Trying to keep a level head during the calm before the storm.
There have been way worse “calms before the storm” like in 2008 when the most exciting news about the Leafs was our new $8 million Jumbotron. Shockingly, much like Phil Kessel that Jumbotron has since been replaced. When Shanahan cleans house, he really cleans house. Think about that for a second though, the most newsworthy thing about the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 was that they had a new jumbotron. Then again when your top point getter was Jason Blake….There really isn’t much to watch.
I stress yet again, this year is different. We have so many youngsters drawing up an opening roster line up almost reads like a work of fan fiction. Matthews & Marner? Could they be the new Toews & Kane? Komarov, Soshnikov and Kadri, can their magic from last year last?** And Nylander, what will become of our boy wonder? Will he make the team and be the force we have been hoping for? What about defense? Will Rielly become the leader we have been waiting for, will Gardiner solidify his position and become more responsible? What about Zaitsev, will he be everything we hoped he could be or will he be another failed project? Let’s not forget about goalies, we literally have two new goaltenders! Will Freddie*** be the first real star goalie for the Leafs since Belfour and Cujo? Only time will tell.
Just look at that paragraph? How many storylines can there be on a team? I haven’t even mentioned Zach Hyman, Rinat Valiev, Josh Leivo and the human hammer Matt Martin. The current Leafs roster is something of a NHL ’17 Be a GM mode wet dream. I don’t think in the last 10 years I have been more excited about a team that I don’t expect much from.
Last year one thing was clear leading into the season, this team would be unwatchably bad. Sitting through 60 minutes of that lineup would be a true test of will and endurance of your fandom. That line up was a snooze and it wasn’t until the end of the season when the call up parade occurred that the Leafs were worth the time. This year, it’s the polar opposite. Almost every game is a must watch. While I don’t know for how long that will ring true, the first 2-3 month will be edge of the seat excitement. And that’s one of the things I look forward as a fan. No matter how Calgary did last year, at least each game was watchable and there was something exciting. There’s excitement in uncertainty. The Leafs right now are definitely uncertain, and that’s a good thing. Having a consistently sound team that never really achieves much can grow tiresome, just ask Sens fans**** before last year. Having a consistently bad team can grow depressing, just ask Oiler fans. So this season will be one for the record books, it will be one that every Leafs fan can hopefully look to as the beginning of something special. It’s where a lot of our question marks will start being answered. With every goal, assist, check and save we will start to know what we have. We will get to watch our potential future unfold every night and we can breathe easy knowing that the most exciting thing about our team isn’t the Jumbotron but what is being shown on it.
*I know they didn’t completely bottom out but pretty close…The joke stands!
**Do they remind anyone else of Kulemin, Grabo and MacArthur?
***Are we calling him Freddie? Or are we gonna follow Anaheim and call him Fredo. God I hope not.
****2007 was magical though, right?!