PENGUINS (50-19-11) at MAPLE LEAFS (39-26-15)
7:00 pm (HNIC)
Every team has players who fulfill certain roles for them and I guess my role as a Leafs fan/blogger, whatever I am here at LeafsHub.com, is often times I’m counted on to spin a positive message when it comes to the overall outlook. “We are so wonderful, in great shape, let me hold your hand and gently stroke the back of that same hand with my other hand as I talk prospects at dinner while whispering lore of Salming, Vaiver, and Motor City Smitty by campfire for dessert. That effervescent, even sickening, style of mine is likely most suited for times like these, heading into this critical matchup versus the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Perfect opportunity for me to step up and write my first GDR of the year. With that in mind, it pains me to say I won’t be there for my teammates on this occasion. I’m not playing tonight.
Sorry but there’s no pep talk I can give that’ll mean anything tangible, trust me I know by now. It’s not up to me to make any more false promises or prop up anybody’s Leafs spirits. I’m worn out from years of crashing and banging and towing the MLSE company line. It’s not my job anymore to tell any of you everything is going to be okay. Not to overstate the obvious, but the only people capable of bringing you ease and contentment as loyal fans are the players on the 2016/17 Toronto Maple Leafs.
If the Buds don’t want to let this glorious 100th season end in extraordinary disappointment for everyone, most of all themselves, then it’s simple….don’t. This year was never intended to involve a playoff appearance, but that’s what it’s morphed into and become. It’s what the team’s achievement up to this point has forced, whether it’s fair or not. And I don’t care who threw enough shit at the wall predicting this until something stuck, we simply weren’t supposed to be here. Still, it’s inconsequential if we were or weren’t because here we are baby and it’s too late to get up and just excuse ourselves. You can’t walk away from a high stakes table once you’ve sat in and your chips are pushed to the middle. No matter how much you tell yourself different, that the year will be a success even if the Leafs fall victim to another collapse, it won’t. If they make it on the final weekend or come up short, this final hand is entirely how this year will be judged. Conversely the results will have a massive impact in either direction, both on our psyche and possibly our pending success going forward. Toronto have to finish what they started or the stories, the narratives, won’t depict this year justifiably. It will be uglier than anything you’ve ever seen here and the ramifications trouble me to no end.
So I’m not writing a GDR today. I don’t know who is starting for Pittsburgh, who they are sitting, their record vs the Leafs or in their last 10, none of it. And I already told you I’m not rubbing any backs today. I’m not telling any more f’ing stories. I never write Leafs stories anyway, none of us do. The real stories, not the junk we see a lot of but the true stories, they don’t need any help. They tell themselves. Toronto can and must write their own ending of this script. For some, it’s their last chance.
Like Tyler Bozak, for instance. Do you want your time in Toronto to be remembered by collapses and failure, or do you want to be remembered for being a veteran guy that helped a youthful team accomplish something worthwhile? Tell your own story.
Jake, do you want your decision making to be questioned or talked about all summer after being on another team who shit the bed after winning our hearts or are you going to go out and make some plays and be a difference maker? There’s a lot of fans who are hard on you but there’s lots who have supported you with vigor. Reward them. Write your Leafs story.
Naz, you may show up and have played hard all year but if you want to silence your critics once and for all then go out there and do it. Have a night to remember to go along with your 30+ goal campaign. Keep rewriting your hockey autobiography.
JVR, score a goal and maybe skate your ass off or your history as a Leaf when retold won’t be a kind one. Get the job done. Hunwick/Polak, yeah you’ve had a real solid finish, and season for that matter, after a rough start but if you don’t perform well tonight you can go wipe your arse with it. Finish telling your feelgood story so I don’t have to listen to people hammer you. Put some necessary blue collar in this Leafs tale.
Speaking of blue collar, Matty Martin for 4 years at 2.5 million? Have one you go in off your head tonight and nobody will give two friggs about your contract anymore.
Brian Boyle, you’ve been a great add but you cost a 2nd and we picked you up for days like this. You wanted to punch a ticket? Punch one into the back of the net.
Morgan Rielly, do you want your mental toughness and ability to be a big time defender called into question? Because it’s what’s coming unless you go out, be a God damn stud D, and have an A+ game. Start telling the story of the Maple Leaf you want to be. Zaitsev, 7 years? Prove why.
Freddy…be a Leafs legend. Steal one for us if you have to. Start today, Chapter One.
Mike Babcock, you’ve overseen these men, many young, and the success has not permitted anyone to wonder about a possible ego, your stubborn ways, traits that have gone reasonably unquestioned in Toronto. If you want it to continue, if you want to keep that teflon persona you’ve built, then find a way to get your boys in or your story might change real damn fast. Get ‘er done, Babs.
Now to the guys just putting pen to paper or skate to ice as Leafs for the first time. How about the hard working kids, Brown Cow, Hyman Hustle, CC and Coke (Connor Carrick, it’s my nickname for him you can’t have it), you guys don’t owe us anything. But if you truly want to cement yourselves in our future lineups jotted on our sticky notes, then go have a game. I love your stories already and want to hear them for a long, long time. (*Zach even tells his stories to children)
Finally, to the elite three, Willy, Auston, and my main man Mitchell. You are the stories of not only today but more important tomorrow. Yours will be marvelous tales, ones I consider myself privileged to watch unfold. I know great things are ahead for you because, frankly, you’re special. So go out there and be special. You don’t have to wait, we’ve all seen the talent on display. Start your legacy of being winners tonight. It’s not all on you at the moment, but one day it will be. Let us know you can handle it like we believe you can. Maybe more than anyone it’s your abilities that have got us so far and now so close. Don’t let this be a plot with the young hero’s coming up shy, a screenplay of not quite. You young men have it in you to write an appropriate ending to a remarkable season highlighting three amazing Leafs rookies. The greatest we’ve ever seen.
The story, the story of our centennial season, it’s conclusion truly does deserve a fitting end. But I, or we, can’t will it, wish it, or write it for our Maple Leafs. I’ve read and lived through enough gut wrenching books over the years and I’m tired of feeling not only my own pity as a Leafs fan but from that of others as well. No more hot dog stories, no Salute-Gate’s, screw Ballard, even stop the Kerry Fraser crying. We need new storylines. This run, it’s been outstanding up until now. But for us to move on from the disappointing past, to move ahead with pride, we have to finish this off. No, not “we”, “they”. They have to finish it, this Leafs roster. Toronto, these fans have always had your back. Now have theirs. I’ve always personally had your back and I’ve never asked anything in return, until now. What I’m asking from you Leafs? Tell me a story. One I’ve never heard.
Tell me one about a young group who came together, a group who excited and uplifted us, a group that exceeded all expectations. A group who in the end, well in the end they went out and they did it. They didn’t let us down. Tell me the story of a playoff team.
Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada, no better setting. Where hockey’s stories are told. See you all at 7pm, when storytime begins.
Projected Line Combinations
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
Komarov — Kadri — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Boyle — Kapanen
Rielly — Carrick
Gardiner — Zaitsev
Hunwick — Polak
Guentzel — Crosby — Sheary
Rust — Bonino — Kessel
Kuhnhackl — Cullen — Hornqvist
Wilson — Rowney — Archibald
Dumoulin — Daley
Cole — Schultz
Hainsey — Ruhwedel