It’s game day…our Buds are back.
*very long, wet fart noise*
Clearly the folks at Leafs Hub aren’t the sharpest bunch..
The last time I wrote a preview for a Leafs tilt (last season’s final game vs. the Habs no less), I thought I’d done enough to mock the art of game-day analysis so as to be banished from this web space and spare you any more of my vitriol regarding the on-ice product. In case you were lucky enough to have missed that blogging debacle, I discussed – among other things – male Seahorse impregnation and the cost discrepancy of Big Macs and cigarettes between the NHL’s most iconic markets. Needless to say, that write-up failed miserably to provide any semblance of the useful hockey content normally provided.
Yet here we are – opening day 2015 – eagerly anticipating not only another match vs. the storied Ca-na-diens, but also the dawn of this franchise’s promising reincarnation. Our hockey adrenaline elevated by a painstakingly assembled, all-star squad of deep thinking managers standing proudly behind the goddam Christopher Walken of NHL coaches. (Cuz who DOESN’T think Chris Walken is the absolute shit?).
Maple Leafs Square will again become a hornet’s nest of activity drawing throngs from all walks of Leafs faithful…from the snobbiest, sneering Queen West hipsters to the most loyal, denim-on-denim North Bay honeymooners to adorably optimistic, selfie-stick toting tourists who have no idea why the hell they’re constantly being approached by mustard stained hobos muttering “tickets…tickets”.
Sports networks will devote hours of high-rent airtime to spoon-feed us painfully predictable and trending story-lines designed to both excite and worry us as they stir up drama for the season to come while beat-writers claw for the slightest morsel of exclusive drivel with which to concoct an original spin on a team that has been as dissected and ridiculously over analyzed as Jim Morrison lyrics.
Incredible excitement grips Leafs Nation…SO MUCH cause for pomp and circumstance…and the brain trust at this site allows ME to write the inaugural GDT.
This 2015/16 season was to be – according to most pundits at the merciful conclusion of last year – a watershed chapter in this team’s evolution. Even the most stubborn faithful had finally cried “uncle” to the core pieces of this team and realized that a tear-down wasn’t the best option but our only option. That plan seemed to be coming to fruition when whoever the hell was calling shots for this organization at the time graciously discounted our offensively gifted tube-steak connoisseur by 15% and shipped him off to fill the net in Steel Town alongside the planet’s best player.
In addition, Shanny muscled his way to signing the most respected coach in the league to an 8 year
sentence contract who masterfully echoed the team’s unquestionable appetite for true change. Shanny also completed the reconstruction of brass and coaching staff by adding analytics guru Bruce Peter, Hall of Fame Special assignment coach (?) Jacques Lemaire, assistant coaches Jim Hiller, D.J Smith and Andrew Brewer as well as strength and conditioning Coach Matthew Herring. Perhaps most importantly, he coaxed a venerable, beard-averse GM to add some much needed Paulie Walnuts type balls to an otherwise wet-behind-the-ears management team.
As the summer progressed, we’ve been treated to a mixed bag of reclamation project PTO’s, some decent depth acquisitions as well as catching glimpses of some of our shiny new prospect toys in action. By all accounts, there is a lot to look forward to in our pipeline – most notably this year’s first pick, Mitch Marner.
Things were falling into place. We claimed to be happy to bide our time with easily disposable veteran contracts as we wait for the next generation Leafs to marinate in a minor league system conducive to what we hope will become successful Babcock hockey…right? You all wanted a patient rebuild…right?
There are 2 factors which, for some, seemed to have muddied the “rebuild at all costs” waters that flowed so strongly last year.
Aside from Phil, this core remains largely intact. One could argue that some of the veteran contracts are difficult to move in a cap world and theorize that we are simply waiting for improved play to elevate their trade value. Fair enough, but if so, some may be very disappointed in the fact that prime playing time, PP duties etc. will then logically be afforded to those vets who ,ironically, we’d want to see moved instead of younger players who many would suggest are more deserving and have been unfairly denied the chance to break through into key roles like.. oh, idunno.. first line C or top pairing D.
Among all the well-deserved accolades Mike Babcock has garnered over the years, I must have missed the one about him being a shaman – which is what some appear ready to believe. His Red Wings were the ultimate example of speedy, skilly, possessiony, non-fighty teams that many in this market have been clamoring for since before Carlyle was instructing 28 & 38 to pound the shit out of this same Habs group. It would seem that some are not trying very hard to disguise their giddy optimism that this same disparate group of players who have collectively displayed historically poor defensive play over the last half-decade can somehow be quickly converted to a disciplined, hardworking collection of 5 man Navy SEAL units who’ll skate their asses off to cover all 200 feet of ice after Babcock miraculously lobotomizes the “lazy” part of their cerebellum.
I would be stating the very obvious by reminding us (present company included) to not lose sight of our long term track record and the ongoing “pain” which needs to still take place as this team is re-shaped. Our instinctive sporting guts naturally want to see us win but history has shown that long term success can’t be achieved until this roster is significantly turned over. At this stage, the road to winning isn’t a sprint…it’s not even a marathon. It’s the years of waiting and training between marathons.
So is there even any point to watching you may ask?
Bloody well right there is. We’re still proud Leaf fans and most of us will still tune in – that’s why we’re the best goddam fans in the universe. I’m personally looking forward to picking up on the many nuances of the game which Babcock will no doubt improve upon. Positioning – fore check – back check – effort – skating – conditioning. I’m looking forward to the hopeful evolution of our younger holdovers such as Gardiner, Naz, Reilly and Holland. I look forward to our collection of low risk vets, inspired by the pressure of reinvigorating their careers, playing their hearts out en route to play-off bound teams at the deadline in return for much needed picks and prospects. At the end of the day, I want to see upward trends in overall play – trends that should likely be measured over 20 games stretches and not over the span of 3 shifts.
One huge benefit to being a fan of a team with no expectations is the fact that we don’t need to beat ourselves up every time we lose. We are now embarking on a long overdue journey – an organizational re-engineering headed by some of the best and most progressive minds in the game…may as well roll down the window and enjoy the ride. We can sit back, unencumbered by the premature or misguided pressures of results based hockey, and allow ourselves the indulgence of appreciating the isolated moments of a game that entertain us rather than toil over the final score. While we wait for management and coaches to mould this team in their vision, we can unapologetically applaud a thundering Dion hit, a dirty Kadri dangle, a post to post Bernier save and yes, the odd tussle by Polak or……ya pretty much Polak.
It’s pretty safe to say that the team we watch in game 1 will be very different come game 82. Everyone, including Leafs’ brass, seems to have a firm grasp on how much work there remains before we turn things around. I plan on not wringing my hands over every inexplicable roster decision and missed assignment along the way but instead will try my best to remember our place in the hockey world for now and find something to enjoy in every game…starting tonight. Here’s hoping you do as well.
And oh yeah , f*** the Habs.
The Maple Leafs Forever…
On any journey, to get to the place you’re heading, you better know where you’ve been. Tim Thompson leads Leafs Nation forward into the season and into a hopeful new beginning by first taking us back. Back to the moments that have forged Leafs Nation. Back to our roots, to who we are and what we are made of. From LeafsHub.com and Leafs fans everywhere: “Thank you, Tim Thompson and also to Ron Hawkins and the Do Good Assassins for helping return our souls to the memories of a storied past, and readying our hearts for the promise of a proud future. Maple Leafs Forever.
“This time we’ll get it right.”
Today In Leafs History…
Our own history curator @DoctorRobert has compiled an impressive list of history tidbits that will be available with every GDT. Enjoy.
- 1920 – Former Leafs d-man Garth Boesch was born in Milestone, Saskatchewan. Fun fact: Boesch sported a moustache during an era when having facial hair was frowned upon. Guess some things never change…
- 1985 – Leafs acquire defenseman Chris Kotsopoulis from the Hartford Whalers in exchange for left-winger Stewart Gavin.
- 1991 – Oilers ship forward Ken “The Rat” Linseman to the Leafs in exchange for cash. Linseman would only play two games for the Buds before being released from his contract.
- 1993 – Leafs thump the newly formed Dallas Stars 6-3 in their season opener. This was the first ever loss for the rebranded Stars. Doug Gilmour led the way with three assists while Dave Andreychuk potted two goals. This victory would be the first of ten as the ’93 Leafs set a franchise record for longest overall win streak.
- 2000 – Leafs shutout the Habs 2-0 in their season opener at the Air Canada Centre. Cujo made 26 saves while Hoglund and Berezin picked up the goals. Hopefully, we’ll see more of the same tonight!
- 2006 – Matt Stajan and Darcy Tucker score the Leaf goals in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Former Leaf Mike Johnson saved the day for the Habs as he scored a third period goal to send the game to extra time.
- 2010 – Leafs open the season with a 3-2 victory over the Canadiens. Tim Brent, Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel walked away with a goal apiece on this night.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Van Riemsdyk – Kadri – Boyes
Matthias – Bozak – Lupul
Winnik – Spaling – Parenteau
Komarov – Holland – Arcobello
Hunwick – Phaneuf
Rielly – Harrington
Gardiner – Marincin
Pacioretty – Plekanec – Gallagher
Eller – Galchenyuk – Semin
Fleischmann – Desharnais – Weise
Flynn – Mitchell – DSP
Markov – Subban
Emelin – Petry
Beaulieu – Gilbert