Date: May 13th 2013
Place: TD Gardens
With just over 14 minutes to play, Jake Gardiner with a beautiful pass out of his own zone and Kessel breaks out on a 2-on-1! Phil Kessel (who has been dazzling this series) throws a heavy wrister on Rask who lets out a big rebound to Kadri who roofs it to make it 4-1 Leafs! Everyone in Leafs nation is euphoric and looking ahead to the Rangers in the next series. We can beat the Rangers! Who’s next in conference finals? Pittsburgh? This offence can skate with them and score on Fleury, no problem!
Fast forward an hour or so…heartbreak.
How? Why? When did it go wrong? This is a good team, right? As I laid in bed I got to know my ceiling very well that night. By the morning I was sure that I knew every square inch of it from staring at it all night in wonder of what went wrong.
The worst day. The worst night.
But wait, Lets examine:
In the final 10 minutes of game seven and the duration of overtime we were shown (although we couldn’t see it) how flawed this team really was. Not just physically or from a talent perspective, but emotionally and mentally. Extremely flawed. I would compare this to the “tip of the iceburg” thought process. It looks very small, but look below. Dig deeper and it’s huge!
You. Just. Cant. See. It.
We didn’t. Lets be honest. We thought we were moving in the right direction. This team gave us a taste and we wanted more. Typical Leafs fan, eh? We remember the sweetness, but have amnesia about the bitterness. We asked for more sugar as the taste of bile was still present in our mouths.
Enter: David Clarkson, David Bolland, Jonathan Bernier
It makes sense. We were that close to the next round. A little fine tuning and free agent signings will put us over the top and we can build on the playoff series from the year before.
But, this beautiful big apple we have, is rotten at the core. We just couldn’t see it until we peeled it back, layer by layer.
May 13th 2013 was actually “the best/ worst day ever.” It showed us. It shaped us and we should be thankful it happened. I would relive it over and over because I know what it means now and how it helped us. We didn’t know it at the time, but it truly did.
Did you ever date that person who looked beautiful and you thought you loved them? Well, this is the same. You enjoyed your time, thought they were beautiful, but they inevitably didn’t care much for you and broke your heart. This of course leads to sadness, pain, loss and thinking that you will never meet another like them. Happened to you? Of course. Art (and sports) imitates life. You eventually get over it, you become happy again, meet someone, fall in love with the perfect person and think about how silly it was to be so sad about the wrong person.
Leafs fans, Im here to tell you that this is exactly what we were going through. Its really not that much different, if at all.
It was a blessing that Dave Bolland and Bernier got hurt causing our team to go into a tailspin in the 2014 season. Why? Well what if we got in the playoffs again and the same mentally fragile core led us to the same outcome? What if they won a round? Well, I can tell you that if we are playing “sliding doors” we would have been pretty happy with that, but that core of the apple (that we still cant see) is the same. Still rotten, and still not right for us. To take this further, this could mean that Dave Nonis is still not worried about year seven of contracts and making trades that don’t give us what we deserve. The same management group that invested over $20 Million a year in cap space in 2013-2014 season for Kessel, Phaneuf and Clarkson because he (they/us) over evaluated or believe that the Maple Leafs were better than the team that broke down in the final 10 minutes of game seven? All it would have done is just provide us with a rag and some shine for that pretty little apple that we all believed in.
You see, it was blessing that Matt Frattin missed on a breakaway late in the game. It was a blessing that Dion Phaneuf got pushed around on the Lucic goal and pushed around again by Chara on the Bergeron goal to tie it. It was a blessing that three Maple Leaf skaters completely whiffed on the puck that Bergeron scored on Reimer to win it in overtime.
Are you still with me?
If the Leafs hold on to win then there is a good chance we still have this same core, same management group and that same seemingly pretty apple. Instead this rotten core was still rotten the next year, and the only difference is that instead of a 10 minute meltdown we watched it in slow motion over the last month of the season. The cream always rises to the top and the rest is left below. In this case its timeless. It doesn’t matter if its 10 minutes, 10 games or 10 months. It wasn’t going to get better with this group; ever. The times are different but the result is always the same. Lets say this meltdown didn’t happen (again) then most likely there would have been further moves to make matters worse. Call it a series of unfortunate events, call it unlucky, call it what you want.
I call it “a blessing.” If all these “bad” things didn’t happen that it would probably mean that Nonis is quite possibly still here, same as Phil, Dion and Clarkson. Same Core. That means:
No Shanahan and No Mike Babcock, No Lou, No Hunter, No Dubas, No Nylander, No Marner, no top five pick this year. No plan. No hope.
Its hard to see sometimes why things happen and what they mean because you don’t usually get the answers right away and it takes time to digest. It takes reflection and seeing things for how they really are and it takes peeling the layers away to see what’s really at the core.
There is no big beautiful apple for us right now. It’s not there. I’m not here to tell you it is and neither are they. This group is stealth, quiet and hardworking without boasting. There are no more false promises, grandstanding, Needless pressers and they are over delivering while under promising. Consider this; if this were your boss in your job wouldn’t this sound like somebody you would love to work for?
While the final trades were made in this 2015-2016 season and the guts of the apple have already been disposed of, it brings me pleasure that we have (finally) a fantastic group not trying to sell us this shiny pretty apple, but instead they are steadfast in planting an orchard of apples. Many apples! These apples are just seeds or very small and they will take time to grow. But my fellow Maple Leafs fans as we take one of these future apples and peel it away to the beautiful core you will find that you will be left with more seeds to plant and orchards upon orchards for many many years to come.
Be happy, be optimistic and be thankful, for May 13, 2013 really was the best day ever….