I remember when I was a teen my parents told me I could get new golf clubs. Specifically, a new set of irons. So I searched around and didn’t find what I was after. Instead of waiting though, I settled. Bought the irons I liked but didn’t love. Shortly after, coincidentally when my game improved a bit, I found the best set of blades for me. Alas, I couldn’t afford them as I’d already spent the money my parents had allocated me. What’s worse was I ended up selling the clubs I’d purchased for far less the value. It was a lesson I never forgot. You see where I’m going with this?
Through planning, through hiring, through acceptance and subsequent patience to follow, after all the years gone by, the Maple Leafs, your Toronto Maple Leafs, are here.
Where is here, exactly? You know where “here” is. This isn’t hockey 101, the average fan isn’t reading obscure Leafs blogs. We are, by majority and by the nature of our devotion, a realistic and weathered following who for the most part have albeit optimistic but consistently rational grasp of our Blue & White’s standing among the rest. A wordy sentence for “we know our team”. The hours, days, invested in analyzing, examining, studying, manipulating the roster, this qualifies us, you, as the underground fan. As close to the pulse of the operation as we can get from the outside, from the underbelly, that’s where we crawl to dissect. This holds true for all the blogs out there. No matter our stances, the love is genuine. I know ours is. So I’ll ask again, where is “here”? Well, “here” is relevancy.
The Maple Leafs are, will be, and have always been relevant when it comes to making boatloads of money for the National Hockey League. Toronto is a juggernaut on the financial side. That’s not what I’m talking about. The relevancy I speak of is on the competitive end. In our own bubble of course the Buds have always been “All Day”, everyday. But the talk has burst through said bubble and can be heard throughout the NHL markets league wide. Toronto and it’s youth are the buzz around the NHL. The up and coming Leafs names are ringing out like Stringer Bell’s. Unlike the past, there’s a newfound legitimacy to claims of a bright future and maybe as important or enjoyable, a bright today. As a society we want everything right away, instant gratification. Now it’s hard to place that stigma on a fan base whose waited 50 years for a championship. Still, be aware of your desires and impulses. Yes, I agree with the statement above. Obviously, I’m the one who made it. We, speaking out of turn for the Toronto Maple Leafs, are competitively relevant. This though my friends is where the categorical lines get blurred, and missteps are made.
In the landscape of today’s NHL, competitive basically means playoffs. And the good fortune of reaching the postseason tournament as one of 16 teams to do so, well that basically means you’re a contender. Is that a stretch? Hard to call it one when the Cup finalists were a 16 seed. Furthermore, the Pittsburgh Penguins were no force to be reckoned with, champs or not. A very strong club, no doubt, yet no powerhouse and not without their flaws. One could argue any of the teams with the right luck could’ve made a run of their own. With this fresh in mind let’s shift the focus to the group with their name in the blog title, the Leafs.
Entering the playoffs the clear favorite to hoist Lord Stanley was our Round One opponent, the Washington Capitals. I’m not going to rehash the series but it’s safe to say Toronto gave Trotz, Ovi, and the rest of the President’s Trophy winners all they could handle. The Maple Leafs performance transformed what were seemingly lofty aspirations into a reality. A reality unknown to the franchise for quite some time. Begging the question, are we ready to truly contend? Followed by the 75 million dollar question, at what cost?
I pumped your tires at the outset as a knowledgeable fan base, and I’ll continue that trend now. As evaluators the best of you know exactly where the flaws are most evident. Trust me when I say this, the management is watching the same games you are. Are they wiser than you or I? Of course. However, don’t sell yourselves short, they aren’t viewing the patch of ice through any magic pane of glass. On the whole, they see what you see. They see the glaring hole of the right side of our top 4. They see the need for a reliable 4th line center who can be not only trusted but help keep the puck in the opposing end. They see the strength on our wings, the youth pushing for work, and they see the high event hockey of our 3rd line. Something I’m sure they won’t want to expose the responsible Mitch Marner to much longer. What I’m saying is we know the team, we know the improvements needed and where. Now for the hard part. How?
On the cusp of UFA Day (known as Canada Day in small circles) Toronto have an opportunity to address its needs. To go from relevancy to contender in the blink of an I, right? Time to win and win now. It’s time to win and win at all costs!!
Ok, whoa, whoa, whoa. Yes, we are ready to make strides. And oh yeah, you better believe we are ready to win big, even a league title. But at all costs? The problem with all costs is sustainability and risk. The formula for continued success is closer to “Winning at our costs”.
Could Karl Alzer fill a big void on the backend? Sure he could. What about Kevin Shattenkirk? You know he wouldn’t hurt at all, a welcome addition. Travis Hamonic? We already know the interest Toronto had in him (reports of the actual offer vary) and at 3.86 million dollars for three more years, he would’ve practically been a perfect fit. A right side defender to boot. The problem with Hamonic and all these guys is, yep, the cost. Whether the cost of salary and term or the price of acquisition, they are what I’d describe as impulse buys. That might not be fair, but the inclination or urge to plug holes with big upgrades by any means necessary is very real. The money is there, the assets are there, even the timing is there to some degree. Above all the question you need to ask, and Leafs management is asking it, what is the chance of regret? The same holds true with Marleau, Thornton, even Boyle. They all make sense to me. But not if term is the cost. There’s a chance for regret. What if those new irons finally come up for sale at the right price and you’ve committed to a set who aren’t lasting like you hoped? I mean, any decision can go the wrong way on you no matter who the player. We’ve done things and made bad choices for the right reasons before, thinking we were on the cusp. Bolland, Clarkson, you think you’re ready. And that was smoke and mirrors, this group has the star power to provide an actual case. Plus, there’s a window where Toronto has it’s core on ELC deals. Making the proposition of spending all the more enticing. My message, don’t be swayed or spend for the sake of spending. I learned my lesson many summers ago, and I’m confident in saying the Maple Leafs have learned theirs. Will Lou and company add? I’m certain they will. But it might be a lob wedge on Ebay, it might be a Rescue Club on the Buy & Sell or Kijiji. Or, just maybe, we do buy those new Titleist irons. If Toronto does, you can be damn well sure they’ve taken them on the range and know what they are getting. Most of all, the price is right.
In closing, we know where we are entering UFA Day and beyond. Poised to take that next step. It’s now unfortunately when we are most susceptible to mistakes. Like Lou said, to “forcing it”. It’s now when the Shanaplan and it’s message of patience will be put to it’s truest test. That’s not to say if the iron is hot you don’t strike. It’s to say tread carefully into the dark night of free agency and trade.
The committed and core fan, you the passionate reader, we’ll understand if the Maple Leafs don’t necessarily fill out the bag with brand names. Check out the bargain bins while we wait, some of your best finds are there. My money is the Toronto know exactly where they are and how to proceed, without regret. I think that’s a safe bet.