Custom Search

Easing draft expectations a bit- it must be tough to play in Toronto, but history shows Schenn deserves credit

As I was cutting the grass a couple of days ago, I started thinking about the Maple Leafs—past and present.  It's not healthy to be worrying about that in the middle of summer, I’m sure, but you can’t always control what you’re thinking when the lawn mower is going.

Why was I thinking about the Leafs?

Well, it’s draft week, of course, and I know that will lead, naturally, to speculation and rumors, some of which will come true.  for the most part, it will have been a lot of exactly that-speculation and what ifs.

As for Burke, well, he always likes to talk about what he'd like to do.  Such as moving up to get into the first round last year (didn't happen) or to get Tavares the year before (didn't happen).  But it's good for the media, and for us as fans, because it gives us, again, something to think about.  It's great fun.

As things stand, the Leafs have many needs, notably a good center and more top-six forwards, but the draft is for the future.  They have needs right now.

In any event, I guess I was thinking, while dealing with the long grass, about how things don’t always turn out as a fan—or the Leaf organization—hopes they will.

In short, it just seems as though it's pretty tough to play here.  Whether it should be, or it's just an "excuse", well, we can debate that forever.  (I've posted on the notion of players finding it tough here in the past.)

Examples?  Well, just in relatively recent times three names popped out to me as I was trying to beat the rain:  Larry Murphy, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina.

All came to the Maple Leafs in the prime of their careers amidst a bit of fanfare.  Fans hoped that each would be that strong veteran presence and also bring certain tangibles.  Murphy had that skill and smarts, Gill was big and tough and Kubina was a winner.

While none were awful in Toronto, each played their best hockey before and after they hit Toronto.  Why?  Well, fans and media can be pretty tough to deal with here, so I suppose that’s part of it.  But these were all big boys and quality players and were used to the pressures of professional hockey.

Who knows exactly why, in any individual case, that things didn’t work?  Heck, Murphy was a Hall-of-Famer and the other two are both Cup-winners, too—just not here.

Even going back many years, I remember so many guys who never seemed to play to their “potential” in Toronto.  Jim McKenny, for one.  The early ‘70s Maple Leaf defenseman had all kinds of talent but we only saw it in spurts.

Later, big Bob Neely, a high first-round draft choice out of Peterborough, had plenty of potential, but the Leafs wanted a bruiser (he was a very big man for his era) and he was a round peg in a square hole, perhaps, because he really was more of a skill guy in a lot ways.  (And not as dedicated as he might have been…)

Ian Turnbull?  I’ve written about the wonderfully talented enigma in the past.

A bit later, Randy Carlyle.  Drafted here but suddenly traded— and he won a Norris Trophy elsewhere.

Gary Nylund?  Great young talent.  Drafted like fourth overall, maybe it was third, in 1982.  Tough and skilled, sbut erious knee injuries hampered his progress as an NHL’er.

Al Iafrate? One of the most naturally talented Maple Leafs I’ve ever seen.  But playing in Toronto didn’t work out, and he went on to excel elsewhere.

The point, I suppose, is that for reasons none of us can really put our finger on exactly, it seems hard to either be drafted here, stay and become successful, or drop in here via trade or free agency and actually thrive.

I’m not saying it has never happened, just that, historically, there are more occasions where things haven’t worked than when they have.

I think that’s why Luke Schenn deserves a lot of credit.  After an impressive rookie year as a highly-drafted 18 year-old, he suffered some sophomore struggles but bounced back big time this past season.

That, at 21, he is emerging as a long-term Leaf and a shutdown defenseman may be one more thing Leaf fans will thank Cliff Fletcher (beyond Doug Gilmour) for.

But it’s still early.  History is a tough thing to take on.




  1. Posts like this make you appreciate what Mats Sundin did for the team. He was such a consistently good player for us, year in and year out.

  2. Ya but he didn't help when it matter. He should have let TML trade him. If he won the cup in Toronto then okay he has a right to want to stay here but he never did that for us and by trading him we would have jump started this rebuild.

  3. Iafrate excelled?

  4. Regarding Iafrate, I know he wasn't popular with everyone, but he twice scored more than 20 goals as a young defenseman with the Leafs, and with Washington, he scored 25 goals in a single season and was a strong "plus" player. So we can always argue the point but for me, he was a fine player before and after he left Toronto.