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Today’s sobering thought: if we took the current Leaf roster and put it in, say, Columbus or Carolina, would anyone even talk about the team?

Every once in a while I have to give myself a ‘reality check’ of sorts.  That is, if I start to get pulled into  “buying-in” to the Maple Leaf spin that everything is moving along as per the ‘plan’, that roster changes are coming, that they were wise not to invest mad money in star players because the term was too long, that the goaltending is fine, etc., I try to step back a bit.

Then I do what I always do when that feeling happens:  I pull up the current roster, and ask myself—is this a good NHL team?  Is this a team that can compete to make the playoffs or maybe one day soon, even better, the Stanley Cup?  The answer for me - even with the wholesale roster changes that have already been made and the influx of all these apparently outstanding “prospects” acquired by Burke  - is “no”. 

An emphatic no, in fact.

And maybe the more pointed question is this one:  if we took this exact roster and put in in markets like, for example, Carolina or Phoenix or the Island or hey, Columbus—would anyone take this team seriously?  Would fans in those markets go to the games because of the talent on the roster and the exciting style of play that they would witness under Randy Carlyle?

Would the countless ‘talking-heads’ and ‘insiders’ on radio, television and the Internet talk breathlessly about Brian Burke this and Brian Burke that…and how “close” the Leafs are to being a really good team?

Sadly, for me, the answer is self-evident.  It’s no.  Again, a resounding no.

Oh, the Leafs have some excellent pieces.  There’s, ah…Kessel and maybe Lupul, too, if he stays healthy and has another career year. Grabovski is a nice player.  Gardiner would seem to possess unlimited potential- if his initial season in the league proves to be a harbinger of things to come.

But if we’re really honest—and I don’t mean negative or pessimistic, just really and truly honest—is Dion Phaneuf an elite NHL defenseman?  I mean, he’s a good NHL player.  He hits guys on occasion but how many times last season did we see wingers burst around him like he was standing still?  You can say, “C’mon, Michael, that happens to every defenseman…”.  Well it happens to defensemen, yes.  But it doesn’t happen as frequently to the league’s best as it does to Phaneuf, and people were talking about him like he was "one of the best" last October.

But, he’s not.

Are any of our top “prospects”–Kadri, Colborne, Ashton, etc.—really going to be 'can’t miss' impact players with the Leafs?  (I don't include Frattin because, in my mind,  he's already on the big roster and he's a keeper...) If those young players were in, say, the Florida Panthers system, would we be talking about them like they were going to be high-end NHL players?  Would we even know who they are?

The fact is, every NHL team has quality players they are "building around".  And most teams have a number of "good young prospects".  The Leafs are hardly unique in this regard.

We all recognize that we often make fun of ourselves as Leaf fans.  Why?  Well, our team hasn’t won a championship in 45 years.  (We’re too much like the Chicago Cubs in that regard, eh...) We desperately want to see a return to being a great team, to fit with our franchise’s legendary history.  But we are reduced to being thrilled when the team shows early-season promise, to looks like it might make the playoffs.  The bar is set way too low.

Every summer we believe things will be better. We put ourselves down because we - like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown in the “Peanuts” cartoon - keep believing the ball will still be there when we arrive to kick it.  But it’s always been pulled away.

And we laugh at ourselves because, as Leaf fans, we often talk like:
  • Every guy who is on the trade market, we want
  • Every free-agent is coming to Toronto
  • Every available goalie we should grab
  • All of our prospects are going to be superb NHL players
  • Players want to come to Toronto
  • Burke is the best GM in the league (not all of us subscribe to this one...)
But even though we may sometimes make fun of our own misfortune, the moment the Leafs win two games (heck, if the team has a couple of good shifts some nights) Twitter explodes with hope, after years of pent-up frustration.  People write things like, "Doesn’t Phil look awesome"....."Did you see Dion lay that guy out?"  and "Look at that move…Kadri is going to be sooooo good someday”.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be enthusiastic, supportive, hopeful, whatever any one of us, as fans, feels like feeling, as they say.  But in the same breath, I think it’s important to be balanced in our thinking and recognize that even if we make roster changes—heck, even if we had signed Parise and Suter, for example—we aren’t winning a Stanley Cup next season.  Their old teams didn’t win a Cup this past season with those players, and they were much, much better teams than the Maple Leafs.

So I go back to my initial question today:  if this team, as it is, or even with some of the expected improvements, was located in one of the markets I mentioned above, would anyone talk seriously about them as a good team, a team worth paying attention to, or “contenders” of any description?

By all means share your perspective….


  1. Interesting question Michael. Markets are so different in other cities, and it's probably true this team would be looked upon so differently elsewhere.

    With the Leafs having missed the playoffs too many consecutive years, the more important question I always ask in the offseason, is "how much have they improved compared to the other teams in their conference?". Also, "what teams could possibly drop out of the playoffs, and can the Leafs slip ahead of any of the other teams who missed out?".

    Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Carolina have all improved in the offseason and they each finished ahead of the Leafs last season. Do we honestly think we can jump ahead of these teams? Will be very tough.

    This season's success will be largely dependent on what changes Burke makes between now and the start of the season. If he makes some significant addition(s) through trades, then maybe the future will be different. Any improvements the Leafs have made so far, or prospects that may be added to the NHL roster, look insufficient to making the jump into the top 8 in their conference. *sigh*

    With respect to your initial question, maybe we should ask whether anyone expected Ottawa to have a successful season last year? Hopes were bleak. Los Angeles was supposed to be a strong team to start the season, but struggled for so much of the season that many experts didn't think they would last in the playoffs. Burke doesn't want the Leafs to be an 8th place team and get his assed kicked in the playoffs. Sadly I think Toronto fans have been starved of success for so long, they would be happy with that alone for now.

    Phoenix has made the playoffs the last three seasons, but has anyone been truly excited about that team? Would Toronto fans be happier watching Kessel or Vrbata?

  2. Excellent points, TML__fan. I'm among those who thought Ottawa would be fortunate to win 15 games last seasons. I was very wrong.

    The bar is low enough in Toronto that the playoffs would indeed satisfy a lot of fans. But that's a shame. We shouldn't be thinking in terms of having "an 8th place team" that is only good enough to just eke into the playoffs and then lose in the first round. That's not supposed to be the criteria anyway- not this far into Burke's tenure here.

    As you cite, others teams have improved this off-season, and those are teams the Leafs will likely be competing with for position in the East.

    I suppose part of the point of my original question is that, in many other markets, this would not be a team that is talked about by the "experts" as a solid NHL team. Toronto's prospects may be somewhat highly-rated, but that doesn't always translate into NHL results. If our roster was in Columbus, I have a feeling there would not be much enthusiasm for the team...

  3. 1. "Is this a good NHL team?"

    No...they would have to be better to be what I call "good." ...Good teams consistently make the playoffs.

    2. Is this a team that can compete to make the playoffs?

    Yes, they were on that track last year.If Riemer doesn't get run over... they might have made it last year. They could squeak in this year. They might need some key injuries on other teams to get in.

    3. Is this a team that can maybe one day soon, compete for the Stanley Cup? could be 5 or 8 years before we ever see the Leafs in the semi-finals.

    I would be very surprised if they got down to the Eastern conference final in the next 4 years. For this to happen, everybody has to have career years and the prospects have to exceed expectations. What are the odds of that?

    Over the next four years, I think the best that one can hope for is a few playoff appearances, we might win a round and maybe we give a really good team a scare in the first or second round by taking them to 6 games.

    The Leaf team in Columbus?

    Yes, I think fans would rather watch that team. They would be a step up from what they have in Columbus now.

    I just can't get that glum about the situation. It's just entertainment.

    I do chores and housework on Saturday. I quit early to make a nice dinner to go with the Leafs on HNIC. Win or lose its still one of the better evenings of the week.

    or maybe one day soon, even better, the Stanley Cup?

  4. You've got a good point, but there is another side to that coin: Phil Kessel would be the "most under rated player in the NHL and the most dangerous off the rush", Anaheim would be ridiculed for giving up on Lupul, an "elite player, now injury free, living up to his potential". The Mac Grabo Kule line would be the "best 2nd line in hockey", and Grabo "a potential successor to the great Red Wing two-way forwards". The team would be known as the "most likely to put it together for a full season", and Reimer's injury would be called "an unforeseen injury that pulled the team down. With a healthy Goalie, look out for this team!"

  5. lots of sobering thoughts here... as a leafs fan in buffalo, i can say another thing about the leafs is their world-wide appeal/recognition. sabres-fans here in buffalo are passionate about the sabres... but aside from terry pegula, is anyone from outside of buffalo passionate about them? i don't think so. (of course having billionaire terry pegula being a fan is like having a billion fans in a way). outside of buffalo, you don't hear the world discussing the amazing potential of the various sabres prospects, whereas toronto's are scrutinized and dissected in 100-ways prior to the first pre-season game!

  6. The buzz around the Leafs is, and always will be there, because of the market that is founded on history and culture. Meanwhile, the Coyotes have always had little buzz, and that hasn't changed even now that they have a strong, winning team. Tampa won the Cup, had exciting people, but the city largely didn't notice. At the same time, quite a few people in Calgary went to mourning.

    So I'd say it's the market that creates the buzz much more than the actual, realistic chances for success.

    Even Harold Ballard, the Evil Overlord, while creating all the anguish and despair, couldn't kill off the excitement surrounding the Leafs, so I doubt anyone can.

    That Burke comment about not wanting to be 8th seed and getting your asses kicked in the first round is, for me, just another inane excuse for failing at his job so far. Especially since he definitely hasn't been spending the last few years rebuilding. As long as you make the playoffs, you have a shot at the Cup. Sure, it will be a long shot, but you still get a shot. Is it really worse to get your asses kicked on the first round than getting beaten up during the regular season so that you don't get to the playoffs at all? It's not a standard for success, sure, but sometimes you need to walk before you can run. As it is we've been crawling for so long, that even the walking seems a bridge too far. That comment seemed thoughtless at the time, and after the Kings' Cup win, it seems just plain stupid.

    I was actually surprised someone in charge of the Leafs' operations could say something like that and (I'm not advocating it, of course) not get burned as a witch.

  7. DP...I agree with you, by the way, my own assessment aside, Saturday remains hockey/Leaf day for me. Always has been, always will be.

  8. William...good counter-points, and a different perspective. Thanks.

  9. Alex C....You are quite right about the Sabres. Pegula gives them a profile, but they are not a team that is talked about much.

    But I guess that's partly my point. Because Toronto is Toronto, in this market, with all the glare, everything is magnified- good and bad. We over-rate too often, and are hyper-critical too often.

    And as for this particular team, if they were located somewhere else, they would be seen as just another team, and few would care.

  10. CGLN..many have defended Burke with regard to his "8th place/get your ass kicked comment". I understand what he was saying, but for me, that's not the point. The point is that, in this market, we shouldn't even be talking about 8th place as a barometer of any kind.

    Yes, Burke had a big job to do. And he has absolutely helped restore depth in the overall program. There is some real potential here. But there is no way we should be, this far into his tenure, talking about 8th place in any event.

    Toronto is a special market for hockey. And I'm not suggesting it should be otherwise. I just feel that if this particular team were in any number of other markets, it would just be seen as another NHL team- and that's not good enough to me.

  11. The problem with the leafs is the Kessel trade. Trading two first (a lotto and top 10 pick) and a second when your a rebuilding team was a disaster for the rebuild. Smart teams would add an impact player like Kessel when they are a playoff team wanting to take the next step. And that would ensure the two first are more like 20th draft picks. [That is, LA with Carter or Boston with Horton or Kaberle. The other team didn't great high picks]. And look at it this way - who would you rather have Seguin/Hamilton or Biggs/Percy. This Kessel trade is the reason why the leafs rebuild has been delayed and the reason likely the team will not be successful

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Jeff....the Kessel deal will likely always be a point of debate within the Leaf community.

  13. I wholly concur, Michael, Toronto is a special hockey market, and a special market deserves a special team. That team has not been special for while now, and the fault lies longer down the line than just Burke failing to change the course. We have a long history of less-than-stellar drafting, failure at developing prospects and trading away draft picks and many prospects that turned out good in exchange for quick fixes that didn't turn out to be quite the difference-makers we had hoped they'd be.

    I'm not so much bitter at BB for not managing to straighten the course, as I am about his unwillingness to use all the tools at his disposal. Offer sheets are not for him, not since case Penner. Granted, they are not used often at all league-wide, but they are there to use when it is plausible. No cap-circumventing long-term contract offers to premium UFAs, even though everyone else with the means will do them. Even Holland was after Suter. Saying that the player wouldn't have come here, anyway, is a poor excuse for not entering the race. Not firing your coach with the excuse that "he hasn't suddenly lost his ability to coach", when that is exactly what happens to many coaches in many different team sports all around the world. Or perhaps they don't so much lose their ability, as others pass them by. Wilson's inability to do anything beyond switching players between lines and defence pairings should have been a pretty obvious clue.

    I think Wilson and Burke's failures reflect each other, in a way, as neither's gotten results here, yet remain unwilling to admit that their own policies are under question. Wilson never changed, based on what we've heard from Burke, he's just as adamant about his approach having been the correct one. Meanwhile, everyone else is wrong.

    Burke has since replaced Wilson with Carlyle, a very Burke-style coach (who, I fear, suffered exactly the same fate in Anaheim as Wilson suffered as our head coach; time passed him by), and Burke will keep on looking to acquiring Burke-style players and generally making the team more Burke-like.

    Let's face it, Schenn-for-JVR-Schenn could have waited until checking if Alex Semin was interested. I'd give him a good contract still, because when that kind of talent becomes available for nothing but money and time, you'd be crazy to not look into it. And he still could, but he won't, because Semin's anything but Burke-style player. Which, apparently, Colby Armstrong was when he was signed 3-for-3.

    Goodness, I'm worse than a broken record. But we need scouts that go looking for actual talent and hockey IQ instead of truculence. We need less hubris and more do in the front office. We need less yelling and pep talks behind the bench, and more tactical acumen. And we need a lot more true talent on the ice.

  14. One of the most stunning things for me, CGLN, was after Burke changed coaches and admitted that he and Wilson differed on the fundamental principle of the type of team they each wanted. I don't want to mis-quote Burke (and I have written about this in the past) but essentially Burke said that Burke liked his players tougher than Wilson.

    Whatever the exact wording was, we all got the picture. Here's my question: how could a GM keep a coach behind the bench for years- when they disagreed fundamentally on the type of team that was needed? I just don't get it.

    It's yet another excuse. "Oh, I couldn't always get the kind of players I wanted to build with, because the coach wanted something different..." is what we're supposed to buy. C'mon....

  15. I basically have to echo what was mentioned above regarding LA and Ottawa. Teams/players aren't considered good by most until after the fact.
    People didn't even know Giroux two years ago and now he is a superstar. Kopitar was never a house-hold name until he was. Mike Smith and Elliott came out of nowhere. Bobby Ryan was considered a 'bust' for taking too long to make the NHL, I could go on.
    Team-wise nobody saw STL as a threat until last year when a coaching change turned a whole team around and people's perceptions along with it. Basically the same for Ottawa and even NJ until the season started was predicted by most to struggle again.
    I guess all I'm saying is that we don't necessarily have to 'see it coming'. I think this team has been identified as over-rated so long that it is now perhaps a bit under-rated. Fix the PP and the PK and get some average goaltending and who knows. Not me...but hopefully Burke!

  16. A good GM gets the coach he wants, then asks the coach: "What do you need?"

    And that's very simple, the coach, hopefully, has a gameplan, and that gameplan needs to become realized on the ice. You pick the coach, and the coach picks the team. Your coach is the guy who makes the team play at their best, so your job is to do your utmost to provide him with the pieces. If your coach wants small, speedy players instead of bruisers, you go get him the small, speedy players.

    If you don't coach, you don't get to say who plays. And in modern hockey, you don't sign Colton Orr, who is a waste of space unless he's providing gladiator sports for the masses. And even when he does, a won fight rarely offers the kind of change in momentum it did in days now long gone.

    Don't get me wrong, if there was a young Wendel Clark, or Cam Neely, or Brendan Shanahan out there, I'd insist my GM go after him right effing now. But they aren't there, and Colton Orr, Chris Neil or even Milan Lucic just aren't "the next best thing". Burke of today would probably have been a great GM in the days of young Burke, but being nostalgic about it isn't going to change the cold, hard facts. If Burke thinks hockey games can nowadays be won by intimidation, he should try being a coach, or even coach/GM, so he can get all the hard-nosed guys in there. My hypothetical 10 bucks say he'd fail miserably in anywhere beyond a beer league.

  17. All fair points Chris C...thanks. I think it is indeed fair to see they have been over-rated (including by current management) and may be under-rated now, a bit.

    That said, I'll stand by my comments that if they were in a low-profile hockey market, they'd have to show a lot more to be considered an emerging team, at least in my view....

    Thanks Chris.

  18. Well-written and certainly sobering. You make some good arguments here.
    I disagree on two points: first, Dion Phaneuf isn't treated fairly here. He's one of the top offensive defensemen in the league; certainly, his job is to defend, but even on that count it's a bit of a stretch to call him worse than average. Phaneuf cost little and has star-level production: I'm not going to argue that he's "elite", but that term is too nebulous for me to worry about. Top-15 offensively and average defensively equals a strong positive contribution in my book.
    To follow your example, if Phaneuf was in a Carolina or Columbus, the play where he loses his man and a goal occurs wouldn't be on seventy highlight shows and panel discussions before the next game. There's an availability bias with Phaneuf's mistakes in Toronto. In addition, as the captain it's remarkably easy to view "35-37-10" as something that should go on his individual stat sheet.
    My second issue is that your prospect list should now read: Rielly, Kadri, Colborne, Ashton, etc.
    So I'll ask you this: if, to the team you've just described, you added a top offensive defenseman and a #5 draft pick of unknown quality, would you feel more positive about its direction?

  19. I think you make very fair points about Phaneuf, Nirbo. There is a market bias here, perhaps. (For the record, I don't recall saying he was "worse than average" defensively...) He's just not, for me, "elite", but as you say, that's an arguable point if we consider him a top-15 or so guy offensively.

    As for the prospect list, yes, I could add some others, including young Rielly.

    To your question: I think, personally, I would prefer a true high-end shutdown defenseman, but yes, those two additions would help any team's prognosis.

    My point today is not that everything is wrong about the team's direction or future. Primarily, I was just suggesting that if we took this roster and moved it to certain markets, it would be just another NHL team, one that would not merit much discussion on its own merits, market aside.

    Good stuff Nirbo. Thanks for posting.

  20. Thanks for your reply. I didn't mean to put words in your mouth, rather just riffing on the difference between his offensive and defensive contributions.
    Honestly I find it difficult to pinpoint how good Phaneuf is defensively: he plays a ton of minutes on a bad team with worse goaltending, and most of last year he played under a coach that stressed offense above all else. Some of his advanced stats are pretty mediocre, but that's hard to separate from shiftmates.
    I think JVR is also worth highlighting while I'm trying to inject a few positive points into your (reasonable and well-justified) gloom. Luke Schenn, whatever he may become, felt like a liability last season; therefore I can't really view his departure as causing a short-term hole. There's an argument that our offense from last season isn't sustainable, but JVR's addition should mitigate any drop-off.
    The Leafs are years or at least several players away from actual contention, but with an unexpected performance or two they could make the playoffs this year even without further moves.

  21. I share your sense, Nirbo, that the Leafs can make the playoffs in the East. Heck, they certainly should have/could have last season.

    The East is not a Conference that cannot be overcome. There are a few premier teams, we can say, but it's a crap shoot beyond that. And even the top-tier teams could slide. What will Jersey be? Is Boston now past their peak? Can the Rangers play that hard again all this coming season? Will Ottawa be able to match last season's unexpected improvement?

    I believe van Riemsdyk, if he plays like he did in the playoffs a couple of years ago, could be special.

    As for Phaneuf, we'll see how he does under Carlyle. He did play huge minutes last season. Maybe with fewer offensive expectations, he can focus on strong defensive play.

    There are positives, no doubt. Just always tempered with reality- and I guess that's what triggered today's post.

  22. Nirbo, no player gets treated fairly for their mistakes in Toronto as long as the team is losing. That's a sad fact. We got Phaneuf in a trade that gave up little while giving us a guy who gives us offensive blueline threat. He's never shown great defensive awareness, but some more scoring-minded blueliners develop it later in their careers. That's a fair tradeoff. Phaneuf is not a star player, even if he earns the money, but he seems to be handling the captaincy fairly well. I have no problem with him.

    I have no problem with Kessel, either. Jeff pointed the trade out earlier, but it should always be weighed in the light of what we knew then, what the arguments were then, not by what we know now; that it did not make a difference between winning and losing. The cost was steep, in hindsight, but Burke didn't go for a rebuild, so we had to believe at that point. The Kessel trade was too expensive, looking at it from a perspective of knowledge, but it was a hopeful trade at one point in time. Kessel himself doesn't need to be judged, he has scored goals, he has put up the points, and he wanted to come over. Nobody expected it to turn out be Seguin and Hamilton when the deal was made, at least I didn't. And Kessel is a proven scorer, if a streaky one.

    But back to Phaneuf. The fact is, that when you captain a storied franchise such as ours, you'll be nothing but perhaps an affable mention for effort in the history books. If you show your spirit and the team starts winning again, you'll be a god. Not fair, as winning is a team effort, but that's the downside of playing in a big hockey market.

    But, like I said, Phaneuf doesn't seem to mind. Good on him, and good on us. Now let's get someone who's willing to build a team here. By backstabbing, using loopholes; by any means available and necessary.

  23. You touch on the heart of fandom and what makes sports so enduring in it's appeal.

    Are you saying that fans of a given sports team know more about their players and prospects than they do other teams players and prospects? That they care about them more and are more excited about what these players can contribute? That home town fans attach a greater likelihood of success to their own young prospects?
    Well yea, they are that way, all of them. Everywhere Michael.

    Combining all cities that I have lived in, I have resided in the home town of seven NHL teams, five MLB teams, four NFL teams, five NBA teams . Fans of other teams are the same as Leafs fans regarding your question. They fall into two groups; Group A is the one you describe overly optimistic, self centred and irrational in their analysis, Group B is the overly pessimistic "dump all over the team, they are a lost cause" kind. With the TML this manifests itself in dumping on the GM for not signing a free agent who accepted a 12 year $90mm deal somewhere and also dumping on the GM for considering signing said free agent to a 12 year $90mm deal.

    Everybody has more interest and belief in their own team than any other team . The more devote the individual fan, the stronger those beliefs, interests and delusions.

    If you don't believe me come live in Ottawa for a few years were rampant delusionalism is a key underpinning of the Sens fan psyche. In Montreal the irrationality comes across as some sort of ancient and bizarre right of entitlement. The symptoms are different but the cause the same. The majority of home town fans are delusional and occasionally irrational about the team's prospects, quality and likelihood of success.

    Best example; posting boards on NFL draft weekend where fans of Team X argue whether it is the stealing of Hartley Zwingerman from Lollapalooza A&M in round 4 or the brilliance of snagging Frenzied State's Deshante Garvin in round 5 that will take their perennially sub 500 team to the Promised Land.

    One of sport's greatest sayings comes at the beginning of each baseball season..."hope springs eternal" It is the renewal of opportunity, it is the once in a generation fairy tale of a sad sack team doing a Buster Douglas that raises the hope and muddles the expectations of the sports fans. They are, by and large, like that everywhere, with all teams, in all sports.

    There is nothing special, deranged or unusual about TLM fans in this regard. After all this is the essence of fandom in many ways. It is at the heart of the enduring appeal of sports and being a fan.

    Move the Islanders here , move the (gawd NO) Flames here move The Sisters of Mercy here and it would be the same. Just as it is with sports fans everywhere.

    That's what it is, that why sports captivates. It is what has made sports the most successful and most unique entertainment business in the world.

  24. Tremendous post, Bmaximus. You've lived it in different markets, and have shared it beautifully today. Thanks.

  25. On the topic of hockey fans in other cities, I will add that having lived in Vancouver, I think the insecurity of the fan base and media may have contributed to the Canucks playoff problems over the last 5 years. The way they turned on Luongo is astonishing, and makes me seriously question why he is interested in coming to Toronto.Perhaps he thinks Leafs fans have lower expectations, and a Cujo or Potvin-like playoff where he got a so-so team to the conference finals would be good enough?

  26. I'm not sure we really know if Toronto is on Luongo's latest "list" or not, but you certainly make an interesting point, Sean. While they are great fans in Vancouver, they may (and obviously I'm using a very broad brush here) indeed feel insecure at times, as you put it. We know all about that here in Toronto...

  27. Amazing views on fandom by Bmaximus, full points on being hitting the mark. That is, what being a fan means. You either maintain the positive attitude, as I did for the the first couple of years of the Burke reign, or you fall into negativity. You do either of those things, because in between there is only apathy, which, for me, is the only thing that has kept Burke from having been burned as a witch.

    We live and breathe a big franchise, maybe the biggest there is as far as hockey, as a sport, is concerned. I know two things for a fact. First, there is no bigger city in the world that loves a hockey team more than Toronto. Sure, there's Montreal, but screw 'em. And while the historical success has been better, it's still not a bigger market.

    The second fact is, there are two countries in the world where hockey is the biggest professional team sport available. Those countries are Canada and Finland. In Sweden it's big, but football (soccer for most of you) is bigger. The same goes for Russia. And the Czech Republic. And both of our countries live and breathe through our hockey heroes. But, in Toronto, it goes just a bit further. The guys to lift the Cup become tales in the local folklore. They are heroes, larger than life, to have worn the jersey, and will forevermore be remembered in song.

    I doubt anyone in Toronto, or the fans elsewhere, would ever question Wendel Clark. His heart was left on the ice every single time he wore the jersey, he paid the price every single time, and he wouldn't quit, not even when he had been physically broken down.

    Wendel will be remembered even though he didn't win the Cup. If Phaneuf wants to be remembered as well, he needs to dig in deep. I think he has the mentality, but it's for the captain to make his mark. Whether it's slapping a triple in the Habs' net in a game, I don't care. If it's giving Brian Gionta the ragdoll treatment that McCabe got from Zdeno Chara, I don't care. The last one was pretty hilarious, though.

    There are still people, who believe that Sundin destroyed the future of the franchise with his unwillingness to go when asked to. And that's just a load of horse manure; if the franchise was healthy at that point, there wouldn't have been even the need to ask him to go.

    And this is all coming from a Finnish hockey fan, who fully wished for Sundin to fail every single time he pulled on the yellow-and-blue triple crown jersey. but he didn't fail. He did not fail when he pulled on the triple crown, he didn't fail when he pulled on the Maple Leaf. And yet, some people still believe he should be held accountable. That is, for me, the embodiment of dedication. Sure, he signed for the Canucks for half a season, but he will always be our #13 and "C".

    So, those guys didn't win the Cup here, or anywhere else, but hopefully they won't be forgotten. I'm proud of how Phaneuf has acted as our captain thus far, and if he won't get any cups, he could be remembered through dedication to his team and cause if he'll be up for it.

  28. Fabulous comment CGLN and I'm totally on board with it.

    Brian Spencer and Scoptt Garland are two of my favourite all-time Leafs. Neither came close to winning Cup in Toronto, but I have never forgotten them, or the pride that they carried themselves with when they wore the blue and white jersey. They had short careers here but for me, were memorable. Though not supremely talented, they were guts and grit- much like Todd Gill in later years. They didn't have to be Cup "winners" to gain my deep and abiding respect.

    Your comments on Sundin are on the money. As a Finn, you likely hated the guy when he suited up for Sweden, but you could see beyond the hockey rivalry to the greatness the guy had as a hockey player. I feel that way about the old Montreal Canadien greats I was raised watching (and I hated them deeply) in the '60s and '70s. But I have great admiration for what they all meant to that organization's wonderful legacy.

    Thanks to Bmaximus again, and thank you CGLN for adding your comments.

  29. Michael, I think Sundin was a big cornerstone for me in hockey. He was often the bane of Finland in international hockey, but at the same time, he carried the Leafs. And Finland has now won two hockey world championships in my lifetime, could have been three if Rod Brind'amour hadn't cruelly stolen it from us in 1994, but it was really the fault of Jari Kurri, who was always a bit too dispassionate a player for his own good. The youtube videos are available for everyone concerned. IIHF Milano 1994 final, I'm still a bit traumatic about the whole thing.

    But hey, maybe my 5-year old son will one day be a Cup-winning goalie for the Leafs. After all, he has shown no display for common sense while playing Spider-Man hanging off the roof. Seriously, he did that. He also caught a fly mid-flight, I saw him do it. He did that, but he remains incapable of catching a soft ball. His behavioural display has thus far been inconsistent, to say the least, and he has absolutely no interest in hockey. Sounds like the perfect goalie to me! Well, I hope...

  30. Your Kurri comments remind me of my own frustration with the wonderfully-skilled Alex Mogilny, whose careless, nonchalant pass led directly to the Leafs' OT loss in Game 6 of the semi-finals against the Hurricanes in 2002- a series we never should have lost.

    Sill hurts to this day...but it's good that I'm not bitter!

    But on to the important stuff: you generally have to be a bit crazy to play goal, and your little guy seems to have that if he's playing on roof tops! If he can catch flies already, he has the eye-hand stuff needed, for sure.

    The love of hockey can come over time!

  31. I absolutely believe the fact that the love of hockey, hell, any sport can be learned without forcing it. Where I grew up, hockey was considered a "capitalist" sport, because it came from "North America". It was barely accepted, because the then Soviet Union was kinda good at it. I don't think there's ever been anything quite as special in terms of making the puck work for you, as Makarov-Larionov-Krutov was.

    Waxing nostalgic, here, but historically Canda has put character above skill. If you're Burke, you put size and character above skill. But him notwithstanding, the truth of a great hockey player always lies with skill. Think Gretzky, not much physical presence there, unless you count in McSorley. Lemieux? Not a physical player, even if he had size. Crosby? Definitely a skill player, hopefully he'll recuperate.

    So yeah, even though character and grit can get you places, this is a sport defined by men of undisputaple skill. Denis Potvin? Skill. Bobby Clarke? Skill. Mark Messier? Skill.

    It's the truculence that has gone out of style, not the skill.

  32. CGLN...I wish I could locate the old Gretzky quote, which went something like: "You know what beats hard work? Skill and hard work....".

  33. Well, first of all, I'm sorry for misspelling "Canada" earlier on. But the best hockey players have always been men of undisputed skill. Character comes from something when you are under pressure, and still manage to display those skills. Messier is a pretty good example. Clark is thus as well. I won't name Gretzky as a man of character, because he robbed us in -93. Not forgivable.

    Pavel Bure? Hell yes, he made the Rangers' fans and brass quake in their boots, even if he couldn't eventually make it happen. Trevor Linden is much less of a hero there, than Bure was. Or, at least, he should be. Imagine Pavel Bure in Toronto, Michael, he would have been a god. But he was sent to Florida, and we're all good with that? He became a Panther, where he, with little outside help, was the top goalscorer twice, before his knees finally exploded and killed two busloads of German tourists in the process. He was available, and the Panthers got him? It's the shit like this that's keeping us from contending.

  34. All we need is a tendy. but burke doesnt know goalies so he hires frank. its all on franks head as far as im concerned.

  35. Hi Michael,

    I really enjoy your blog. It's refreshing, and I think you're doing a fantastic job. However, this time I think you're wrong and you've missed some important items in your blog.

    I'd be interested how you addressed last season. Where our team had come out of the previous season gunning for a playoff spot, only to fall short. Well, a bit more than short. But they showed potential.

    This year, the team sucked for the last 2 months of the season. Before that, they were pretty good. On January 10th, the team was 22-15-5 - For 49 points and only 9 points out of 1st. After that, we all know what happened.

    Now, entering this season, after the awful last two months, where they strung along a coach and the team looked lost; everyone is looking at this season like the team is going to be terrible.

    Well, I don't. I'm going to outline a number of items you overlooked in your pessimistic blog.

    #1 Coach - you didn't address the fact that this team has a new coach. A defensive coach. A coach, who has won at every level. To me, Carlyle is good for at least 15 less goals against, just based on his system.

    This team showed growth on the PK after Christmas and started to settle into the Carlyle system. I will bring up the other impacts that Coach Carlyle will have on this team through out my re-buttle, but make no mistake, you made a mistake not including him in you analysis.

    #2 Age - last year the group iced was the second youngest team. The team, in general, is hitting their prime. Bozak, Kessel, Phaneuf, Garbo, Kulemin. Granted, the talent level isn't where it should be, but they should improve. This should be good for an additional +/- 5 goals for and less 5 goals against (this is including our aging goaltenders)

    #3 New staff - With the addition of JVR, we have an additional weapon to rely on in case of injury. We all saw how the team went into the tank when Lupul went down. We also have Jay Clement who should help on the PK and also help on the draws.

    #4 Defense - It can't be under-estimated the affect that a coach can have on certain players. I think that Mike Komisarek will benefit from having a coach who is positive and will rely on him as a veteran. I think he has no choice but to improve. He can't be worse, can he?

    #5 Atmosphere - You and all the MSM have targeted this team for failure. Don't under-estimate how players love that. Coaches love that. They feed off it. I also think that Carlyle tends to be more positive than Wilson. Players will be willing to work harder for him.

    #6 Turn overs - again you will see improvement in this category for two reasons. 1. Schenn is gone (I wont miss him skating to his blue line, only to pass it to the other teams defense). 2. Carlyle. He simply wont stand for it.

    #7 Trade Deadline - If the Leafs haven't added upgrades by the start of the season, I think several players who will be free agents, will become available at the deadline. Players that Burke has been waiting for.

    #8 Roster Depth - This year, there is a certain amount of roster depth. With the Marlies making it to the finals, we have some talent that can push to make this team, if not push to make the other players play harder to make the team.

    Cheers and keep your stick on the ice.

  36. I don't quite see things as you do on all your points, Dan, but I think that's a great post.

    Not to "defend" myself, but my intention with this particular column was not to do a complete breakdown of the pros and cons of the roster and the team's future (I've done that in previous posts) but simply to suggest that, if the current Leaf roster was placed in a non-hockey market, not many people would notice- or talk about them.

    Again, that's just my view.

    Thanks for taking the time to provide a detailed and well-supported post.

  37. Cheers Michael.

    Who's to say what others would say about the Leafs if they were in another Market. As far as prospects go, we were ranked #8 last year by hockey futures. I like to think we've improved on that based on our Calder cup run and the addition of a top five pick.

    In terms of GM, BB wouldn't get a tenth of the press as we see if he was in a non hockey market.

    In terms of the team on the ice,I think it would have been a benefit last year. The collapse wouldn't have been as over blown.

    In terms of trades, I think the main stream media down plays our talent. I think we would get more for them in a non traditional market. All of their warts are exposed in toronto, where you only look at numbers in a place like Carolina.

    Seriously, no one thinks much of this team. Tough to trade players when everyone knows why you're trying to trade them. Tough to sign players when the media talks so negatively about the team.

    Toronto needs the media to get behind the teams. It's terrible compared to other Canadian markets.