This is not an illusion!

This is not an illusion!

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I have been listening and watching Toronto media members discuss the Maple Leafs and am honestly beyond annoyed at their commentary and observations around the Leafs performance since the trade deadline.  I am not even certain if this is “blog worthy” (shameless “sponge worthy” reference), but I have officially reached my “B.S.” tolerance threshold.

We are talking about media and hockey professionals.  This is their living, the basis for their income, their expertise.  I am not certain if the members of the main stream media actually believe what they are saying and simply do not know any better, or if they’re just after ratings, hit volumes, email volumes and call volumes.  My initial instinct was the latter.  After all, ratings and traffic are king when examining their bottom lines and everyone is in business to turn a profit.  However, as time goes on, I am starting to fear that the media is really believing what they are spouting.  Worse yet, and whether they believe it or not, the public is starting to buy into the mantra.  It is getting to a point of embarrassment and I feel compelled to call them out.

Anyone who watches hockey regularly should clearly understand that speed and skill reign supreme in the modern NHL.  Anyone who watched the Leafs pre-season would have clearly known that the “kids” were much better talent than what Mr Burke paraded out on opening day and stuck with until the trade deadline.  Heck, many AMATEURS like myself and fellow posters on this very site clearly understood what “the plan” was.  We explicitly stated that the Leafs would not start winning until the youth was inserted into the lineup. It is of no surprise that the Leafs are thriving with the insertion of their youth.  Heck, a clown like myself, who has no business discussing hockey with the real pros, who is just an amateur at best and who should (though rarely does) leave the analysis to the “professionals”, blogged the following:

On Oct 15th

“The Leafs desperately need to infuse their youth and speed now – for better or for worse.  They absolutely MUST create an environment of accountability based on performance and decisions and they must be ready and willing to execute that strategy, regardless of what name happens to be on the back of the jersey.  As long as Mr Burke is adamant about playing the group as is, and insists on garnering imaginary and inflated returns for 3rd or 4th line players playing with zero current success in more prominent roles, this team is destined to wallow near the bottom of the NHL standings.  Darcy Tucker said it best when asked how and why the Avalanche have been able to get off to the successful start they have – his answer was simple – “youth” – something the Leafs clearly left behind.”

Then again on Nov 21st

“For the Love of everything Holy, and for the 1000th time, I publicly and shamelessly Mr Burke, am BEGGING you.  Please play the youth – your loyal customers deserve it.

For what its worth, my Leafs lineup would look like this:

  • Bozak-Stalberg-Kessel
  • Grabovski-Kulemin-Ponikarovsky
  • Mitchell-Hanson-Hagman or Hamilton
  • Stajan-Orr-Rosehill

Will it actually happen?  probably not..  I assure you though, when the Leafs lineup looks “something” similar to that above, they will start winning.  Of course, it will probably be after the trade deadline, Burke will have a handful of 2nd-5th round picks to show for it, the season will be clearly lost and the only thing the team will be playing for is to keep Taylor Hall from wearing Bruins gold…”

Worth noting: Mr Burke was certainly able to translate some of his spare parts into very useful pieces in Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere, demonstrating why he is the professional and we are the amateurs discussing and analyzing his moves.  Of course, common logic would dictate that if he was well aware (which he clearly was) that his youth were better than the players he was playing, and if he fully intended to create value for players like Stajan for the type of return he eventually garnered (which is what he somehow did in landing Phaneuf and Giguere), then why on earth would he trade his first round pick(s) knowing full well that he would have a difficult time being competitive until he could move his youth in?  One can only conclude that his critical mistake was assuming the defense core he had built, and the rest of the team, would stay in the thick of the playoff hunt until he was able to make the changes he envisioned of bringing in the youth that were waiting in the wings (who should have been here from day 1) and making a post trade deadline push for the playoffs.  Whether successful or not, he felt he was risking a mid 1st round pick and never envisioned losing a top flight pick and potential top flight player in the upcoming draft.  Amidst some of the brilliance, patience and salesmanship exhibited by Mr Burke, this could prove to be his one fatal error.

Having said all of this, my primary point of contention remains.  This is not a group of stale Leaf veterans who were not capable of turning it up until the season was lost.  This is not the ghosts of seasons past following the Leafs into the future.  This year’s resurgence is a direct result of an insertion of youth with speed and skill into the Leafs lineup.  To cast shadows of doubt, call into question, and worse yet, draw hard conclusions of their lack of ability to play when the “pressure is off,” is completely irresponsible and inaccurate. At the very least, it’s unfair to the current group of players.  Simply justifying it as “this is what the Leafs have done in the past” is not adequate nor frankly, very professional.  These players were not here previously, they were not played during the season larglely, and most importantly they were not played with players that complimented their speed and skill when they were inserted into the lineup.  We saw a glimpse of what this group were capable of in the pre-season, and not surprisingly to me, we are seeing the same thing the very instant they are inserted into the lineup along with the few sophomore players that were already here (ie Schenn, Grabovski and Kulemin).  This is not to say this group of players can or will compete for the Cup as they stand today.  But, we are watching a much different brand of hockey now than we were watching earlier in the season.  When amateurs like myself and fans on this site have known this since the start of the season, it simply and absolutely baffles my mind how the “professionals” (with the exception of a rare few) can fail to see and report this.

I profusely apologize for my little rant, but it’s a pet peeve regarding the main stream media outlets that I simply had to get off my chest (and because I know, whether they admit it or not, many in the Toronto media do read these blogs).

Hopefully Mr. Burke leaves this group mostly intact for next year.  I find it unlikely that he will take that gamble with another 1st round pick on the line next year, and one more year coming off of the Kessel contract.  But, if he can keep this young core in place, add strategic pieces via trade where an asset like Kaberle is leveraged for a good, young forward component (ie avoid paying a 3rd line player big dollars via the UFA route, who will then ultimately take a roster spot or prime time ice time from one of the existing youth), I would be pretty satisfied and will carry some optimism into next year over the possibility of finally watching some Leaf playoff hockey again.

Enjoy the rest of the season and a Leafs team FINALLY playing talent that is suitable and built for the modern game.  For those that saw what I saw with the youth and for those that knew the Leafs would dramatically improve once the youth were inserted into the lineup (and based on the comments on this site, this is not a small group of people), enjoy…