Home Authors Posts by Aaron Chan
Photo: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
After back-to-back wins against Montreal and Philadephia, the Leafs find themselves off to a good start, record-wise, and will be looking forward to two days of much-needed rest before returning to the ACC for the home-opener on Saturday against the Senators.
Phil Kessel doesn't take shit from no one.
The preseason edition of the Battle of Ontario kicks-off tonight and there is a considerable amount of buzz surrounding both teams. The Leafs and Sens were both very active over the summer and, depending on who you spoke to, became more competitive through their roster moves and acquisitions. As it stands, the Senators are sort of a fashionable/dark-horse pick to claim the Atlantic Division title. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to call them a favorite, they do have a talented crop of forwards, one of the top-5 defensemen in the league, and a solid goaltending tandem. Oh, and let’s not forget about their Jack Adams-winning, bug-eyed walrus of a coach. It should be a good one tonight.
The other thread was getting a little exhausting with those Kessel sexy eyes staring us down all day. Let’s restore normal heart rate levels and get into some Leaf news and notes.
With training camp a little under 3 weeks away, we thought we’d get things started with the MLHS Season Preview Series. Leading up into training camp, our writers will break-down and provide insight into each position. This week, we’ll start the series with a look at the Leafs’ goaltending duo of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier.
Photo: Getty Images
Yesterday morning, I encountered a tweet that looked like this:
How many different ways can you debate the Leafs’ remaining cap space? We’re working our way toward finding out.
While we lose our minds, several Leafs prospects are busy plying their trade against the best junior players in the world. Yesterday, Canada took on Finland, which featured centerman Frederik Gauthier, winger Ryan Rupert, and defenseman Matt Finn. Dominic Toninato, although having made the first cut of the US Hockey National Junior Eval Camp, did not compete against Sweden.
Thanks to the powers that be, hockey fans from all around the world will once again be treated to 2 weeks of best-on-best hockey. There really isn’t any thing else like it. As a kid, you often think of the All-Star game as THE event where all the game’s stars come together for some friendly hockey. Well, the Olympics are just basically the All-Star game on stero… immune-boosting vitamins.
As national training camps announce their respective invitees, there has been considerable debate surrounding their compositions. Although regular season performance will play a big role in determining the team, we are already getting our first glimpses into what Yzerman & Co. are thinking. Apart from the returnees from 2010′s gold medal squad, new invitees include newly-minted superstars in Stamkos, Giroux, and Tavares, along with emerging elite defensemen like Letang and Subban. On the other hand, goaltending is going to be an intriguing, albeit nervous, story-line for the Canadians. I expect this topic to get beaten to death by the MSM so we’ll move along.
Speaking of goaltending, Finland and Sweden are boasting potential pairings of Lundqvist-Fasth and Rask-Rinne. That’s frightening, especially when you consider that Finland possesses, what is essentially, two of the world’s top-three goaltenders. Fans will also have the benefit of witnessing (hopefully) a healthy Erik Karlsson on international sized ice, and possibly the Sedin twins, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Selanne’s final Olympic performances. There is tons to look forward to and it just increases the anticipation for the beginning of the season.
In this week’s Round Table, I thought we’d pick our writers’ brains on what they thought about some of the Leafs’ invitees and their prospects for making the cut. A lot has changed since 2010 and of note is Burke’s dismissal from his prior role as the GM of the Free World. The boys will also touch on this and explore what the change in managerial philosophy might mean for our American Leafs.
What do you make of Dion Phaneuf’s invitation to camp?
“If Toronto was going to have one player represent them at the Canada camp it probably should have been Reimer, but it’s hard not making a case for Phaneuf being there too when you look at who else is on the invite list. I won’t go into too much detail here because a later question sums up what I think Canada’s blueline will look like, but I can realistically see Phaneuf being near the top of the list for injury replacements once the NHL season takes its toll. Phaneuf’s versatility will also give him an advantage as he can play on either side and Canada doesn’t have the same depth on the left as they do on the right. In short, good for Dion and he deserves to get recognized for being as good as he is.” -Jon Steitzer (@YakovMironov)
“It’s good that Phaneuf is getting and invitation, but don’t read too much into it. While I believe that Phaneuf is a top-20 defenseman league-wide, a lot of the players who are better than him just happen to be Canadian. Add to that the fact that Phaneuf plays the right side (where the Canadians could already have any of Weber, Seabrook, Letang and Subban), and this looks like more of a courtesy by Hockey Canada than anything else. For the record, I think he’d be an option as the eighth defenseman, should the team carry eight. But the only way Phaneuf makes the team ahead of the games is if a couple of his betters sustain injuries that will keep them out of Sochi.” -Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike)
USA GM Poile: “(In 2010) you heard Brian Burke talking about words like truculence…I’m not trying to say that’s not important, but maybe it’s less important in 2014.” What does this change in philosophy hold for USA hopefuls like Kessel, van Riemsdyk, and Gardiner?
“The Americans rode timely scoring and piping hot goaltending towards a terrific overtime finish in the gold medal game in Vancouver. But they won’t have Tim Thomas to save them this time around. If Poile is to be believed, he’s trying to assemble a team that can compete skill-on-skill on the wider European ice surface. If true, you’ve got to like the chances for all three of the Leafs hopefuls to make the team. But I think it’ll only be two out of three, which ain’t bad.Phil Kessel is a sure thing. The past 2-3 seasons, Kessel has been the most dynamic offensive threat in the Americans’ arsenal (or second-most after Patrick Kane if you’re a fan of not the Maple Leafs). He’ll rock the stars and bars as he did in 2010, but he’ll be playing a bigger role and face tougher scrutiny. He’ll be the prime scoring threat for the yanks, and he’ll need to improve upon his meagre 2-point showing from Vancouver.I also like James van Riemsdyk’s chances of cracking the Olympic squad, especially should he have a hot start to the 2013-2014 season. He’s represented the United States countless times before and really grew his offensive game in Toronto this year. He’s got a rare blend of size and skill, and wouldn’t look out of place on the second or third line and in front of the net on the power play. The US can ill-afford to leave a 30-goal scorer off their roster, and JvR could become just that.
Through no fault of his own, Jake Gardiner isn’t ready for the Olympics. While I’d rather have Gardiner on my NHL roster over most of the defensemen invited to the US camp, he’s still not a proven commodity at the NHL-level and is still a couple years away from reaching the peak of his career. Not to mention the fact that defense stands to be the States’ greatest strength, with the likes of Suter, Yandle, Byfuglien, McDonagh, Bogosian and Johnson and Johnson. Unless he plays as he did in the first round against Boston through the first half of the season, there’s no way Gardiner supplants all of them.” -Michael
Only good things are in store for the Leafs three American camp invitees. Kessel is a lock despite not being a huge factor in Vancouver. He’s the second best American winger after Kane, and possibly the third best American skater after Kane and Suter. Jake Gardiner’s skating on an international sized rink seems like he should be able to move ahead of more experienced defenders like Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, but Gardiner is still probably more of a taxi squad player as Yandle, Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Suter, Byfuglien, and the Johnsons are probably ahead of him. While van Riemsdyk also has a good shot at making the team he’s up against a lot of depth on the wing for Team USA, though his penalty killing experience could get him a nod for a third or fourth line role working with Kesler or Callahan. America ridding itself of the idiotic “truculence” mantra as the tournament moves to international ice only makes sense, but that being said someone needs to explain to me why they invited Trevor Lewis.” -Jon
Is there a player, from any country, who you felt should have gotten an invite, but didn’t?
“The list is long and plentiful for this question so I’ll do my best to limit my answer. For Canada there were a few obvious names absent (Benn, Spezza, Kane, Beauchemin, Reimer), but the player I would considered is Brent Burns. I think he brings a lot of useful elements and I wonder if his recent use as a forward hurt him in this consideration. For Sweden I was certainly disappointed that Gunnarsson didn’t get a mention, and there are several names on Sweden’s list that I consider Gunnarsson to be far superior to and I wonder if his name will creep back into consideration once the season starts. Also in the interest of reaching for an interesting name I’ll acknowledge the snub of Matt Moulson for Canada. Dude is a three time thirty goal guy and just off a point a game pace last year. If Crosby gets to bring Kunitz to camp then I think Tavares should get to bring Moulson.” -Jon
“Staying with the Americans, if they were trying to avoid truculence in favour of skill, then leaving Jason Pominville off their camp list is quite surprising. On an American squad that could be hard-pressed to repeat their sterling performance in 2010, why on earth does Team USA not want Pominville? Here’s a guy who has recorded an 80-point season, a 70-point season, and three 60-point seasons through his career and will be just 31 years old at Sochi. Real head scratcher.” -Michael
Who is your tournament dark horse?
“When looking at a dark horse, you’re looking at a team that probably has no right medalling, so I’ve got to go with Finland. For years now, Finnish hockey has produced a bevy of top-level goaltenders. Ahead of Sochi, the Finns will have five quality NHL starters (Backstrom, Rinne, Niemi, Rask and Lehtonen) battling for top spot in nets. The Finns are incredibly shallow at forward save for the brothers Koivu; and hardly a fortress on the back end. But if Rask or Rinne should catch fire during the short tournament, the Finns could finish on the podium under a heavy bombardment and some shocking upsets.” -Michael
“It seems like every time there’s an international tournament I start up with the “don’t count out Finland” talk. I’m going to do the same thing again here despite their blueline. Rask and Rinne splitting the net isn’t a bad place to start. The forwards are a collection of strong two-way hockey players who are familiar with international ice and rules, and there is also a part of me that wants to see Selanne do well in what will be his last Olympic appearance. If possible it would be nice to see Finland top Sweden on a Selanne goal with an immediate camera cut to a heartbroken Daniel Alfredsson. That’s good TV.” -Jon
Your projections for Canada’s line-up?
“The biggest problems I see with my roster below is that Duncan Keith seems to be my only left handed defenseman. I’d argue that this doesn’t matter that much, but it means that two very young defensemen will be playing on a side that they aren’t familiar with. In regards to the forwards I’d like to see two all out scoring lines with two shutdown lines. There is no need to carry an agitator like Marchand or a heavy hitter like Lucic when you can roll up their abilities into a more talented player like Corey Perry. I’d hope for a lineup that’s chosen for overall skill and not for trying to fit in unnecessary roles. While Sharp and Nash might not be the next best players the fact that they can both lineup on either wing gives options if some of the centres are struggling in adjusting to the side. Staal and Phaneuf provide left handed shot options if the higher skill right handed shooting players can’t figure out the otherside of the ice.” -Jon
“Gotta admit, this was a pretty agonizing task to complete. Canada is so deep with talent, at forward especially, that there’s no possible ‘best roster’ that can’t be scrutinized up and down. I apparently only care about faceoffs, because about 90% of the team is made up of centremen. Oh well, enjoy.” -Michael
Photo: Getty Images
As most of you have probably already heard/seen, Tim Leiweke gave a rather incendiary interview with Bloomberg. The written version can be found here or feel free to check out the video below:
Let’s have a moment of silence for Daniel Alfredsson’s reputation in Ottawa…
As ‘sad’ as it is to see him go, given all the moves that Ottawa has made and the departure of Alfie, it seems we will be entering a new era in the Battle of Ontario next Fall. The departure of Alfie may partly take away the thrill of attending a Leafs game in Ottawa and showering boos on the home captain, but with the additions of Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan the provincial battle certainly won’t be lacking in storylines.
Chiarelli: Hey, Mike. Don’t look so worried. Schneider is probably an Andrew Raycroft anyways, right?
Gillis: F*** you, Peter.
Firstly, I just wanted to wish our American readers a safe and happy 4th of July. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the date, it’s basically America’s Cinco de Mayo.
So, where to begin. I think the best way to describe what this off-season feels like is that nothing is happening while everything is happening. With the window of time allotted to negotiations winding down to its final 24 hours, the anticipation is deafening. It’s been four days since the draft and now that all involved have had some time to settle down and evaluate their portfolios, decisions will need to made on who stays, who goes, and who gets how much.
You almost gets the sense that despite the lack of trade activity, there is a bottle-neck of potential transactions just waiting to happen, all it needs is the right catalyst. Admittedly, some of the things we hoped that would happen eventually never came to fruition. For example, many of us were clamoring for Nonis to flex MLSE’s financial muscle and you can’t him for not trying. Lecavalier was one cap-circumventing move away from becoming a Maple Leaf. The intention was there.
I know that most trade rumors, signings, extensions, and transactions have been debated and discussed ad nauseum. For this week’s Round Table, I thought I’d spare you the routine details and, instead, ask our writers some big-picture questions.
Grab some popcorn.
Who were the biggest winners/losers at the Entry Draft?
“From the many mock drafts and prognosticators pre-draft, it has to be Buffalo. I don’t know too much about the NHL draft because I stopped watching junior hockey, but everyone seems to agree that Buffalo absolutely killed at the draft. They picked up four players I can name from reading prior to the draft, and several more I have read up on. While all these players have their warts (what prospect doesn’t?), Buffalo seem to have aimed for upside and versatility.” -(@mORRganRielly)
“The biggest loser – to me – is a toss-up between the Canucks and the Oilers. For the ‘Nucks, they offloaded a No. 1 goaltender in Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the 9th overall pick and proceeded to take Bo Horvat, passing over potential top-5 talent Valeri Nichushkin (the Dallas Stars selected him 10th overall). Worse yet, GM Mike Gillis had the stones to lie to everyone saying that trading Schneider was always the plan. This debacle continued Wednesday when reports surfaced suggesting that Schneider was traded for “off ice issues.” While the goaltending fiasco rages on in Vancity, the Devils just solidified their nets for years.” -Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike)
“The biggest mind-boggle is Vancouver. Trading Cory Schneider for the 9th overall pick was just such a comically unexpected and strange move that it’s hard to fully process. This answer’s a bit unfair in that it uses a perspective bigger than “the draft,” but honestly, I just still can’t believe it. Listen – I’m from Rodney, I know Bo Horvat’s family, Bo Horvat is going to be a tremendously good player, and he was the best possible pick Vancouver could have made. I’m thrilled he went that high, and thrilled he’s staying in Canada. But the fact that Vancouver’s in the position to make that pick at all is just craziness.” -Matt Mistele (@TOTruculent)
“This might seem surprising, but I think one the biggest winner of this year’s draft are actually the LA Kings. Not having a first round pick, they made a bold and timely move, trading their 57th, 88th, and 96th picks to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 37th overall selection which they used to draft forward Valentin Zykov. 18 year old Zykov is a left wing out of St. Petersburg, Russia. The 5-11, 209-pounder played for Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) this past season. In 67 regular season games he recorded 75 points — including 40 goals — a plus-29 rating and 60 penalty minutes and is, in my mind, good enough to have been selected in the first round.” -Mislav Jantoljak (@Xterratu)
What, in your mind, explains the general lack of activity on the trade front?
“As always, it’s that first shoe to drop. In my mind, there are fewer teams out there in need of a goaltender so when the Devils actually made their coup, acquiring Schneider from the Canucks, it never sparked the avalanche of trades because that domino wasn’t the right domino to fall. As always, when teams start signing the “cream of the buyout crop” and UFAs things will start to pick up.” -Mislav
“Uncertainty. New rules, adjusted process, new timeline. Managers waiting until the end to retain leverage and see how other situations shake out.” -Matt
“I think Nonis made it pretty clear from the outset: the reduction of the salary cap for next season is the largest impediment to trades. There’s the same number of holes for each team to fill, but this is the first time since the implementation of the salary cap that it has gone down. Even with the Maple Leafs sitting on $19 million in cap space, that number realistically becomes less than seven million dollars when accounting for RFA re-signing. It’s hard to swing a trade when both teams want young cheap roster players and are offering pricy veteran contracts.” -Michael
“Personally, I think it’s as simple as General Managers being unreasonable and trying to navigate both the current salary cap as well as next year’s cap when it likely goes up. In addition, people are still gauging the free-agent market. I think after the market has been set, you will start seeing more moves. Right now, General Managers are just being cautious.” -(@mORRganRielly)
Realistically, do you think the Leafs should/will acquire any of the ‘popular’ UFAs this summer?
“I don’t think they should acquire any of the marquee names available, since this free agent cohort is thin and declining in potential as July 5th nears. With the acquisition of David Bolland and the pending re-signing of Nazem Kadri, the Leafs have two capable top 6 centres and top capable bottom 6 centres, so Derek Roy and Stephen Weiss become irrelevant. Hopefully the shrinking cap and numerous RFAs left to re-sign will price the Leafs out of the market for 2014 compliance buyout candidate and good Toronto boy David Clarkson.” -Michael
“Well, Nathan Horton immediately springs to mind. That’s the “should or I want” – provided that the amount overpaid (and he would be) is still below the insanity limit. Realistically though, I want the Leafs to go after Rob Scuderi and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Weiss. They could also try to sign a more affordable UFA winger and then trade certain assets for Stastny or maybe even go for Valtteri Filppula. Oh the humanity!” -Mislav
“Well, I hope not. I think it was Chris Johnson who said that the free agent frenzy of July 1, 2008 was an embarrassment. That year set the table, or at least guided the league, into a lockout; just look at this pathetic list: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/feature/?id=11353. Commodore, Campbell, Hainsey, Orpik, Horcoff, Redden, Rolston, etc. The list goes on. It was just a brutal off-season. If anything, that day was the precursor in which the fans could no longer trust their teams or the league to make coherent and responsible decisions. This was just three years after the 2005 lockout.” -(@mORRganRielly)
“There’s a case to be made for signing or avoiding all of them. Let’s all be honest and admit that we want David Clarkson on this team, just absoluteley not at the dollars many are suggesting he’ll command. Probably the same situation with Horton, who apparently doesn’t even want to come here. It’s a pretty bad crop beyond that.” -Matt
Following the Bernier trade, will the Leafs acquire any more RFAs?
“If one fits a need and comes at the right price, maybe? At this point, I’d doubt it. RFAs tend to come with wickedly inflated price tags (I seem to be in the minority that think Bernier was a steal). I’m so anxious to see what Nonis does by this weekend that I’m sort of holding off on the prediction game.” -Matt
“If they do, it will be via trade. You can bet bottom dollar that the Leafs won’t offer sheet any of the RFAs available. Looking over the answers to the past three questions, it seems to me that the Leafs will mostly stand pat and hope for internal improvements as they compete for back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 2004.” -Michael
“No. I think the Leafs are going to play it safe at this point. They aren’t a franchise ready to take the next step to contention, so I feel that this is another development year. This year is much less important than recent years because we got to see what players can raise their game when it matters most. Now, management is fine-tuning the system on the ice, down in the farm, and looking for ways to build on it. In addition, we’ve already got several RFAs to sign – adding more without significant subtraction only further burdens the limited cap that we have.” -(@mORRganRielly)
“Not sure, am not willing to predict anything on that front because thing seem quite unpredictable, at least from where Nonis is sitting.” -Mislav
Any parting words for Mike Komisarek?
“As with any Leafs player, I’ll thank him for the time he spent in the blue and white, but looking into the future, considering all that had happened, I doubt I’ll remember him as Leafs player at the end of his hockey career. Good luck, Mike.” -Mislav
“Mike, by all accounts, was a tremendous person and teammate. I have no reason to personally dislike him, and from what I saw, his attitude was always a positive one – much to the benefit of those around him. Having said that, his professional tenure in Toronto was a complete disaster. He was paid a great deal of money to come here and do one thing very well, and was never able to do it to a level you could even call satisfactory. I have to believe more was going on behind the scenes than we were aware of. I wish him the best of luck, and hope he finds a role somewhere that suits everything he’s capable of bringing to the table.” -Matt
“I actually ran into Komisarek last summer in Toronto. I didn’t speak to him, but I couldn’t help notice that he was smiling the entire time I caught a glimpse of him walking up and down Yonge. Garret Sparks’ recent tweet about Komisarek should reaffirm what we all knew – Mike is a terrific teammate and an even better human being. There’s always a future for those people who have compassion and empathy for others. I wish him the best in his career.” -(@mORRganRielly)
“Thank you, Komi, for ruining people’s opinions of blonde dudes named Mike in the city of Toronto. Our people many never overcome your actions. But seriously, while your signing was an egregious error, you were a consummate professional throughout your tenure here. You won’t be missed on the ice, but your philanthropic spirit will be. Just do all of us in Toronto a favour and don’t have a career resurgence with a divisional rival.” -Michael
- – -
Fortune Magazine: Where did the hockey millions go? - Faceoff, Madoff.
Jason Botchford: Canucks shopping Edler despite NTC – Is Gillis low-hanging fruit right now?
Elliott Friedman: Coyotes saga ends with team staying in Arizona - C’est dommage, mes amies…
Down Goes Brown: Free agency preview – Check out Vinny’s ‘Blue Steel’
Stumble Upon: NHL GM dartboard – This has to be from Holmgren’s front-office.
James Mirtle: Top unrestricted free agents – Your primer.
Backhand Shelf: The Quiet Room: Bergeron was a disaster - I guess ‘disaster’ is the new ‘zombie’.
I think we can all agree that Leafs TV should have produced a PSA, prior to the off-season, indicating how to use an inflatable life-jacket. Buckle-up, people.
With over a week and a half left before the NHL Entry Draft which will take place in Newark, New Jersey, things have started to heat up around the league. If you won’t take my word for it, check out what Allan Walsh, a player agent from Octagon Sports Management, had to say yesterday:
A couple of days ago, the CHL, in consultation with Hockey Canada, decided to ban goalies from the import draft beginning in 2014. Due to the lack of Canadian goaltenders succeeding at the pro level, and in junior hockey, banning foreign goaltenders from playing in the CHL would afford more focus to and opportunity for Canadian goaltenders. Said differently, the CHL believes that by banning foreign goaltenders, Canadian goalies, in turn, will get more playing and development time.
With the NHL Entry Draft 2013 less than a month away, many Leafs fans are amusing themselves with thoughts of who the Leafs should draft with the 21st overall pick, or of how we might be able to trade-up to grab a more desirable player. Leading up to the draft, I’ve tried my best to keep up with the prospects and have gotten a sense of where the “experts” think these young hockey players might be selected. We’ve also started our NHL Draft Profiles, with the next coming later on today. Many have compared this draft to the 2003 draft, where ample high end talent was available into the late first round and the likes of Shea Weber, Corey Crawford, Patrice Bergeron and David Backes were snatched up in round 2. In other words, if the hype is true this draft offers major opportunities for those teams that get their selections right.
As most of you know, we usually have the Leafs Roundtable on Thursday morning and it’s something we plan, and hope, to continue with in the future. I love asking questions but sometimes the lull of the off-season, and the breadth of analysis in our blogging community, leaves you with a limited number of questions and in a state of psychosis (probably induced by my finals). Now, all this is going to change as the 2013 Entry Draft approaches and we’ve still got tons of Player Reviews and NHL Draft Profiles lined up for you guys, so stay tuned.
Photo credit: CBC.ca
Our next Player Review takes a look at one of the newest members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, James van Riemsdyk. Acquired in exchange for Luke Schenn on June 23rd, 2012, the former second overall choice in 2007 was brought in to augment the forward corps with skill, enhanced size and net-front presence. His regular season stats (18G 14A) were good for third in team-scoring, putting him on pace for 55 points (31G 24A) in an 82-game season, and he went on to lead the team in playoff scoring (2G, 7A).
It’s not often that a tectonic shift like realignment occurs in the NHL, but when it does the competitive landscape is bound to shift, with winners and losers emerging from the rubble. From a scheduling and time-zone perspective, Detroit, Columbus, Winnipeg and Dallas stand to benefit the most. The new scheduling mandate will also ensure that fans in every city will get to watch every team play in their home building at least once, thereby allowing Coyotes fans to fill half the stadium to watch Sidney Crosby torch their team. All joking aside, this will be great for the game as the league’s stars like Stamkos, Tavares, and Giroux will get more exposure around the league, and I’m all for growing the popularity of the game we all love.
Of particular interest to Leafs fans is the renewal of the Detroit-Toronto rivalry, an Original Six tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of the league. I may be too young to remember the battles of days gone by, but I’m not too young to appreciate the wondrous skills of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. I’m looking forward to the renewal of a storied rivalry and being able to one day tell me kids and grand kids about amazing playoff duels. However, as I watched the Red Wings dominate the Blackhawks in Game 3, it made me wonder what their introduction into Division C would mean for the Leafs.
I hope everyone is starting to feel a little better this morning. Plenty of eulogies were written and the last couple of days have been brutal to say the least. I haven’t seen the Game in 6 or any of the player interviews. I barely have any idea what’s going on in the playoffs right now, even as two two-way titans, Toews and Datsyuk, square off in the West.
Two things in my mind were abundantly clear following Monday night. You know that cliche players like to use after a tough loss? “Oh yeah, that was a character building game for our team…” Monday night was a character building game for Leafs Nation. In one game, we were subjected to the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. The conclusion of the series had us scrambling emotionally, grasping for answers and words that just wouldn’t come.
Although we may have experienced heartbreak, they do say that one must know bitter defeat before one can saviour the sweetness of victory, and there’s plenty of historical examples across the world of sport that attest to that adage. For a young team like the Maple Leafs to start their comeback from 3-1 down and yet find a way to ultimately throw the series away, it now has a better idea both of what it takes to succeed in the playoffs while being dealt the harsh lesson that it’s going to take that little bit more.
I remember it like it was last night. An ill-timed pinch, two Bruins streaking out of the zone, and a “dagger” into the heart of Leafs Nation after an overtime in which the Leafs carried the play. This one is going to take some time to digest. Although the boys battled their tails off, and went toe-to-toe with one of the favourites in the East, some mistakes and puck misfortune ultimately sealed the Leafs’ fate after starting 2-0 up in a brilliant first period.
Game 1 is in the books and after a brief moment of post-season exaltation that was nine years in the making, the Leafs were handed a 4-1 drubbing from the Beantown Bruins. ICYMI, here’s the first ever Playoffs Game in 10 in MLHS history via Mislav.
Not shockingly, this game resembled those from prior seasons, where 5-on-5 hockey looked like a Bruins powerplay, giveaways were in abundance, and the Leafs’ top offensive players were unable to gain the Bruins zone with any sort of speed, aggression or consistency. At certain points in the game, even the Bruins’ fourth line had the Leafs hemmed into their own zone. As Carlyle put it during his post-game presser, the team just seemed to implode and “guys were falling down” even when no one was around (psst…Barb Underhill).
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