On Saturday night the Toronto Maple Leafs were on the road taking on the Montreal Canadiens and despite it being a little out of the ordinary Mike Babcock let the players wear their Halloween costumes at work. If you looked close enough you wouldn’t see anyone on the team dressed up as a firefighter, police officer, Spider-Man, Batman, or any other mainstream costume. Carey Price dressed up as a brick wall/destroyer of hopes and dreams but that’s completely besides the point.
No, the players on the Toronto Maple Leafs all decided to dress up as a hockey team and this wasn’t a knock off costume that they might have made with scraps from their garage. They were solid in every aspect of the game and really looked the part. The fact that they lost the game doesn’t take away from the fact that they played one of their best, if not the best, games of the season so far. You could tell everybody was having a great time.
Perhaps too great of a time because they clearly forgot they had to work on Sunday…
After putting up such a good effort in a 2-1 loss to Montreal they came out the next night and proceeded to play one of their worst games of the season. For a team that blew a 4 goal lead to Winnipeg, a late 2 goal lead to Chicago, and just got crushed by the Lightning less than a week ago, that’s saying something.
Leafs fans are currently at odds with each other over where they think this team can finish in the standings. Some are willing to go bold and proclaim that this team can contend for a playoff spot while others expect them once again to be bottom 5 in the NHL. And honestly, they’ve been so inconsistent it’s hard to say which group will be right in the end.
Myself, I think the finish somewhere between 20th and 25th. This is a young team that has proven time and time again that they can generate offence and score goals. The amount of creativity that Matthews, Nylander, and Marner display on a nightly basis is enough to amaze even their harshest critics. But they’ve also been forced to lead the way far too often while some of the veterans take a back seat. Defensively this team is either hopelessly lost or just a little confused when it comes to playing in their own end. Not exactly a winning combination.
The difference is we don’t need the Leafs to win this year. It would be nice if they did but it’s not going to happen. Just like no matter how much you might want Nolan Patrick you shouldn’t want them to come in last again by tanking. This is the year we figure out exactly what we have in the young talent we’ve been accumulating. If we were going to tank this year there would be no reason to have Nylander and Marner in the NHL. Why? Because they’re really good at hockey. If we were tanking again I wouldn’t scream at the tv every time Hunwick and Polak step on the ice. I would want them on the top pairing playing against the best players on all the other teams.
You should want the Leafs to do as well as they possibly can. If that means they make the playoffs then we can celebrate because the rebuild is farther along than most of us thought. It will be young players that get us there not an aging core that relies on James Reimer channeling his inner Ed Belfour and making Randy Carlyle look like a masterful tactician. If they do finish near the bottom of the standings then we can at least take solace in the fact that we’re getting another really good young player that we can add to the best farm system in the entire league.
The good news for the Leafs is they’re still young and this core will get the opportunity to grow and learn together. Once Frederik Andersen finds his footing and the team in front of him tightens up on the back end a bit, they will automatically become noticeably better. It’s going to take a long time before they’re contenders but there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to build off of what they did last season and continue to take steps forward. They are not going to be the worst team in the NHL again. They’re too good for that.
Watch the games and don’t get too discouraged about the results you’re seeing on the ice. After surviving David Clarkson as a top 6 winger, Ian White as a future captain, and Raycroft and Toskala battling it out for the number 1 job, we’re much better off sitting where we are now. This organization dressed up as a hockey team for the last 10 years (remember in 2013 when it was believable for a second?) and we’re finally getting the rebuild we always wanted. This isn’t the year the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup but they still have a lot to look forward to. If you ever find yourself upset about the way things are going just sit back, take a deep breath, and remember.
Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are Toronto Maple Leafs.
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