There’s no hope for Leafs fans to bank on moving forward: not a James Reimer Messiah to bank on, not a Dion Phaneuf Captain to have faith in, not a Phil Kessel Prodigy to hope for. These are the times of a Leafs fan today, struggling to find any glimmer of hope they can hold and relish onto.
Now they’re saying Jake Gardiner is the team’s best asset. Is this is what Leafs Nation’s hunger and strife has led to? A B-level defensive prospect out of the American college system? Or is it Ben Scrivens, a 26-year-old AAA goalie finally set to get his chance in the big-leagues? Or how Carter Ashton, a player with strength, puck control and potential? Or Nazem Kadri, a kid (note ‘kid’) who has made zero strides with the Marlies in 3 years.
All anyone ever speaks about with regard to the Leafs is “potential.” Do you know what potential means? Potential is energy that has not yet reached it maximum level. Potential is a big word that means “he could be good, but we’ll have to see.” Potential is what you say when Phil Kessel is leading the league in scoring after a month – potential to win the Hart- and when Phaneuf is amongst the league’s best defenseman after 20 games.
Who has potential on this Leafs team? Gardiner? Oh yeah, future All-Star. Kadri? Future ‘magic mittens’ winger. And that, my friends, is where the list starts and ends. No one else. What about Tuukka Rask or… Oh yeah, they’ve all been traded away or have simply failed to live up to their potential…
You’d think that after so many years of being so painfully mediocre, the Leafs would have at least one top-of-the-line prospect that they have gotten via the draft. And that player could have easily been Dougie Hamilton. Or Tyler Seguin. Just think what would happen if the second overall pick was wearing a blue and white sweater, donning the Maple Leaf? Would he have been the Leafs’ “Savior”? We’ll never know that, but he would have surely been a superstar here.
What’s there to look forward to next year? Is it the addition of a big centre man in the off-season, the final missing piece to set-up Phil Kessel? What about another defender to bandage those bleeding boo-boos? Or a veteran goaltender to backup Reimer? Don’t fool yourselves, Leafs fans. You’re team was fifth from the bottom of the league. And you’re thinking playoffs? Are you crazy?
Are you banking on Mike Komisarek incredible speed and wall-like defense? Are you banking on Lupul’s health? Reimer’s post-concussion system’s? Connolly’s face-off skills? Phaneuf’s flashiness? Burke’s bullcrap? Are you banking on Phil Kessel to score you 60 goals? (Come on, I’m sure that after 41 games you’d thought he’d get there.)
The Leafs are mediocre, plain and simple. Next year they will be mediocre as well. The year after, they’ll move up a spot. The year after that, they’ll drop down a spot. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity in a league where the worst teams consistently choose from the top prospects in every draft. When the Oilers are done with their current run of atrocity, they’ll quickly rise to prominence a la the Penguins. Meanwhile, the Leafs will be trapped in between. Here’s how the Leafs have finished in the Eastern Conference standings over the past seven seasons: 9th, 9th , 10th, 12th, 15th, 10th , 13th. The year they finished 15th? Their draft pick didn’t belong to them.
The Leafs need to tank purposely next year. They need a superstar. They need a messiah. Maybe if they would have traded up in the ’08 draft, like Burke said he could have, then they might have had Jonathan Tavares. Maybe if Burke hadn’t traded away two first rounders, then the Leafs could have had two (Seguin and free agent Mike Cammalleri). Maybe if Burke had traded for humble Rick Nash, they would have had a goal scorer and a captain. But now the Leafs have only the future to hold onto.
And Nathan MacKinnon could be just what they’ve been looking for. That is, if the Leafs either purposely or accidentally fail next year. MacKinnon is the guy. He’s the second-coming of Sidney Crosby, scouts say. He’s 16. He’s fast. He’s strong. He’s Canadian. The consensus number one overall pick in the 2013 Draft would be a perfect fit for the Maple Leafs. If not him, than whom?
The Leafs have next to nothing to look forward to. Not a consistent goalscorer, not a full-fledged prospect, not a goalie who can save pucks, and not even a Captain. Worse, the guy in charge doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere. This is the same guy who said, “Pittsburgh Model? My ass,” after being asked whether growing a team through the draft was a good idea. The same guy that thinks building American is the smartest choice. The same guy who signed Colby Armstrong and Tim Connolly to $5 million dollar deals. The same guy who stood still, arms crossed, looking like an idiot at the trade deadline. The same GM who wanted to build “a strong and truculent team” and then released Colton Orr and Jay Harrison days later. This is the arrogant, hot-headed and overly confident Brian Burke.
It’s time for the Leafs to clean house and start over. It’s time for the Leafs to truly begin playing for the future, because the present has been consistently unsatisfying. It’s time for the Leafs to take a cue from the teams at the top, for otherwise they’ll never get there again.