Life Not Good in Leaf Land

Only seven games into the season and many Leaf fans have already given up on the year. Yes people, the start of another NHL year is underway in Toronto. Coincidentally, just prior to the start of the season, two books mocking the Maple Leafs and their massive fan base hit the stores. 

Leafs Abomination by Dave Feschuk and Michael Grange and Why the Leafs Suck: And How they can be Fixed by CBC personality Al Strachan were two of the most recent sports titles to find the bookshelves. While there is still a lot of time to turn the year around, a bad season in Toronto could have some detrimental effects for how the organization is perceived moving forward

Just a short while ago, fans were praising Leafs GM Brian Burke upon his acquisition of the young and talented Phil Kessel. If you listen to any of the call-in shows in Toronto, that praise for Burke is now turning into criticism. While Kessel is still recovering from injury and has yet to play a single shift in the blue and white, the price that the Leafs paid for that talented young forward may come back to haunt them. In exchange for Kessel, the Leafs sent two first round picks and a second round pick to Boston.

One of those first rounders is for the 2010 draft, and if the Leafs continue on this path to destruction, the chances continue to increase for the Bruins getting a player like top-rated junior prospect Taylor Hall. More so, with the amount of young players quickly making an impact in the NHL, the philosophy of waiting 4-5 years for a player to make the big leagues may not be as common as in the era prior to the lockout. The current season alone is allowing the hockey world to see the top four picks in the 2009 draft all holding NHL roster spots.   

If the Leafs are going to prevent the Bruins from receiving a top five pick in the 2010 draft, the goaltending has to improve. Despite Brian Burke’s offseason acquisition of goaltending coach Francois Allaire, Vesa Toskala continues to struggle as the last line of defense for the team. Currently Toskala is injured, and based on the way he has been playing of late, maybe a few weeks away from the massive Toronto media would not be the worst thing for him. The goalie who was supposed to push Toskala in Swedish Elite League standout Jonas Gustavsson also finds himself injured.  

If there has been any sense of optimism for the Leafs this year, it is a moment that occurred not in the regular season but rather in the preseason. Goalie Jonas Gustavsson stopped Ville Leino of the Red Wings on a two on zero breakaway and received a lengthy standing ovation from the usually reserved Toronto crowd. For those who are looking for a turning point in the Leafs season, Gustavsson could be the guy.

As Gustavsson is new to the NHL, the end result could be that of another player who was a standout in a European league but could not maintain that success in the NHL. On the contrary however, Gustavsson could end up being great in the NHL and steal some games for a Toronto team that is desperately trying to salvage their year only seven games into the season. To this point, Gustavsson has only played one regular season game where he lost 2-1 to the Ottawa Senators. So the jury is still out on Gustavsson, but he may get a chance to play Saturday night against the Canucks. At this point, it is not known whether third stringer Joey MacDonald will play or whether Gustavsson will be healthy enough to return.

The problems are not only in net for the Leafs, as the defense has struggled mightily this year as well. In particular, the new acquisitions of Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin have not played their best hockey for the team. Beauchemin has seemed out of place without his future hall of fame defense partner in Anaheim, Scott Niedermayer. Currently Beauchemin is a -5 on the season as he may have shattered any small hope he had of making the Canadian Olympic team with his slow start. Komisarek is not faring much better as he has often been in the penalty box during some key situations in this sad start to the season for the Leafs.  

So the countdown is on to see when the Leafs will win their first game. One thing for sure is that all those Maple Leaf haters must be enjoying this just as they have enjoyed the previous 42 years. Through hell and high water, Leafs Nation is always on hand to support their team, and you can surely expect to hear that infamous “Go Leafs Go” chant in Vancouver on Saturday night. 

The key to turning this season around for Toronto could lie in net, so hopefully the hockey world will soon be able to see whether Jonas Gustavsson is an NHL star in the making or simply just another guy. Maybe the happiest guy right now is Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli who watches the chances of getting the number one draft pick in 2010 increase with every loss by the Maple Leafs. Currently Toronto sits at last place in the league.

Yes, it is just the start of another season in the sad life of a Leafs fan.

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