If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you’ve dealt with the highs and lows associated with the franchise and the product it puts on the ice.
With the proper management team and coaching staff now firmly in place, the organization has begun its rebuild back to contention, respectability and glory; starting with amassing a stable of young talent and developing them into NHL stars.
It’s not an easy task. The Maple Leafs are the youngest team in the NHL today. The kids will make mistakes as they try their way in the league. Building a team properly is not something you can do on the fly. We’ve seen general managers try that and fail.
Mike Babcock, a coach that has won everything there is to win, said it best at his introductory press conference last year: “If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming.”
The Learning Curve
It’s no secret that the Maple Leafs are icing a young group. They are led by three high draft picks, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.
The franchise has pegged the trio as the building blocks among the forwards, because of their skill and, already this year, their play at the NHL level. While it’s easy to see these players for how talented they are, it’s also worth mentioning how old they are. None of the three are older than 21 years of age. That’s the incredible thing about their starts, and why people need to keep their inevitable growing pains in perspective.
When the Maple Leafs lost to the Ottawa Senators on opening night, a crazy thing happened. Matthews, in his NHL debut, torched the cross-province rivals for four goals. It was an incredible accomplishment for the young rookie, and a feat never before achieved in the NHL. But it was that same rookie who lost his man in overtime as the Sens netted the winning goal.
The Leafs’ home opener was a call to the franchise’s glory days. Some of the best players in Leafs history were in attendance to see their numbers officially retired by the club. Led by Mitch Marner, who scored his first career NHL goal, the Buds were able to play a solid game and ultimately top the Bruins.
Mitch Marner's first NHL goal. What a shot. pic.twitter.com/6NRJLJxuzU
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 15, 2016
The Buds traveled to Winnipeg for a showdown with the Jets on Wednesday in what proved to be a fantastic hockey game. William Nylander was a noticeable presence, and he ripped his first of the season and added a helper shortly after.
Auston Matthews (left point) sets up William Nylander for his first NHL assist and Nylander's first goal of the year. 3-0 Leafs. pic.twitter.com/a0MhTrEJTO
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 20, 2016
The match was billed as Matthews vs. Patrick Laine, the second overall pick from last year’s draft. Matthews had a good night and registered an assist for his fifth point in three games but it was Laine who stole the show with a hat-trick and overtime winner.
There were times that the Leafs were hemmed in their own zone. The beginning of the game was all Winnipeg as they applied pressure forcing the Leafs to go on the defensive. Babcock will not be happy that his club blew a four-goal cushion either. Chalk it up to a learning experience. Make no mistake, there are going to be more games like that this year.
But this team is young, talented and filled with promise. It’s too early in the season for all the negativity, especially with a multitude of positives to focus on; namely that the kids have been playing extremely well.
The Buds have scored 15 goals in four games. Defensive mistakes can and will be explained and eliminated by Babcock and company. It’s going to be a year of learning to put bad games behind you and focus on the future.
Auston Matthews: "We need to learn how to play with a lead, up 4-1 & I think we were playing like we were down 4-1"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 20, 2016
This group is much more talented than the roster that was iced this time last year. The Leafs are a young team who will grow and get better. Placing unrealistic expectations will only lead to frustration and bitterness.
There is pain coming. But for the first time in a long time, there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel.