Five Reasons to Be Positive About the Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
Toronto Maple Leafs #1 center Nazem Kadri (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

The Leafs are having a rough year – to put it mildly. And I won’t depress you by citing their record or any of the stats about the team.  As I wrote earlier in the week, this season has become toxic and it’s not even fun to follow the team at this point. 

But we’re junkies. The team can lose, they can do so in the worst ways and with a rebuild pending, we can stare down the possibility that it will be likely end up that one of the NHL’s oldest and most storied franchises will end up making the Playoffs once in a full fifteen years.

That’s rough, but yet here we are – reading and talking about the team we love to hate and hate to love.

But, I promised you a positive article and I’m going to deliver. So, without further preamble, here’s five reason to be positive about the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Connor McDavid - OHL Images 2
Connor McDavid: the inevitable first overall pick for the 2015 Could make Kadri an elite #2 centre  (Photo: OHL Images)

1. Connor McDavid.  

By all accounts, Connor McDavid is the best player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby and may actually end up being better. He is averaging well over two points per game in the OHL and will almost certainly be playing in the NHL next season as an eighteen-year-old.  Hell, he could probably be in the NHL right now.

The guy is so good that I remember hearing two years ago – when he was fifteen – that if eligible he’d be the #1 pick in the draft. That’s crazy.

And there’s reason to believe he’ll be a Leaf.  The Leafs, fifth-last currently, have an 8.5% chance of drafting him – now, that isn’t high, but it’s a lot higher than the odds that they would score so few goals this past January.

It’s higher than the odds that they’d be able to trade David Clarkson or Korbinian Holzer for anything, which they did. 

And basically, the Leafs are due.  When was the last time this franchise had any luck? From  Gilmour getting hurt in his story-book come-back, to Bryan Berard – who may have ended up the best defenseman in team history – almost losing his eye, to the draft picks that became Niedermayer, Luogo and Seguin, or even just the fact that they picked first overall just once and it was the year after Mario Lemieux was drafted, the team has been beset by terrible luck.

So they are due. Start buying your McDavid Leafs jerseys!!!

(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

2. They Are “Rebuilding” From a Strong Position

When the Penguins drafted Crosby, they were coming off a season that saw a 38-year-old Mario Lemieux limited to just ten games (though he still scored nine points) and they had a roster that was absolutely brutal – they had virtually no assets to convert into anything for their rebuild – and they still won a Cup within five years.

The Leafs, on the other hand, have Kessel, Phaneuf, JVR and Bernier.  Now, maybe they keep those guys and go forward with them, or maybe they are converted to highly regarded prospects and first-round picks. Either way, the team is starting out their rebuild from a stronger than normal position.

Let’s say they keep Bernier and JVR and recoup 2 first-round picks and one elite prospect for Kessel/Phaneuf.  Add that to Gardiner, Rielly, Nylander, Kadri and two first-round picks this year, and they’re suddenly a really young, exciting team with a ton of potential.

What will it take for Nazem Kadri to stick with the Maple Leafs? (bridgetds, Flickr)
What will it take for Nazem Kadri to get the recognition he deserves?  (bridgetds, Flickr)

3. Nazem Kadri

When Nick Kypreos called Kadri the “Leafs best centre” the other night on TV, it was the first I’d heard of the mainstream media giving Kadri his due.

But many other people have been pointing out for a long time that Kadri has stats that make him a top-twenty centre in the NHL.  People seem to expect guys to step right into the NHL and be stars or they write them off. This has happened with Kadri, but it’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of non-top-three picks don’t really become stars (if they do) until the age of 24 or so.  Kadri is right on track, and he’s probably the Leafs best all-round player at this point.

If the Leafs get McDavid and he can step right into the NHL, the Leafs will suddenly have one of the best 1-2 punches down the middle in the NHL. If they do not get McDavid, they should still be able to draft someone like Dylan Strome and, though it will take a bit longer, they’ll still end up having a great 1-2 centre combo for years to come.

The fact is, after years of searching, the Leafs now have their first legit #1 C since Mats Sundin retired.

William Nylander
William Nylander (Photo:

4. Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter

The Leafs are about to embark on a few years of drafting high and they now have two of the most knowledgeable people in the entire world about the current crop of 15-17 year-old-players in the world.  This can only be a good thing.

Besides that, the Leafs’ management group has shown lately that they are far more competent than the re-signing of Randy Carlyle, the Gunnarson for Polak trade and the three year contract to Robidas led us to believe.

By trading their UFA’s and recouping assets for ones they were going to lose, the team reversed an alarming trend that has been prevalent the past few seasons of not getting back assets for UFAs (MacArthur, Kulemin).

Then there was the miraculous trading of Clarkson, an elimination of a dark shadow that was hanging over the franchise; a move whose positive nature cannot be overstated.

All in all, this bodes well for the future.

Trade Bait
Jake Gardiner has been nothing short of great since Randy Carlyle was fired. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly

Gardiner is 24 and Rielly is 20. These two players both skate like the wind and they both move the puck with precision and competence, and both are extremely fun to watch play.

Despite the team being one of the worst in the NHL, both young defensemen have CF% just under 50, and both are primed to have great careers.  Though Rielly projects as more of an all-round player than Gardiner, Gardiner’s been a whipping boy for the Toronto Media and there is always some ill-informed joker wanting to make him a winger, but the reality is that he is a massively talented player who’s ability to keep the puck out of his own zone far outweighs his tendency to make some defensive errors.

Since Horachek took over for Carlyle, Gardiner’s game has taken off – he has a team leading CF% of 56.4 –  and though this may have been overlooked among the constant losing, the future of the Leafs blue line – with Percy as well – looks good.


The Leafs are having their worst season ever.  At least the worst of my lifetime.  And yet, they still have some things to be happy about – everything I wrote above, plus you still get to watch Phil Kessel every night, you get to watch Morgan Rielly develop, and William Nylander will be here soon.

The team may not have lived up to what we hoped when they acquired Kessel and then Phaneuf and then JVR, but that’s life – things don’t always go as planned.  Sure, the team is owned by two evil companies no one likes and we can only hope that one day a private single owner emerges, but looking at the roster today and thinking about the fact that this team has never made a point to bottom-out and pick high for a few years in a row starts to make me excited for the future.  I know it’s a longshot that we get McDavid, but really, there’s four or five guys worthy of a #1 overall pick most years, in this years draft.  The team recently acquired an entire second set of draft picks (excepting, I think, a 2nd) and they have five or six players already worth being excited about.

It might not be pretty right now, but it’s looking up.  And, after the last five months of hockey, I’ll take that.

Thanks for reading.


15 thoughts on “Five Reasons to Be Positive About the Maple Leafs”

  1. Even if Berard never had his eye injury there was zero chance he would have become the best defenseman in Leafs history. The guy was just brutal in his own end.

  2. I laughed out loud at this: “…to Bryan Berard – who may have ended up the best defenseman in team history…”

  3. Overall message agreed, however, some is off base. How is it a better position starting out when the very players you say make it stronger are all overvalued, thereby meaning trading them will cause an ongoing hit for nothing on the cap and/or taking back a bad contract? Yes, it would be a better position if Nonis hadn’t singed bone-headed contracts! Declaring a player is the Leafs current best center means nothing. Nazem Kadri is NOT a 1st line center and likely never will be. He should NEVER be compared to Mats Sundin. Is Gardiner a better defenseman than Phaneuf, Polak, Brewer, Franson (yes, gone) or Reilly? Obviously no. It’s questionable whether he’s better than the other two left so he’s near or at the bottom. So much for him being great to watch and being massively talented. Watching Kessel every night is annoying, NOT enjoyable!

    There are 14 teams in the lottery and the Leafs will have the 4-6th best chance at 7.5-9.5%. Pretty good odds not matter whether a few other teams have better odds or not!

    • Thats really the only thing thats “bad” about the article. Also could argue the fact the Gardnier has had a good season is pretty bad too. (He’s young though) Everything else is very reasonable

      • No it’s not. The Leafs are NOT in a good position for a potential rebuild. Too many stupid long-term, high-paying contracts and too few suitors. The team continues to tumble down the standings and the respective trade value of guys like Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, JVR and Gardiner continues to plummet. The Leafs are going to take losses in trading these players either from their foolish contracts, or just because they don’t really seem to give a crap.
        Tanner is totally and embarrassingly delusional about Kadri. He isn’t even close to a top-20 centreman in the league and is currently ranked 56th in the league in points. Bjustad, Bozak, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith all have more points than Kadri this year. Tanner’s “argument” is based entirely on how Kadri played in a span of sixty games and from some ridiculous Corsi-fanatic on Twitter.
        The Leafs currently have a 9.5% chance of winning the lottery and drafting McDavid and this foolish writer lists that as the number one reason to “be positive” about the team. There’s nothing reasonable about that.

        • Well, I don’t think Tanner’s article is anymore unreasonable than the Drivel you have posted here. As a matter of fact, having read other posts you’ve authored, you might want to reconsidered calling anyone delusional!

          • Why? Because I offer an educated opinion and he can’t/doesn’t? Arguing that Kadri is a “top-twenty centreman in the league” is an ongoing claim made by this guy and it’s utter nonsense. I doubt Kadri’s parents wouldn’t even agree with that assertion. Danny DeKeyser is 56th in points among all NHL defencemen – I guess he should be considered a top-twenty defenceman then…?

            The fact that you defend such stupidity pretty much tells me your life story.

  4. The Leafs have 2 1sts and 2 3rds in the draft, no 2nd round pick as it was traded to LA in the Bernier deal.

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