Not many National Hockey League teams can say there is one specific year since the 2004-2005 lockout that has offered so many “franchise defining moments.” 2008 may have been that year for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as it certainly has defined everything that has happened since the lost season.
Although it may not have seemed like that big of a year at the time, 2008 was certainly one that will go down as one of the most memorable since the turn of the millennium. During those 356 days, three stood out as major ones that, together, would decide the direction of the team over the next five years.
June 20, 2008 – Maple Leafs select Luke Schenn fifth overall
It all began midway through the year when the Maple Leafs took the microphone in Ottawa and selected Luke Schenn fifth overall in the NHL Entry Draft under loud chants of “Leafs suck” from Senators faithful. Little did anyone know at the time, Schenn would be out of his highschool prom and into the Leafs’ regular lineup in less than four months.
Some have viewed the decision to select Schenn as the right one, while others continue to say the team should have gone with someone else. There are certainly arguments to be made for both sides. Schenn has had a very up and down career, but he also seems to have been the main focal point of the Leafs for the last five years. He is a player they could build around. While it may have been a wise decision to choose Schenn over the likes of Colin Wilson, Tyler Myers and Erik Karlsson at the time, the reality is that Schenn has become nothing but the centre of trade rumours, with those rumours having recently reached their peak.
Looking back on someone’s career only to consider them as nothing but trade bait at the current point in time never provides anyone with a nice feeling, however it is what people have come to accept regarding Luke Schenn.
November 29, 2008 – Brian Burke is named the team’s new president and general manager
With John Ferguson Jr. out as GM of the Maple Leafs in January of 2008, Cliff Fletcher was named the interim replacement. He didn’t last long as it was only a matter of time before the NHL’s worst-kept secret in recent history was made official. On November 29, roughly ten months after Ferguson was let go, the Maple Leafs introduced Brian Burke as president and GM.
Burke’s name had been high on the wish lists of many Leaf supporters for about a year prior to his arrival in Toronto. With the team headed down the drain in terms of on-ice performance, fans had grown upset with Ferguson and the hiring of Burke meant the post-season was just around the corner. At least that is what it was supposed to mean, right?
While Burke has certainly made a number of smart transactions during his time in Toronto, including the trade that saw Tomas Kaberle head to the Boston Bruins for a solid package of a prospect and draft picks, and the Francois Beauchemin trade that brought Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner to town, he has also had many mishaps. Most notably: the five-year contract he handed to Mike Komisarek and the limited return he received in exchange for Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton.
That is not the point, though. Rather, the point is that the team still has not qualified for the playoffs since Burke joined the Maple Leafs. Fans are beginning to grow downright disgusted, past the point of mild acceptance.
December 28, 2008 – Mats Sundin signs with the Vancouver Canucks, officially leaving the Maple Leafs
The departure of Mats Sundin was certainly a long and agonizing process. Prior to the 2008 NHL trade deadline, the team asked him if he would waive the no-trade clause in his contract to help kick-start a rebuild that would see a new beginning in Toronto. He said no and the team was forced to move on and watch him walk away months later. As everyone knows by now, he chose to sign with the Vancouver Canucks after sitting out half of the 2008-20o9 season.
Watching the LeafsTV special on Mats Sundin.. Wishin I appreciated him more when he was here, cause man could we use him now.
— Kyle (@KF_Kadri43) June 4, 2012
Yes, Kyle is certainly correct. Doesn’t everyone wish that they had of appreciated Sundin more while he was a member of the Leafs? After all, he did play almost one thousand games for the team and provided everyone with plenty of great memories. If you want to relate it to the present a little more, all you have to do is look at the number one centre role in the Leafs’ lineup. If you do, you won’t notice anything, because there is not anyone to fill it.
There is no debating the fact that the departure of Mats Sundin is still having its effects on the Maple Leafs, just as the entire year of 2008 is. Now it is something management must deal with.
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Lukas, a student at the University of Ottawa, covers the Toronto Maple Leafs on a part-time basis for The Hockey Writers. Contact Lukas at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, @LukasHardonk.