The 2015-16 season kicks off today and I couldn’t be more exited. Sure, the team is in for a rough year, but for the first time since the mid-80’s the Leafs are embarking on a rebuild that will (hopefully) see them acquire some of the players who will eventually become the best in the league.
To put it in perspective how much the franchise needs this, you simply need to list off the best players of the past thirty or so years: Gretzky, Lemieux, Jagr, Lindros, Forsberg, Sakic, Fedorov, Yzerman, Hull, Lidstrom, Bourque, Francis, Thornton, Crosby, Luongo, Seguin, Ovechkin, Tavares, Stamkos, etc. The pattern is that none of these players ever played for the Leafs, partially through bad luck, but mostly through bad management and never being patient enough to grab a top three pick.
In that time, the Leafs’ best players (Kessel, Sundin, Gilmour) were just OK. I love Sundin as much as the next guy, but you can’t honestly say he compares to anyone on that list, and he’s unquestionably the best player Toronto’s had in 30 years. How crazy is it that NHL’s premier franchise has never had a scoring leader, a major award winner or one of the league’s best players in the post-expansion era? Since drafting Wendel Clark first-overall in 1985, the Leafs have only had a single top-three pick (which they wasted on Scott Thornton), and to truly compete on an annual basis, I think you need to get a top three pick who becomes one of the league’s elite players at least once during your rebuilding period.
So, while the Playoffs are impossible and the standings are irrelevant, the hope for this season is that the Leafs can make a high pick next season to add to the rebuild. And while I’d obviously rather be writing about how the Leafs are going to dominate the regular season and compete for the Cup, I can honestly say I am excited about where this is going.
List of Reasons to be Excited About Being a Leafs Fan in 2015:
- Mitch Marner
- William Nylander
- Morgan Rielly
- Nazem kadri
- Jake Gardiner
- An organizational philosophy that chooses skill over grit and character.
- The lack of either Dave Nonis or Randy Carlyle.
- An organizational philosophy that chooses to make use of the statistical revolution.
- A team open minded enough to have both old and new school voices in the decision making process.
- Mike Babcock.
- Two 2016 first round picks.
So while it isn’t much, yet, the very fact that the Leafs are on a path to do things differently then they ever have before (which I believe the above list combines to show) and that we can sit here and realistically say that the Leafs are being run well and by people whose ideas are not outdated. Granted, for a Penguins fan this would be laughably little to be happy about, but I guess it’s all about context, and based on how things have been for the last ten or so years, within this context, I love where the Leafs are now.
- In what I believe to be a very fortunate piece of good luck, Richard Panik cleared waivers.
- It appears that many of the people who called me names for constantly suggesting that Roman Polak isn’t very good owe me an apology, as he will be a healthy scratch tonight, as he should be.
- The Score’s pre-season power rankings have the Leafs ranked 30th, which I believe is fair because while the Devils and Coyotes are also bad, they have Schneider and Ekman-Larsson, respectively.
- Scott Harrington has been recalled and will be on the opening night roster.
- I’ll be somewhat surprised/annoyed if Phaneuf get more ice-time that Gardiner or Rielly.
- Grabner will be a healthy scratch along with Polak and one of Harrington/ Corrado.
- Kadri is the teams’ new #1 C and I couldn’t be happier after spending most of the summer writing about how good he can be/ already is. I fully expect him to return to his point-per-game form of a year ago.
So, it should be a great game tonight. The best part about October hockey is that it’s fresh and the score is almost doesn’t matter since you’re just so happy to have it back. Then again, when the best case scenario for your favorite team is drafting #1 overall, I don’t know if the score is really going to matter all year.
Thanks for reading.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.