The Maple Leafs have limped out of the gates since the all-star game winning only two of the last 7 games. Which has allowed teams above Toronto in the standings with the exception of the Montreal Canadiens to stretch out the lead in points over the Maple Leafs and it has also allowed teams like tonight’s opponent the New York Islanders and others to close the gap behind them.
Here is where using critical thinking than simply being critical is so important in judging the team and their current precarious spot of being tied for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Someone who is simply being critical will say, “This is the same old Maple Leafs, make a mad dash to be in the playoff picture than fall out of the playoffs even before the spring.” Yes, previous incarnations of this team this would apply, who can forget ex GM Brian Burke’s comment in the 2012 season about the Leafs “It was like an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff” after announcing that Ron Wilson had been fired, and Randy Carlyle was being hired as coach.
Then there was 2013 collapse in game 7 of the playoffs, the worst yet of the collapses down the standings was in 2015 which saw the Leafs only win 8 times in three months’ worth of hockey. There was a sense of hopelessness and fans had begun to turn their backs on the organization and a major shakeup we all knew was coming.
Someone with critical thinking will point to the preseason predictions of this team where many questions about the roster were being asked. Like “How quickly will Auston Matthews be the dominate player all scouts said he would be?”, “Would Mitch Marner make the team or would Marner start the season with the London Knights?” “How good could the remaining group of Maple Leafs rookies (Nylander, Brown, Zaitsev, Hyman, Soshnikov) be and can they contribute to lifting this team from the basement?”
If we take each of those questions and make them the benchmark of where the Maple Leafs find themselves today, then I would categorize this season to date as a success. No rookie class in NHL history has accomplished what the Maple Leafs have this season. First team in the NHL to have 3 rookies win the rookie of the month award, two rookies neck to neck for the rookie scoring lead, an improved Power Play in which the rookies have been a big contributor in improving, an improved Penalty Kill, also driven by the play of Zach Hyman and Connor Brown each with shorthanded goals on the season.
Overall, The Toronto Maple Leafs are beyond any predictions. They are on the best of nights, one of the most lethal offensively driven teams in the league. Their speed and creativity matched by few teams in the NHL. On off nights, it is a team still building and growing under Mike Babcock. Yes, there is much work to be done to join teams like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington as true Stanley Cup contenders, but this season will be looked upon in the next couple of years as a pivotal year in the rebuild when as fans and observers we saw shift from the earlier incarnations of the Maple Leafs into a team that will be the envy of the NHL in short order.
Perspective and patience need to take precedence over the playoffs, if the Maple Leafs make the playoffs that should be the gravy on what has been an amazing season of developments. If they don’t what has truly been lost? This team will be competitive right until the end of the season is my prediction, playoffs or not this season has been exciting, and one of the few that will leave us hopeful moving forward. One can be critical which is easy, if we simply look at the standings, someone who can critically think will see this team for what they are and what coach Babcock is grooming them to be and that in itself has to give fans true hope that a championship is closer than appear to be.
**Also keep your eye out for the first Fan contribution to Centre of Leafs Nation!! A special blog will be written by @_Rich_Money will be posted shortly!**