Maple Leafs: A Path Less Travelled

Last night’s debacle in Pittsburgh brought out vitriol not seen in Toronto since the days of Brian Burke and wafflegate. As I had tweeted earlier today, so few were complaining when the Maple Leafs overachieved in their first three years and made the playoffs. This immediate success blinded many from the real work and possible wall each franchise hits before it experiences sustainable success.

Most teams who have gone through a rebuild arrived at their destination of winning a cup by traveling unique paths. Some in the case of the Chicago Blackhawks took a couple seasons to make their jump to winning their Stanley Cups others like the Washington Capitals took roughly 10 years to get over the hump to be crowd champions. But one thing each didn’t do was steer off course from their original plan.

The Maple Leafs have a history paved in years of Stanley Cup failure and disappointment as proof that panic/emotional decisions don’t work. In most recent times, we had Burke trying to rebuild on the fly and any one with an objective view of the team at that time said that would never work. I must admit, I supported some of the decisions and others I still cringe thinking about.

As much as I appreciate what Phil Kessel was able to accomplish during his time in Toronto, how much better would Tyler Seguin have looked today in the Blue and White? Or better yet, instead of drafting Tyler Biggs, what if the Maple Leafs drafted Rickard Rakell for example? The playoff drought that soon followed paralleled only the disappointments from the dreaded Ballard Era.

Why you ask am I bringing all this up? Simply we need to see this latest plan through, it is going against everything the Maple Leafs have done in the past. When we look through a biased lens after a loss like last night, we lose perspective.

We forget about the immediate success this core achieved, we forget the battle scars teams like the Capitals gained by going through their 10 year journey and we forget how the journey to the cup isn’t linear but filled with stops and starts. Above all else, the path to the Stanley Cup is filled with adversity and one shouldn’t lose sight of the prize even in the fog of a tough run.

Is this team perfect today? Has it shown a willingness every game to compete or do what it takes to win? Clearly not, some of this comes with maturity, some comes from surrounding this team around veterans like Muzzin, Clifford who have won. Some answers come from just letting the plan take root and not deviating from it at first sign of difficulty and let the young guys mature.

But through it all, it asks for patience that doesn’t mean you can’t be angry and it doesn’t mean there are going to be moments of great joy and others where you feel the team had much more to give. Yet all of this is part of the of the process of developing and growing in the NHL and battle scars aren’t earned in victory, they are earned by the failures and adversity that are overcome along the way.

I know this offers little solace or instant gratification. But nothing worth achieving and in this case watching our Maple Leafs lift the Stanley Cup after 50+ years comes easy. If it did, the Maple Leafs would have already won a cup after decades of cutting corners.