Most other fan bases don't understand the suffering involved in being a loyal Maple Leafs fan. I couldn't possibly count the number of times someone has taunted me with, "1967". I cringe every time there is a team honoured at the ACC, because there will be only black and white footage, and people will be sure to point that out. A newsflash for all fans of other teams that torment their Leafer friends: WE KNOW! We know we haven't won since 1967, we know we haven't made the playoffs since before two lockouts ago, and we even know that the fact that MLSE can do no wrong financially in regards to the Leafs is part of the problem. What should we do, become Pens fans, or Blackhawks fans? No, that would be the easy way out. We have already gone through too much to back down now. WE CAN SEE THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL... or can we?
We've seen this episode before: good early start, only to drop out of contention for the playoffs. Worse yet, we often aren't bad enough to get a top three pick in the draft. This is why there are a lot of skeptical fans that are not getting too excited yet. They’ve fallen for this before, and I don’t blame them for being cautious.
MY OPINION (it's my blog, so you're going to get it):
These Kids are for real. Please hold the sarcastic, "plan the parade" comments. All I am saying is that this is a good young group that is poised to make a run at the playoffs this year, and for the next number of years moving forward. Once they're in... Well, I will wait to make comments and predictions on that. Last year showed us that the Leafs had the skill to play at a high level in this league, but were lacking a teaching coach, a structured system, and a philosophy that rewards only one thing: performance. And let’s not forget that they were/are young. This is a process and they are still learning. There will be off nights, and as fans we will have to put up with ridicule until the playoff drought is ended, and the team shows enough consistency to restore the franchise’s respectability.
This year the buds’ core (JVR, Kessel, Kadri, Phaneuf, Lupul), with a solid supporting cast (Grabo, Kormarov, Frattin, Kostka, Franson, Fraser, Orr, Gardiner), depth players (the rest), serviceable goaltending from Reimer and Scrivens, and great coaching form Randy Carlyle will do the job and get them into the playoffs. Next year (or sooner) we will see further improvement through free agency and trade (A1 goaltender? Getzlaf, Perry, O’Reilly, ?), and more prospects making the jump (Reilly, Colbourne, Blacker, Ross, McKegg, Ashton, Biggs). The Maple Leafs finally have three things that they haven’t had in a long time: cap space, solid prospects, and a means to develop players. Dallas Eakins deserves waaaaay more credit for the current and future success in Toronto.
There may not be a cup on the horizon yet, but Leafers finally have something to look forward to. The buzz in the ACC and the rest of Leaf Nation will return with playoff hockey and the fans can be proud again. This also means the fair-weather fans will jump back on the wagon, which is OK, because I have been taking a mental tally of who had jumped off. Guess who will get ridiculed then?
Sound like fun? Let’s hope I’m right.