It's been over three months since the NHL season started, and besides the few surprises (Boston leading the East, Pittsburgh not, etc), taking a picture of the standings today pretty much leaves most of us happy with our predictions that we made at the beginning of the season. A few good stories, and a few nasty ones, but all in all, it's been what most realists expected. I'm a Leafs fan, and a realist, which is very rare to find. In most cases you get one or the other, the die-hard Leafs fan, who still books days off of work in the spring, just in case there's a playoff game they can attend, and the realists, most of whom - even if living in Toronto - own a jersey of another hockey team. Now here's what I'm really getting to:
It was the nearing the middle of the 2007/2008 NHL season, JFJ had just been canned, Fletch brought in, and despite his ill sounding voice on television, without having to say so many words, we (leafs fans) knew what this all meant. Rebuilding. All most of us could picture in our heads was taking out that one supporting block from a Jenga tower and watching it topple, knowing you have to build it again. It might have taken some getting used to, and rightfully so, some people still don't understand; mainly because we've never really had a REAL rebuild. It's like rebuilding that jenga tower JUST enough to play the game again.
So the realists celebrated, the die-hards let it sink it - drinking away their fears until they realized that nothing could be as bad as missing the playoffs by single digit points again; until we had a mutual realization in these parts: it was going to take some patience and sacrifice to get what we all want. And because most of us aren't 6 year old children, we avoided the uproar that would have followed if it had happened any other way.
The season comes and goes, we shed some extra weight as a team, and things begin their uphill course. Fans are fine with it, and if you're anything like me, you're sort of anxious because you want to find that next piece of the puzzle as much as the GM does for you. Summer hits, and then right up until the beginning of this season, everybody (except for maybe a few people who missed that past year) are fully prepared for a dead last finish, or something close to it. Even our favourites (I don't know why they are favourites; some of you seem to love the weirdest players), we are prepared to let go, because seeing a few heads roll is worth the price of holding a few stanley cups and watching a few parades.
It's not January 20, 2009, and we're about midway through the season; and I don't understand what I'm starting to see. I don't know how it happened, I don't know if people are victims of an overperforming team in the first half, but people actually seem too.....happy? I see people suggesting we build around Matt Stajan, consider keeping Ponikarovsky because he has become a "sniper", or Nik Antropov has really proven himself in this whole rebuilding process. So what, we should keep them all?
People need to stop kidding themselves and shake their heads a bit. Wake up and remember why we're doing all this. Nik Antropov, Alexai Ponikarovsky, and Matt Stajan are all having good years, but you want to build around guys that are having okay seasons when they are the top line of a team that's giving them every chance int he world to shine? Get over it. All they have done by scoring the goals that anyone on the first line would have scored, is given us more value for which to trade. Bryan Burke knows, hell, even Richard Peddie might get it. Don't jump back to the players you know just because we have has minute success.
There are exceptions, if Toskala remembered how to play goal, I'd be on his side, and if Kaberle couldn't bring us such a juicy return, I might keep him too, but otherwise, lose them all.
Of course the Leafs are still pro players, and they're going to win more games, but I beg of you, even the most blind followers, let your old players go, we need to start from scratch.