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"Hockey is like religion, except we have facts to back it up."
mississauga, ON • Canada •
Gone are the days when we had a Curtis Joseph in his prime, when we could breath in relief ahead of time; knowing that even though we had Tie Domi watching our backend in the playoffs, CuJo would be there to bail his buddies out. Curtis Joseph (pre-this years comeback) was the last real consistently talented goaltender the Leafs have had in the last 15-20 years. We won't point to the consistent stretches from Felix Potvin, or anything else before then, because to most Leafs fans, even the greatness of the past doesn't matter today - we have very short memories.
Ed Belfour came after Joseph, and he had his spots. It was a good story, he had a few slow years, and was another big name goalie that tried to bring the Maple Leafs into the championship picture. The only problem with Eddie really, was that he was getting old, quick. Before the lockout though, there were still some highlight saves left in him, and we saw it on a regular basis - unfortunately, it wasn't enough for the Leafs. It all went downhill from there. I remember the first couple of games after the lockout ended (I say first couple because I don't remember exactly how early it was). Ed Belfour looked lost with some of the new rules, and played the puck in the "forbidden" zone. He nearly broke his stick over the referee's head when he took that penalty. That was the picture of a goalie who was now officially out of his element. Gone was the conservative, do-what-you-want game of hockey that Belfour was acustomed to, and in was the newer, faster, scoring-oriented game of Gary Bettman. It was at that moment that I - and many others I'm sure - realized that Eddie Belfour was not the goalie to bring us a cup. So we moved forward.
Now, when I say forward, I don't mean to imply progress, just forward in time. Believe me, what followed the next couple years definitely wasn't progress. As Leafs fans we had to endure a year of split time between Ed Belfour, J.S. Aubin, and Michael Tellqvist. In this year, Aubin and Tellqvist had every chance to become the number one stopper for the big club, but they fell victim to their own mediocre talent, and missed their chances. Where are they now? who cares.
Then came our...savior? Andrew Raycroft. I have to admit, I was optimistic. I know, Raycroft had proven inconsistency, and rapidly fell down the depth chart in Boston. However, could JFJ really be stupid enough to trade away a top prospect in Tuukka Rask, for somebody that has nothing left in him? I hoped not. Then came Raycroft's time. In a year when Raycroft topped the single season win record for the Maple Leafs, I have never watched a goalie in which I had less confidence. The wins fell into his lap from the offense of the team. It was one of the only instances where a team had to keep its goalie in the game. Sound a little opposite to you? Yeah...
So, when all of us, and finally Ferguson realized that this was going to get us nowhere, we acquired Toskala. This was the most promising, and hopeful siging for the Leafs in a LONG LONG LONGGGGGG time. The season that followed only instilled more hope in us. A mediocre season for every player; except Vesa Toskala, who kept us in nearly every game. Even in the canning of JFJ, we knew that he had brought us something on which to build in the future. Cliff Fletcher saw it, and if Brian Burke was indeed paying attention, he saw it.
So coming into this year, we knew two things: we were rebuilding; and Toskala was who we could build around, or be the player we could get the most return for at the trade deadline...............................................................................................................
We all know what has happened now. In typical Leafs fashion, Toskala's value has decreased more rapidly than the Canadian Dollar amongst the recession. Having a less-than mediocre year, it looks like we need to move forward right? I think not.
While most people are eager to throw Justin Pogge a bone, and give him a shot, I urge you all to reconsider. On a team where mediocrity has reigned for the last decade, the last thing we need to do is give Justin Pogge a chance just because he is our only real goaltending prospect (not counting Reimer because he's not ready). I feel like people think Pogge is the second coming of Marc-Andre Fleury, or our version of Mason. Unless Pogge comes up and plays like a man possessed, I really think we need to continue the Toskala experiment. Give him the rest of the season and let him return to form down the stretch.
I know, if Pogge doesn't work out, Burke can go out and find a goalie to build around this summer right? Wrong. The top free agent goalies are Kari Lehtonen (inconsistent), Tim Thomas (too old), Manny Fernandez (lost his job to the old guy before him), Khabiboulin (oldER), Roloson (this old this seems to be a trend), Andrew Raycroft (didnt we already try that?), Martin Biron (who will be locked up by the flyers...believe me), and a slew of backups, among them, some with promise (Boucher, Legace, Labarbera), but still; nothing to build around. Then there's Niklas Backstrom. A top free agent, but there will be a lot of competition here, and I think Minnesota will try to keep this guy. So, what do we do? Lure Ed Belfour back from Europe? Try to get Ray Emery? Didn't think so. So, I say we continue on with Toskala, let him come back, maybe he still has something in him; something to build around. From a hockey fan who isn't blindly putting faith in a Pogge, the prospect who isn't quite a top prospect; we're pretty much screwed in goal...
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