So it’s been a while. Any of my twitter followers will have seen that approximately a month ago, I was working on a Marlies article – related to their near record setting season and what it could mean for their playoff chances. Then something died in my computer and all my work was gone. I had charts, and they were pretty. So apologies to any who were looking forward to it. But luckily more exciting things have happened since then.
THE LEAFS ARE DRAFTING FIRST! We rode the treads of hope all the way to victory (side note, someone more skilled than I would be owed a favour if they turned Bernier’s pads into tank treads). In a fantastic reversal from last year, where coming down to the last ball the Leafs snatched defeat from the Jaws of victory on the last number, the Leafs had the lowest chance at being top dog coming down to the last ball when Mats Sundin saved the day. The ghost of wasted Leafs potential came back to give us a second shot at redemption as #13 was the winning Leafs ball. So the question becomes who do the Leafs draft? Do we pick up a scoring winger who may be as good as a superstar level player? Or do we draft the 6’2, Franchise level power-forward centerman that you literally cannot get anywhere but at the draft? If you answered winger, allow me to direct you to the trades for a Mr. Kessel as a reason why you don’t pass up on a potential star centre over a superstar winger.
Now the Leafs are deep in the middle with small skilled centermen in William Nylander and Mitch Marner. But Marner has shown a propensity for being an offensively skilled and defensively responsible winger at the OHL level and would look really nice distributing from the wing to either Willie or Auston. With Nazem Kadri locked up long term to a good 2nd line (or elite 3rd line) center’s contract, and Steven Stamkos nothing more than a possibility, you cannot pass up on a player of Matthews ilk.
In system news, the Marlies are currently trailing 1-0 in their second round series against the Albany Devils. Will Ny missed the first game of the series with illness, and it was obvious that the powerplay is nowhere near as efficient or dangerous without the Swedish Assassin. Hopefully he returns to the lineup and to regular season form, as 1 goal and 1 assist through the first series was well off his usual production. Meanwhile in the OHL, the invisible Mitch Marner just won the Red Tilson Trophy as the league MVP, and is at a near historic pace in the OHL playoffs. 37 points in 14 games is mind-boggling and skill-wise he seems to have outgrown the league. The only question remaining for Marner is whether he is physically ready to compete against NHL competition, and if not, is it worth taking that risk anyways? And last but not least Dzerkials and Timashov are facing off in the QMJHL Finals. Tima has been more impressive stats wise netting 22 points in 15 games, but Dzekials is no slouch with 10 in 13 in his first year across the pond.
To round out the day, it’s a confusing time as Leafs fans. It’s an odd sensation to have hope for this team with how often we’ve been burned, but it seems like we are finally safe to have a sense of cautious optimism. Not because, hey, we might make the playoffs, but because it wasn’t even necessary to do so to see growth in the right direction. The management of this team has done a fantastic job of showing progress without feeding into the perpetual hype machine, and without breaking from a clear and planned upward progression. It might finally be time to come out of “hiding” and be proud of the Maple Leafs crest once again.