Sunday, October 5, 2008
I never thought that I would be so excited for the Leafs to have another tough season. The playoffs are a distant memory for Leaf's Faithful at this point, and this season does not promise to be any different. We have a new coach, no captain, and a GM who can barely climb a flight of stairs. CBS Sports is starting Toronto in the basement of their Power Rankings, and rightfully so.
However, there is a big difference between this season and the many brutal campaigns that have preceded it; this time, the Leafs management are making the CHOICE to do poorly. Well, maybe not to do poorly, but to make certain sacrifices this season and next in order to build a strong foundation for the future. I hope that the Leaf's win as many games as possible this year. I know that tanking another season might provide a higher draft pick, but there is some considerable young talent on the team and they might surprise everyone a few times throughout the season. Let's just say that I hope they do okay, but I won't be paying the $15/month this season for Leafs TV.
This team is a hodgepodge of nonsense at this point, but there are some players that I will be watching as the season goes on.
Mark "Party Boy" Bell
Now I don't condone drinking and driving, but I give him props for twice the legal limit. That's an athlete. Mark Bell still has some serious potential. I expected more out of him last year, but after all the shit he dealt with the year before, one off season can be tolerated. This guy can hit, provide vocal leadership in the dressing room, and put points up on the board. He's got an Eric Lindros type build, and the grit to get the job done. With Darcy Tucker and Wade Belak gone, Mark Bell is the guy who needs to do the dirty work. This team has lots of young prospects, and Bell and Jamal Mayers are going to have to provide "aggressive support" to make sure that they have room to operate.
No one showed more heart than this kid towards the end of last season. He wants to be a Leaf, and he will do anything that he can for the team. He needs to spend more time in the gym, and if he develops his scoring game a bit more he could follow in the Gary Roberts style of; heart, scoring, and sacrificing his body for the team. We haven't seen as much improvement from Stajan in recent years as expected, but maybe with the team goal now being rebuilding, he can get the support he needs to improve and put the puck in the net. He's not getting any younger, he needs to take the next step now.
With Mats gone, the Leafs need to find a player or two who can generate some additional offense. We have a couple of prospects who may work out, but the reality is that most of them likely won't. This franchise has a history of picking up total deadbeats or washed up veterans to solve this problem. Let's not forget Jonas Hoglund, Dmitri Khristich, or the Player Formally Known as Lindros. I would like to see the Leafs add one or two scorers who are young enough that they can stick around for 5 or 6 productive seasons, have played in a big market before and won't be rattled by the Toronto media, and show strong leadership qualities. This team needs an offensive leader and mentor to the young kids.
A couple players who could fill that role:
This could be tough as he'll be playing with Iginla and will likely have a strong season. He's only 26, has improved consistantly on a bad team before joining the Flames, and was strong as a junior. He's a UFA after this season, and the Leafs always have the cash.
A good ol' Canadian Prairie boy who's only 25 would be a great pick up for the Leafs. After moving around for a couple of seasons, Lupul could be looking to stick around in Philly for a season or two (he just resigned a long term contract). Again, everyone moves for the right deal.
Although the Leafs aren't going to win the Cup this season, they need to make sure every decision from here on out is well thought out. Jason Blake and Jamal Mayers will provide the team with some guys who have been around the block, but the Leafs need to build leaders who can be with the team for the long haul. Wendal, Dougie, and Sundin were the heartbeat of their teams, and it's imperative that this team makes a strong choice when filling this role.