Sports, Toronto

For The Leafs, it’s 2nd Round or Bust.

itch Marner Celebrating with his teammates
Mitch Marner celebrates with his teammates

The Raptors have got the city abuzz with hopes of an NBA Finals appearance this year. With Raptors’ playoff aspirations and Toronto FC looking to duplicate another championship run, it can be easy to forget we’ve also got a really good hockey team with their own aspirations of a deep playoff run.  What would a successful year for this year’s Leafs look like??

Mitch Marner celebrates with Frederik Andersen
Mitch Marner and Frederik Andersen celebrate after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

I’ve always felt like there are always two opposing factions of Leafs fans.  Basically it boils down to, The Rationals versus The Irrationals. I suppose that applies to every fan base; admittedly anecdotal, it seems to me The Irrationals take their zeal for the team to embarrassing levels.  The problem is if you were to rely on what you hear from talk radio or comments on articles, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking ALL Leafs fans are lunatics. Trust me, we’re really not.

Ashamed Leafs Fans

The Irrationals live and die with each win and loss, either the Leafs are going to the Stanley Cup or they should blow the team up, fire everybody and start the re-building  process again.  All it takes is a 3 game winning or losing streak; I don’t know how these guys get through the season (especially the playoffs) without developing an ulcer or hypertension. The reason, partially, that all Leafs fans appear to be insane is because the sane fans rarely call in to talk shows or take the time to write lengthy comments on social media. The Rationals hear and see it all, and occasionally try to interject some sanity to the conversation, more often than not, they keep it moving, there’s bigger fish in the world for The Rationals to fry.

Success = The 2nd Round

Last year’s first round exit at the hands of the Washington Capitals was an unquestionable absolute success for the Leafs. A group of young untested kids, got their first taste of playoff hockey against a cup contending team. That’s the perfect recipe for growth and experience.  The series was much closer than the 4-2 series loss appears to be, a couple of bounces Toronto’s way and an upset was very possible.  The question is can the young Leafs build on that success for the 2018 playoffs? Let’s not forget we’re only in year two of the Shanahan Era rebuild. Brendan Shanahan‘s first year as President was strictly reconnaissance, a “let’s see what we have to work with” year. We were extremely lucky to get Auston Matthews, with the first pick, to speed up the rebuilding process; but the process is still, well… processing. To build on last year, a second round playoff appearance is a successful year. A first round exit would feel like a step backward (if everyone is relatively healthy.) There’s nothing quite like NHL playoff hockey, it’s thrilling, and an out-an-out test of attrition. The great thing about the NHL’s parity is that it lends itself to unpredictability in the playoffs. Unfortunately that unpredictability also means a possible first round exit for anyone.  Acceptable for some teams and disastrous for others.  The Leafs scale somewhat past the median toward disaster should they get bounced early.

Toronto Maple Leafs Executives Mike Babcock, Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan
Toronto Maple Leafs Executives Mike Babcock, Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan

The Shanahan Era Leafs so far have been extremely successful and very entertaining. For the first time in 25+ years there’s real hope in Leafs land; with top tier talent on and off the ice, there’s some light at the end of this Stanley-Cup-drought tunnel.  How much light there is,  depends on who you ask and how rational they are, and where they believe we should be in the rebuild. For The Irrationals, the Leafs’ rebuild process is going too slowly (those folks probably get pissed at their toaster for taking long), for The Rationals, it’s going just right. This spring is guaranteed to bring a ton of playoff excitement for both the Raptors and Leafs fans… heartbreak will likely be part of the deal at some point for both teams.  I’ll take heartbreak in the finals if I have to, bring on the playoffs.

#DJRF

(BTW, I totally owe Tyler Bozak an apology. I didn’t realize how good he is and gave way too much credit to his points coming from playing with Kessel. Dude’s really good, especially in the face-off circle. Sorry Bozzie!)