Written By Eric Warren
The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated storied rivals the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night in over time to finish the regular season in dramatic fashion.
Of course, we as Leafs' fans would much rather have seen the Leafs defeat Les Canadiens in regulation to ensure that both teams shared the same regular season fate.
As it is, the Leafs finished 14 points out of the playoffs, the most they have missed the playoffs by since this playoff drought started in the 2005-2006 season.
One would think there would be a never ending supply of articles with headlines like "Where it All Went Wrong..." and the endless speculation of armchair GM's and wanna be head coaches, but I think this year is a little different.
This is the first year during this drought, that fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club have a genuine sense of hope and excitement about next year.
The Leafs have never missed the playoffs for more than two years running, nor gotten off to such a bad start in the modern era of hockey as they did this season.
Of the 12 games the team played in October, they only won one and took six of a possible twelve points. That month, spelled the beginning of the end for what is now a team long forgotten.
Brian Burke gave them a chance, a chance to redeem them selves in the eyes if the Leafs fans, management and themselves, but in the end it just wasn't to be.
In a year that saw both personal triumph and personal tragedy for Burke in his first full season at the helm of this team, he was ultimately in no mood to pussy foot around.
Sunday January 31st spelled the end of the line, and the end of Burke's patience.
In separate trades, the Leafs acquired heralded defense man Dion Phanuef ,veteran goaltender JS Giguere, penalty killing forward Fredrik Sjostrom and defensive prospect Keith Aulie in exchange for Ian White, Matt Stajan, Nik Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Jason Blake, and goaltender Vesa Toskala.
More changes would follow a little more than a month later with the departure of Alex Ponikarovski and Lee Stepniak both of whom are about to enjoy some playoff experience with their new teams.
Some other minor moves during the season brought more youth to the team, and the Leafs super prospect Nazem Kadri finally heated up and ripped up the minors in scoring finish fourth in the league in over all points.
Kadri continues to tear up the OHL in the playoffs. In 11 playoff games this season, Kadri has nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points to lead the league.
The Leafs will have some issues to deal with in this coming off season, one of the biggest will be Tomas Kaberle. Kaberles' trade clause became nullified because the Leafs finished as poorly as they did and it expected that he will be trade shortly after the playoffs end.
Both he and Burke have publicly stated that a trade is not a forgone conclusion and that a contract extension will be explored before a trade is.
The team also has several free agents remaining on the roster that will have to be addressed. Without going into the numbers and players, there are some who will return, and some who will not as Burke continues to re-build and re shape the Toronto Maple Leafs into a team that he, the city, and the fans can once again be proud of.
This particular Leaf fan can hardly wait to see what happens this off season and for the first puck drop of next year.