Original Article Written By Chrissi Sheppard
It wasnt exactly poetic, but this year has been a memorable saga in the long history of Leaf seasons.
It started in pre-pre-season, with Brian Burke's bold public proclaimation that the team was built to make and compete in the playoffs. At this point, the team wasnt looking much different than last year's squad; with only a few additional blue-liners to speak of, and a semi-rookie European goalie with a menacing nickname. (If Gustavsson had a moniker like "the Jonas brother" or "the Goose", his transition wouldve been very different...no?)
Then, cue the Phil Kessel soap opera. A huge deal for Leaf fans; this guy had the kind of finesse and panache not seen in these parts since...lets just say it's been awhile. There hasnt been a 30 goal scorer in Toronto since Mats Sundin, and previously, Dave Andreychuk. So the notion that a true goal-scorer would be joining the dismal offense was euphoric. But at what price? That was the golden question, and unless you threw in Carleton the Bear- the deal couldnt have been more costly. 2 first rounders...and that's from a team with a great chance of landing the first overall pick in the off season. Time will tell which team that deal favours in the end...
The winless streak. Remember that? Leafs start the season (Kessel-less) without a win in 7 games...their worst start ever (no exaggeration). Most analysts mailed in the season early, not that I blamed them; it was a long, gloomy October in Toronto.
Finally, like the Pheonix rising from the ashes, the arrival of Phil (the saviour) Kessel! He was a living, breathing highlight reel in his return to the ice, and all of a sudden Toronto fans had a glimpse of a sweet revival. But ask Alex Ovechkin and Sid the Kid... you can't score alone and win the cup. And that was exactly what Phil Kessel's role seemed to be..."the scorer" of the team.
It just wasnt enough, and loss after loss proved that. Also not helping the cause: The Monsters heart scare, Komisareks injury, Big names NOT producing (Blakey...) and the defensive woes of Luke Schenn.
So Burke called a press conference. It was on short notice, it was a buzz with speculation, it was exactly what Leaf fans needed... action. The big time deal announced at this conference was the defining moment of the year. The complexion of the team was overhauled in one fell-swoop.
OUT: Stajan, Mayers, Hagman, Blake, Toskala
IN: JS Giguere, Dion Phaneuf, Freddie Sjostrom
Burke was also content to ride out the rest of the year in the hands of rookies like Bozak, Hanson, Gunnarsson, Kulemin and Stalberg. The next few years for this franchise has a totally different MO: young, quick, creative, and BIG.
So what does the future hold for this team? You have to look at the chemistry of Kessel, Kulemin and Bozak as an indication of the offensive prowess. You can then look to Dion Phaneuf, Gunnarsson and Schenn as the young defensive highlights. And between the pipes, The Monster is finally looking like the goalie of the future in Hogtown.
Add a top centreman, a captain, and a few more picks...and that's what next year looks like. I have no doubt that Burke will make another blockbuster deal or two in the offseason and pre-pre season; this team is going to be much improved by the time the puck drops next october...and as a born and raised Leaf "lifer"...that's all the hope I need!