Guest Post: Seven situations that could have changed history
After The Disaster in Montreal, One Leaf Fan Wonders... What If?
BY TODD GREEN
We all see the dark cloud hanging over the Toronto Maple Leafs. But despite the lack of postseason action in our recent past and Cup success in well over a generation, Leaf fans cling to hope.
This is what we do.
It's not always shiny optimism but even now as the Leafs sit eight points outside of the playoffs, fans on this blog (and elsewhere) often suggest the team is one key player away from breaking through. We often talk about this team in a conditional sense, spouting off phrases such as "What if" and "If only."
The key conditional statement this season is: "If only there was consistency."
But this general statement has given way to specific questions:
- "What if Phil Kessel scored that goal in OT against the Panthers?"
- "If only Kessel were not so streaky."
- "What if James Reimer had been the No. 1 from Day One?"
- "If only special teams could improve."
- "What if the Leafs got some scoring from the defence?"
- "If only the Leafs had won more of those one goal games in November and December."
- "What if Colby Armstrong never missed a game?" (It is likely a strange coincidence but the Leafs are 20-16-3 when Colby plays and, well, not as successful when he does not.)
Some outside observers (read: all fans of all other franchises) listen to these conditional statements and slag Leafs Nation as a pack of delusional, crazy and ridiculous masochists. Others suggest these conditional constructs are a coping mechanism for a fan base that is at once starving for success and choking on the longest Cup drought in the NHL.
But the "What if" and "If only" questions do not just apply to the current team.
I have been on this planet for just 33 years, 29 of which have been spent as a Leafs fan, a term of duty that started when I received a stick signed by the 1981 team for Christmas.
Here now, the seven biggest "What if" and "If only" situations that have shaped Toronto (mis)fortunes since I've been a fan:
How often do you hear Leaf fans talk about the conference final run after beginning with an anguished, If Only?
The Leafs lost to Los Angeles in Game 7 but to this day what we remember is No. 99's high stick on Doug Gilmour in Game 6. If only Kerry Fraser had sent the Wayner to the showers for this overtime infraction, the Leafs could have won that series.
If only Tom Kurvers had stayed a member of the New Jersey Devils instead of coming to the Leafs in exchange for a 1st round draft pick. We all know the level of success Scott Niedermayer had over the course of his brilliant career.
What if Kurvers never became a cautionary tale? What if Niedermayer had retired as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs last season?
Building on the Niedermayer theme, my next if only example is related to a certain truculent Tie Domi and a nasty elbow he threw in the 2001 playoffs. If only Domi doesn't plant that elbow, the Leafs win that series and get a huge monkey off their backs by beating the Devils. That elbow woke up New Jersey and distracted the Leafs in a big way.
Domi was suspended for the rest of the playoffs. (It also made it very uncomfortable for me when I watched Game 6 in the swamp and was forced to duck beer bottles hurled by the locals in a parking lot.)
What if Sundin had waived his no-trade clause? The possibilities: If Sundin agrees to waive it, the Leafs get something in return - possibly something big - instead of losing him at the end of the year. But if he waives, then fans consider him a traitor for seeking a long playoff run with a legit contender.
As it stands, right or wrong, Sundin's decision to not waive his clause is now considered a stain on his legacy for many fans. It is seen as a symbol of selfishness.
What if Jeff Carter was now on the Leafs and Tomas Kaberle was a Philadelphia Flyer? That trade was on the table and it didn't take place due to Kaberle's no-trade clause. Granted, Carter's breakout season hadn't taken place yet and it's hard to say if he scores more than 50 goals for the Leafs. But wouldn't you like to know?
If only Tuukka Rask was the goalie the Leafs held onto instead of Justin Pogge. I probably can leave it at that but the goalie carousel that followed Ed Belfour's departure has been well documented and the scramble to find a No. 1 starter resulted in several horrible one-sided trades, including Rask for Andrew Raycroft and Brad Boyes and draft picks for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell. I believe Logan Couture is the player the Sharks drafted with our pick. Ouch. If only it was socially acceptable to start drinking at 10 a.m. as I sit here contemplating history.
If only big name free agents from the GTA (or even Canada for that matter) signed with the Leafs. In the recent past, a number of stories have surfaced suggesting players such as Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash and Brad Richards could now be wearing the blue and white. So the question begs, "Why do elite free agents not want to sign here?" No disrespect to the recent FA signings (I am a huge Colby Armstrong fan) but Jeff Finger does not appear on the path to the Promised Land.
Finally, what if none of Brian Burke's moves had been made? So imagine a Leafs roster with Toskala (without breaking into a terrifying sweat), Matt Stajan, Nik Hagman, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov, Jason Blake, Viktor Stalberg and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Now subtract Phil Kessel, Colby Armstrong, Dion Phaneuf, Jonas Gustavsson, J.S. Giguere, Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, Mike Brown, Keith Aulie, Mike Komisarek and the latest addition, Joffrey Lupul, among others.
Will we one day look back on these moves as haunting mistakes or herald them as the start of a franchise turnaround? Will we still be rewriting history in the future?
Until an answer is forthcoming, I personally am growing a bit tired of relying on the "What If" and "If Only" statements to get us through another season.
Todd Green (aka TG77) lives in Vancouver and cheers for the Leafs. While walking around town in his Leafs gear, he receives looks of pity, looks of contempt and, on rare occasions, free drinks from enemy fans sympathetic to the plight of those in Leafs Nation.
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