Guest Post: Five reasons Leaf fans can take solace
Playoffs or No Playoffs, The Future Has Never Looked Brighter
BY TYLER PADLEY
This time of year is especially cruel for members of Leafs Nation. We are forced to temporarily change our rooting allegiances for the spring or, even worse, stop watching altogether.
Yes, the boys in blue and white are at risk of missing the playoffs for yet another year. But even though you've heard this countless times already, I'm now writing to tell you this year is different – and in a good way.
I'm here to encourage fellow members of Leafs Nation to take solace in this up-and-down season because, when you glance at the numbers, the tale of 2010-2011 promises to be the start of something very special:
1. Let us take solace... in the fact the Leafs are one of two teams with three players in the Top 30 for goals scored. Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, as of this writing, stand at 19th, 20th and 29th in the league, respectively. The New York Islanders are the only other team with this kind of triple threat. While Grabovski and Kulemin have set new career highs, it's not unreasonable to expect both young players to repeat this success. Kessel just happens to be the youngest of the bunch and he is closing in on his third consecutive 30-goal campaign.
2. Let us take solace... in the fact the big gamble to acquire Dion Phaneuf seems to be paying off. Over the last 23 games, he's been playing at a 0.65 points-per-game pace. If he can maintain this over an entire season, it would extrapolate to 14 goals, 37 assists and 51 points.
Being paired with the young Keith Aulie has contributed to Phaneuf's resurgence, as has his increased power play time since the Tomas Kaberle trade.
Any way you look at it, the captain's play has been stellar over a sustained period this year and we will need that going forward.
3. Let us take solace... in the fact James Reimer appears to be the real deal. With 26 starts for the Leafs this year, he boasts a 15-7-4 record, has 2 shutouts, a 2.59 GAA and a sparkling .922 save percentage, which is tied for sixth in the entire league.
Reimer has thrived in back-to-back games, has bounced back from bad games and has stolen games all by himself. Most important, he gives us a chance to win every night.
And if you can't take solace in all of this, how about the fact Ben Scrivens’ numbers with the Marlies this year (11-9-4, 2 SO, 2.26 GAA and .926 save percentage) are eerily close to what Reimer's were last season (14-8-2, 1 SO, 2.25 GAA and 0.925 save percentage).
4. Let us take solace... in the fact we've had very promising reports from a great number of prospects. Whether it's three-time OHL Player of The Week Greg McKegg, who keeps adding to his career best totals (49 goals, 43 assists, 92 points and +20 in 66 games) with the Erie Otters or WCHA Player of The Year Matt Frattin, who led the league in scoring with 33 goals and 21 assists and is Top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
And let's not forget about standout AHL prospects like Joe Colborne, Jussi Rynnas and the recently recalled Nazem Kadri, who scored his first NHL goal on Saturday.
5. Let us take solace... in the fact general manager Brian Burke now has the tools to do his job this off-season. At the deadline, he cleared a lot of salary and with the expiring contract of J.S. Giguere, Burke should have more than $24 million to wheel-and-deal in the weeks ahead.
He also has two late first round draft picks, multiple second and third round picks, prospects and players that other teams will no doubt covet. (When you're trading Kaberle or Kris Versteeg near the deadline, the market is limited. But every team will listen when you offer up a first round pick before the draft.)
Add that to a crop of free agents that currently includes Brad Richards, Kevin Bieksa, Andrei Markov and Simon Gagne, and you can expect this to be a very busy off-season for Toronto's front office.
Over the past six years of crawling and scratching through the season only to collapse before the finish line, never before have the Leafs had so much going for them this late in March: The youth, the cap space, the plethora of picks, the prospects and the impending free agents.
While not seeing them in the post-season may still be painful, Leafs Nation can take solace in the promise of better days ahead.
Tyler Padley (aka TPiddy) was born in North Bay and now lives in Etobicoke. A card-carrying member of Leafs Nation since 1990, he spends entirely too much time analyzing all things blue and white.
MAIN PHOTO: STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR