A Week to Watch in Another Lost Season
Should be an interesting week for Leaf watchers, at least those who didn't tune out a month ago. Or a decade ago.
Personally, I find this current collection far more intriguing than anything that's worn the blue-and-white since, oh, the spring of 2004 when, fortified with the veteran likes of Ron Francis and Brian Leetch, the Leafs tried to take a real run at it.
Since then, it's been a lot of pretending to either have a good team or to be building one. Now, while many prefer to focus on the absence of first-round picks in the next two drafts, you have the youngest team in the NHL with a pile of prospects.
Admittedly, most aren't bluechippers, but looking at the champion Penguins last night you saw the likes of Tyler Kennedy, Pascal Dupuis, Mark Eaton and Craig Adams, proof that while you need stars, what you also need to be is an organization that allows prospects to become players.
So we'll see with some of these Leaf prospects. Calgary didn't think Keith Aulie was a prospect, the Leafs do. One team will be right, one wrong. The Leafs will be signing Vermont forward Brady Irwin this week. Maybe he'll be a player, maybe we'll never hear from him again.Meanwhile, playing for 11th or 12th or 13th in the conference isn't what the Leafs want to be doing, nor will it - or should it - attract much attention. But the hardcore may find the final two weeks of interest given the opponents and the schedule.
Tonight, Atlanta hosts Carolina, and then the Thrashers visit the Leafs tomorrow night. That means that John Anderson's playoff hungry group could do Toronto a favor tonight and then possibly be a little road weary by Tuesday's game, putting the Leafs, at least theoretically, in a position to tie the Hurricanes. That's not much. And really, it's not anything, unless you're really stuck on the Phil Kessel-for-picks angle.
Really, neither Tyler Seguin nor Taylor Hall will be playing for the Leafs, and that's that. Nothing will change that in the final fortnight. But if you believe that for pride's sake along the Leafs need to get out of the bottom two slots - and even if they do the lottery could put them right back in - then you're looking for them to catch one or two of the teams ahead of them.
People always have varied opinions on drafts as to whether they're strong or weak. I tend to go to the more dispassionate observers, those with nothing to gain or lose, like ESPN's NHL Draft Blog organized by Toronto writer Gare Joyce, with whom I'm currently writing a biography on Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin.
Anyways, Joyce wrote The Night The Lights Went Out on the 1987 Piestany brawl, pretty much the best hockey book I've ever read. And he knows his stuff when it comes to the juniors and what the scouts are saying.
If you follow his ESPN blog, it's not hard to get the impression that after Seguin and Hall there are no stars available this June, and there are even some who are questioning how good Seguin and Hall will be as professionals. Right now, the word is they don't stack up to, say, a Steven Stamkos or a Matt Duchene, but that remains to be played out.
Once you get past the two forwards, it's non-flashy defencemen and Europeans, including a couple of good Russians who might slip because of the dynamic right now between Russia and the NHL. If Columbus' experience with Nikita Filatov doesn't make an NHL club wary of going high with a Russian, I don't know what would.Defenceman Cam Fowler of Windsor is viewed as a great skater but a big kid without a big shot or a streak of toughness. Some like Kingston defenceman Erik Gudbranson as high as No. 3, others not so much. And on it goes.
So, if the Leafs were to be worried about giving up a star in the Kessel deal, they probably just need to worry about getting out of the first or second slot.
The Leafs next four are at home, nicely spaced out, with no back-to-backs. Carolina, if that's the target, has to go into Montreal and Ottawa, then host the Devils.So the opportunity is there for the Leafs to improve the optics. To some, that matters a great deal.