Leaf fans can officially start feeling bullish about the future.
When that future will deliver something tangible, of course, is hard to project. It's been 12 years since the Sedin twins went to Vancouver, and only now, really, have they and the rest of the Canucks put themselves in a potential Stanley Cup winning position.
But Toronto fans should feel reasonably confident this is a team that can get back into the post-season in the next two years, and with a very, very young team.
James Reimer's stats in goal appear to be the sign of a real goalie, not a flash-in-the-pan. In Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie, there are three defenceman 25 or younger, all big, all physical. There's a gamebreaker on the wing in Phil Kessel. He's not a complete player, but he can do some things few players can. Most important, perhaps, is the sign of potential depth down the middle, with Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak in the NHL, and Nazem Kadri and Joe Colborne with the Marlies.
Now there are two first round picks the team can either use or package to get something helpful, either a higher pick or a good young player. The movement of youngsters like James Neal, Erik Johnson, Chris Stewart and Alex Goligoski in recent days suggests that there is a burgeoning market out there of players between the ages of 22-25, which is exactly the age group Brian Burke and Co. are targeting.
Two factors seem to have change the Leaf picture from muddled to promising. First, the development of Reimer. Without goaltending in the NHL, everything else is distorted, and Reimer may be the best youngster in net the Leafs have drafted and developed since Felix Potvin.
Second was the Tomas Kaberle trade. The actual results of that deal won't be known for years, but it positioned the Leafs more dramatically for public consumption as a rebuilding, growth team, with young talent at the NHL level and useful picks on the way. With that trade, so much else of what the Leafs have done makes more sense.
A 7-2-2 run in the last little while isn't as meaningful as the framework that's now in place for a good hockey club somewhere down the road.
Other Wednesday considerations:
--Few NHL players have been out as long as Sidney Crosby with concussion problems and returned to be as good as they were. It's just a fact. At seven weeks and counting, it seems pretty clear Crosby's career is in jeopardy.
--Brad Richards is in a similar spot. Moreover, the longer he's out with a concussion, the less likely teams are going to be to come running with long-term, big money contracts. Day-by-day, the salary number goes down.
--The Calgary Flames have played as well as anyone of late. But that doesn't change the fact they have 10 no-movement contracts, not much on the farm and few prospects. In that light, making the playoffs, as they may do, could be counter-productive to the long-term interests of the club.
--The Phoenix Coyotes have won eight straight. Somebody please explain. While you're at it, explain how the franchise that we were told would be locked up and sold by Dec. 31st is still in the hands of the league. The longer the 'Yotes continue to be in this limbo, the less likely the league will be in any position to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta, even if it wanted to.
--With defencemen Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Jaroslav Spacek all out for the season, it seems less and less likely the Canadiens will go anywhere this spring. Then they walk into Vancouver and beat the NHL's best club. Go figure.
--Brad Marchand has to be the quietest 19-goal scorer in the NHL this season. He had none in 20 games last year. Combine that with the fact that Milan Lucic now has 25 goals in 57 games after getting only nine last season, and you can see why the Bruins are no longer the lowest scoring team in the league.
--While concussions are now a major story in hockey, that should have been the case long ago. Chatting with Hall of Famer Michel Goulet this week, it's startling to remember that Goulet already had 548 goals to his name when, at the age of 34, he was forced out of the game with concussion problems after crashing into the end boards while playing with Chicago. He could have played for another four or five years. Put that name alongside Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau and others, and the carnage caused by head injuries over the past 20 years starts to become shocking.
-The most amazing stat of this hockey season? Could be that 18 teams have scored more goals this season than the Washington Capitals.