I couldn’t help but pay attention to some of Toronto Raptor GM Bryan Colangelo’s comments in his end-of-year state-of-the-nation address to the Toronto media this week.
It was a case of a sports executive (one who has failed spectacularly) somehow finding the nerve to address his team’s fan base with a stunning degree of bravado. Did he really expect Raptor supporters to buy into the explanation that the team is much better than its record?
C’mon: a team is what it is. It is what its record says it is.
He basically delivered the same message last year- and two years ago.
Here’s hoping that Brian Burke- who most Leaf fans are willing to support as he rebuilds the team- isn’t talking the same way two years from now.
Watching the 16 playoff teams compete reminds us of the obvious: the Leafs are still a long way away from being a Stanley Cup contender.
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, with some continued tinkering, the playoffs may be achievable as early as next season. Most "experts” would not have predicted the big move by teams such as Colorado and Phoenix this past regular season. Things can get better. There is young talent on those clubs that has emerged along with some veterans who make solid contributions.
The Leafs could be like those teams in a year, though a lot could go also wrong between now and then.
Now, if were talking about a realistic hope of competing for a championship, the Leafs are nowhere near where they will need to be. (Look at the Devils. They have one of the best goalies of this generation, the most explosive offensive player in the series, lots of experience and depth, and they are on the verge of being eliminated in the first round.)
Just watching the intensity of these games is a reminder of how far the Leafs have to go.
For me, it’s a lot like watching the Leafs in the ‘70s. Oh, they had some good players in the early years- Keon, Ullman, Ellis, Parent and a young defense corps, and later with Sittler, Salming, McDonald, Palmateer, etc.
But then you’d flip the channel and watch Montreal play, and it was like you were watching a different sport. Everything the Habs did was accomplished at a fast pace, with a real power play and players performing with intense determination.
Jumping ahead, we all remember the Leafs from the ’93 playoffs and how hard those guys played. Not only the stars-Gilmour, Clark, Andreychuk, but the so-called “third-line” guys like Zezel, Berg and Osborne. They deserved a better fate because they did play hard and tough.
One of the problems with the Leaf teams who did advance again to the final four in 1998 and 2002 is that they were missing one or two more guys who were willing to play with the toughness that is required to advance in playoff competition. Every single guy has to bring what they have to the table every night.
The current Leafs have some nice young pieces we’ve all talked about- Bozak, Kulemin and Kessel up front, and Gunnarsson, Schenn and of course Phaneuf now on the back end- with maybe a legitimate goalie in Gustavsson coming along. However, none has had the opportunity to show they are a playoff performer.
To win at this time of year, we all know you need depth- lots of it, at every position- or you don’t have a prayer.
Right now, what the Leafs have is a few pieces in a very big puzzle.
Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team