To be clear, this is not a column intended to criticize any of the current Leaf players. In fact, it’s a hard-working team that has certainly seemed to meet, maybe even surpass, the expectations of most Leaf fans. I like the effort I’m seeing most nights.
But if fans are honest, even on a team they really like, there may be individual players that they, say, wouldn’t be upset if those players were traded or perhaps played somewhere else. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good players, or aren’t valuable and really solid individuals.
In short, it’s a fan thing—very personal.
Here’s an example. Through the beginning of the 2010-’11 season, I was very open here about my general apathy (maybe even antipathy) toward Mikhail Grabovski. I saw him as an ex-Hab with some skill, but a guy who was smallish and played that way, and wasn’t particularly gritty or consistent.
Maybe I was way off-base and didn’t give him a fair shot. Fair or not, I put him in my mental player “box”. He was what he was, I figured and I didn’t much like it. I just thought of him as some guy who had an issue with some ex-Montreal teammates whenever he played them. He seemed motivated when he played Montreal, but that was about it. Then last season, I slowly came to see he really was a hard-working player and he slowly won me over with his combination of smart play and steady performance night after night. In fact, I thought he was the guy who should have been the mid-season All-star representative from the Leafs, and I felt he was the team’s MVP a season ago—and said so here.
It’s like that wonderful old TV episode of “Frasier”. Frasier’s radio show is assessed by one of those “focus groups” and Frasier and his colleagues are allowed (even though they weren’t supposed to) to actually listen to what everyday people had to say about what they liked—or didn’t—about his show. Every person in the focus group had glowing things to say about Frasier and his radio program, except one guy. That fellow was pushed as to why he didn’t like the show. He was reluctant to be forthcoming, but under further nudging from the facilitators hosting the session, eventually said, “Well, I just don’t like him”….
Upon hearing this perceived personal slight, Frasier spent the rest of the episode tracking this poor fellow down to try and discover precisely why the guy didn’t like Frasier. The episode ended with Frasier inadvertently setting the gentleman’s newspaper stand on fire.
So there are times when we just don’t like a certain player. It might be his style of play. Might be that he doesn’t pass the puck enough. Maybe he’s got what we perceive as an attitude of sorts or gives the puck away too much. Whatever.
Through the Quinn years there were always guys I was frustrated with, Robert Reichel being one. Talented guy who played great at International events for his home country but always seemed un-involved with the Leafs. Again, probably not fair but that’s how I perceived him. I was not a fan of Jonas Hoglund, though he was certainly a talented guy. I just wanted to see more effort, I guess—and a few more goals.
I’ll admit a personal bias with the current group. I like Gunnarsson and Kulemin a lot as players. Both are quiet guys who aren’t flashy but generally just go about their business without being noticed too much yet do their jobs well. (Kulemin is not scoring this year, I realize…but hey, I like the guy.) So they’re always on my “players I want to keep as Leafs…” list.
I’m also a Reimer guy, primarily because I like the way he presents himself in public. He seems like a guy not yet caught up in being a star, someone who may (and we’ll see…) be able to maintain his humility in a world that makes it awfully difficult for multi-millionaire (and often pampered) athletes to do just that.
But on the other list, the one with players I’m not as fond of? Hmmm…that’s tougher, because there is no one on the current team that I can honestly say I wish the Leafs would get rid of.
That said, I guess I’m not a huge MacArthur guy. Nice player, but I probably more see what I perceive to be as his less useful traits and focus on things I don’t like about his play. Again, not fair, but a fan’s prerogative, eh?
The other fellow (and I feel like I shouldn’t be admitting this!) is Connolly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched this guy play for years. I remember that the Islanders traded him when he was just a kid to the Sabres. I saw him develop into a solid two-way player. I’ve probably been influenced by the persistent negative talk I was exposed to the last couple of seasons he spent in Buffalo. Many fans were largely dismissive of him, feeling he was no longer a factor and was fading as a player. Of course, there is the injury history, too. That’s no reason not to like somebody, but I probably haven’t quite put out the “welcome wagon” for him as I might have for, say, Milan Lucic if he was suddenly a Leaf. Connolly has played some nice hockey for Toronto. But these things sometimes take time, eh?
Anyway, I’ve put some names out there. Nothing personal. They guys I've mentioned, both past and present were/are good NHL players- just not favourites of mine.
Anyone on the current Leaf team (or from years gone by) you could live (or could have lived) without?