It’s easy to fall into the trap (especially, I guess, as Leaf fans) to look at the cup as half empty. I’ve posted a fair bit lately about things that are concerning to me about the leadership and direction of the franchise, but that shouldn’t be the only thing that we discuss here.
I’ve always wanted this to be a place where hockey fans and yes, Leaf fans in particular, can come to and have it feel like home—a place where we chat about the Leafs, remember the good times (and there have been some, for sure) and hope for a better tomorrow, as it were. I think we have largely been successful doing that here, while listening to and respecting different points of view.
Those of you who drop by fairly regularly know, I hope, that I just don’t ignore the issues that the organization faces—some of which they have surely created themselves. But since we don’t want this to become a dumping ground, a place where we just complain about how awful things are (hey, it wasn’t that long ago that things seemed, if not rosy, at least hopeful…), let’s focus on some of the positives that we can take out of the 2011-’12 NHL season, as we look to the future.
- We have an elite offensive talent in Phil Kessel. I think, if Lupul had not been hurt and the team was still playing with the passion that comes from being in the playoff chase, that the young winger would have 40 plus goals by now. He may pad his stats in the next few games, and while it won’t “mean” anything, perhaps it will help him and how he feels about himself—and the Leafs—going forward. Let’s see if Phil can thrill us a few more times before the season is out.
- While I’m concerned that we may have to trade him to get some of the parts we need, I think on a good team, Carl Gunnarsson is a keeper. I don’t know if, in the modern parlance, he fits as 3-4 guy, a really, really good 5, or if he blossoms into a 2 (first-pair) defenseman. But while I’ve seen slippage in his game in the second half (there’s a lot of that going around, of course), I still like his game.
- Reimer may—may—just rebound. I’m not guaranteeing it. I’m not saying it will happen. I just feel as though, while he has flaws (what goalie doesn’t—just shoot high, they all play on their knees…) the kid can still play. Will he be a starter? A really good starter? I hope he can be. (This does not preclude the Leafs from exploring options in goal, of course…)
- Lupul will be back and presumably healthy next season. While he was having a "career year", there is no reason to suspect he can't be a major contributor again next season, even if his numbers are not as spectacular as they were this year.
- Kadri will be with the team full-time. Surely he will provide some offense, and help in terms of the Leafs having more balanced offensive productivity across several lines.
- Colborne will be here as well. We seemingly have been talking about him forever as though he will be an impact guy. We might as well see him with the big club regularly. (After Dudley’s recent comments, it sounds like the Leafs pretty much have to run him out there on one of the top two lines next season. They obviously believe he will carry the load…)
- I love Mike Komisarek’s attitude. He is one of those ultimate team guys, but for a host of reasons, it just hasn’t worked out for him here. After three seasons, we can pull the plug without feeling he has not had an opportunity to earn his time here. I’m anticipating he will be with the Marlies next season, thereby providing significant cap relief (assuming we have a new, favorable, CBA, whereby teams can bury bad contracts…).
- That roster spot could go to an emerging Marlie defenseman (Holzer, Blacker?) and that could be a good thing.
- Carlyle will be entrenched as Head coach. We all know (at least we think we know) what we’re getting with him. A guy who demands hard-nosed play, matches lines and focuses on defense. Much like Ken Hitchcock and John Tortorella, and maybe even Dave Tippett. I have to believe he will adjust a bit, too, and work with the roster he has next fall and bring the team together at training camp.
- Nik Kulemin has to be better next season. Has to be. He showed me enough the three previous seasons that he can be a very useful two-way guy here.
- I think Matt Frattin can have a break-out season and really evolve into a hard-skating power forward in the years ahead.
- Grabovski did not have a remarkable season this year, but with a new baby and a new contract behind him, he should be in his prime for the next couple of seasons at least.
- David Steckel wins face-offs. (OK, I'm stretching a bit, but some day it will seem important when the games mean something...)
- Assuming there is no dramatic “sophomore” year regression, Jake Gardiner should put up some dramatically improved offensive numbers next season. A little size and strength, while not perhaps absolutely necessary for his skating game, shouldn’t hurt his play in his own end of the ice—and in front of the Leaf net.
- Burke wants to win, badly. Almost as much, he wants to make himself look good while doing it. He and his large management group will work their tails off to find and bring in talent for Carlyle’s roster.
Look, I’m not ignoring what’s right in front of me, but I refuse to concede that everything needs to be blown up. There is a base to work with here. Another skill player (could be one of the young Marlies—or two or three), a veteran leader, a new or current goaltender who has a big season…and, well, 2012-’13 could be much brighter.
I’m sure I’m missing some other positives…as always, send your thoughts along.