I’ve been planning to post, but kept waiting for the team to hit what I thought would be an even more difficult period than their early-season record showed.
I'm still waiting.
I was evidently quite wrong (at least for now) about the team. I had been planning to reflect on the fact that this roster, as currently constituted, probably does not inspire most Leaf fans. But somehow, without much in the way of front line talent, they are battling, competing, grinding…whatever term we want to use, and putting up points in the standings.
I guess I’m impressed.
Given that I’ve shifted the initial premise for this post, I’m now mostly interested in your thoughts as to where you see this club going. As expected, Babcock has put his imprint on the club. They have a system, stick to it and play pretty hard. And they’ve started getting results, against some pretty good teams (Dallas and Nashville on the road, Vancouver on the weekend at the ACC). Even before that, they were hanging with teams better than many of us expected they could.
What are we seeing? Kadri emerging (re-emerging?) as a player with not only skill, but drive. Reimer being Reimer, but the better, more-like-the-old-days confident Reimer. Rielly, as we expected, becoming a star in front of our eyes. And, a cast of characters that seems to know their job, and are doing it rather well for the most part.
Of course this could all change quickly. The Leafs are not likely to be confused with a Cup contender. I’m not even sure we should be talking about playoffs.
But is it enough for you (for now) that the team is playing hard and seemingly, becoming hard to play against?
The games may not always be exciting, and it seems unlikely we’ll end up with anyone in the “Top Ten” (Top 50?) in individual scoring, but is that a good trade-off if the roster is being re-built on the fly the “right” way by Shanahan, Lamoriello and company?
Hey, there are re-builds that work: Pittsburgh did it twice (once in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s after they had hit rock bottom and were able to build with Lemieux and Jagr, and more recently with Crosby and Malkin) and the Blackhawks, who were really struggling themselves a decade ago, have been awfully good over the past few years, with three Cups on their resume. When Wirtz the younger took control of the Chicago franchise, he seemed to establish a different tone and bring different values. Since then, with the help of Seabrook and Keith, Toews and Kane and some outstanding role-players, they’ve become a mini-dynasty. (It helps that management and coaching have been stable, with Talon/Bowman and of course Quenneville in charge.) Their success is all the more impressive given that they have accomplished so much in the cap era, when rosters can't be kept together.
Then there is the Oilers. They hit bottom a few years ago and stayed there. As a result, they've had a number of very high draft picks to work with, the latest being the now injured Connor McDavid. They may yet turn the corner, but something still hasn’t quite clicked for the organization. They aren’t an example of a successful re-build.
Maybe the Leafs will re-boot like the Penguins or Blackhawks. Regardless, for the moment, they have established a work ethic standard that Babcock will no doubt insist they reach most nights, whatever the results on the scoreboard.