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10 good things about the Maple Leafs looking forward

Over the last few posts, I’ve presented a sometimes, if not pessimistic, certainly measured view about where the Leafs are as a team at this point in their development in the Burke era.

Recognizing that, as I mentioned, I found Wilson’s comments a few days ago about the “scary-dangerous” Leaf power play premature; I believe the forward line depth is still lacking; and Peddie’s remarks in support of Burke were, to me, funny, if not sad, I still absolutely see some positive signs on the horizon.

These positives include: 
  1. To the best of my knowledge, the Leafs have no players in the midst of–or about to face— some kind of unhappy “contract” scenario. I’m sure this is coming but for now, key players like Kessel, Kulemin, Bozak, Versteeg, Phaneuf, Gustavsson and others are locked up to some degree, and still within Leaf “control”, I believe.  There are no guys in the dressing room moaning about contracts when they should be focused on playing.
  2. It’s awfully early, but it may be that this team actually has a bit of natural chemistry on the club.  I mean, I have no idea if some guys are ‘best friends’ or whatever, but importantly, on the ice, there seems to be a sense of genuine camaraderie.  It’s a young group for sure—two guys over 30 and not one forward even that old.  So hopefully that chemistry will only improve.
  3. One game is way, way too early to make bold proclamations about perceived improvements.  But it was nice to see Brent score a goal.  I’ve followed his career at a distance over the years.  He was a fine junior at St. Mike’s in the OHL, played for Canada at the World Juniors.  But I don’t believe that he has ever had a real shot at a regular gig.  While he doesn’t have the “reputation”, the important thing is his actual performance.  If he can hold a third line together as a defensively responsible guy and can chip in with the odd goal, that can only help.
  4. If Giguerre can find that ‘zone’ analysts like to talk about, he could be a difference- maker.  He certainly was on his game Thursday night.  Again, his recent history doesn’t show the consistency you want to see and that the Leafs need, but in theory, Giguerre playing two out of every three games while Gustavsson grows into the number-one role would be ideal in the short and longer-term.
  5. One Toronto print columnist was calling for the Leafs to shift their top lines around after one game.  I don’t much care who Wilson plays with who (or is it whom?).  To me, Kulemin can play on either of the first two lines.  Same with Versteeg.  Kessel is paid to be a scoring first-line guy.  Bozak is the best center they have at this point.  So Wilson can play it however he likes.  Hell, Scotty Bowman would change lines back in the ‘70s with Montreal on a regular basis, several times within the same game.  He did the same in later years with the Red Wings.  Doesn’t much matter.  Players adapt.
  6. I well remember the beginning of the 1993-’94 season.  (I better have this straight.  It was the year after their near-run to the finals in the spring of ’93, right?)  The Leafs started the season on something like a 10-game unbeaten string.  Frankly, the rest of the season they weren’t that great, but they piled up so many points in the first part of the season, they never looked back, and they earned home ice in the playoffs and made it to the “final four” again.  I’m not suggesting the Leafs can/will do that this season, but after some rough starts in recent years, a good beginning to the season can set a tone for the rest of the season— and build good feelings in the dressing room.
  7. This is a team that, with Phaneuf, Beauchemin, Brown, Orr and others should be comfortable playing on the road.  It’s not about fighting, but being able to compete on a physical level with the other team in their home rink.  We don’t have proof of this yet, of course, but I see no reason why this can’t be a solid road team.
  8. Despite my obvious reservations about Richard Peddie commenting on Brian Burke (which to me was an unnecessary  “vote of confidence”—and from a source we never need to hear from), the Leafs do have a solid management team in place, with Burke, Nonis, Poulin, etc.  These guys are determined to shape this team into a highly competitive roster.  Not that others have not built some very good teams in the relatively recent past, but the expectations for this management team are very high from all concerned.
  9. The East is still pretty wide open.  Yes, we should expect Pittsburgh and Washington (cellar-dwellers just a few short years ago) to be good again this season, but how many Eastern conference clubs are truly loaded?  Not many.
  10. Finally, there is a different feeling about this group.  "Feelings" guarantee nothing, I realize, but my guess is they will compete hard most nights, and be in the vast majority of the games they play.
I haven’t touched on the power-play penalty-killing stuff, because it’s just too soon to make a reasonable judgment about any real improvement in those areas.  Having said that, given the personnel that is now in place, I would project that the team should make some strides in those critical areas.

There will be plenty of time to talk about weaknesses in the days to come.  For now, though, here comes Ottawa.

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