Day after day, week after week, year after year, I, along with many other Leafs fans, am presented with the challenge of defending a hockey franchise that has experienced nothing but failure for the past forty-four years. However, with the contemporary players and the management staff that the Toronto Maple Leafs consists of, it is evident that the future of this organization holds nothing but success. Various improvements in both the offensive and defensive ability of the Toronto Maple Leafs has contributed greatly to the overall performance of this franchise.
There are specific assets that construct a good hockey team, such as goal scoring, penalty killing, and goaltending. The aforementioned attributes have definitely become the greatest fields of improvement amongst the Toronto Maple Leaf players. Both the offensive and defensive abilities of the Leafs have improved via the trades and drafts that Brian Burke has made these past few years.
Brian Burke is a man that has a history of success in the field of managing a hockey organization. Prior to accepting the general manager position in Toronto, he was responsible for the seven consecutive years of playoff success of the Vancouver Canucks. Similar to what he did to the Canucks, Brian Burke intends to fill the Leafs roster with young and talented players, such as Luke Schenn, Nazem Kadri and Joey Colborne. The reason Burke wishes to fill the Toronto Maple Leafs roster with young players, rather then collecting and trading for older and more experienced players, is simply because he wishes to make Toronto, like the Canucks, a team that will be feared in the near future. Rather than thinking short term with the question “how do we win a Stanley Cup?”, Burke asks himself, “how do I change the Toronto Maple Leafs into a team that will indefinitely be successful for years to come?”.
Last year, during the 2010/2011 National Hockey League season, Burke stood by his rebuilding plan by refusing to trade Luke Schenn. As the season continued, and the trade deadline approached, Burke was reportedly given many trade offers regarding Schenn. Although Burke made it clear he believed the Leafs would win the cup if they traded Schenn for an older and more experienced player, he refused to do so. The concept of winning a Stanley Cup, and then once again becoming the “Ghost of Hockey’s Past”, was not on his agenda. The genius behind his rebuilding process is that he intends to build a strong core for the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs by filling the roster with young and talented individuals.
There are many different qualities that make a good hockey team, and offence is one of them. When considering the offence of the Toronto Maple Leafs, many names spring to mind such as Mikhail Grabovski, Joffrey Lupul and Nikolai Kulemin. However, the player who has become to symbol of the Leafs offence is Phil Kessel. Kessel was acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins two years ago and has proved himself worthy to all Leafs fans. During his time in a Leaf’s uniform, Kessel has managed to sustain a minimum thirty goal season, which is exactly the type of solid goal scorer that the Leafs require in the offensive department. The Leafs success thus far in the 2011-2012 season could not have occurred without Kessel’s amazing offensive abilities. Kessel currently leads the 2011/2012 National Hockey League in both goals and points scored with eight goals and 6 assists. He is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest factors as to how the Leafs have managed to capture the amazing record of five wins, one loss and one overtime loss thus far.
However, a hockey team must consist of more than the ability to score in order to be successful. The defensive aspect of a team is just as important, and the Leafs have seen improvement in this area just as much as they have in their offensive ability. With players such as James Reimer (goaltender) who currently holds a record of four wins and one overtime loss in the 2011-2012 season, and who currently holds a saving percentage of .912%, we have seen great improvement in the abilities of the Leafs to keep the puck out of their own net. But it takes more than a great goaltender to prevent the opposing team from scoring. Another aspect of defense in which the Leafs have seen major improvement in is the penalty kill. Defensemen, such as Dion Phaneuf who currently holds the third best record for plus/minus in the league at plus six, are a major factor when considering overall team improvement.
With both the offensive and defensive abilities of the Toronto Maple Leafs, improving through players such as Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and James Reimer, it is evident that the Leafs are and will be Stanley Cup contenders for years to come. For all Leafs fans that have had to deal with failure for the past forty-four years, it is clear that this dark age for the Leafs is at an end. The Maple Leafs will, once again, become the powerhouse hockey organization that once resided in Toronto.