It’s been the best of times, it’s been the worst of times for the Toronto Maple Leafs; in fact, the past couple weeks have been nothing short of surreal. First, the best of times: wins against the high-flying Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, followed by a thoroughly unexpected Hockey Day in Canada victory over the league-leading Detroit Red Wings, have given the team a boost. Injured players are getting healthy. The return of the much-maligned Bryan McCabe has apparently galvanized the team’s defensive corps, not to mention relegated Andy “The Cause” Wozniewski to the Toronto Marlies. Mats Sundin, meanwhile, who turns thirty-seven years old today, has fifty-eight points in fifty-seven games—not bad for a guy with a “career-threatening” injury (we’ll never tire of using it against you, Steve Simmons!).
As for the worst of times: while some might argue the last forty-one years have been “the worst of times” for the Maple Leafs, last week’s 8-0 loss (at home, no less) to the Florida Panthers made us feel as bad as we’ve ever felt as sports fans. It didn’t help that we were in attendance, taking in the massacre from start-to-finish high up in Section 309. Yet while we’ve grown distressingly used to blowouts—this season alone, for instance, Toronto has lost by four or more goals eight times—the loss against Florida was particularly bothersome given the team’s utter lack of effort. At 4-0, it looked like the Leafs simply gave up. Poor Andrew Raycroft, booed from the second he set foot on the ice, was hung out to dry on goals 5-8; by the time the game was over the fans who stuck around were vociferously chanting, “Let’s go Panthers!” It was a humiliating night for all concerned (apart from the Panthers, obviously, many of whom padded their stats quite nicely) and demonstrated how far the Maple Leafs still are from respectability.
So which is the real Toronto Maple Leafs: the team that beat two of the league’s top-three teams on consecutive Saturdays, or the one who got shellacked by 23rd overall Florida? While much of the evidence would indicate it’s the latter, the recent spate of good performances has reignited talk of a late-season push towards the playoffs. At least one thing’s clear: after spending much of his tenure with the team in limbo, erstwhile general manager John Ferguson, Jr. has finally found stability in the form of an analyst gig with TSN…which includes a starring role with the network’s trade deadline coverage. The irony should eventually crush you to death.
Photo by Stephen Johns.