The Toronto Maple Leafs currently hold the longest championship drought of all active NHL teams. This is a somewhat astonishing fact given the team and league’s history spans over a century. However, the term ‘embarrassment’ perfectly represents this organization, not for its championship drought, but for the 55 years of disappointment after disappointment.
Maybe it’s the blown leads, maybe it’s the playoff losses, or maybe it’s the fact that this organization has not won a single round in the playoffs since 2004. All that we know is that there has never been a team that gives you hope and heartbreak simultaneously, like the Toronto Maple Leafs. For example, in four of the past five games, the Leafs have built a 3-1 lead (hope) and have subsequently blown the lead each time (heartbreak).
Regardless, there is never a dull moment here in Leaf Land, and that is why this bi-weekly column is here: to keep you up to date on the latest ups and downs surrounding our source of pride, sorrow, and despair.
Oddly enough, the recent game against the New York Rangers perfectly sums up who the Leafs are. They came out of the gates flying, having an incredible start to the game and building up a 3-1 lead. Then reality slapped them in the face as the Rangers went on to score five unanswered goals, winning the game 6-3.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe, who is typically reserved in his post-game interviews, did not hold back when stating his disapproval for how the Leafs played: “Today I just thought that we played soft. I just thought we got exposed for being a team that was just soft and purposeless.”
What may surprise you is that this team is actually not bad. The Leafs are currently seventh out of 32 teams yet their fanbase seems the most distraught. This can be attributed to the culture of losing this organization has displayed that seems to poison every player and member of staff hired.
To some, the Leafs are simply cursed. They have the personnel, the system, and the staff to make runs deep into the playoffs. This team has skill, but it might not have the will to fully understand how good they are and how far they can go. If this trend continues for the sixth year straight, there will most likely be big changes to this team and, most would say, it starts with the core four: Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares.
Auston Matthews, the first overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, will likely go down as the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of all time. Expect a statue of this goal machine outside of Scotiabank Arena. To give you some idea of how good he is, in his first NHL game, he managed to score four times, something no other player has ever done (and yes, the Leafs somehow managed to lose this game too). Last season, he scored 41 goals in just 52 games, eight more than hall of fame rival Connor McDavid, and won the Rocket Richard trophy for leading the league in goals.
Mitch Marner is one of the best playmakers in the game. Marner has led his team in assists every year since entering the league. His combination of offence and defence makes him one of the best players in the world.
William Nylander, perhaps the most eccentric personality on the team, is a very interesting story. Drafted eighth overall in 2014, Nylander comes from a hockey family. His father, Michael Nylander, had a long career in the NHL and his brother, Alex, is a prospect in Pittsburgh. The fanbase has grown to love Nylander since he was the best Leaf in the playoffs and at times this season, the most consistent.
John Tavares, another former first overall selection in 2009, grew up in Mississauga, played most of his career in New York, then chose to sign with Toronto back in 2018, fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a Leaf. He now serves as captain and is the definition of leadership by example.
The most important goal for this team should be to win a round in the playoffs. If that doesn’t happen, there will likely be large-scale changes perhaps of player and management. All one can do now is to let go of hope and prepare for heartbreak, because as a Leaf fan, that is all we are ever given.