Canada Lost Its Biggest Sports Fan

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A part of Canada died on October 17, 2017. Gord Downie passed away after battling brain cancer at the age of 53. For those outside Canada, Downie was the lead singer of the Canadian rock band the Tragically Hip. The band’s songs are often rooted in Canada whether it is about a late Toronto Maple Leaf player or a small Ontario town. I wrote a piece about Canadian athletes and whether you need international success to be considered great. It is often said that if you are a musician from Canada, you need to be big in the United States in order to have a successful career in music. The Tragically Hip (or the Hip for short) proved that you can achieve that without leaving your home soil.

From Mike Luck (@LuckyMikeLuck)

Downie was a big sports fan. He would often reference the sport of hockey in his lyrics like Fifty Mission Cap, Fireworks, and Heaven is a Better Place. In the last couple of years, he has appeared at a number of sporting events most recently Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinal between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Air Canada Centre. Not many people knew that longtime Boston Bruins executive Harry Sinden was Downie’s Godfather. Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr and former Bruins head coach and current broadcaster Don Cherry were good friends of Downie and the band.

Canadian athletes have drawn inspiration from Downie. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin used the song Courage whenever he came up to bat during the 2016 season. The Hip’s final concert (in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario) was aired live on the CBC. At the time, the 2016 Summer Olympics were on and the CBC were the main broadcaster of the games in Canada. But they took two hours from their schedule to air that live performance. Canadian athletes who were taking part in the Rio games were huddled around large television sets watching the performance from the Olympic village. That is how much Downie meant to Canadians and sports.

Here’s the official statement from the Downie family:Here’s a sample of what people in the sports world are saying about Downie’s passing:

50 Mission Cap.

A post shared by Toronto Maple Leafs (@mapleleafs) on

RIP Gord (1964-2017).

Also see:

Do You Need International Success to be a Great Canadian Athlete?
Canada has the Best Athletes. Period.
Late Night’s Ultimate Sports Fan

 

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Matthews Made Price Look Mortal

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Photo: Globe and Mail

Let me get this out of the way first. Carey Price is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL right now. He has faced the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Steven Stamkos and has made outstanding saves against them. Price often stands on his head when the team is struggling to score goals. He is the reason the Montr√©al Canadiens have been winning in recent years. Price also helped lead Canada to a gold medal in men’s ice hockey at the last Winter Olympic games. So he is no slouch when he is in net. But last Saturday night, a 20-year-old phenom made the veteran goaltender look average, dare I say mortal.

Montr√©al was hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens had won 14 consecutive head-to-head match ups prior to Saturday’s game. Their last loss to the Buds was on January 19, 2014. That streak ended on Saturday and it was largely due to the play of Auston Matthews.

The Maple Leafs forward scored two of Toronto’s four goals in the game and he made Montr√©al’s number one goaltender look like a number two. Price stood there as if he was a deer crossing the road and a speeding pick up truck with its headlights on was heading right towards him. It is something hockey fans, not just those in Montr√©al, were not used to seeing.

Here’s Matthews’ first goal of the game (from @Goal_Leafs_Goal):

Matthews’ second goal came in overtime:

Price’s performance on Saturday reminded me of another Habs goaltender from back in the day, Andr√© (Red Light) Racicot. Racicot was the back up to Patrick Roy in the 1992-1993 season and was known to let in some goals that would normally be stopped.

If you are a fan of Team Canada, it is perhaps a good thing that there won’t be any NHLers playing at the Winter Olympics next year in PyeongChang. Matthews would likely make Swiss cheese out of Price if Canada and the US were to face off in a game.

There is a hashtag out for this Habs season, #Drivefor25. It is to symbolize the 24 Stanley Cup championships the Canadiens have won in the history of the franchise and their aim to get their 25th. But at this pace, they will be lucky to get to that number in wins this season.

The Habs have struggled out of the gate this season winning only once in their first five games (that one by the way was a shootout win over Ottawa in their first game of the season). I would bet that their fans will be willing to live with a lost season if their team can win all four head-to-head match ups with the Maple Leafs. That, however, changed on Saturday. Thanks in part to a boy from Arizona.

Also see:

Things are Going Good for the Leafs
Price is Right for Canada
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain

Golden Knights Not Your Typical Expansion Team

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The Vegas Golden Knights are 3 & 0 to start not only the 2017-2018 NHL season but also their maiden voyage in the National Hockey League. Mind you, my Maple Leafs are also 3 & 0 so the haters will say: it’s early.

The difference between starts from the Leafs and the Knights is a) the level of talent, and b) the schedule. There is no Auston Matthews or a Mitch Marner on the Knights and the Maple Leafs won two of their 3 games against a playoff team with a former Vezina winner (New York Rangers), and a recent Stanley Cup champ (Chicago). Two of Vegas’ three wins were against the lowly Arizona Coyotes, a team that some would say plays like an expansion team.

But having said all that, the Golden Knights are making a lot of noise early on in the season. Part of it is because of the caliber of talent that was made available to General Manager George McPhee.¬†What other first-year team can acquire a Marc-Andre Fleury or a James Neal in the expansion draft? I can’t think of any. Fleury looks like the goaltender that once led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009 and Neal is lighting the lamp at a record pace.

Add to it, the backdrop of the horrific massacre two weekends ago where 58 people were killed during a shooting at an outdoor music festival. The emotions coming from that and the team providing an avenue to escape is allowing the Knights to quickly develop a large fan base. Vegas’ home opener on Tuesday was something to be said. The ceremony was slightly subdued which led the team’s performance on the ice to provide enough pomp and circumstance to make it a celebratory occasion.

Time will only tell whether the Golden Knights can keep this up and become a playoff contender in the first year of existence. The next two games will provide a true test for the Knights: Detroit on Friday and Boston on Sunday. But it is a storybook start for the team and the Knights’ management are the authors of it.

Also see:

Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money
The Raptors are Playing with House Money
Surprised by the Blue Jays’ Success? You Shouldn’t Be

 

Contact Won’t Kill Sport, Petty Rules Will

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I recall the 1994 baseball players strike where there were cries that fans will never watch a game again. That same sentiment was echoed in 2004 when the NHL locked out its players which lasted the entire season. Everyone, at least in the media, believed this was the end of professional hockey as we know it.

Fast forward to 2014, both baseball and hockey have never seen their respective sport become more popular than before. Labour strife has not killed sport as a lot of experts have suggested. Earlier this year, members of the United States Women’s Ice Hockey threatened to boycott the Women’s World Hockey Championship over money. It hardly got any negative press. In fact, many in the media stood up and applauded as did hockey fans on both sides of the border.¬†These people who said they would never see a game again because of the bickering over money are making Donald Trump the most honest man in the world.

The latest threat making the rounds is concussions. Contrary to popular belief, head injuries is not news. The difference is, thanks to advancement in medical technology, we are now seeing the consequences of getting hit in the head. That has caused doctors and others in the medical profession to call for rules in place to prevent such injuries. But how? There have been penalties in place for hits to the head but it is as clear as mud. As we are witnessing it being put into practice, the new rules have not prevented more head injuries and players are not sure what’s allowed and what is not.

There is a false notion that people watch hockey for goal scoring. No questions that scoring goals is important, it what determines who wins or loses. But as I have said before on a number of occasions, it takes more than scoring goals to win games. And part of that is preventing goals from being scored. That involves a certain level of contact. Plain and simple. We have witnessed during all-star games where if defence is non-existent, it makes for a boring game. You can’t defend if you are not allowed to make contact, or at the very least there is the possibility of making contact.

The violent nature of hockey or football is not going to kill the sport. What will kill sport is putting in rules that will hinder the player’s ability to perform to the best of their abilities.¬†Can’t hit in the head? Can’t go below the knees? The “sensitive” area is certainly off-limits. So what part of the body is left to make contact? You realize that these ridiculous calls for safety are being championed by those who don’t give a damn. They wear suits, glasses, have a PhD in something, not the qualities I associate with a sports fan. They claim they are doing it in the best interest for sports, but don’t believe it for a second. The lack of contact in sports, and the petty rules enforcing it, is going to do far more damage than the cancellation of the World Series or losing an entire NHL season.

Also see:

Have Attitudes Towards Athletes Who Boycott/Strike Changed?
The Latest Futile Attempt to Ban Fighting in Hockey
Hockey is a Tough Sport, Get Use to it

Kaepernick Only Has Himself to Blame… Plus, Defending Your Brand

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Free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned. There are some who feel he is being blackballed for taking a knee during the playing of the American national anthem before every game during the 2016 NFL season. Kaepernick is not being blackballed, rather he dug himself a hole that he can’t get out of. Despite the actions of Michael Bennett and Marshawn Lynch over the weekend, most if not all of Kaepernick’s momentum gained from his publicity stunt has disappeared. Even Kaepernick’s old team, the San Francisco 49ers, a team based in one of the most politically progressive cities in the United States, feels he has become more of a liability and did not make any effort to re-sign him. Nobody wants to be associated with a player who is not only against cops, but supports the violent demise of law enforcement officials who are charged with protecting the communities we live in, that includes front line police officers. The colour of one’s skin be damned. Kaepernick knows that and he has only himself to blame for his demise.

When the Miami Dolphins were looking for a quarterback to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill, they managed to lure Jay Cutler out of retirement and have him as their starter rather than Kaepernick. That caused many who cover the team and the NFL to scratch their heads and even sparked outrage. Liberal filmmaker Spike Lee is planning to hold a rally in New York City for Kaepernick prior to the start of the 2017 season. But what some fail to mention is during a news conference last season, Kaepernick proudly wore a t-shirt with the image of the late Cuban President Fidel Castro. To some people they say “so what”, but for many Cubans living in Miami who fled Castro’s tyranny, that display of affection towards a dictator is no different to praising Adolf Hitler. Former Miami Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen learned that the hard way when he spoke highly of Castro during an interview in 2012. The backlash ensued and it became a distraction resulting in the Marlins finishing dead last in the division that year and it cost Guillen his job despite having 3 years and $7.5 Million left on his contract. The Dolphins obviously didn’t want to duplicate that fiasco.

Kaepernick’s political stance is not the only reason he has not landed a job on an NFL team. He still considers himself an elite quarterback but that is simply no longer the case. In fact, he is just a shell of himself. Kaepernick lost his starting job prior to the start of last season, and prior to his protest. He finished the season with a quarterback rating of 90.7 (ESPN rating is 55.2). That is better than the 78.5 he had in 2015 but a far cry from a 98.3 in 2012 where Kapernick led the Niners to the Super Bowl. No team is willing to pay millions of dollars for that kind of quarterback and I would hazard to guess Kaepernick won’t settle for anywhere near the league minumum.

Another knock against Kaepernick I believe is he is developing a reputation of being a bad teammate and a coach killer like another former Niner, Terrell Owens. I think Jim Harbaugh’s and Chip Kelly’s tenures as head coach of the Niners both ended badly as a result of Kaepernick. Kaepernick is so self-absorbed that he doesn’t think he needs any motivation to play better. He has put himself ahead of the team which makes for an uneasy situation in the locker room regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on. If that’s the attitude Kaepernick is going to take, he will be doing his sitting of the national anthem this season at home.

Kaepernick announced earlier this year that he is done with protesting claiming his message has been delivered. But that hasn’t made teams feel confident in signing the once promising quarterback. Kaepernick remains in football limbo, and it is due to his undoing and his alone.

PROTECTING THE SHIELD:

Kudos to the Detroit Red Wings organization for publicly condemning last weekend’s white nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Virgina. Several demonstrators were seen carrying what looked like armoured shields with the Red Wings logo on it. It turns out a white supremacist group based out of Detroit modified the logo design to suit their group.

By all intents and purposes, this amounts to identity theft. Not to mention the Nazis were a socialist political party, so for opponents of these groups who say they are on “the right” are being dishonest at best. The Klu Klux Klan are no more to the right than the Black Panthers.

The Red Wings organization were quick to defend their brand and are considering taking legal action against the hate group. It is nice to see a sports organization take a stand instead of caving into the demands of fringe groups, namely those against the name Redskins.

Also see:

Athletes Should Stick to Sports
Sports is Not a Platform for Activism
Where are the Free Speech Advocates Now?

 

What If Making Trades Was That Easy

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This Blue Jays season has been so disappointing that even the recent (and some would say expected) trades of Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith to contending teams were met with frowns by media and the like. Not so much that these players were dealt away, more like what we got in return. Pouting at Ross Atkins for making the trades is one thing, actually pulling the trigger on one is more difficult than people like to believe. Some folks blindly believe the Blue Jays can pick players up at a drop of the hat. And many of them work in sports media. If only it were that easy.

I have listened to sports talk radio for years and too many times I hear callers ask the host the same question: “why can’t (insert team here) get (insert player here)?” or “they should trade (insert player here) for (insert player here), that would be a great trade.” I remember hearing one caller insisting the Blue Jays should trade Kevin Pillar to the Dodgers for Clayton Kershaw, straight up. First off, you have to convince me the Dodgers would be willing to part with their ace for then Toronto’s young unproven outfielder. Secondly, the idea immediately comes off as a pipe dream. There is no logical basis to make the trade other than to promote phony outrage and anger that someone would not take such a trade proposal seriously. It makes you wonder the kind of people who listen to sports talk radio shows and whether that is the kind of people advertisers want to be associated with.

But let’s just say (for the sake of argument) acquiring the players we wanted was that easy. For starters (and I’m speaking from the Toronto sports fan’s perspective), the Blue Jays would surpass the Yankees as the franchise leader in World Series championships. Maple Leafs fans would be bragging about a Stanley Cup dynasty, not lamenting about not winning the Cup since 1967. If making a trade was that easy, no one would be talking about consequences such as the lack of parity it would cause or how the trade will impact the other team.

Another thing to think about is if trades were that easy, why would teams need general managers? If you believe the armchair GMs, all you need to do is pick up the phone, announce your demands and bingo, you get the player you want. Anybody can do that. In fact, why not just walk into a store and take whatever you want on the shelf? That kind of act would land you in jail but it seems some people feel it’s the way to do business in professional sports.

It probably took Alex Anthopoulos weeks if not days to negotiate the trade that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto. There were those who didn’t want the team to part with Brett Lawrie, the Blue Jays’ third baseman at the time, who ended being one of the players the Blue Jays sent to Oakland for Donaldson. That was one of the challenges Anthopoulos had to face. Perhaps it is all Pat Glillick’s fault. Glillick made things pretty easy during his tenure as Blue Jays GM. His blockbuster trade in 1991 that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter from San Diego led to two World Series Championships and now everyone thinks they can be a general manager in sports. But all kidding aside, if only making trades were that easy. What should the Blue Jays do about Jose Bautista? Why not ask Justin Bieber?

Also see:

Even if Bautista and Encarnacion Return, the Blue Jays Still Have Areas to Address
Firing Exposes Incompetence… Among Fans and Media
Get the Right Player First, then Spend the Money

By Far, Stanley Cup Playoffs are Better Than NBA Playoffs

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There has been a lot of talk about how the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors have been dominating their opponents in this year’s¬†NBA playoffs. So-called basketball fans and media have long cheered for the Cavaliers and the Warriors to battle it out for the NBA title.

The Toronto Raptors made things interesting last year when their Eastern Conference Final series with Cleveland was even after the first four games. That produced excitement for us fans here in “The Six” but it caused¬†quite a¬†shock to the rest of the United States. Dare I say more shocking than Donald Trump winning the US Presidential election. As¬†great as it would have been to see the Raptors in the finals, there are those who got their wish and¬†saw Golden State and Cleveland¬†battle it out¬†for the championship. And by the looks of it, it will¬†happen again¬†for the third¬†straight year.

This year’s NBA playoffs has been predictable. Unless you live in Cleveland or in the Bay Area, there hasn’t been much excitement. Even Charles Barkley doesn’t seem interested in what’s happening in the NBA Eastern Conference Final.

https://www.clippituser.tv/c/rvvyng

Compare that the Stanley Cup Playoffs where it has been unpredictable and exciting.¬†Most of the excitement is coming from teams like the Nashville Predators, an 8th-seeded team in the Western¬†Conference¬†who will be making their first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. How can you not like what is happening with the Predators? They¬†have taken Music City by storm and it’s not just because team captain Mike Fisher’s wife is a famous musician. The Predators are making the Ottawa Senators look like the¬†Florida Panthers when it comes to fan base.

Standing in the way of bringing Lord Stanley to the Volunteer State are the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins¬†are the only team left in the playoffs¬†with a true superstar player, or in this case two,¬†in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Which¬†buries the theory that you need¬†one to be a championship contender. Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, they are all watching the playoffs from home. Add to that,¬†top teams like Chicago, Montreal, Washington, and¬†last year’s finalist San Jose were eliminated early.

There is also the fact that five of the seven Canadian teams made the playoffs this year, a year after there were none. The return of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the playoffs certainly helped even though they were not able to get by the Capitals in the first round. The Senators, perhaps, went further in the playoffs than anyone would have expected. Erik Karlsson is one of the best defenseman in the game and he is showing us why in the playoffs. Had Ottawa made it to the final, it would have been an interesting storyline with one-time Senator fan favourite Fisher facing his old team for the Cup. The Penguins and Predators have their own storyline in the finals. The two teams at one time were considered being sold to a Canadian tech billionaire. Jim Balsillie wanted another team in the Southern Ontario market but nearly ran his successful smartphone company into the ground in order to do it.

Sure, playoff hockey isn’t without its flaws. The Senators still are able to employ the neutral zone trap. But until there are rules in place to outlaw it, defensive hockey is still the way to go in the playoffs. Another is, you guessed it, the lack of¬†fighting in hockey. There’s been¬†some animosity in the playoffs but very few resulting in the drop of the gloves. The Gary-Bettman-doesn’t-want-a-Canadian-team-to-win-the-Stanley-Cup mantra is growing old but there are folks who still cling to it like those in the southern United States who many say still cling to the confederate flag. But despite all that, the Stanley Cup Playoffs remains compelling because of its unpredictability.

The NBA can have¬†all the superstar power¬†they want. I’ll take the blue-collar attitude that comes with¬†playoff hockey. It is by far the best playoff action anywhere.

Also see:

The Raptors are Playing with House Money
Bettman is the Best Commissioner in Professional Sports
Everyone Loves an Outcast

 

Crosby Owns Ovechkin

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If the rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were a heavyweight boxing match,¬†Sid the Kid¬†would be beating Ovie so bad that:¬†a)¬†the match¬†would have been stopped halfway through, and b)¬†you would not be able to¬†recognize Ovechkin’s face. Boxer Roberto Duran once uttered the famous words “No Mas”, meaning no more in Spanish, during a match where he was being¬†dominated by¬†“Sugar” Ray Leonard.¬†I’m not sure how you say¬†no more¬†in Russian but Ovie maybe muttering those very words right now.

The head-to-head match up between these two superstars has been a one-sided affair. You can’t compare the rivalry to Magic-Bird, or Manning-Brady. Ovechkin could not get over that hump on Wednesday despite being at home, despite¬†having the momentum of coming back from a 3 games to one deficit to force a Game 7, and despite having Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams, on the same team. Crosby found a way to lead his team to a big win once again.

The two are close when it comes to individual awards. Ovechkin sports three Hart Trophies as league MVP, Crosby has two. Crosby led the league in scoring twice, Ovechkin won the Art Ross once. Perhaps the one area Ovechkin can brag about is the number of times he led the league in goals scored. Ovie is a 6-time Maurice Richard winner, Crosby won it twice.

But the glaring difference is the number of rings.¬†Crosby has two Stanley Cup Championships. Ovechkin? Zero. Olympic gold medals in hockey? Again, it’s Crosby 2, Ovechkin 0. Since the two came into the league in 2005, Penguins have eliminated the Capitals in all¬†three head-to-head match ups in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Simply put, Crosby owns Ovechkin where it matters the most. There’s no contest.

Part of reason Crosby has gotten the better of Ovechkin is that¬†Crosby is more than just putting pucks in the net.¬†He is a player that likes to get dirty. That why you often see him get under opponents’ skin, knock players down, and occasionally drop the gloves when necessary. But maybe the finishing move for Sid is that¬†he has battled through¬†injuries throughout his career, and that has not stopped him one bit. In fact, one could argue that some of the setbacks he had to¬†endured has only made him better. Ovechkin likes to crash and bang too but it doesn’t seem to have the same effect the way Crosby does.

Crosby is a first-ballot Hall of Famer even if he had decided to hang up the skates after getting decked by Washington’s David¬†Steckel in the 2011 Winter Classic. Ovechin will also be in the Hall of Fame one day. There is still time for Ovechkin to get his shot at winning the Cup, or a gold medal. But until then, Sid’s got the crown. And it will take more than a head shot to knock it off.

Also see:

Backers Abandon Cam, Broncos Win One for Peyton
Hockey is a Tough Sport, Get Use to it
Winners Blaze Their Own Trail

The Young Maple Leafs will Learn from Their Playoff Run

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Sunday night¬†saw the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs season, a¬†heart-breaking 2-1 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. As disappointing as it is to be out of the playoffs, being eliminated, especially by the league’s top team, was not the end of the world.

Rookies like William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner now¬†have an¬†idea about¬†what it takes to get to the next level. They found out the hard way that they can’t go far into the playoffs by their skill alone. They realize they need to fight, both figuratively and literally, if they want to become Stanley Cup contenders. They should no longer be satisfied with just making the playoffs next season. Every one of them will now have a huge chip on their shoulder. And that, to me, is a good thing.

There will be some changes to the roster. I suspect Lou Lamoriello will be shopping around for veteran help especially on the blue line where the deficiency was glaring in the last few games of the regular season and in the first round of the playoffs. He may have to dangle a guy like James van Riemsdyk or Nazem Kadri in order to do that. Lamoriello could have acquired that kind of player at the trade deadline. But I believe there is a reason why Maple Leafs management stood pat. They wanted to see how the rookies respond when the game is on the line, when the playoffs are on the line, and whether they have what it takes to win the big game. There was plenty of effort but, as we saw on Sunday, not enough to get over the hump.

Make no bones about it. I was expecting a different outcome in the series. But like I said before, what the Maple Leafs do in the playoffs is gravy. They were playing with house money. For a roster where their best players are not allowed to drink beer in the United States, this Maple Leafs team took great strides this season. I expect to see more of that next season.

Also see:

Maple Leafs’ Season a Credit to Management
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain
Maple Leafs Banking on Moneypuck

Maple Leafs’ Season a Credit to Management

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The Toronto Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot on Saturday. Nobody expected them to reach the playoffs this season despite an influx of good young players led by their number one pick,¬†Auston Matthews.¬†Brendan Shannahan, Lou Lamoriello, and Mike Babcock should¬†get all the credit¬†for the Maple Leafs’ turnaround this season.

Before I continue on, I predicted before the season that the Maple Leafs would make the playoffs, get 40 wins, knock the Habs out of the playoffs, and Mitch Marner and Connor Brown would each¬†get 20 goals in¬†their rookie season. I’m 3 out of 5 at this point. Not too shabby, huh?

There are many who are quite surprised of the turnaround that the Maple Leafs had this season. It was one year ago that the Buds were dead last and were a lottery ball away from officially drafting Matthews. But it didn’t surprise me,¬†mainly because there was a management team in place that believed in them. They drafted, developed, and played them in the minors. They believed enough in them that they didn’t go out to land a major acquisition at the trade deadline. Now we are seeing how they¬†fare against the big boys.

Another thing to add is health. As of Saturday, 9 players have appeared in all 81 games.¬†4 more missed a total of 16 games due to injury: William Nylander (1), Tyler¬†Bozak (4), Marner (5), and Morgan Reilly (6). You can’t make the playoffs with your best players on the sidelines. Part of it is luck but how you manage those injuries is also key and that is where good management comes in.

Frederik Anderssen rebounded after a slow start, Nazem Kadri is playing like he did when he was a star with the London Knights¬†under Dale Hunter, and Bozak and James van Riemsdyk are¬†having a revival thanks to the infusion of youth.¬†If the Maple Leafs hadn’t had blown so many third period leads early on in the season, they would have been challenging the Habs for first place in the Atlantic and Washington for the President’s Trophy.

People who spent the entire season second-guessing decisions of management, or were banking on a late-season collapse,¬†are going to be on a steady diet of crow the next few weeks. What the Maple Leafs do between now at the end of the playoffs is gravy. The fact that they exceeded everyone’s expectations should make this season a success.¬†And you can thank the three amigos for it.

Also see:

Why Not Shanahan?
The Leafs Got Babcock… Now What?
The Maple Leafs Need Their Own Bringer of Rain