Thursday, April 1, 2010
The Leafs may have been alive technically, but in reality they were eliminated from the playoffs in October after starting the year 0-7-1.
This was a tough season to watch. For most of the season there was little to be excited for and any few wins the Leafs strung together were followed rapidly by many losses.
Watching the Leafs this season has been like going through the five stages of grief, although, instead of grieving for the loss of a loved one, I’m grieving for the death of my hopes and dreams. The season isn’t over, but it’s time to say goodbye. This is the most fitting way I could think of.
Stage 1: Denial
Nope, this team isn’t this bad. As the Leafs early losing streak began to mount the season looked bleak. That’s what happens when you start a year 0-7-1 and lose a game 7-2 to the New York Rangers. I think those 7 Rangers goals account for 50% of their scoring this year. I refused to believe the team was this bad. They couldn’t possibly be this bad. Even through the worst years of JFJ when players like Jason Allison or Jeff O’Neill played large, meaningful minutes was the team this bad. I told myself, just wait for Kessel and this whole thing will turn around. At this point I was already feeling the season quickly slipping away, but I refused to believe this was a bottom five team. Deny, deny, deny.
Stage 2: Anger
Why would you trade two first round picks! Why!? After the brief success upon Kessel’s return I was slightly more optimistic about the season. Maybe this wasn’t a playoff team, but it sure wasn’t a last place team either. The brief success of December quickly vanished and Phil Kessel experienced a goal scoring drought. Without Kessel scoring, the pain of a potential lottery draft pick on another team was devastating. As long as Kessel plays well then I can deal with the pick being gone (at least this year’s pick). However, being mired in a slump lasting upwards of 10 games takes its toll on your emotions. I was angry at Kessel; angry at Burke; and most importantly, angry at the Leafs for doing this to me.
Stage 3: Bargaining
Okay, as long as the Leafs can remove themselves from a lottery position I will be fine. It had come to this. I no longer had any illusions of making the playoffs. Those were long erased. At this point I just didn’t want the Leafs to hand the Bruins a chance at the first overall draft pick. I don’t think I could deal with the relentless heckling and constant ‘what if’ scenarios that will play through my mind. What if the Leafs didn’t trade for Kessel. What if the Leafs won a few more games and the Bruins drafted some bust, rather than a perennial 100 point superstar.
Stage 4: Depression
What’s the point of even watching? This team is worthless and I’m just torturing myself. The height of my Leafs depression, which mixes with stage 5, occurred during the torturous 5-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on January 30th. Depressed people have more realistic evaluations of themselves and I was seriously picking apart every Leafs deficiency in the same manner that Peyton Manning picks apart shotty secondaries. I had finally begun to feel the certainty of the lost season. The pick would be a top-5. Even climbing out of the bottom rung of the league looked like an impossible task.
Stage 5: Acceptance
This team stinks. I’m fine with it. The draft pick will be in the top-5 and the Bruins will win the lottery to give themselves the first overall pick. It’s going to happen. Why deny it any longer? After the loss to Vancouver I was still on the Leafs bandwagon, but my mind had certainly checked out. I’d watch the games and I’d root for the Leafs, but deep down it didn’t matter anymore. The season was dead to me and I accepted it.
I went through the five stages of grief and then I woke up on Janurary 31st and found out there was a new team in Toronto. Gone were 6 players who represented futility and in exchange were Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere, and to a lesser extent, Fredrik Sjostrom. I was back. The departed included the immovable Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala. How was I not supposed to be excited by the New Leafs? Burke removed at least 50% of the Leafs’ unlikability in one trade.
This was a new team! There was an exciting buzz surrounding the team and everyone seemed hopeful after suffering through months of despondence.
The Leafs aren’t the worst place team in the league anymore, but they aren’t much better, sitting 29th. There is a chance for them to move up (marginally), considering only four points separate them from 11th place Carolina. But they have played one or two more games than any of the other bottom dwellers, so they need futility to extend to those other hapless clubs to escape their current position.
The Old Leafs are certainly dead. I’ve fully erased them from my mind. Thankfully, the only painful reminder of their existence is Tomas Kaberle, but he’s been disappearing every night anyways, so it’s not like I need to think about them.
This was how I managed to persevere through this tumultuous season before I found myself re-energized by watching a completely new team.
This may be a post about the death of the Old Leafs, but really it's a celebration of the New Leafs.
Playoffs! (Wait…scratch that. 27th place!)