A down year.
An absolute write off.
This looks to be the first last place finish for the Toronto Maple Leafs since the 1984-85 season. What “good” could have possibly come from the ashes of the 2015-2016 season, you may ask?
Well, actually, quite a lot.
For the first time in a long time, this organization has been honest with where it stands. President Brendan Shanahan recognized the rotten nature of the team at the end of the 2014-15 season and took the first, and arguably the toughest, step towards the journey that creates dynasties such as the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.
That’s when the fire sale began. The Leafs cleaned out their management and player core with all who did not have the pedigree needed to complete the rebuild. The process is quite simple in effect: build through the draft, gradually develop prospects, and accumulate as many picks and prospects as possible. Sticking to the plan, however, is easier said than done.
As the offseason progressed, highly touted coach Mike Babcock and Hall-of-Famer Lou Lamoriello were added to head the front office that would build towards achieving the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years. Patience, pain, and perseverance were preached from the Leafs brass – and there would be no wavering from their master plan. The city and the fans alike deserve nothing less.
Now nearly 70 games deep into one of the worst Leafs seasons in their 99-year history, one would expect immense negativity to surround the team – after all, in the mecca of hockey, the media, press and news are amplified.
This is in fact quite the opposite. Fans are elated to see their team lose “the right way” – after all, dynasty teams aren’t built overnight. Each of them has had their dark days. But, as they persisted in their journey to greatness, progress was made, and glory was achieved: a feat Leafs fans can only dream of.
Instead of this year being a write-off, it seems that fans have found comfort in the fact that in all this patience, pain, and losing; they may one day build towards a team that will compete for a Stanley Cup. For the first time in quite a while, there is faith and trust in the front office headed by Brendan Shanahan.
He has worked tirelessly to re-establish the rapport of this “Original Six” franchise with the establishment of Legends Row, and with honoring the great Dave Keon for his tenure with the Leafs in the 1970’s.
While the future remains uncertain, what is known is that there is a sense of direction that management has for this team, and as long as they stick to the plan, fans can rest easy at night.
No journey is ever easy. In fact, the journey to an end goal offers many challenges that test the will of even the best and brightest people. What defines them is their ability to persevere in light of their trials and tribulations. That is precisely what separates the strong from the weak, and in this case, the victor of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Ultimately, this season is merely a glimpse of what may come in the future for this organization. With draft picks stockpiled for the next 3 years, and the prospect pipeline brimming with talent and skill, all that is needed is patience and time – two abilities that are vital to any successful team.
Sports uniquely offer fans some of the darkest defeats, but also some of the sweetest victories. That’s why the journey is so important in sports. That’s why Leafs management has placed so much emphasis on doing things the right way, so that if the opportunity arises, the team has its best chance of seizing victory. As fans, that’s all we could ask for.