TORONTO – Citizens of Leafs Nation, unite! We’ve all heard it enough times, especially in this city, it’s been 40 years since we last won the Cup (don’t let any Scabs fans hear you grumbling about Kerry Fraser and the ’93 series, either, they don’t like being made fools of). The biggest change coming into this season is obviously the end of the Quinn era.(Who should have been made the GM since John Ferguson is clearly inept in his position – the man snubbed one of the most popular fan-favourites in Leafs history: Tie Domi.)
The new head coach is Paul Maurice, who was superb in guiding the newly relocated AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
New faces are abundant, but it’s nice to finally look at the lineup and say, “Ah, I remember watching these guys play junior” instead of “I think that guy’s old enough to be my dad.” Starting goaltender Andrew Raycroft will be a refreshing change after aging Eddie the Eagle and his bad back headed to Florida to suit up for the Panthers.
There are still a few veterans around, however, like Darcy Tucker and Mike Peca. There’s two guys with an interesting history. All good Leaf fans will remember the season-ending hipcheck doled out by Tucker during the 2002 playoffs against the New York Islanders. Hard to say how that relationship will pan out.
With Quinn out of the picture, it’s going to be a whole new ballgame, so to speak, and with some of the young guys coming in, who are already accustomed to Maurice’s coaching style, the Leafs are in a position to be awfully dangerous this season. The back end is questionable at times, but the Leafs have a couple young defenders who could damn well steal the show, in Brendan Bell and Jay Harrison. They didn’t trade away all their good prospects – just most. Hopefully, Hal Gill can work himself into the lineup as a regular and push sloppy Wade Belak out.
Kyle Wellwood, who began making a name for himself last season, should be continuing to develop. Hey, maybe even Jeff O’Neill will get his act in gear: the inconsistent right-winger found himself a healthy scratch last season.
Overall, the overhaul looks good on paper, but is bringing in a young team really going to solve the Leafs problems? It’s too early to know for sure, but there’s a lot of proud fans out there, who bleed blue and white that be-Leaf, the Cup-drought ends here.