March 01, 2009

Dare to Dream (Read: PLAYOFFS!)

Forget about tanking. Forget about John Tavares. Start thinking about the playoffs.

After last night's magical come-from-behind overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators, with Curtis Joseph between the pipes no less (the Sens and their "fans" should be deeply ashamed), our Maple Leafs find themselves only seven points out of 8th, and eight points out of 7th, in the Eastern Conference.

It's the longest of long shots, but this Leafs team could actually make the playoffs. Believe it.

Want to know why? Vesa Toskala. The fashion-forward Finn put together one incredible month of hockey in February. He started nine games, and finished the abbreviated month with an unblemished regulation time record of 5-0-3. When he was the goalie of record, the Leafs picked up points in the standings. His save percentage, you ask? A tidy .912. 

It was his most productive month, by far. Here's hoping his save percentages of .887 in January, .875 in December, and .878 in November remain a distant memory.

Confidence starts and ends in the blue paint. When Toskala is on his game, and cutting his angles aggressively, the Leafs are a stingy team to beat. Period. The fact that Toronto has earned points in 12 of their last 15 games proves it.

Think about it: had Toskala been playing this way all season, the Leafs would likely be in the thick of the playoff race. This team has no trouble scoring goals - nine guys have registered 10 or more. It's keeping the puck out of their own net - keeping Vesa's legs closed - that has been the problem.

Let's face it, if you think the Leafs have a shot at John Tavares, and have had one all season, you're on the opposite end of the delusional spectrum as me. While you're dreaming of a high draft pick, I'm dreaming of an incredible late season run led by a rejuvenated and motivated Toskala and co.

Look, this doesn't have to be a lengthy rebuild. The Leafs have some pieces in place. I don't know about you, but a defence core next season with a top-four of Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Luke Schenn and Mike Van Ryn sounds pretty good to me. Throw in the incredible Ian White, who leads the team with a +11, and the most expensive sixth d-man in Jeff Finger, and the back end looks even better; strong, I must say.

Let's re-sign Nik Antropov, and Dommy Moore. And keep Kaberle, and Kubina, who is playing with incredible passion right now. Let's throw some of the cash we've got this summer Mike Cammalleri's way. Or Alex Tanguay's way. Or the Sedin twins' way. We've got options.

The way I see it, the Leafs are a top goalie away from competing in the Eastern Conference. And the way Toskala has played of late has me once again believing he can be that top goalie. Maybe even this season.

Fuck tanking. When the Leafs play, they play to win. They're playing with pride these days, and I'm rooting for them to win every single time I watch them. In the end, no matter where the Leafs end up drafting, they will have the opportunity to draft a good hockey player. Look at the New Jersey Devils, and the Detroit Red Wings. They find talent, and it's never with a top-five or a top-ten pick. The New York Islanders should be lesson enough that if you finish at the bottom of the standings year after year, you're not guaranteed to climb out of the basement, no matter who you draft.

The Leafs are seven points out of a playoff spot. And there are 19 hockey games left to play. Call me crazy, but I believe there could be playoff hockey come this spring, yet. 

Dare to dream, I say. Without hope, there is nothing. 


Jaredoflondon said...

dude, you're like the little engine that could

sleza said...

Hope you can make the playoffs. And kick Carolina's ass while climbing toward it

Baroque said...

Why not?

The Islanders have by far the best chance at Tavares, anyway - and a few other teams are going to hvae good chances for that number one draft pick than Toronto.

Number one picks seldom step right in and make a difference, so it would likely take a year or two before he was ready.

And with smart drafting talent can be found everywhere.

Why not go for it? At least, if the team fails in the attempt, it was more fun than tanking. :)

eyebleaf said...

Jared: Hope is a drug.

Sleza: If we're making it, Carolina likely isn't. I'll think of it as revenge towards Paul Maurice.

Baroque: Frankly, I'm sick of hearing about tanking, and sick of hearing and reading how people are upset that the Leafs won. It's weird to me.


DSBT said...

i'm all for some solid goaltending a a late season rush.. seriously, somehow ryan ellis is ranked from 12th to 15th in the draft this summer... did nobody else see how great he was at the WJC? Give this kid some time to put on a few pounds and we've got a puck-mover to take over Kaberle's spot!

kushnir said...

your nuts

l luv you

Pension Plan Puppets said...

Hope is a drug and you need it's methadone equivalent.

This kind of attitude is exactly what reigned supreme during the JFJ period and it's why the team is in its current predicament.

Also, Toskala could have played this well all year if he had decided to practice properly all season.

eyebleaf said...

PPP, we talkin about practice?

We ain't talkin bout the game, the game that Toskala has played so well over the past month, we talkin bout practice?

Tell me, will you become a believer when we're 5 points out?

Parth Pandya said...

I like the D-core to be honest, even though I'm a pro tanker BUT

1. Schenn isn't top pairing material yet. Needs a few more years
2. Kubina is likely our best 2-way guy, but he's been taking way too many risks lately
3. Kaberle isn't very good in his own end, but is an extremely talented puck mover.
4. Finger is crap. Positing is terrible, no hockey sense, no vision etc.
5. Van Ryn is like Carlo Colaiacovo. Very, very brittle.

It's not only that though its that our forwards aren't very good at back checking the effort is there, but it's like chasing the puck instead of playing zone or supporting the puck side.

I'd hope we can make a push for J-Bo in the offseason even though he's some kind of shy nerd. I'd just like it that we can get a real rebuild for once and not just some half assed JFJ retooling. Even though Burke is probably going to take that way. I'll rejoice the wins for now.

Gooner4ever said...

I must admit, I have more fun watching the Leafs win than watching them lose. And it makes my whole day better.

You forgot Blake. This guy is on fire! (see wrap-around vido below).

7 points behind with 19 games to go? Easy.

eyebleaf said...

Parth, I hate that you're a "pro-tanker," but thanks for coming by. I think Schenn is one of our top 3 d-men already. Kid plays over 20 minutes a night in all important defensive situations. He's top pairing material, in my books.

You're right about Van Ryn. He needs to stay healthy. I'm not so down on Finger as you, but the man is definitely overpaid. But, hey we can say that about a lot of cats in the NHL.

My thing is that even in the years when we were making healthy playoff runs (98-2004), was our defence phenomenal? No. We were running cats like Sylvain Cote, Cory Cross, Calle Johansson, etc. We always had one common denominator: a sick goalie. And this team, all its defensive problems aside, is a sick goalie from being in 5th or 6th in the east, competing with the likes of Philly.

Regardless of how the "rebuild" goes down, I have faith that Burke knows what he's doing. We can be like Philly and MTL, who missed the playoffs, but rebounded and became competitive again, and fast.

Gooner: I love Blake. Just adore that little bastard.

7 points behind with 19 games to go? Easy.

I want to hug you. That's the type of optimism I'm talking about.


general borschevsky said...

Please, anything but the Sedin twins (shudder).

Love your optimism eyebleaf. I've never been on board with the tank idea and cheer for the Leafs to win every game. I understand the logic of tanking, but to me it seems like a cheap and easy way to get there and lacks honour. I don't want winning the Cup to be easy, I don't want it handed to us just because we sucked worse then anybody else. Also, I just don't think it works that way either. Look at Detroit and San Jose, those are the franchises we want to be like, not Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh.

Just a thought: would you trade Luke Schenn straight up for Steve Stamkos? I wouldn't. I'm glad we finished 24th overall last year, and not dead last. Maybe that's just me.

eyebleaf said...

The tanking stuff really irks me. It has all season. When guys like TSM right that they are genuinely happy that the Leafs lost, I can't quite wrap my head around it. There is nothing guaranteed in "tanking." And whenever you play a sport, even if it's beer league ball hockey, no matter how bad you are, you're stepping out there to win. And examples of Detroit, New Jersey and San Jose are apt. Even Boston. You don't need to suck year after year in order to get better.

Your question about Schenn is a most intriguing one. I think maybe we're biased after seeing the poise this kid has played with in his first 60 games, but I don't think I'd make that trade, either. It really looks like we found something in Luke. I'm sure Stamkos will be great, he's been playing much better of late, but Schenn is the future of our blue line for the next 10 to 15 years. And I wouldn't give that up.

Huge props out to Fletcher for trading up and grabbing him.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy either way. We lose, we get a decent pick. I'm sure Burke can pull some sort of draft day deal packaging a player and a pick for a higher pick.

If we continue to win and make the playoffs i'd be incredibly happy. Playoff hockey has been missed so damn much.

However, I do believe our core of forwards is definitely not that great. I say you go after a "B" list free agent this off season. Then in 2010 with ample cap space you make the BIG PUSH FOR RICK NASH.

Parth Pandya said...

Want to thank you for dropping by on my blog also. Agreed Schenn is a beast, but wait in a few years when he's really dominating. If we can Philly rebuild believe me I'll be the happiest dude alive. I have tons of faith in Stefanovich and Hayes. I think those guys are true top line talent. Don't ask why though. Maybe if we make a push for Nicklas Backstrom in the off season we'd be good to do. Who knows, but I look forward to talking more leafs with you :)

Bhattorious said...

Tank...Tank ....Tank...u know my positioning....

Pseudonym said...

They need 14 wins from the remaining 19 games to finish with 90 points which would likely be the least number of points needed to finish in the top 8. It's not a's a fantasy.

eyebleaf said...

25th: I, too, trust in Mr. Burke. And, I dream of Rick Nash in the blue and white, almost nightly. Giggity.

Parth: Cheers, mate. I've thought about Backstrom too, in the off-season, but I don't see it happening. Not unless we unload Toskala, who's still got a year left at $4 million. Will be an interesting off-season, that's for sure.

Bhatti-Boy: I hope you enjoy this latest installment of the Drive for Ninth the most.

Pseudonym: So you're telling me there's a chance......

Parth Pandya said...

Well our hopes of Backstrom have been killed.