I've got a massive backpack, the Lonely Planet guide to India, and a return date of June 24th. After two days of intense celebration over the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf, and more importantly the departure of Vesa Toskala, I won't get to see the new and improved, offensively challenged Toronto Maple Leafs in action. I leave for the Indian subcontinent Tuesday night. The rebuild, however, is finally officially underway, and I've found comfort in that realization.
Here's how I've justified Brian Burke's three biggest transactions: as one massive, all-encompassing trade.
2010 1st Round Pick
2010 2nd Round Pick
2011 1st Round Pick
I know, that's a lot of draft picks going the other way. But you're used to that now. We're all used to that now. I'm also well aware, as you are, that the moves mean the Leafs have, other than Kessel, zero offence. And I'm OK with that. Because the problem for the better part of the last five years is that Toronto can't kill penalties, and can't keep the puck out of its own net. Burke will figure out a solution up front. That's what he's paid to do. If you don't have faith in him after he found a trader partner for the services -- and I use the term lightly -- of Toskala and Jason Blake, I'm afraid you never will.
In 24-year-old Phaneuf and 22-year-old Kessel, I can finally say the Toronto Maple Leafs have two young, established, and skilled players around which to build a team. Young being the key word. When was the last time you could make such a proclamation? Phaneuf is two seasons removed from Norris Trophy consideration. And, it bears repeating, still only 24. For once, for fucking once, the Leafs bought low.
It pains me to admit it, because only a true idiot would compare the Civil Rights Movement to the trivial world of professional sports, but when I heard Toskala had indeed been jettisoned out west, Martin Luther King's words echoed through my mind: "Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
One final word about Jason Blake, before I say my goodbyes. He was the whipping boy. From day one. And, truthfully, I'm not sure why that was the case. While I did my fair share of defending him, I found it difficult to do so this season. All the cool kids were slagging him. I was just trying to fit in. Now that he's a Duck, I can look fondly back on Blake's time in Toronto. While he didn't score as many goals as people would have liked, he performed. Early in his career, Blake played 82 games with the Los Angeles Kings, and registered 28 points, for a 0.34 point-per-game average. He then moved to Long Island, where he enjoyed fruitful seasons in hockey hell: 426 games, 258 points. A 0.60 point-per-game average. Finally, Toronto. The most productive stop during Jason Blake's career: 216 games, 141 points. A 0.65 point-per-game average. Blake may not have been worth the money to you, but based on his track record, he did what he was brought in to do. I'll miss the fist pumps.
I'll tell you this: it's not easy leaving the pro sports teams -- for this long, at least -- who routinely frustrate me and break my heart. It should be. But it isn't. Posting will be sparse around here, but I'll be dropping by. First things first, Aaron Hill will be replacing Roy Halladay in the Sports And The City banner. A logical choice. Thanks for voting. And, over the next few weeks, I plan to visit one of India's numerous internet cafes to watch Canada take care of business out in Vancouver. I'll be celebrating our nation's hockey triumph a world away, and plan to enjoy every second of it.
Here's what I'll miss most:
- The Toronto Raptors' surge to the top of the Atlantic Division, led by Chris Bosh. The franchise will win its second playoff series while I'm gone. It's time. Believe in Bosh.
- Interviews with Hedo Turkoglu.
- Opening Day at the SkyDome. This one's tough; it's tradition. But I'll be there in spirit. Missing the first three months of baseball season might be the toughest of all. The silver lining: three fewer months of Cito Gaston. Win.
- Ron Wilson being fired.
I've scheduled my return such that if the Boston Bruins do indeed select Taylor Hall with the Leafs' first overall selection, I'll be back in time to watch it happen. That'll surely get me back in the swing of things. My arrival back in Toronto also coincides with, hopefully, a date with Roy Halladay.
So, take care of yourself, eh? Remember: curve the bill of your hat, always support the home team, and never give up hope. Enjoy the rest of your winter, and the beautiful spring months. I'll be stopping by every now and then to holler "Playoffs!!1"
A brilliant and beautiful woman once told me words that certainly ring true today: "This isn't goodbye. It's see you later."