Like most Canadians, the ol’ Tother happens to be a hockey expert.
Take last summer when I predicted Pittsburgh would struggle to make the playoffs and be forced to fire coach Michel Therrien.
“You’re an idiot, Toth!,” e-mailed a number of angry Penguins fans. “The Pens rule, and there’s no way they’ll fire Therrien because he just signed a big contract extension.”
Of course, when the prediction proved to be right on the money, not a single Penguins booster dropped me a line to apologize for doubting my incredible puck knowledge.
Fortunately, however, yours truly isn’t in it for the accolades and after solving the Penguins problems this humble hockey savant… uh, make that servant… now casts his gaze on a franchise that hasn’t captured the Cup since 1967.
You may love them or loathe them, but you definitely know them… “Ladies and gentlemen, the Toronto Maple Leafs!”
And if you do bleed blue and white I’m pleased to report that after a four-year playoff drought, the Leafs will return to the dance this season. Since their title run in ’67 the Leafs haven’t even managed to play the bridesmaid role, as they’ve been unable to get a sniff of the championship final. Now, we’re not about to get carried away and predict the Leafs will still be skating in June, but with bridesmaids dancing in our head there does seem to be a wedding theme behind the club’s post-season plan.
“Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something (black and) blue.”
That could be the Leafs’ official motto this year.
Old: With 34-year old Jason Allison attempting a comeback, Shaquille O’Neal should have brought him on his new reality show and whipped him in a skating race. Yes Allison is slow, but he averaged almost a point per game for a lousy Leafs squad in 2006 and the club has nothing to lose by giving him a look.
New: Not since Bill Spunska (Immortalized in the 1963 Scott Young novel “A Boy at the Leafs Camp”) has Toronto boasted a young blueliner such as 2008 first rounder Luke Schenn. The Leafs also smacked a home run in this summer’s draft by selecting speedy forward Nazem Kadri. Coach Ron Wilson maintains that Kadri is a long shot to make the big club this year, but the talented and tough-minded kid could make it difficult for the Leafs to send him back to junior.
Borrowed: It’s still to be determined whether the Leafs can land Phil Kessel, however if they do “borrow” him from the Bruins they’ll have finally landed a legitimate sniper. Critics say that by giving up a pile of picks to land Kessel, Brian Burke would become the latest in a long line of Leafs GM’s who preached patience only to succumb to the pressure of grabbing a play-off spot ASAP. But Kessel is a different kettle of fish, as 21-year olds coming off 36-goal seasons don’t grow on trees. Naysayer’s also point out that Kessel has a rep for being a selfish player. However, as Gordon Gekko told us in 1987′s “Wall Street”, (A role, by the way, to be reprised by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street 2″, which is set to hit the big screen in April) “Greed is good”; especially when it comes to a sniper with hungry hands.
(Black and) Blue: Okay, so a little poetic licence was required to finish this formula, but it’s clear that the Leafs exhibition schedule is shaping up to be a fight to the finish. Burke wants more “Mean Machine” from his Maple Leafs and with new tough guys such as Garnet Exelby and Colton Orr intent on strutting their stuff, the pre-season could become a puncher’s delight.
Speaking of which, you can punch the Leafs play-off ticket right now.
Sure, they’re not as good looking as a blushing bride, and you can also forget about them serving as a bridesmaid in the Cup ceremony.
But if they can land a few more rushers and mix them in with the crushers, the Leafs are certainly qualified to be ushers.
And that’s good enough to land a spot in the official play-off picture.