You should be in this for the long-term if you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, which means there is nothing at all to be gained from making sweeping judgments about this 2-0 series deficit to the Boston Bruins. Or being swept or, for that matter, coming back to win the thing.
The Leafs might not be ready to face the Bruins in a playoff series. And you know what? That’s OK. It really is.
Hear me out.
Regular-season success is more an indication of how far this Leafs development has advanced. There will be plenty of time to fuss about playoff success. And advance the Maple Leafs did, setting club records for points and home wins despite losing Auston Matthews for chunks of time and in the process accomplishing maybe the most remarkable transformation in Toronto sports history: somehow turning the Air Canada Centre into a Raptors-like bastion despite its crowds being as dozy as the Raptors’ are electric and engaged. The Leafs accomplished more during 82 games than they could ever lose or gain in the playoffs, barring, of course, a Stanley Cup, and if you’ll allow yourself a sober second thought you’ll agree.
Look, it is understandable that there would be a sense of foreboding given what has happened with the Edmonton Oilers, a franchise that has given rebuilding a bad name. But – and how can we put this politely? – there is no evidence that Leafs management or ownership are as clueless as the Oilers. Far from it. Unless the Leafs start hiring anybody who has worn the uniform as “advisors,” that’s of no concern.
Mike Babcock hasn’t forgotten how to coach, despite what Antonio from Stoney Creek told me last week. He matched lines all season long. Nazem Kadri hasn’t undone the considerable good of the regular season by one rush of blood to the head. Frederik Andersen’s the Leafs best goaltender since Eddie Belfour and will be next season, too. News flash: the Leafs still need a No. 1 defenceman … as they did at the start of the season. If anything has been revealed this week, it is that affirmation. James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak will be gone via free agency and an effective nastiness upgrade is needed over the likes of Leo Komarov and Matt Martin, which, well, you already knew, right?
Take a step back. Take a deep breath. That doesn’t change if the Leafs lose this series in four, five or six or if they win it. None of it does. Not one iota. We are still in accumulation phase with this group … and not all of those experiences will be positive. Sorry.
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In which we make plans for The King … remember Don Newcombe on Jackie Robinson Day … suspect that FIFA is plotting … ponder Joe Mauer’s Hall of Fame bona fides … and meet the Mets.
• Watch where LeBron James favourite David Fizdale ends up coaching. I’ve said all along: if King James wants to surpass Michael as the greatest of all time, leading the Knicks to a crown is the challenge to accept #pantheonofone
• Sportsnet’s Chris Black was quick off the mark about Joe Mauer and the Hall of Fame: 2,000 hits; three batting titles; .300 average; .390 OBP; .800 OPS? Mauer joins a list of Cobb, Gwynn, Hornsby, Musial, Wagner, Carew, Williams, Boggs #caseclosed
• Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse will be in the NBA next year. Orlando and former Raptors exec Jeff Weltman have an opening and Raps assistant Nick Nurse and Stack are in the mix … but I’d love to see Stack in a major market #bigtimepersonality
• Expanding to 48 World Cup teams in 2022 and pushback from host Qatar would for FIFA open up a dual host scenario with Morocco – a Qatari political ally – and clear the way for North America’s 2026 bid #trumped
• Mets manager Mickey Callaway is one of just four skippers to start their careers 9-1. So is fellow 2018 debutant Alex Cora of the Red Sox. They join Red Sox skipper Joe Morgan (10-0 in 1988) … and Pat Moran, 9-1 for the 1915 Phillies. #historic
• Call it The Hammer of Thor: after his 11-K effort Sunday, Mets ace Noah Syndergaard is 11-3 (2.29) with 116 strikeouts over 94 innings in starts following a Mets loss #stopper
• On Jackie Robinson Day, Mets analyst Keith Hernandez talked about ex-Negro Leaguer Don Newcombe hitting .271 in 988 plate appearances, including a .811 OPS in 1959 when he was 13-8 (3.16) and tossed 222 innings at 33. Called him a “beast” #showhey
• Why the Mets? Cause the damned Jays were PPD and as pal Maury Brown of Forbes noted, 21 games have been banged for weather so far, the most in 12 years. Attendance is down 316,000 in total, with decreases in 19 of 30 markets #globalwarming
• Sportsnet’s Garry Galley played in 89 playoff games and he’s right: as he said on The Jeff Blair Show, no team should start worrying in a playoff series until it loses a home game. Think about it … #sage
• A reminder in case you think Josh Donaldson’s DL stint makes him open to an offer from the Blue Jays: he will have made $57,422,500 heading into his first year of free agency, which is more than many first-time free agents #unique
Let what happened this week be a not-so-gentle reminder to Toronto Blue Jays management: any team that has two regular players in need of scheduled rest such as Russell Martin and Devon Travis coupled with fears about its ability to produce consistent offence even if its right-fielder isn’t an offensive black hole cannot afford hood ornaments in its bullpen. I understand that the Blue Jays relief corps will remain a work in progress until manager John Gibbons and his staff figure out what they have in Seung-hwan Oh, or at least decide whether Danny Barnes can be the guy capable of giving them multiple innings out of the bullpen and by extension whether there’s a need for Luis Santos or – and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this – Joe Biagini.
And I’m not saying that Teoscar Hernandez would have delivered as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter Wednesday looking at a possible series sweep against the Baltimore Orioles. What I am saying is he was, is and will be infinitely more useful than lefty Tim Mayza. That move was made a day later but … man. It’s remarkable how organizations see relievers as such fungible commodities yet feel as if they can’t do without an extra arm, especially one with as many crying lineup issues as the Blue Jays.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 a.m. and Baseball Central from 11a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.