Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 2012 NHL Playoffs

Jason Ham@@Jason_HamCorrespondent IINovember 1, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 27: Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers fights with Tim Connolly #12 of the Toronto Maple Leaves at Madison Square Garden on October 27, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Since the lockout, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs have endured an enormous amount of ridicule.

I will not even bother trying to defend the fanbase because to be perfectly honest, most of the time the criticism has been warranted.

I don’t think anyone can blame me for not sticking up for my fellow fan given the amount of times since 2004/2005 one of my cohorts has made bold proclamations about a Leaf forward winning the Rocket Richard trophy or a Leaf defenseman being the next Norris winner. 

Not to mention those self-induced delusions of grandeur involving Rookie of the Year honours being bestowed upon whoever the draft pick or free agent of the week is who has most recently had a stint with the big club.

And don’t forget the carousel of netminders who have been deemed “The Saviour," poised and ready to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs to the promised land of being Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 1967.

These bold proclamations are typically made in the comfortable, cozy confines of yet another offseason tainted by failure and unfulfilled expectations or within the first 10 games of a new season.  This is often a period of hope, possibility and unabashed hysteria.

But it's warranted, right?  I mean, we all know that teams don’t suffer ups and downs.  Their progress follows a straight line.  Success or failure early, from say a 10-game sample size, can be extrapolated with the utmost certainty across an 82-game season.  It’s an exact science.

For some reason, the learning curve is just too steep for some fans.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 27:  Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leaves against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 27, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

How I do enjoy mocking…

Strangely enough, however, I do think that things are a little bit different this year.  I do think the team Brian Burke has assembled may be ready to take that next step and make the playoffs.

Wait a minute…that sounds like a bold proclamation by a Leafs fan 10 games into a new season!

Yes, at first glance, it appears as though hypocrisy will feature prominently in this article.  However, bear with me.  You will see that this is not actually the case.

Given the depth of the organization at forward and defense, this team is finally in a position where ridiculous pressure is not being placed solely on one man’s shoulders.

We’ve seen it with Kessel; we’ve seen it with Phaneuf; we’ve seen it with Kadri; we’ve seen it with Reimer.  Those are the most recent examples of the players fans have hailed as the next Rocket Richard, Norris, Rookie of the Year and Vezina trophy winners.

We’ve seen the effect it can have on these players.  Kessel suffered through major slumps.  Phaneuf had a very slow start last year.  Kadri has shown flashes of brilliance but can’t seem to put it together.  Reimer had an all-around brutal preseason.

But the difference is, now, people are beginning to realize that one man will not save this franchise.  One man will not be “The Saviour."

Perfect example: Optimus Reim.  This persona was invented by crazed fans and media alike because no other hope was present within the organization at the time.

Hell, it’s a phenomenal nickname.  But the pressure and the notion that, “as he goes, so the Leafs go” has been tied to it much too closely.

What we are starting to see is that this team is actually becoming a team—a real team.  Seems like a simple enough concept, doesn’t it?  But it’s one that has been noticeably absent in recent years. 

Is it the depth?  Is it the leadership mix?  Is it the revamped coaching staff?

Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter right now.

But I’ve noticed that no longer are people hounding guys like Phaneuf, Kessel, Kadri and Reimer because:

a) They're winning.

b) The team no longer lives or dies with the play of one or two individuals, which has a direct, causal link to point a).

So, why is my assertion that the Leafs will make the 2012 playoffs not a bold proclamation?

Because at this point, I believe it’s bolder to proclaim they won’t.


Thanks for reading!

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