What We’ve Learned About the Leafs – Small Sample Size be Damned

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are now seven days into their ‘Centennial’ season (it’s not actually their 100th season but who’s counting?) and while it’s far too early to draw any conclusions about the team, one thing is for certain – this season will be a heck of a lot more fun than last year. The team is young, fast and in only two games has created an excitment that makes these three off days feel like an eternity.

Like I said, it’s only been two games – and not even I am crazy enough to draw any conclusions after only two games right? If you know me and follow me on Twitter, you certainly know that’s not the case.

So let’s take a look at a few things I’ve learned about this team after just two games.

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The Aus-dacity of Hope

by Duncan Clair (@duncanclair)

Hey guys,

It’s me, Duncs. I feel like now is a pretty safe time to talk about our Leafs feelings so I thought I’d share how I felt over the last couple years and why last night means so much.

It might not have been the day I became a Leafs fan, but it might have been the day that eventually led to the day I became a Leafs fan. I cheered for the Penguins then. Mario Lemieux was (is) my favourite player. I had the redesigned white Pens jersey with the triangular modern logo. I had asked about getting Mario’s name and number on the back. My dad joked we might be able to afford one ‘6’. The Penguins were visiting the Gardens to play the Leafs that night, sometime in 1992 or 93. It was a Saturday. I asked my mom if I could stay up to watch the whole game. Usually I was on the clock for bed sometime after the start of the second period. Mom was pretty firm on bedtime but that day she paused. “Oh…well yeah, maybe we can do that tonight,” she said. I was pumped. I went about my day and I was playing in my room when my parents walked in. I don’t remember who asked the question. “If you could be anywhere today where would you be?” I felt my eyes go wide and said “At the Leafs/Penguins game!” My parents produced two tickets, in the Golds, and my heart leapt. It was quite literally a dream come true. We made the short drive from Barrie to Toronto. My dad and I sat in the Golds and my mom sat way up in the greys. (It blows my mind – the idea of loving someone so much you’d spend money to sit next to strangers just to be across a really big room from someone.) I wore my Penguins jersey that night. A man joked I was wearing the wrong colours and I laughed with the fans around me. I was in my element. I belonged, and I was in awe the whole time. The Leafs won 4-2, but Mario scored, or maybe he set up Jagr. I’m not sure, but I remember Ken Wregget started for Pittsburgh and Felix Potvin for Toronto. I may have started that season as a Pens fan, but I finished it a Leafs fan, and the rest is history.

One of the biggest lies in popular fiction and movies and TV and all that is the ease at which characters are able to refer to a moment when things changed. I don’t know when it was. Maybe it was when I was slightly hungover on Bremner, walking to get groceries, and found out the Leafs lost to the Caps when they really needed a win, but I wasn’t expecting one. Maybe it was the second, or fourth, or fifth of six losses during a playoff “push.” It wasn’t quite when they lost to the Jets and sealed another year of mediocrity. I already knew it was over then. That game was just the confirmation. The Leafs had broken my heart. It’s not like it was new. It was a little different though. Even if I knew they weren’t that great, I wanted them to overachieve. They had done enough for long enough, to need only to hold on and couldn’t do it. It was hope dashed, yet again. It was harder to swallow. It changed how I felt.

There was so much anger and disappointment and frustration. I totally understand the need for media to generate narratives and I couldn’t have been more sick with how bad everything sounded. It was all crap. The play was garbage. The coaching was garbage. Nothing worked. Phil was mistreated more and more and SaluteGate was a thing and there was just no fucking reason to be anything but ashamed and it was awful.

Then some things started to change.

I was pleased with Brendan Shanahan and his initial philosophy. I was happy to see Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter hired. I watched Babs’s plane land and I was confounded and then satisfied after Lou came to town. I approved of the purging that occurred. I bought into the new regime. It felt different though, like I was a skittish puppy uncertain of affection. I was unsure about hope now. I kept it at arms length, and as much as I checked in on the new blood and the new systems, I kind of took last year off.

I won’t lie- it felt good. I didn’t worry about storylines, or game-to-game trends. I just knew these were the guys and things would get better. Nothing else really mattered. We have an all-world coach and a future that looked good, if a little uncertain. That was okay.

Then April 30 happened.

I was born on Canada Day, 1985, so this was very much a brand new thing for me – a first overall pick. I read all the articles and I’d watched him play in the World Juniors and the World Championship. I was pumped about Auston Matthews, but I don’t think anything would have made me believe tonight but to see it.

Tonight isn’t just special because of prophecies fulfilled or for a never before-seen feat of four goals in a player’s first game. Tonight is special because it makes that hope I forgot about feel tangible again. It solidifies the connection to something that is a common thread through the parts of my life I find most meaningful. It’s not just some stupid sports thing, or a distraction from real life. This is the thing that’s been the canvas on which I’ve drawn up real life feeling real again. It’s something special, and I don’t want it to go away. Thanks, Auston.


Farewell Team North America; It Was Fun While it Lasted

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

When the NHL announced the participants for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the vast majority of us would be lying if we said we didn’t snicker at the idea of a Team North America. The tournament was criticized for the ‘gimmick teams’ to the point that North America and Europe were seen as more of a punchline than anything else.

But something happened. Something that the NHL surely didn’t expect. Something that falls squarely on the shoulders of Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews and a group of young hockey stars. We fell in love.

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The Power of the Phoenix Jar

By Sarah Hall (@sarahhowling)

Last year I started out being exhausted by people who would still call the Arizona Coyotes the ‘Phoenix’ Coyotes.

“Dollar in the Phoenix Jar,” I would say on twitter, in posts, in real life. Joking mostly, who would actually put money in a jar for saying Phoenix?  Apparently, someone from the Coyotes staff said this to someone on the draft floor in Buffalo, that guy owes like $20 for that.

But then I found a cause, dear and close to my heart. Research for Ependymoma and Glial tumors of the head and spine.  Gus is a seven-year-old, extremely wonderful boy and has Ependymoma. Cancer is an evil disease and there is nothing I can physically to do make it better. But I can talk about it, I can fund raise, and I can come up with the Phoenix Jar.

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Big Name RFAs Still Unsigned: How Much Will They Get?

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

By this point in the offseason – as fans approach the “get me real games now” stage – teams are beginning to make cuts in an attempt to get their rosters close to what they want for opening night. While most teams are trying to figure out where their players fit – there are some that are doing so while missing one of their best players.

In most seasons we may see one or two impact restricted free agents unsigned as training camp approaches. This year it seems there are far more big name players holding out as the rest of their teams prepare for the season.

Johnny Gaudreau and Jacob Trouba are the two biggest names, but there are a handful of high-impact players that are currently missing training camp thanks to a holdout.

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2016-17 OHL Season Preview

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

While the focus of most hockey fans is on the World Cup this week, it is not the only game in town. On Wednesday night, the OHL regular season kicks off with London and Sarnia squaring off in what could very well end up being a preview of the Western Conference Final.

Many of the league’s top players will still be at their NHL training camps, but when the dust settles, this season promises to be a great one. With the way the OHL has dominated the past few NHL drafts, the talent level id going to be one that is unrivaled in junior hockey, even with the likely loss of last year’s top players.

The Memorial Cup is back in Ontario – where it belongs – this season. Windsor will be looking to build a team with the ability to win on home ice, and the rest of the league will be hoping to keep up.

Along with my preview, I have gathered the opinion of four people who all have a great knowledge of the OHL and a passion for junior hockey. Below is our OHL season preview, but first I want to sincerely thank Jon (@YakovMironov), Kathryn (@msconduct), Adam (@adam_laskaris) and the one and only @ElSeldo for helping out.

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A 2017 Calder Trophy Candidate from Every Team: Eastern Conference

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

Yesterday I took a look at who I believe will be the most likely Calder Trophy candidate for each team in the Western Conference. This year, the West will see a couple contenders like Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, as well as some under the radar dark horses like Esa Lindell and Nikolay Goldobin.

While there are a few worth candidates in the West, it looks as though this year will have a far more impressive rookie crop in the Eastern Conference. Just ask Maple Leafs fans – if all goes according to plan, all three Calder nominees will be playing in Toronto this season.

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