Anybody that has ever seen any version of the above mentioned television show knows that it dealt with odd occurrences most often seperated by inoccuous events. People Dissappearing, predicting their own deaths, and overall a sense of ironic justice. The good often were rewarded while the bad were usually punished. If one were to look back at the Toronto Maple Leafs over the seasons since the lockout, you could come to the conclusion that perhaps they have been trapped in the twilight zone.
Prior to the lockout of 2004/2005, the Leafs were actually an average to above average team. They dispached the Ottawa Senators to the golf course almost annually, and twice came within earshot of competing for the Stanley Cup. Cue the work stoppage, and the Leafs have simply not been the same since. John Ferguson started the season after by trying to build a team that would have been competitive under the previous rule book, signing players such as Jason Allison, Jeff O’Neill, and Eric Lindros. All these players were excellent in terms of hockey ability, but all were slower and built for the clutch and grab style of play that the lockout helped eradicate.
From this point on, it was band-aid after band-aid to attempt to catch up to the new style of play. Pair that with the seeming inability to manage life with spending restrictions, Toronto has made itself largely irrelevant. Brian Burke entered the picture with gusto and proclaimed he was going to build a winner. He had also made a pledge to rebuild a prospect system the became largely depleted in short term attempts to find a post season spot. Fast forward to this morning, the Leafs will not have played a playoff game since 2004, and in the offseason a new threat of a work stoppage emerges.
Will the next CBA be more friendly to larger market teams? The true answer is most likely not. But with all the lessons learned from the last time around, Burke and Co should be better prepared to deal with building a team around the changes. Most of the Leafs squad is younger, the prospect system has much more potential than following the last stoppage, and There really are no contracts that will be destructive in attempting to fix a problem. The difference so far between the Burke era and that of the Ferguson era is the contract lengths.
The current worst contract would be considered by most to be that of Mike Komisarek, although only 2 seasons remain following Saturdays finale. Colby Armstrong and Tim Connolly would be a near second as contracts of concern, but each only has 1 season remaining. If the lockout provides any amnesty at all, these contracts can be completely erased. Better yet, maybe the $1 million cap penalty that was given with the Darcy Tucker buyout can disappear. The options are limitless, and the Leafs are not in that bad a spot to move out of this.
The question will now become, will the trip to the twilight zone end with another work stoppage? Hopefully this is the year that could be proclaimed as the end of the eternal rebuild, and the short stop efforts to qualify for a post-season birth will be over. The Leafs have a lot of younger kids playing in the CHL and AHL, and hopefully sooner than later will be their time to make an impact with big blue. If not, get ready for a continued lengthy playoff run.
Lots of consternation was expressed when the Leafs won last night due to the movement in the standings from fifth to seventh in draft order, or in short out of a lottery position. History should show that these things matter not if the draft pick is not used properly. Edmonton and Long Island have been VIP members of lottery selection, and neither have shown tangible signs of improvement.