After what felt like the longest summer in recent memory, the Toronto Maple Leafs have officially opened their training camp today with a round of medicals.
So far, news from day one has been coming at us in flurries, covering every topic from the leadership group, to contract negotiations, to the hopes and dreams of the collection of first time NHLers.
It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
With all the headlines and soundbites hitting the wall at the same time, it’s easy to lose some in the process. So, sit back, grab a tasty beverage, and allow me to recap it all for you.
Igor Ozhiganov is the Purest Human Being on the Planet
Say what you will about Igor Ozhiganov and his expected impact on the Leafs’ blueline, and many believe it will be a muted one, but it’s extremely hard not to root for him at this point.
Well, at least after reading this quote.
I mean, come on. Is that not the most heartwarming thing you’ve ever read? Who among us hasn’t kickstarted the ol’ PlayStation, created themselves on Be a Pro, and proceeded to live vicariously through their avatar as they carry the Leafs to a Cup?
Now imagine you get to do that for real. That’s just the bee’s knees, folks.
The “unequivocal” enthusiasm Ozhiganov shows (boy, is that going to be a trip to type out all year) towards joining the Leafs underlines what may be the most drastic organizational shift we’ve seen to date.
Players want to play here.
Toronto, as a hockey market, is no longer the radioactive wasteland of fictional hot dog hit pieces and troubling concussion theories it was in its darkest days. Emerging now is a utopia, one hungering so desperately for success, that any modicum of the sort births legacies that endure the test of time.
Do you think Darcy Tucker would still be cashing endorsement cheques years into retirement if he had spent the bulk of his career in Tampa? I doubt it. Would John Tavares have willingly subjected himself the vitriol that came from spurning his draft team to sign with the Leafs if he wasn’t headed to an enticing landing spot? Unless he’s a closet masochist, and we can neither confirm nor deny that he is, I doubt that too.
Take Ozhiganov, for example.
This is a 25-year-old who grew up in Krasnogorsk, Russia, a town sitting approximately 7,461 kilometres from the shores of Toronto and requires nearly 13 hours by plane to reach. And yet he, with a literal ocean of distance separating team and player, still dreamt of becoming a Toronto Maple Leaf.
That should not be understated.
The Leadership Group
I’m sure no one will overreact to this. No, only level-headed takes here.
Once the Leafs announced their reluctance to name a captain prior to the 2018-19 season, an outcome along these lines was to be expected.
Tavares and Marleau have both donned the “C” for their respective former clubs at one point or another, making them obvious candidates to split these new de-facto duties. Rielly, while lacking definitive past experience as a captain, has operated as his lockerroom’s unifying presence for what feels like the entirety of his tenure as a Leaf. These are not groundbreaking choices.
And yet, the focus here has quickly shifted away from the trio receiving letters, and over to one particular player who didn’t; Auston Matthews.
Let’s clear something up here: Auston Matthews will be the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It won’t happen today, it won’t happen tomorrow, it may not even happen a year from now, but make no mistake, it is inevitable.
Matthews became the heir apparent, be it publicly or privately, from the moment3 the Leafs called out his name back in 2016. He’s the undisputed face of the franchise, the top pick in his draft class, and the brightest star this city has seen in its entire sporting history.
Not to mention, Matthews is one of the primary reasons as to why Tavares is even on this team in the first place, a notion to which the latter has publicly admitted himself. The allure of cohabitating alongside a player of Matthews’ stature was enough to convince the notoriously loyal Tavares to make a previously unthinkable decision and abandon the only franchise he’d ever known.
The Leafs run through Matthews, and one day, the captaincy will too. Everyone relax.
Tyler Ennis on the First Line
Without context, one could assume this sentence was culled from training camp’s darkest timeline.
Obviously, that’s not the case.
As William Nylander continues to hammer out the details surrounding his new contract, Tyler Ennis has seemingly been appointed to the coveted position of top-line replacement for as long as the negotiations take.
Frankly, it’s hard not to view this as a compliment to Ennis.
Even upon his signing, the notion of the former-Sabre earning a spot in the Leafs’ lineup for was far from a guaranteed outcome. Not only is Josh Leivo expected to challenge for the 4th line left wing job, a number of Marlies will be vying for it as well, and their odds should not be discounted considering how their former GM now runs the show.
Following today’s development, however, this hierarchy appears to have solidified. At least, to a degree.
Ennis is unlikely to be afforded meaningful reps on the Leafs’ primary scoring unit if he weren’t entering camp pencilled into the top-12. Mike Babcock had the pick of the litter here, able to choose any player from any branch of the roster available before him, and Ennis is who he landed on.
For the time being, at least, he’s got the inside track.
Tavares’ CCM Commercial
There’s no real analysis for this one. It’s just hilarious.
Send this to your local Islanders fan. They’ll love it.
Thanks for reading!