The current edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in my 30 + years of being a sports fan.
The Toronto Maple Leafs currently have the best roster they’ve ever assembled since the NHL expanded beyond six teams, and yet people act as if they have an aging roster of has-beens.
This is a team that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup, a President’s Trophy, had a league scoring leader, or won a major award (Hart, Vezina, Norris) in that entire time, so you’d think fans would be enthusiastic about having the best roster their team has had in 50 years.
You’d think they’d be able to overcome some injury based disappointment and embrace a team that not only has the league’s best and deepest roster, but also has not one, but two of the best players in franchise history.
I mean, Auston Matthews alone should be enough to make people excited about this team, but as we embark on another season, I am detecting very little buzz.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews
If not for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner would probably be the best player the Leafs have had since the NHL expanded. But incredibly, they’ve got two players this good on their team at once. That alone should be enough to put some buzz around this team, and the fact that it isn’t is an indictment of the “give me everything right now” culture of selfish entitlement we currently live in.
Personally, my view is this:
Whatever the Toronto Maple Leafs win or accomplish as a team is a great bonus in addition to the fact that I get to watch Auston Matthews play for my favorite team in his prime.
Other than Matthews and Marner, the best Leafs since the NHL expanded are Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Rich Vaive, Doug Gilmour, Phil Kessel and, the best of the lot, Mats Sundin.
These are all great players, but they are B list stars. Even Sundin and Gilmour don’t rate compared to Jagr, Fedorov, Yzerman, Forsberg, Malkin or Sakic, let alone Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Eric Lindros.
But Matthews does. He surpasses everyone in Tier One of the A-List, and along with Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews is the only hockey player alive today that belongs in GENERATIONAL folder with Mario, Wayne, OV, Eric and Sid.
So I don’t really care that the Leafs lost in the first round to Montreal. They clearly would have went all the way to the Finals if John Tavares wasn’t injured, and or if Matthews could have properly shot the puck.
What I do care about is that I just witnessed a player score at nearly a goal-per-game pace for the entire season. Matthews scored 41 goals in 52 games despite being unable to shoot the puck for at least ten of those games. If fully healthy he may have scored 50 in 50.
He might do it again this year. He might take aim at 50 in 38 now that his wrist is surgically repaired. I mean, he probably won’t do that, and he probably won’t score 93 goals to set the NHL record.
Do we really know for sure that he won’t? A guy that could barely shoot the puck for parts of the season, and who played on a team that all but stopped scoring power-play goals, still flirted with a goal-per-game last year.
If he is healthy and the Toronto Maple Leafs power-play starts to click, it is scary to think about what he might actually do. He probably isn’t done getting better.
So, I for one am more pumped for the upcoming Leafs season that I have ever been before. I can’t wait to watch this team play in the preseason, let alone the regular and post-seasons. This team is fantastic to watch, it’s the most exciting team in hockey and has the chance to be the best.
With Matthews and Marner (somehow bizarrely underrated all of a sudden) the Toronto Maple Leafs still have a chance to be the best team of the salary cap era. Hyperbole deserved.