Leafs Season Preview: Freedom!

Well, this preview is a couple of days late and a few numbers short. That's what happens when you think that you are being clever and try to unite some Leafs previews from around the Barilkosphere: They say everything!

  • MF37 gave us a good metric by which to judge the events of the upcoming season.
  • The Muppet looked ahead to the next step of the team's development: The 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
  • Down Goes Brown highlighted some of the storylines to follow: trades, back-stabbing, startling revelations. It's like an episode of MVP. Basically, the one episode they aired.
  • Greener and Norte gave a typical Hollywood elite look at the Leafs' upcoming season.
  • Chemmy wrapped things up with a pictorial/musical extravaganza.

After finding some quiet time to write down the thoughts that I had in my head I think that I have found the perfect image/message for my season preview.

Wendel_shutup_medium

This season, for everyone involved in the Maple Leafs' organization is all about one word: Freedom. What do I mean? Well, I'll let Wendel Clark explain exactly what the two of us mean through a soliloquy from his favourite actor. Listen up or he'll punch out all of your blood. Wendel?

You want predictions? You want answers? Well, most reporters can't handle the truth. We live in a world that has teams. And those teams have to be built by men with experience. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Damien?

Fletcher has a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. Reporters weep for the losing that will come and you curse the Maple Leafs. They have that luxury. They have the luxury of not knowing what we know: that the numerous losses to come in the next season or two, while tragic and demoralizing, will probably create more wins.

And Fletcher's existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to Damien and Howie and McCown and Watters, creates more wins...You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want Fletcher building that team. You need Fletcher building that team.

We use words like hustle, development, drafting...Fletcher uses these words as the backbone to a life spent building something. Reporters use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain Fletcher to men who rise and sleep under the blanket of the very job covering the greatest franchise in sports that I provide, then question the manner in which he provides it!

I'd rather reporters just said thank you and went on their way. Otherwise, I suggest you become a general manager and build your own team. Either way, I don't give a damn what reporters think that they're entitled to!

Wow. Powerful words from the man himself. Now some of you have been led down the false path of also questioning the way in which the Leafs have provided your freedom (bad contracts, poor trades, and terrible hirings) by the city's crack reporting group but don't miss your unique opportunity.

Last season, after a terrible performance against the Kings and a great article by The Hat, I had an epiphany: What if the Leafs had cashed in their assets (Tucker and McCabe especially) after the 2005-2006 season and done nothing to force a playoff appearance in the intervening years?

The crux of that piece was to examine what could have happened if JFJ had the backing of the board to develop a rebuilding plan or if he had realized that the sum was not greater than its parts. If they had taken the long-term view three summers ago think how much further along in the process the Leafs would be compared to today. He did not have that freedom but along came Fletcher and he has liberated all of us.

While the reporters focus on the wins and losses and try to parse Wilson's comments in way that expose them as narrow-minded and deliberately disingenuous, the fans have found a special freedom. We cannot lose this season. No matters what happens the Leafs will end up ahead.

If the Leafs are horrible and compile a horrific record then they will have moved the team's future forward. It will be clear which of the young players (10 under 25 tonight) will be a part of the future and the rest can be culled. Kaberle and Kubina's no trade clauses will be void during the summer and they can be moved for even more assets. Maybe they can be used to replace some of the eight draft picks that Fletcher has traded away (what's that? Damien's forgetting the ones he brought in via trade? of course he is).

But what if the new coaching staff, the changes that have been made, and the youngsters' in new roles of importance stun the accumulated knowledge of hockey observers? Well, they certainly wouldn't be the first. The post-lockout Sabres and last season's Montreal Canadiens are two recent examples of teams where the generational shift resulted in massive and surprising improvements. If it were to happen to the Leafs then they would have identified the impact youngsters, which "veterans" to keep around, and their tradeable assets will have appreciated. They might not be drafting in the top five in June but they'll have proven players instead.

In either scenario, the Leafs are one step closer to building a Cup contender. We can either gleefully ignore the naysayers that point to the standings as evidence that the future is bleak or we can heartily laugh in the face of those that told us that the Leafs were doomed to eternal failuer. Most importantly, as fans we can enjoy this season for what it is: one more step in the team's path back to glory and that's the kind of freedom that Wendel and I can get behind.

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