I've been reading PPP for almost two years now and have been commenting regularly for about a year. What I've always loved about this community relative to others is the knowledge-base of those that come here and the generally positive atmosphere. Even when things in Leaf-land seem bleak, I've been able to find respite from all of the bad at PPP.
Then something changed. The intelligent debate is still there, without question, but the optimism seems to be wavering. People are down on the coach, down on the GM and down on the team. What happened? Things were at least as bad last year and the quality of the team was much, much worse.
Maybe it was the fast start that probably had all of our hopes up a little higher than they had any right to be, maybe it's knowing that this is now a fully Burke team and yet the results still aren't there, or maybe we all just finally cracked.
The Fan Confidence Poll is a brilliant idea and it should have been fun for all of us. In reality, it's depressing the hell out of me. Things aren't all bad for our Toronto Maple Leafs despite the standings. I think it's time we remember what Pension Plan Puppets is all about and really get behind this team. Consider this post my own personal therapy. This will be my manifesto and the thoughts that I will cling to for the remainder of the season. Win, lose or draw, this is my team and these are the things I love about this year's squad.
Luke Schenn is developing into a top pairing defenseman. What more can this guy do? He's been a physical force all year long and a model of consistency on the blueline. This is the Luke Schenn we were hoping for after a great rookie year. He's been getting some powerplay time this season and hasn't looked out of place despite our team's subpar special teams. Luke Schenn is back and better than ever and he's ours for a long, long time.
Our goaltending has been serviceable. I know there's a natural propensity to look at the numbers and that stats matter. Having said this, our goaltending has been better than the story that their numbers tell. Giguere and Gustavsson have kept us in games and have rarely allowed the back-breaking goal that have so often been the M.O. for Leafs' goaltending since the lockout. Look no further than the Capitals game where Gustavsson allowed 5 goals in an OT loss. The numbers are poor but anyone who saw the game would have to concede that The Monster effectively stole us a point.
This team is better than last year's team. Our defense is coming together and other than Kaberle and Gunnarsson, everyone on our back end is playing better. The forwards are a more talented group than what we were icing last season. Our lines have identities and defined roles. This is not the most talented roster in the NHL, but if you play this lineup against last year's lineup 100 times, I bet they'd win 60 times.
We're young. I know we were all optimistic for this year after the trades last season and the offseason acquisitions but this is a young team that was always going to have a stretch like this at some point. Youth means mistakes but it also means room to grow. This is a team that can grow together. Like Schenn, Gunnarsson and Bozak will adjust and develop. Kadri will adapt to the NHL game. Gustavsson will tighten up his game. These aren't your father's Leafs who were all in their prime or on the downswing. These guys are going to come into their prime on this team. They aren't there yet, but they'll get there.
Phil Kessel can score. This team doesn't have a playmaker and yet Phil Kessel continues to light the lamp. We wont be without a setup man forever and imagine what that type of a center will do for Kessel's production. We've got a heck of a player here and though he may be streaky, at the end of the day his numbers will range from good to great.
We're currently 13th in the Eastern conference and are 6 points back (with two games in hand) of the Ottawa Senators. This isn't where we wanted to be, and I'm not trying to suggest otherwise. What I will say is that last year the mood was a lot more positive than it is now and our team was further back in the standings and didn't have the quality that this year's team does. This team has a better chance to claw it's way back, a better chance at succeeding in the future and will be more exciting to watch in the short-term.
So this is my challenge to all of us: On the next Fan Confidence Poll, let's pad the stats. I want to see that graph trend upwards. I want us to get our swagger back. We're fans of one of the greatest franchises in NHL history and we'll have our time sooner or later. This losing streak has been a thorn in all of our sides but we are getting better, so let's keep it positive and enjoy the ride.