Basically every season for the last decade, Leafs fans have had to go through the process of choosing a playoff team or playoff teams. For myself, it's always been a series-by-series decision. In almost every series, there is a team or player that I hope to see prove their worth in the playoffs, and either shut up narrow-minded commentators, or statistics naysayers.
Typically, the teams I cheer for are underdogs. I like the Islanders, the Sharks, or even, despite their regular season success, the Capitals. I guess it's probably somehow related to the fact that I'm a Leafs' fan. Maybe I'm a masochist.
One of the best aspects of the 2016 playoffs was that, even with four teams remaining in the playoffs, I was happy seeing any of them win a Cup. It's been fun.
The Blues? They've been great so many times, and have a Cup drought as long as the Leafs'. It'd be great to see them win. The Bolts? They won not so long ago, but with a totally different team, and I love watching so many of their young players at work -- Stamkos, Drouin, Johnson, Kucherov, the list goes on. Meanwhile, the Sharks boast three former Leafs, one of whom, James Reimer, probably deserves to win a Stanley Cup as much as any former Leaf still in the league. Add to that the fact that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could finally shut up all their naysayers, and it'd be a great victory. Finally, the Penguins feature Phil Kessel (who deserves more credit than he was ever given in Toronto) and a whole host of other brilliant players that make hockey so fun to watch. Sure, the Pens gave their first round pick to the Leafs, but a victory for ol' Phil would be a silver lining indeed.
So now we're down to two. Either James Reimer wins a Cup, or Phil Kessel does. I'm happy with either result.
Oh, and the draft pick?
Listen, I'd love for the Leafs to have the 29th pick instead of the 30th, because no competitive advantage, no matter how small, should be dismissed. The Leafs' previous management regime often made mistakes with trades, signings, or draft picks, and so often we were told that "it hardly makes any difference!"
The slow death of 1000 paper cuts is painful in its own way, though. So, even though the Leafs' odds at getting a star player aren't really any better at 29 than they are at 30, it's always preferable to have the 29th, if only for the purposes of trading up or down.
So if the Pens win? We get to see Kessel get what he deserves. If the Sharks win, it'll be Reimer who gets his name on the Cup and the Leafs' pick will be a spot better. This, for any Leafs' fan, is a win-win situation, and quite frankly, I can't remember another year when I could honestly say that.
The finals are going to be fun. It's been a long year for Leafs' fans, but I can't think of a better way to wait for Auston Matthews.
Phil Kessel on advancing to the Stanley Cup Final: "I don't even know what to say, I'm so excited." pic.twitter.com/UanYjWT6pG— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 27, 2016