I love you anyway, Leafs. Not unconditionally, let me be clear on that. You annoy the shit out of me sometimes, but when you are good, you make me forget I’ve ever once yelled at the screen about your zone exits. It hasn’t been just once. I think you know that.
So you lost, it’s okay.
This is not a setback. I don’t feel like making the full argument to back that up, not right now, but for me, the forward momentum is clear, and yet it’s not a perfect acceleration curve, straight on up to glory. There have been bumps in the road. There will be more.
Mike Babcock said before Game Six that he sees the fans, and he knows they aren’t sure if the team is really good yet. He said that they want the Leafs to prove it. I know. I know the team is not as good as it can grow to be. That’s what matters now.
The future starts tomorrow, but for now, just for now, turn and look back. Look back in anger if you like, but for me, I want to look back at the first Dad goal, the first Andreas Johnsson goal, the second first Johnsson goal again in the playoffs, the first Travis Dermott goal, his second fist that was tonight, and the amazing two game performance of Justin Holl.
I want to remember the first game Mitch Marner played with Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau. I want to remember the fantastic damn turn those two wingers did with Tomas Plekanec in the playoffs. I want to look back at Kadri with Johnny and Willie on his wings. What wings, eh?
I want to remember the best season of James van Riemsdyk’s career. I want to look at that awesome late-season run that helped put the team back on track, and I want to be happy for him. I want to remember Tyler Bozak backchecking and scoring shootout goals and feeding passes to Marner and JvR like they were the pinball flippers and he was the wizard.
I want to remember Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, the best buddy comedy any hockey team could want, getting identical points.
I want to remember every time someone said Nikita Zaitsev was terrible, and that contract, trade him for a fifth, and I rolled my eyes. Okay, sometimes odd things make me happy. Weirdly when people think Travis Dermott should be on the top pair right now, now, now, now, that actually annoys me.
I want to remember the first time someone moaned on about Roman Polak being so slow while skating at the fastest he’s been in ten years. I want to remember Ron Hainsey, who is not a dummy, playing so far over his head, we should be grateful he didn’t drown. I am grateful. That takes a backbone, dedication, love of the game, perseverance, all that shit they give out trophies for to better or more famous players.
I want to remember Freddie being Freddie in every way, good and bad, and I want to just marvel anew at Curtis McElhinney, the worst damn great backup goalie the world has ever seen.
I want to remember when everyone stopped going on about Zach Hyman on the top line like it was a crime. I want to admit that I got less annoyed by Connor Brown playing up the lineup too.
But most of all, I want to remember every frustrating moment for Auston Matthews and William Nylander in a season that was far from perfect for them. (Lucky Marner, he did his ups and downs in a neat line that trended in the right direction all the time.) I want to remember Matthews and Nylander laughing on the bench in one recent game after a slick goal, and then going quiet when Babcock came over to harsh their buzz. He was right to, but they were right to be happy too. Opposites can be true at the same time.
The Leafs can be bad and good, wonderful and not wonderful enough, better but not great, rebuilt but not finished (sounds like my house). Full of holes and full of stars of the future.
Pick your mood:
I like Bowie better as music, but for life advice, I’ll go with Oasis. Don’t look back in anger, look forward with anticipation.
I watched a few Marlies highlights after the first couple of playoff games, and you know what? Training camp is going to be so much fun. And there will be players there we haven’t even met yet.
In the meantime, Leafs, go play some golf, and we’ll be ready and waiting to analyse your every damn move to death when September comes. (Like we’re waiting that long.)
I am also just a bit amused that Eric Fehr is still in the playoffs. Who picked him for the longevity award in Leafs training camp this year? Go, Eric, run all the way to the final day.
And tomorrow we start the offseason of building up to the future.