Every now and then, the two halves of my Leafs fandom have a fight. Then I write it down.
Optimist: Now that everyone has stopped crying and moaning over excellent players costing money, can we recognize that this is probably the best top six in the NHL? The Leafs have two very good first lines centred by two players who can legitimately contend for the Rocket Richard, with elite passing wingers and dangerous forecheckers. This is a contending core.
Pessimist: They were all here last year and they lost to Boston while costing less money. Also, Nazem Kadri is gone and his replacement is worse. Hooray.
Optimist: Presumably the new guy won’t go all Tonight We Dine In Hell and get suspended for the most important games of the year, like Kadri did two years in a row. And don’t look now, but Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are 22. They’re aging towards their peak, and we can expect them to get better when they were already great. There has never been a forward group in the history of this franchise with more reason for optimism.
Pessimist: There’s never been one nearly so expensive, either. We’re so capped out, Kyle Dubas can’t buy Justin Holl a coffee for the press box he’s locked in. With our fearless leader’s capacity to be the highest bidder in a one-man auction, we now have three of the seven highest cap hits in the NHL on a team that hasn’t won a round since Auston Matthews was six. When you can lock in a team with that track record of success, you just gotta do it.
Optimist: I’m gonna take the next person who does the Haven’t Won A Round song and dance and optimistically wring their neck. The Leafs were one game away from beating a Stanley Cup Finalist. We can keep going on and on about Rounds Won as if the NHL playoffs aren’t a random number generator that put the Ottawa fuckin’ Senators in the ECF a couple years back, or we can grow up and acknowledge that this is a very good team that was a coin flip to beat another very good team. If you want sure things, well, guess what, there aren’t any in this sport. Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pessimist: Are they a good team, though? They’re the same as they ever were. They allow a million shots and chances against. They always look middling to good, not great, in chances, shots, goals, you name it. They finish ahead of the bubble teams and behind the real contenders, and they still have these forwards who don’t defend worth a damn. At least Auston Matthews will score a lot in the ten games before he gets hurt, and then we can blame Nylander having to play centre for his poor results, and Mitch Marner will be struggling with the weight of his new contract. The wins will be glorious and the losses will be explicable and the results will end up the same.
Optimist: Or, and hear me out: maybe these really good players will be really good? Can’t you just look on the bright side for once?
Pessimist: Actually no, I’m a narrative device, I’m not going to work if—
Optimist: Okay, okay, I get it.
Optimist: TYSON BARRIE. Skating, shooting, transition star Tyson Barrie. The best right-shooting defenceman the Leafs have had in twenty years. After all the whining about Hainsey and Zaitsev we now have a bona fide top-pairing RHD.
Pessimist: Hmm. I guess he’ll play with Morgan Rielly then? On the top pairing?
Optimist: ...no, it looks like he’ll be with Jake Muzzin.
Pessimist: Really? Isn’t that weird that they wouldn’t put this capital-T Top Pairing Defenceman there? I mean, for one, that might suggest he’s not all he’s cracked up to be that he needs someone capable of defence to hold his hand. But another, it suggests that—oh hey, there’s someone at the door. Knock knock.
Optimist: Who’s there?
Pessimist: IT’S TOP PAIR DEFENCEMAN CODY CECI MOTHERFUCKERS
Optimist: Okay, first of all, we’re running more of a 1A/1B thing in the top four this year.
Pessimist: You’re only saying that because the very concept of top pair Cody Ceci is beyond your brain’s capacity to comprehend. It’s like when characters in HP Lovecraft stories get a glimpse of the universe and it drives them mad.
Optimist: There are a lot of reasons to think that—
Pessimist: t̯͙̖̻̠òp ͇̟̟͈̹̠͞p̛̯á̜̥͍ì̪̦r̰͍͖̲̜̫ ̳̬̗͕̣́d̸̫e͚̻̩̜f̘̥͉e̸͙̮̘̱͍͓n҉̳͉̝̩̘c͝e̺̰m̭̤͙an̗̳̝̳ ̸̖C̞͔͈͔̯͕o̢̯͈̰̺d̻̻̳̤͚̠y͙̠͔̯̝͙̳ ͕̟͕͓͇͚̣Çę̮͔̬c̸͇i͉̟
Optimist: Yes. To think that he’ll be better than he was in Ottawa. The team is better, his partner will be better. He’ll be used against lesser competition—
Pessimist: Morgan Rielly played tough comp last year.
Optimist: Except now we have a second pairing with two strong players on it, soon to be supplemented by a quality third-pair anchored by Travis Dermott.
Pessimist: Like half the NHL has a third-pairing guy who puts up a 55% CF in cupcake minutes and who never moves up because he doesn’t actually know how to play defence. Whoop dee do.
Optimist: This defence lineup, when healthy, is stronger and deeper than any the Leafs have iced since the introduction of the salary cap. It has three high-end defenders on it and no, I’m not hiding under the bed from Cody Ceci. More than a few analytics whipping boys have looked better on better teams—look at Dan Girardi and Erik Gudbranson. And whatever other hate you have for Mike Babcock, he knows how to shelter the players he wants to shelter. He’s going to find a way to use Ceci, Barrie, Rielly, Muzzin, Dermott, the whole shebang. Dubas got good players.
Pessimist: I’m going to enjoy when we produce two pairings that get outshot and a third pairing that beats up on the Freddie Gauthiers of the world, and months of agonizing that ensue. Hey, maybe we can pay Muzzin into his late 30s to be our only actual defenceman.
Pessimist: I would like to congratulate Kyle Dubas on solving his previous “too many good backups” problem by having zero good backups.
Optimist: Neuvirth and Hutchinson have both been good NHL goalies before in their careers. One of them will get hotter than the other, and that’s that. Paying for backup goaltending is silly.
Pessimist: Especially when your team has eighteen cents in cap space. But look, it’s fine, we’ll just overplay Freddie Andersen and then act surprised when he collapses in an elimination game this year. It’s only the most important position on the team.
Optimist: Forgive me if I trust the Leafs and their medical staff over the expert opinions of Paranoid Twitter Fan M.D. Anytime Freddie has an off game it’s taken as proof that he’s tiring, rather than what it is: an anecdote. In Game 7 it was an anecdote combined with a brain fart by an ailing Jake Gardiner. He’s a good starting goalie. Be happy we have him and leave it at that.
Pessimist: If I could leave it at that I wouldn’t be on the Internet, though.
Optimist: Look, this is a no-lose for you. Either the team does well or you finally get Babcock turfed.
Pessimist: Well, I might not have a loss, but the team will. Let’s be honest, he’s an obstacle to this team progressing and we’ll be dealing with his dinosaur lineup decisions until natural selection pushes him out the door.
Optimist: Yes, how will we stand this coach who has led us to the highest point total in franchise history and who has won every championship in the sport? I’m sure he has no idea what he’s doing. And yes, I know he had good players in Detroit when he won. He has good players now. If you’re waiting for a coach to win the Cup with bad players, well, uh, nobody can do that.
Pessimist: It’s gonna be wild when he gets outcoached by Bruce Cassidy again as the Boston powerplay finishes at 84%. He’ll probably make a catty comment about how it’s Dubas’ fault for losing Hainsey and Zaitsev.
Optimist: Well, we might as well go there—
Pessimist: Has the golden boy lost his glow yet? Has it finally sunk in that like Brian Burke and every other franchise savior before him, he’s just another hockey executive who doesn’t have all the answers? How many negotiations does he have to lose before we realize we overrated a handsome guy with money to spend?
Optimist: Okay, so let’s grant for argument’s sake that he overpaid Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. That’s the indictment? That he gave a little too much money to two of the best players the franchise has ever had? Oh, I’m just devastated, I’d rather have an extra $2.5M against the cap that our last few front offices would have used on a Coke machine. If this is his worst flaw, we’ll live. And by the way, there’s been a whole hell of a lot of chirping from people who look at negotiations who want to get everything they want for less than it’s worth.
Pessimist: Is it too much to ask that our boy genius not get robbed blind every time he has a conversation? If Kyle Dubas buys a Toyota Camry he’ll pay $150,000 for it, and his cheering section will yell about what a dependable car it is. He gave Matthews the second-highest cap hit in the NHL and Marner the second-highest cap hit for a winger. At some point shouldn’t he have to do better than that?
Optimist: No, actually. Because our players are that good. Because he’s built a team with stars and supplemented it. The fact remains that the worst thing you can say about him is that he paid good players a lot of money. I like this much better than our previous strategy of giving it to bad players instead.
Pessimist: Yeah, yeah, he hasn’t had a Clarkson contract. We have to aim higher than that. If this team is ever going to win a championship, the standard will have to be more demanding than “be better than Dave Nonis.”
Optimist: He’s improved the forwards and the defence, he’s drafted as well as we could have hoped so far. He’s done what he can to set this team up for perennial contention, and that’s where they are. Whatever the fears from our past tell you: this team is good. This team can win.
Pessimist: ıɔəɔ ʎpoɔ uɐɯəɔuəɟəp ɹıɐd doʇ
How do you feel about the Leafs’ chances this year?
This poll is closed
I am crying in the shower