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Monday’s FTB: Preseason is for proving yourself

Ahead of a game against the Habs again, I set my bar for what I expect from this season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs open their training camp Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

When you write for a blog like this, sometimes you have to write things in advance. The trash folder ends up full of stories about waiver claims that never happened, trades that didn’t get pulled off, news that turned out to be a bad rumour, and playoff series previews that were suddenly unnecessary.

There’s no such thing as a jinx, so I don’t hesitate to write the we won story in advance. I’ve never had to write a we lost story in advance, because that kind of thing just flows onto the page so easily. You can write about trading Mitch Marner at midnight before the yelling has stopped, but the other thing, the story no one saw, I’m going to tell you how it went because it’s still true.

I hid this from the rest of the masthead because they feel all this in their bones, while I unashamedly spent a long time watching the Kings and the Red Wings be good while the Leafs were bad on purpose. I don’t have years of ennui over this team, just a lot of impatience. This is what I wrote:

A first round win isn’t good enough for me. It shouldn’t be good enough for anyone. Forget the curse stuff, the “we can’t have nice things” chants, it’s not enough. So you get to taunt that guy on Twitter who makes all those stupid anti-Leafs jokes. So what? He’s never going to like your team anyway. I’m not here for “at least they didn’t lose in the first round”. I’m here for “they gave every bit of themselves and went as far as fate and fortune could take them”.

I still feel that way. Don’t give me some story about how if the other team is bad, or they have a lot of injuries maybe the Leafs will get a second playoff round. Or two! That’s the optimistic take, isn’t it? A third-round exit. Imagine? Wouldn’t that be lovely? No, no it wouldn’t. It would suck, and I’d be mad.

Once upon a time I said that you don’t sign John Tavares for $11 million and then piss away years of his prime. Now we’re up to the prime of Mr. Auston Matthews and we better damn well not be about to see that pissed away either.

But the bounces!

Yeah, yeah, the bounces, the xG ,the averages, and if only that series had been eight games. Look, you get to blame the bounces when you’ve just poured out every drop of what makes you elite onto the ice. You get to call it a learning experience if everyone from the $11 million dollar men to the good in the room guy are exhausted like they’ve never been before, spent upon the field of battle, noble in defeat. If you didn’t give it all, then the bounces are not the problem. This isn’t a video game, you don’t get to restart and hope the random number seed comes up good for you. You have to play the game like there is no randomness, and ironically, then you get to blame the bounces if you fail.

I actually believe in this crap, I want you to know, all you people who are so angry I dared to say Auston Matthews has to play every game like it counts, and lead from the front because he’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game. This is the reason I’m watching this sport. Nylander getting passive aggressive goals is just the cherry on top, not the main course. I want the champagne, not some “oh well, at least we got to the second round” consolation commiseration with the rest of the dejected.

That’s the mood I finished the season in, and I can pause those feelings for a moment and look objectively at the roster, the cap space, and all of that, which you’ll shortly see. But this is the mood I’m starting the season in.

Given that, I really, really enjoyed the Muzzin-Nylander show in the first preseason game. That was the bar set that Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner are meant to clear. In a way, Michael Bunting set a bar too. He knows he got that goal because he got to where that goal could be scored, but it’s now up to Nick Ritchie to leave no one alive in the crease who isn’t in blue. David Kämpf has even more to prove, and the clock is ticking, so don’t hold back, Mr. Shutdown, shut them all down.

The only people exempt from this “prove it to me, and prove it now” business are the goalies. They have their own schedule and process, and that’s fine, they should do how they do. The rest of the Maple Leafs? Bring it like Nylander or don’t even bother showing up.