Thursday, September 8, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Hannah & the Toronto Maple Leafs

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 21 of 30: the Toronto Maple Leafs

photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels/Flickr


HOW THE LEAFS SPENT THEIR SUMMER VACATION

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't been to the playoffs since 2004, and they currently sit atop the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL at 43 years and counting. This number is particularly impressive as the team has hoisted the Cup 13 times in club history, and six teams which didn't even exist when the Leafs last won a Cup have won a Cup - not to mention the additional 13 teams also added to the league since 1967 who are nursing their own droughts.

Yet the Leafs' fans are some of the most die-hard in hockeydom, and the Toronto faithful continue to sell out the building, despite the ache of losing seasons continuing to pile up.

photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels/Flickr
Last spring, rookie goalie James Reimer gave them something to give them hope. Reimer was a call up from the club's AHL team, the Toronto Marlies, when Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson both had injuries. Reimer posted an impressive 20-10-5 record with .921 sv% and 2.60 GAA, which helped boost the team late in the season and give them hope for their first post-season appearance in several years. Reimer's winning ways obviously made him incredibly popular with the fan base, and he was ultimately dubbed "Optimus Reim", a play on Optimus Prime from the Transformers, complete with a nifty logo that played on the Reim/Prime connection. (Reimer liked it enough that he incorporated the "Optimus Reim" logo into his mask design.)

Unfortunately, Reimer's play alone wasn't enough to overcome a poor first half of the year (19-25-5), and the Leafs eventually finished 10th place in the East.

The team made a couple of big-name trades at the deadline - Tomas Kaberle ended up picking up a Stanley Cup ring in Boston en route to playing for Carolina this fall; and Kris Versteeg briefly took his talents to Philadelphia before ending up in Florida. The team also brought in Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin to replace assistant coaches Keith Acton and Tim Hunter.

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Tim Connolly (BUF), Cody Franson (NSH), John-Michael Liles (COL), Matthew Lombardi (NSH)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Tim Brent (CAR), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (COL), Christian Hanson (WSH), Tomas Kaberle (CAR), Brett Lebda (NSH), Danny Richmond (WSH), Fredrik Sjostrom, Kris Versteeg (FLA)

At first glance, you might think that Toronto didn't make the kind of remarkable overhaul moves that the team has desperately needed. But building a successful team is as much about chemistry and balance as it is pure talent. The Leafs do have a core of players such as Colby Armstrong, Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, and Dion Paneuf, and have complimented those guys nicely with midseason acquisitions like Joffrey Lupul. There is also the likelihood that some of their AHL talent can make it into the NHL this year.

Some primary concerns for the club this year will be if some of their players who tend to be on the IR list will get to play a full season, and if James Reimer can shoulder the workload of being the primary goalie.

Toronto has become a younger team, and while fans shouldn't expect them to become a Cup contender this year, the pieces are certainly in place that with the right coaching, if Reimer doesn't have a sophomore slump, and if the chemistry clicks, chances are pretty good that they will make some noise in the Eastern Conference and might even finally make it back to the playoffs next April.

* * *

For the Leafs, we talked with Hannah, who can be found on Twitter at @runaroundkid; she's followed the team for 10 years.

Let's talk a bit about your fandom.

Don't know how to measure it, but I am a huge fan. My family and friends know that I will refuse to die until I see the Leafs win the Cup. I don't care if I'm 122 years old, I just won't go.

I first got into hockey because I had an older female cousin who I idolized who was a hockey player and then coach, and also a huge Leafs fan. She indoctrinated me. (And I'm from Toronto -- you basically come out of the womb a fan in this city.)

Not many great memories to be had with the Leafs lately, har har har, although it was really special to see Kaberle (my favorite Leafs player ever) lift the Cup. I might have got a bit misty-eyed. I also met Reimer recently, right before he left to play at the Worlds, and it was cool to see someone who I think is part of the future of this team be so friendly with fans, humble, but also confident in his abilities and optimistic about the Leafs.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Tim Connolly

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I'm pleased with the changes made this off-season. I think the Leafs will be a better team going into the 2011-2012 season than they were going into the 2010-2011 season.

With the acquisition of Cody Franson and JML, the strong play of Phaneuf after he returned from injuries last season, and the continued development of Aulie and Schenn, I think our D is looking pretty good right now. I also expect our PP and PK to improve somewhat this year. Our biggest problem is obviously still the lack of a true superstar #1 centre, but there wasn't anyone available at the right term/price this year, so I'm comfortable with Burke adding Connolly as a short-term fix. It was the best thing to do with limited options. Kessel and Lupul gelled well toward the end of last season, and with the addition of Connolly on the line, I'm expecting Kessel to put up big numbers. 

photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels/Flickr
I don't think it's realistic to count on the MacArthur-Kulemin-Grabovski line to reproduce the success they had last season, but I still think they'll be valuable contributors. Bozak will likely be moved to the 3rd line, a position which is more in line with his abilities, and I think that without the pressure of being on the 1st line, he'll have a better season.We have a ton of 4th-line type guys signed to two-way deals with the Leafs and Marlies who will be battling for spots on the roster, which can only be a good thing. It will push them to perform at their best because they know they're not guaranteed a spot in the NHL.

As for goaltending, I'm very hopeful about the tandem of Reimer and Gustavsson, but I also know that if either or both of them falter, the team will likely not make the playoffs. As it is, my optimistic projection for the season has the Leafs squeaking into the playoffs as the 8th seed, and that's assuming they have the support of solid performers between the pipes. Without that, things look pretty bleak (unless some teams ahead of us completely crash and burn).

I'm not sold on the head coach, Ron Wilson. I think that if the team doesn't improve in the standings from where they finished last season, he might not be around much longer. At the same time, I haven't completely given up on him. I get the impression that he still has the respect of the players and they want to work hard for him. He doesn't seem to have "lost the room" yet, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Overall, although I'm skeptical, I trust Burke and his plan for the team. I think he made the right changes this off-season, and the Leafs are improving. I expect them to have a better year, and I'm excited about the upcoming season.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

8th in the Eastern Conference

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

A minor thing, but a real pet peeve of mine: I don't think there should be a delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck out of play. I think most of the time it's an accident, so the penalty doesn't cut down on it happening, because there's usually no intent. It's something that's going to happen. Just treat it like icing: stop play and have a face-off in the offending team's zone without allowing them a line change. It is too small of an infraction, in my opinion, to warrant giving a team a penalty.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your optimistic, but realistic breakdown of the Leafs' 2011/2012 chances. I also think Burke made some well-considered moves this summer and although it's tempting to think my favourite team can jump leaps and bounds up the Eastern Conference, you really identified the strengths and weaknesses that they'll have to work with. Given that their late season rush this year got them to 10th seed, I'm a bit more hopeful they can secure 7th or even 6th spot if the new players integrate quickly. They'll need to come out of the gate strong, not wait till next spring to put on the push! It's always a bit scary when so much rests on Reimer and Gustavsson, but assuming they have an injury-free season and solid back up from their teammates, I look forward to seeing them lead the Leafs to a playoff spot. From another diehard fan!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for your viewpoint!

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