The Leafs. Man, it’s been a struggle. But, is there a light at the tunnel? For the first time in many years, I say yes.
Despite the team hitting what would appear to be rock bottom last year and trading their top player for 50 cents on the dollar this offseason, I finally am fairly confident that this team is going in the right direction.
The main reason for this is the shift in management, and more importantly, the shift in management mindset over the last year.
The former management team – Brian Burke protégés – Dave Nonis, Claude Loiselle, and Dave Poulin were absolute cancers to this team, refusing to acknowledge that the game has changed in the last decade plus. Truculence and toughness are not the measurables to use to determine a hockey player’s worth – speed, skill, and puck possession are.
Of course, smart and/or even relatively open-minded people have known this for many years, but somehow the people that get paid millions to run the most popular hockey team in the world remained ignorant to it, boldly refusing to even acknowledge that things have changed.
Yes, advanced stats that measure puck possession and shot attempts are extremely important and effective. But, that’s old news. This isn’t even a debate any more except with people with the most-simple of minds (See Simmons, Steve).
What’s especially encouraging to me is that the Leafs are not merely interested in catching up to using the tools that smart teams like the Chicago Blackhawks were using 5 years ago, but rather they are looking to push the envelope and be on the cutting-edge of the next wave of groundbreaking statistical analysis. This has been made apparent by the amount of analytics hires that have occurred in the last year.
Like most things with the Leafs, this should have happened a long time ago. There’s absolutely no excuse for the richest franchise in hockey to not use every resource they can legally use to gain an advantage. Not only were they not doing this, but they were actively ignoring and not using analytics as part of the previous management’s policy for player evaluation.
This started to change last year with the hiring of Kyle Dubas and several other analytical-friendly front-office consultants. Brendan Shanahan made a horrible first impression on me and the majority of smart Leafs fans when he retained Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle at the start of his reign as Team President.
However, as the summer went on, and more smart people were hired, I finally got the sense of hope that I’ve been missing for so long.
I knew last season was going to be bad. I knew they wouldn’t make the playoffs. But that was ok, because hopefully (and my prayers were answered) this would mean the complete elimination of Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle from my hockey team.
It went about as well as I could have hoped. The team bottomed out, removing any lingering doubt that their playoff push from the shortened-season a couple years ago was a mirage. Carlyle got fired, Nonis eventually got fired, and we even got a miracle with the trade of David Clarkson. The only way it could have went better is if we won the McDavid draft lottery, but the hockey gods are only willing to show so much mercy to Leafs Nation.
So, despite the team being what appears to be a complete mess on the ice, I’ve optimistic as I’ve been since the Pat Quinn era because of what’s going off the ice.
I finally have faith that the Leafs are going to be good (eventually) and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.