There, that feels good. Once in a while the truth has to be acknowledged.
The problem facing me is that this aforementioned truth has plagued me throughout my life on far too many occasions. In other words, the team which have I followed and embraced since the 1970’s has more often than not been a not very good hockey club.
To quote Yogi Berra, the current edition of The Maple Leaf Hockey Club of Toronto feels like “déjà vu all over again”.
A recent addition to the actual Nitzy’s Hockey Den is a hockey preview magazine for the 1982/83 season and the summation of the Leafs upcoming year back then is eerily similar to their current state of affairs. I will quote the comments from the nearly thirty year old magazine and compare them to today.
The Leafs of autumn 1982 were coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs by a wide margin and had allowed the most goals against in the league, exactly the same way they entered this year. In 81/82 they had also placed 17 out of 21 teams in goals for although their 298 goals would have led the NHL in 2008/09. Apples and oranges though. At least last season they managed to finish 10th out of 30 teams in scoring. In ’82 they were a team much like now that had recently ‘cleaned house’ of older established talent. Gone were Sittler, Paiement, Rene Robert, Dan Maloney, Don Luce and Ian Turnbull all were 28 or older except for Paiement at 26. The current version has purged older talent as well with Sundin, Antropov, Kubina and Moore all at least 28 years old having been sent packing.
This lack of proven scoring prompted the following analysis in the 1982/83 preview, “the Leafs can also use an extra dash of firepower if improvement is on the horizon….only two men, Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago, bettered 80 points.” Of course, in 08/09 not one Leaf cracked even the 65 point plateau, awful. So, going into 1982/83, they had one proven sniper in 22 year old Rick Vaive much as today they have one in 22 year old Phil Kessel. The second tier scoring of Derlago, John Anderson, Miroslav Frycer and Rocky Saginiuk was all between the ages of 23 and 26 much like today’s supporting cast of Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Grabovski, Mitchell and Stempniak (aged between 26 and 29). The anomaly on today’s team would be Jason Blake at age 35 although the Leafs of ’82 had a 31 year old Billy Harris patrolling the right side.
The old squad had a similar situation with today’s influx of new talent via the college free agent route although the new talent in 1982 came via Europe. Today’s addition of Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson by way of a relatively new source (college free agents) is similar to the ’82 squad taking gambles on Peter and Miroslav Ihnacak and Vladimir Ruzicka. Peter actually panned out quite nicely, his brother would not defect for another three years and frankly should have stayed home. The fourth round draft pick from ’82, Ruzicka would never play for Toronto and be traded seven years later to the Oilers.
On the defensive side the great similarity is the fact that each version of the Leafs had a defense core anchored by a European veteran and each team had a highly drafted Western League stud to pin the future upon. Borje Salming was 31 in 1982/83 and would put up 45 points in 69 games, similarly today’s Leafs are led by 31 year old Tomas Kaberle. To quote the magazine, “the Leafs reached out to draft a blue chip rearguard in the ’82 Entry Draft, and came a way with highly rated Gary Nylund, a potential superstar. Nylund comes off a flashy junior career with the Portland Winterhawks…and will certainly move right into a regular job.” Sound a bit like the hype surrounding Luke Schenn? I just hope Schenn’s career doesn’t parallel Nylund’s who would retire before the age of 30 with devastating knee problems. Gaston Gingras would be brought in from Montreal in December and provided what newly acquired Francois Beauchemin is supposed to provide, secondary blue line scoring.
In the goaltending department originally the ’82 squad was to be lead by an experienced goaltender who had spent most of his career as a capable back-up goalie (Michel Laroque) and by a young flashy goaltender (Vincent Tremblay). Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson fill these two roles quite well. Of course in mid-September of 1982, Toronto brought back into the fold a past fan favourite on his last legs in Mike Palmateer who would play over 50 games that season. If injuries to Toskala and ‘The Monster’ continue, could a return of Curtis Joseph be the final parallel to the 1982 squad? I sure hope not. In the end, 1982/83 would prove to be another fruitless year for my Buds as they snuck into the playoffs with 68 points in the weak Norris division only to lose to Minnesota in the first round. However, right about now, I would probably take a result similar to that this season.