Here we go again.
Another year, another training camp, another season filled with hope for my Toronto Maple Leafs. It's been the same way every year for the last 50 seasons just about. The hope that this will be the season in which the Leafs finally climb the summit once again. Each and every season for the past 46 years, they have failed. As a realist I ask myself, is this season really going to be any different from the past? I doubt it.
I've been a die-hard Leafs fan since my childhood in the late 1970's and early '80's. I've seen a LOT of hope and potential come and go. From the potential arriving in the form of draft picks like Gary Nylund and Dan Hodgson, to the acquisition of my favourite Stastny brother, Marian. The drafting of Wendel Clark first overall brought excitement, as did the trade for Doug Gilmour six years later. The 1990's brought repeated deep playoff runs aided by electrifying goaltending from the likes of Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph and yet still no payoff in the form of the ultimate goal. The last ten years has been pretty much a write-off. So where does that leave us Leaf fans as a new season approaches?
The current edition of the Maple Leafs sports a fair bit of hope and potential by way of Gardiner, Rielly, Kadri and some day maybe Nylander. There is excitement provided by Kessel and vanRiemsdyk, and Bernier and to some extent Reimer can at times be electrifying in net. This is where the realist in me has to step forward however.
Do the Leafs really have enough offense to compete with the big boys in the East and the even bigger boys in the West? Their defence core is adequate if not stellar, but their erratic play keeps them well below the level of Boston or New York. The goaltending has the potential (there's that word again) to be the strength of this team, but is it comparable to that of Boston, New York or even Montreal? Even the most optimistic Leaf fan would have to say no.
So, realistically the only real chance the Leafs have to even make it to a Stanley Cup Final would be a series of fortunate events in their favour and their star players all getting hot at the right time, the way Montreal did last season before their luck turned. Is that enough to keep a fan going for another year? Apparently so.
Why do I and many others follow each and every game with such passion when deep down we have to know the reality of our chances? I wish I knew the answer, but for me it comes down to the tought that if the Leafs ever did indeed climb that mountain after almost 50 years (so far)...it will be that much sweeter having hung on through the whole ride. I know it's not likely, but I damn well am not packing it all in now. One of these years the have to get it right, don't they?