Rejoice Leafs fans, you’ve earned it
Pierre Trudeau would have been proud.
Brian Burke, the oft-quoted and much-publicized general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs has a symbiotic relationship with the scrutinizing Toronto media.
The Energizer bunny that is the 24-hour media conglomerate watchdog that permeates the Air Canada Centre at an almost agonizing intensity, eats up the GM’s one-liners like they were served still hot from the anecdotal oven.
Simultaneously, the Leafs’ boss uses his all-too-eager journalistic buddies as a medium to spread his latest water-cooler trade talk, or recent tirades about the state of the game to his managerial cohorts around the league.
On this day, the Irishman had a little French-Canadian in him.
At the apex of last season’s onslaught of loss after loss, the GM fielded questions from a justly inquisitive frontier of journalists.
The questions quickly focused on head coach Ron Wilson. How safe was his job? How can you justify keeping him on payroll after such an unmitigated disaster that had come to define the 2009-10 season?
Staunchly, Burke stood by his long-time friend and resolutely announced that, of all the questions surrounding the blue and white Wilson was not one of them.
“Yeah, but how do you turn this ship around?” one reporter asked. “You can’t get rid of the whole team.”
Now Canadian historicists on three, ready? One, two…
“Just watch me.”
At that moment, perhaps the most infamous of one-liners in Canadian history had become the cornerstone of what would become a promise later fulfilled to its utmost, as Burke effectively shipped out the majority of the Leafs still present from the days of mediocrity.
Gone were Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, Vesa Toskala, Alex Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov; the list of futility seemed endless.
But the culture of losing had died with the mass exodus of players.
And the polarizing bunch of hockey connoisseurs that the Leafs organization seems to attract, whether they are Leaf-laughers or those who bleed blue and white had, like it or not, witnessed something Toronto hockey fans had not seen in years, a man with a plan, who’s not afraid to execute.
Toronto’s 4-0-1 start to the young season has the city filled with cautious optimism, too hesitant to throw their arms in the air because they know the sample size is far too miniscule to justify planning that parade come June.
But contrast the Leafs’ disastrous start to last year, in which the first month sunk the ship before it could even make it out of the harbour and Leafs fans can breathe again.
Dissect the success of this year’s edition and it’s not hard pinpointing the underlying cases behind the team’s collection of wins.
An instilled work ethic featuring fresh faces, a sense of entitlement gone with the blustery winds of autumn, a swift transition game through the neutral zone, scoring, by someone not named Phil Kessel, and crucial and timely saves by a confident duo of goalies, all comprise a formidable team that has the chance to win against anybody on any given night.
So rejoice Leafs fans. It’s been a long road to respectability. You’ve taken shots to where it hurts most; your pride.
You’ve endured six straight springs without the taste of a meaningful game. You’ve paid your dues. Now, with your team’s auspicious start out of the gate, it’s time to show the world just how loud you can roar.