If you’re a Leafs fan you’ve probably been accustomed to living in a sea of negativity for the duration of your fandom. If you’re new to this, then give it time… it will come. There doesn’t need to be constant reminders of recent failures, or cup droughts, or game 7 losses to the Boston Bruins, but at every turn, you look up and there it is.
It’s hard to stay positive, especially given the struggles and misfortunes placed on the club this season. Between the coaching change, stretches of downright miserable play, injuries and individual slumps, it’s almost impossible to find anything to be positive about some nights.
To help you through the long, frustrating nights – and offer a reprieve from the constant gloom and doom – here are some reasons to be optimistic about this Leafs team:
1. Frederik Andersen’s return to form
Since joining the Maple Leafs in 2016-2017, Andersen has never had back to back months with a sub .900 sv%. He’s been a model of consistency, at least on a year to year basis, posting save percentage marks of .918, .918, and .917 through his first three seasons in Toronto. Despite some shaky stretches this season, history suggests he’ll be back to the Freddie we all know and love in no time at all. It was a slump in March, during the last two seasons that fired up the torches and brought out the angry mobs, but one way or another, he’s always returned to form and landed right around where you would expect him to land.
2. The depth of the offence
So much has been made about a lack of depth on the blue line, and a somewhat depleted farm system, but not enough has been made about the incredible depth up front. Trade rumours have been swirling about players who have routinely been on the third and fourth line being shipped out for a top-4 defenceman. Lost in the unsuspected success of players like Pierre Engvall and Jason Spezza, The Leafs are now getting additional reinforcements with Andreas Johnsson and Trevor Moore returning to the lineup; two players who were important contributors last season and came in with big expectations for this year. The depth up front gives the organization more than just a high powered offence, it gives them the flexibility to make moves despite a lack of draft picks and mid-range prospects to deal.
3. The window is open
An unlikely playoff berth, and a nice showing against the future champion Washington Capitals in a season where there were no expectations may have thrust fans into believing a deep playoff run was closer than it actually was. With the young, elite players now out of their entry level deals and showing an ability to dominate games, management should be much more likely to pull the trigger on a win-now type of trade. While the future and continued success of the team will always be important, the fact is every year in which The Leafs don’t make a legitimate run at The Stanley Cup from here on out is like sand falling through the hour glass. If that isn’t motivation to plug up any holes, I don’t know what is. There are moves coming—more than Tomas Plekanec, more than Brian Boyle.
4. The Leafs have played at a 112 point pace under Keefe
The hole dug during the first month and a half of the season is the only thing keeping this team from contending with the Bruins for the Atlantic Division lead. The same pace over the full 50 games would give them 69 points, one less than the Bruins with one game in hand. The same pace over the remaining 32 games would give them an additional 44 points, and a total of 103 on the year, tying the second most in any season in Toronto Maple Leafs history. To add to that, 17 of the 27 games under Sheldon Keefe have been on the road, including a lengthy road trip to begin his tenure. To finish out the season, The Maple Leafs will play almost an identical percentage of playoff teams as they have to this point under Keefe while spending no more than 4 days in a row on the road.
5. Adversity builds character
They say you have to lose to learn how to win—the same could be said for battling through tough times. This team has played through a miserable start, a coaching change, endless injuries and what has felt like an insurmountable mountain in the standings. While it’s easy to look at these things and cite them as a cause for failure, there’s just as much reason to look at them as a sign for optimism. Despite the trials and tribulations thrust upon them, they’re still here. They made it through the storm. There’s light on the other side. And if they can persevere, and get themselves into the playoffs, they’ll only be stronger because of it. We watched an awful St. Louis Blues team in the first half of the season last year weather the storm and come out on the other side as an indestructible force.
It’s easy to buy into the misery. It’s easy to spread negativity. It’s easier to sit in wait for failure than it is to believe in the possibility of success. But take a breath. Live a little. Allow yourself to be in the moment. And when that success arrives it will only be that much sweeter. There are lots of reasons to believe that this Leafs team can get there.
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