The Hawks mini-Canadian swing makes its second and final and most important stop tonight, and that’s at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. And those who do not believe any of the above statements need to only spend about thirty seconds scanning the internet to understand just how important the Leafs and their fans consider themselves to be despite nearly a decade and a half of laughable ineptitude.
There’s not much really to be said for the product on the ice for the Leafs this year, mercifully. They’re purposefully and willfully shitty in an effort to restock their depleted system and play the game the right way after Mike Babcock decided he needed a new challenge and a couple houses along the various coastlines this continent has to offer. He has the team playing responsibly and is implementing as much of his 200 foot possession game as he can given the shit terrible components on the roster, which has only taken another hit with James Van Reimsdyk’s now prolonged absence. Babs has this collection smack in the middle of the pack and actually barely above water as far as 5v5 attempts are concerned at 50.2%, which is light years ahead of where they have been in the past. That he’s doing this with a roster of spare parts who have jobs for the sole purpose of being flipped for mid-round draft picks and have jumped up and beaten some of the alleged better teams in the league (most recently St. Louis) is to be commended. The indignities never cease for goalie James Reimer, who has a fantastic .936 save percentage yet somehow hasn’t won since before (American) Thanksgiving, and the Leafs have the fewest regulation wins in the league just as they likely planned to have.
Naturally all the credit for this has been given to wunderkind assistant GM Kyle Dubas, who every wannabe fanboy GM buried under numbers they themselves invented lives vicariously through, yet conveniently neglects the part where Dubas enabled if not condoned a gang rape with a Writ of Boys Will Be Boys. And this leads to the most ubiquitous and insufferable aspect surrounding the franchise: its entitled fans.
Maple Leaf fandom is wholly unique in that it comes with the belief that all hockey knowledge is aquired simply by being born Canadian and being a Leafs Fan, and that the game actually needs them and their franchise to do well in order to thrive, neither of which are even remotely true. The analytics movement coinciding with the explosion of various social media platforms has created an absolute deluge of delusional hobbyists, and the Leafs themselves have only exacerbated the problem by hiring a few of those said hobbyists which only fuels the wrongful belief that these sycophants harbor that they will actually work for an NHL team. And there are too many of these people to keep track of.
Steve Burtch, an author at Pension Plan (whose twitter will not be linked to because it is profoundly depressing), has literally invented numbers that have no meaning and declared himself a genius for doing so, along with every other inscrutable-chart-posting malorkus. Steve Glynn is presumably an adult man with action figures in his MAN CAVE basement who screams into a camera and is somehow viewed as an authority on anything and not rightfully laughed at the way Steve Carrell was in the early stages of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Glynn also apparently thinks taking a creepshot of a child hugging his father in a moment they thought was private is in any fucking way acceptable. Jeff Veillette is simply terrifying with a sociopathic twinkle in his eyes with a craven need for attention that led him to purchase a Leafs Luongo jersey and plaster himself all over the internet in advance of a trade that never happened, yet joins the chorus of LEAFS NATION about REAL FANS being priced out of games at the AAC. And it doesn’t take a self-proclaimed analytics expert to declare that that $150 (minimum) could have been spent on tickets and not an imaginary jersey, no matter how much the Canadian dollar has been devalued. And all of these people now think that the Leafs will be the team that finally unlocks whatever is left of Jeremy Morin, that Nazem Kadri is elite, and that Marc Arcobello just simply hasn’t had a fair shot. Because their fans and their proxy assistant boy wonder GM being smarter than everyone else is what will finally Billy Beane their way to a title, not Hall of Famers on the roster, which every Cup winner ever (aside from maybe the weird ’06 Carolina year) has had.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, it’s a quick turnaround from the pelting they took at the Bell Center last night that Corey Crawford once again made stand up. He’ll get a well-earned off night tonight with Scott Darling starting on the road. As is the case every time he starts, his splits need to be mentioned – .959 at home, .892 on the road. With no morning skate today it’s unclear whether Erik Gustafsson will be able to go tonight, or if Marian Hossa will get the night off after having his beautiful visage sullied by an errant puck to the mouth last night. There’s not a lot among the Leafs forward corps to make anyone shake with fear, yet somehow Rob Scuderi will manage to be completely hemmed into his own end all night long.
Babs certainly knows how to coach against Joel Quenneville, and at least has his team playing smart. With the Hawks playing last night it’s likely he’ll have five guys in the neutral zone at any time forcing a Hawk defensive unit with one man who can actually skate to break the trap, and then have Reimer absorb whatever gets through and hope that Scott Darling on the road is Scott Darling on the road. This has all the markings of a root canal caliber streak breaker if the Hawks aren’t smart with the puck.