This is a weird time to start writing about the Maple Leafs again.
When I first started writing about hockey, almost nine years ago, I covered the Leafs pretty much exclusively. Let’s remember back to what things were like back then. John Ferguson Jr. had just been fired. Vesa Toskala was in net. The Leafs were about to miss the playoffs for a franchise-record third straight year, and interim GM Cliff Fletcher was trying (and failing) to kickstart a desperately needed rebuild by trading away Mats Sundin and the Muskoka Five. That summer, they’d hire Ron Wilson, sign Jeff Finger, and launch a GM search that dragged on for months. Eventually, Brian Burke would arrive, promising that he could turn the whole thing around quickly.
It was, to put it mildly, a miserable time to be a Maple Leafs fan. At one point, I set out to write a multi-part series to answer the question: Is this the worst it’s ever been? The answer: Yes it was. I’d lived through Harold Ballard, Kerry Fraser, “draft schmaft” and Rask-for-Raycroft, but there had never been a worse time to be a Leafs fan.
Fast-forward almost a decade later, and here we are. The Leafs still haven’t won a playoff round. They’ve only made it once, and that didn’t end well. Other teams have built and rebuilt and won it all and crashed and burned, and there’s Toronto, still nestled away in the bottom third of the standings, as always.
All of which makes it feel a little odd to get to write this: We’re in the middle of a damn fun year to be a Leafs fan.