Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Your overreaction guide to the first few games of the NHL season

It’s going to be a big week for the “it’s still early” crowd. The regular season is here, we’re getting our first look at games that actually matter, and by the end of the weekend we’ll have seen every team at least a few times. And that means we can expect constant reminders that we shouldn’t overreact to anything that happens this week.

On the one hand, it’s good advice. Last year, the season’s first few nights included the Ducks beating the Sharks, the Canucks rolling over the Flames, the Jets blowing out the Blues, and oh yeah, the Bruins losing their opener 7-0 and then complaining about how the other team had too much fun and it hurt their feelings. In hindsight, none of it mattered, and we didn’t learn anything. The rational thing to do would have been to just ignore all of it.

On the other hand, being rational is no fun, so let’s ignore the “it’s too early” scolds and get ready to flip out over every little thing that happens this week. After all, we didn’t sit through an entire offseason and an interminable exhibition schedule just so we could be all measured and patient now. Let’s get crazy.

But let’s get crazy with a plan. Here are a half-dozen scenarios that could realistically play out over the next few days that could cause us all to freak out and how we should approach them.

The Leafs lose to the Senators

What could happen: The schedule offers an easy layup for the Leafs’ opener, with last-place Ottawa and their thread-bare roster in town. But whoops, a bounce here, a missed assignment there, some hot goaltending and the young Sens are celebrating a confidence-building road win against a rival.

What it would mean: Pick your narrative. The Leafs are distracted by the Auston Matthews situation. Mitch Marner and the rest of the big contracts have made it impossible to build a contending roster. The remade blueline is a dud. They never shook off last year’s playoff loss, the captaincy saga took more of a toll than we thought, they miss Nazem Kadri’s grit and Ron Hainsey’s presence and Patrick Marleau’s dad-like leadership. Fire Babcock!

It will be ridiculous, but this is Toronto. And after a legitimately rough offseason highlighted by the Marner negotiations and Matthews’ off-ice embarrassment, the early schedule isn’t really doing the Leafs any favors. They open with the rebuilding Sens followed by the decimated Blue Jackets, two opponents they won’t get any credit for beating but had better not lose to. Then it’s the Canadiens on a Saturday night showcase, a home game in which the Leafs will have played on the road the night before while the Habs will be rested. And if those three games don’t go well, look out, because the next two bring the defending Cup champs and the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners.

If the Leafs are five games into the season and sitting with one or two wins, Marner and/or Matthews are off to slow starts, and the Lightning just spanked them on home ice, Toronto fans and media will be chill about it, right? Sure they will.

Or maybe not: The thing about this Maple Leafs season is that whatever happens between now and April doesn’t really matter all that much. As long as they make the playoffs – and they should – then we’ll judge the year based almost entirely on what happens when they get there. Sure, home ice would be nice. Avoiding the Bruins in the first round feels important. And it would be great to see everything click into one of those monster seasons where a young team takes a big leap forward and challenges for first overall. But none of it will matter if they don’t win at least a round or two.

There will be time for freaking out in April (or May or June), and by then a few games in October will have been long forgotten. Overreacting is what Maple Leafs fans do, but they should keep their powder dry until the spring.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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