I have a theory about alternate universes. It’s sort of a combination of Stephen Hawking and Steven King. The short version is that they exist, and chances are, somewhere in one of them, the Leafs are going to win the Cup this year. In fact, there are so many alternate universes out there (10 to the power of 500, which is a lot), that there’s probably a universe in which the Leafs have Jessica Alba as an owner, a Russian midget as a coach, and they manage to win the Cup.
But whether scientifically possible or not, it’s just fantasy for us here in this universe. Hard times, my friends, hard times are upon us. The Leafs were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on Tuesday, to a chorus of boos from an empty Air Canada Centre. For the many fans either staying home or expressing their displeasure, the hockey season is done, and their schedules have opened up significantly. But some of us are hockey fans, too, and despite the pain it first may cause, will follow the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I don’t know about you, but I am one of those fans. Still, it is hard for me to watch without naturally picking a side. So every year (it’s becoming a sad tradition), I’ve picked a team to follow, and hope they go all the way, if only for the pleasure of saying I was right. Two years ago, I got it right with Chicago. To find out who I’m picking this year, click over the jump!
I’m picking the St. Louis Blues.
First I’m picking them because they are good and might actually win. If I’m going to follow (not cheer for, let’s not get crazy) another team, they better be good. According to Broad Street Hockey, their Score Adjusted Fenwick is 3rd in the NHL post-trade deadline, which is a good predictor of playoff success. The LA Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins rank higher, but for reasons involving a referee with pretty hair, I won’t follow the Kings, and while I do like Crosby, I prefer to pick a Western Conference team.
So the Blues have a good shot at going all the way. What else? I like their make up. They remind me of the Leafs. They are a young team that has grown up together. Guys like Backes, Oshie, Perron, and Pieterangelo have developed in the Blues’ system, and after some lean years, the team has exploded to the top of the NHL. So I hope that’s what the Leafs can do in a couple of years. I see parallels.
One thing the Blues have that the Leafs lack, however, is goaltending. Oh, but this is where things get sweet. Their goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak are on absolute fire this year. Who has a .943 save percentage? Brian Elliott, that’s who. Halak is "only" .927. Is it because of Ken Hitchcock’s system? Well, that didn’t help Steve Mason, did it? Even if it’s the system more than talent, what makes this sweet is that both goalies are cast-offs from two near and dear NHL friends of ours. Jaroslav Halak was the victim (beneficiary?) of another bad management decision in Montreal (ok, it’s not like Carey Price is horrible–.917 SV% would look great for the Leafs–but it’s still funny), when they shipped him to St. Louis for Lars Eller. [email protected]
Elliott, on the other hand, is a revelation. After four seasons hovering at or below .900 with the Ottawa Senators, the SNES moved him to Colorado, after which he moved on to St. Louis. While I have said here before that Ottawa is not Toronto’s "rival" I will say that I like to see them fail, and if that makes them a rival, well, for selfish reasons I will admit to their being so.
But it’s not just former Habs and Sens succeeding that makes me like this team. There are former Leafs on board as well. This may seem problematic given my last reasons, but hear me out. When Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo were moved to the Blues for Lee Stempniak, it was one of those trades where you just knew it was going to come back and bite the Leafs in the ass. Stempniak was mediocre at best here, traded himself at the deadline, and then proceeded to light it up for Phoenix in the last part of the season. Steen seemed to be floundering in Toronto and Colaiacovo was injured all the time. If I like a player, I will usually keep liking him, even if he goes to another team. So while Steen and Colaiacovo’s success are a reminder of what could have been, had the Leafs been more patient, it does seem that the new regime is willing to build around similar players. So hopefully we see more of this:
But less of this:
Playoff hopes for this season are dead, but Leaf fans can live vicariously though some former friends, and former rivals while pondering the question: is there hope for the future? Depending on which universe you live in, definitely.