I’m going to start this off by giving you a quick rundown of how writing about the Leafs in this space has gone over the last number of years.
Initially when I got into turning my obsession with this team into a little hobby, I think we were starting out in the Burke years, and I’d say covering that era was what could only be called a mixed bag. There was plenty of negativity because the accelerated rebuild talk was lame, and Burke’s moves themselves were for the most part bleh, aside from a couple trades that worked out nicely. I’d say in those years people at sites like this one got accused of being “too negative” in their analysis of the team and hey, I’ll admit we can be harsh around here, but in the end that was a patchwork job of a mediocre-to-bad team, and then it got turned over to Worse Burke, also known as Dave Nonis. Readers thought we were being mean before? The summer of 2013 nearly broke our brains.
Anyway, ripping on Nonis was fun (and made for surprisingly easy writing) until he got the boot amid Shanahan’s takeover of the team in 2014. With that, thankfully, the tide started turning in a big way, and the Dubas hiring gave us a glimmer of hope that things could really get better eventually. Since then, we’ve had the bringing-aboard of Hunter, Babcock, Lamoriello, some draft lottery luck, and that hope quickly turned into what I would consider a window cracking open into contention due to solid work and an overall smart approach.
But there’s still been plenty to be at odds about, and you probably know what I’m talking about: The nights of Polak burning up 23 minutes, the unnecessarily risky Zaitsev contract, the questionable usage of some veteran players (by a coaching staff that was rightly starting to garner mild criticism), and a draft record that seemed to be all over the place with some good selections but also a few that boggled the mind. There were still cracks in the foundation, because this was always a piecemeal decision-making group.
Now don’t get me wrong, as mentioned, there was tons to feel good about without question. I mean, I almost feel spoiled bringing up those questionable aspects of the recent management group considering where this team was just a few years ago. But I still didn’t feel, over these last 2-3 seasons, that the Leafs really separated themselves from other teams near the top of the league in terms of their susceptibility to making poor moves that could set them back or hinder their chances at properly contending.
I believe that’s all changed now.
I mean, teams will always make some moves that don’t turn out, but the Leafs have gone a long way in sealing up their foundation. And honestly? With the promoting, hiring, and departing that’s happened over the last number of weeks, I can’t remember a time in my entire lifetime (I’m 31) where I felt this sure of management. That might sound odd, considering they haven’t actually done anything yet, but it’s the truth. I’m going to be bold and say, from the outside, it appears Dubas is the sharpest and adaptive mind in hockey, Pridham is an absolute cap wizard who will bring those skills to a wider scope of duties, and the recent hire of Gilman is just like adding another Pridham.
And the reins are off now. These guys are seemingly all on the same page in a way the old guard really couldn’t be, they’re going to be shrewd and tidy in their work, make the most of a league-best analytics group, and funnel money into bolstering all areas in a way that’s new and current in a changing NHL. No more half-measures, this will fit a proper vision.
And you know what? Maybe not everyone shares my enthusiasm. Maybe they don’t trust the new faces or don’t know enough about them. That’s fair. But I can tell you this: I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words about this team, followed their offseason moves and management structuring perhaps more than the on-ice product, through times good and bad, and while “bloggers” and such get ripped a lot for being too harsh in their criticism, they’ve also usually been right when at odds with what the upper ranks of this club are doing. I don’t see that being much of a problem any longer. Take it from me (or don’t), this is the most clearly positive direction the team has been on in at least the 31 years I’ve been around.