Eastern Conference Deficit is Relative

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (July 11) – In response to my blog from Thursday suggesting the Maple Leafs are better positioned for a prime draft choice than a playoff spot next season, a cabal of die-hard fans pointed out the comparative debility of the Eastern Conference and how the club could easily stay afloat amid such shabby competition. The majority of readers, however, concurred with my premise. Some further observations:

? First, the blog was not critical of the Maple Leafs in any way but the obvious – that the club is sorely lacking size and depth at the key center-ice position and, right now, is returning with a nucleus that has chronically blundered late in the season; acutely so in a Game 7 playoff showdown against Boston. Any dispassionate observation of the Blue and White would conclude the team has wasted many years trying to fast-track achievement and is only now starting to build conventionally.

? For a fan to take comfort in the obvious disparity between East and West is ridiculous given that the Maple Leafs have to play 30 games – or roughly 40 percent of their schedule – against Western opposition. And, anyone that thinks the club will breeze past its Eastern rivals in the other 52 encounters isn’t paying attention. At this time – on paper anyway – Boston, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are superior to the Maple Leafs. And there is no way to determine whether the Leafs are better than Ottawa, the New York Islanders or Buffalo (which beefed up on July 1). So, to suggest the club will prosper simply because it resides in the weaker Conference is extremely wishful thinking.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS WILL FACE CONN SMYTHE TROPHY WINNER JONATHAN QUICK AND THE STANLEY CUP CHAMPION LOS ANGELES KINGS TWICE NEXT SEASON: DEC. 14 AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE; JAN. 12 AT THE STAPLES CENTER.

? Again, other than experiencing some long nights, there is nothing particularly harmful about the Leafs struggling next season. This is a club not even close to contending for the Stanley Cup. If it doesn’t deviate from its current approach, it could well be in that position three or four years from now. And not just once. In my view, next season is for the Leafs to experiment; to see which kids in the organization have the right stuff moving forward. It’s a year to split goaltending chores so that Jonathan Bernier is not fried before he turns 30. It’s a season to determine whether Randy Carlyle still has the capacity to impart a message to young players – there being no evidence of such last year. It is hardly a season for ownership, management or fans to get their shorts in a knot over game results. If the team overachieves, then wonderful. If it performs to its apparent level, there’s a splendid array of talent among at least the top half-dozen prospects in the 2015 draft.

? I do not know this for fact but based on what we’ve seen thus far, it appears Tim Leiweke has wisely acceded to Brendan Shanahan and Dave Nonis. Given his druthers, Leiweke would probably have thrown a stick of dynamite into the Leafs dressing room. But, there was no reason for him to hire Shanahan if he planned to act on his own. Leiweke may be impulsive, yet he’s nobody’s fool. He saw – first-hand – the way Dean Lombardi built the two-time-champion Los Angeles Kings. It started with drafting a franchise player (Drew Doughty) on the blue line. Leafs may already have that person in Morgan Rielly and there are others to be had in the amateur lottery next summer. The legendary patience of Toronto hockey fans is imperative for another few years.

It will finally be productive.

MORE LEAFS GLORY

Continuing a look at Maple Leafs media guides from their Stanley Cup dynasty of the 1960’s, here are two more editions:

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FRONT AND REAR COVERS ?? OF 1963-64 MEDIA GUIDE.

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INTRO TO THE 1963-64 EDITION.

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FRONT AND REAR COVERS OF CENTENNIAL 1966-67 GUIDE.

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