Toronto has always been a pretty clean and friendly city. While it displays a good amount of diversity, there seems to be a part of the city that remains sometimes dysfunctional.
The Leafs fans.
Being an avid Leafs fan myself, I feel it is my duty to knock some sense into the many other esteemed followers. With that being said, this piece is in no way focused on criticizing fans of the blue and white, but to rather remind ourselves to be a more understanding and less demanding crowd.
The crazed media centre in Toronto has done nothing but judge and poke holes in the mistakes players make. No wonder players do better when they leave and do worse when they join. It's not a coincidence my friends; the pressure put on some of these athletes is completely unbearable and suffocating at times.
It seems to be a constant battle for some of us to accept the current state the Leafs are in, or the fact that various players make a number of sloppy and inconsistent plays. In any situation however, there is always some distinct light at the end of the tunnel.
I call him Jason Blake.
After announcing that he had been diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia at the start of the '07-'08 season, Blake was deemed hopeless for another productive year with his newly acquired status as a Toronto Maple Leaf.
Jason Blake received most of his fame as a New York Islander from 2000 to 2007; was a contributing asset to the young organization. He progressed year after year, eventually becoming a 40-goal scorer by the time free agency struck at the end of the '06-'07 season.
The Moorhead, Minnesota native was then signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2007 and joined the Maple Leafs for a five-year, $20 million contract.
Fans and analysts all believed he would be a growing influence for the struggling Toronto team, while still continuing to display the required skills New York benefited from in previous years.
Nonetheless, in his first season as a Leaf, Blake only managed to score 15 goals and add 37 assists for a total of 52 points. Although he played in all 82 regular season games, he struggled to get the puck in the net with over 300 shots on goal in the process.
Things have changed significantly since then as Mr.Blake has jumped back on the scoring train once again. The start of the '08-'09 campaign didn't treat the 35-year-old forward well. He hadn't quite yet adjusted to the hectic schedule and got off to a slow start posting only a few points per month.
The second half of the season promises to show another side of Blake as he begins to show his talent and perseverance to the city. He now leads Toronto in goals (17), game-winning goals (three), and is tied for the team lead in points (37) with Nik Antropov who has played four more games than Blake.
The past few weeks have been remarkable. His consistency continues to improve every game as his stamina and confidence grow. He's faster, smoother, and doesn't create as many turnovers.
The 180lb, 5'10" veteran is currently riding a four-game goal and point streak with four goals and four assists for a total of eight points. He's a +2 and has a 10.6 shooting percentage in the 46 games he's played so far this season.
What bothers me the most is that people are finally starting to say some nice things about him. The Toronto fans haven't been too keen on his abilities in the past and have chirped a lot in regards to his weaknesses.
Why is it so easy to praise a player for doing well, but so hard to give them the time of day when they are doing bad?
There's just an insane amount of pressure these players have to deal with in Toronto, not to mention the fact that there are many legacies they have to live up to as well.
Blake's really stepping up and showing that you don't have to be the star player to get things done. You can still be a Watson, but think like a Holmes.
Watson isn't Holmes, but he's still smart in his own way and serves a purpose. He's not a superstar, yet has proven that he's not to be taken lightly.
Blake's not a leader, but is just as capable of producing results and staying potent offensively as the next young gun. And just like Watson, he's the next best thing.
February is the month of love, so let's see what treats we receive.
Blake and the Leafs get ready to make it three in a row as they face Bryan McCabe and the Panthers at 7:30pm (EST) at the Air Canada Centre.
Jason Blake's much-hyped 40th goal of the season was actually scored against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Apr. 5, 2007. Irony or just coincidence?