The Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967. The Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Still, saying the Leafs are more “due” is akin to saying Ancient Egypt is in a better position to take over the world than Rome.
The Maple Leafs are not bad. In fact, they had an incredibly exciting team last year.
Granted, a lot of that excitement resulted from everyone’s joyful discovery of all the new and inventive ways they came up with on how to play nets (namely how to not). No one is denying, though, that had the Leafs been able to improve upon that one aspect of their club, they had the offense and defense to make the playoffs.
In fact, by trading Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk, they even improved upon the former by sacrificing an arguable spare part of the latter. As such, Toronto has a very good chance at making it this year for the first time since the last lockout (assuming this current lockout doesn’t cost fans the season).
Montreal, on the other hand? It’s like a mirror image.
The Habs have got good goaltending, but below-average contingents on the blue line and up front. Sure, they’ve got their Max Paciorettys and P.K. Subbans, but for every one of those there’s a Scott Gomez or Tomas Kaberle.
Oh, the Habs have got depth, just not depth that would have you pulled under by monstrous tentacles and drowned or eaten. It’s the kind of depth polluted by barrels of toxic waste, causing you to develop gills and safely breathe underwater.
Oh, there are freakish mutations and monsters lurking underneath, but I’m talking more along the lines of the huge goldfish you’d find in the streams of Canada’s Wonderland than any Kraken or sea serpent.
Unfortunately, for Leafs fans, this piece is not so much to do with which team will make the playoffs first, but which is poised to contend for the Stanley Cup before the other.
Assuming both teams have trouble attracting top-end free agents from here on out that would push them over the top, the truth is, excluding most-recent draft picks (for all intents and purposes, Alex Galchenyuk and Morgan Rielly are a wash, agreed?), if your top prospect is Nazem Kadri, your future is about as bright as, well, Nazem Kadri’s future as a Maple Leaf.
He no doubt has talent, but the Leafs have displayed zero to no confidence in the kid, resulting in one of the most intriguing case studies in potential spiraling downward since Andrei Kostitsyn, which brings up an interesting point.
Once the Habs clean house of all their expensive, unwanted (and in Kostitsyn’s case, lazy) contracts, like Gomez, Kaberle, Rene Bourque, Andrei Markov, etc., they’ll have the likes of Danny Kristo, Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi to take their places.
No such luck for Toronto, whose overpaid guys are the guys they’d most want to keep around (Mikhail Grabovski, for example) and whose only other top-end prospect is Joe Colborne.
It all comes down to potential
1) That of Kadri, which has largely gone unrealized to this point
2) That of Toronto’s scouting staff to find diamonds in the rough (the same scouting staff that opted to select Kadri in the first place)
3) That of a Toronto team led by Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf to make a go of it (which isn’t worded as an insult, but could very well be interpreted as such which, in turn, tells you all you really need to know)
4) That of Montreal to consistently place low in the standings for the next few years
5) That of Montreal’s prospect pool, which is incredibly deep
6) That of each team’s goaltending to bring them to the promised land
The general consensus is you need scoring to win games and get you to the playoffs, goaltending to get you far in the playoffs and defense to win it all.
The Leafs may have numbers one and three relatively down pat, but that missing link, until James Reimer proves his performance two seasons ago was no fluke, will trip them up every time. And, by the time they get their hands on Roberto Luongo, if they manage to do so, he’ll arguably be well on the downswing of his career, and who knows how many picks/prospects they’d have to give up in the process?
Montreal? Just No. 2 right now, but Carey Price, who’s displayed superstar potential more consistently and for longer spurts of time than Reimer, is still young and can wait and improve upon his skills as the team builds up around him.
Toronto has a better overall team than Montreal. No doubt. But better does not necessarily mean good. Until they solve their goaltending crisis, all the Leafs will be is mediocre, never in a position to win it all.
Montreal on the other hand? The Habs sucked last year and were rewarded with a top-three pick. Chances are they’ll suck again this year and get another top prospect. Toronto meanwhile may very well improve to the point of just barely missing the playoffs once again. It’s a vicious cycle of sorts.
Toronto simply can’t win, both this argument and in general. Montreal may not for a long while to come, but they’ll at least eventually contend. All that’s required from the fans is patience and understanding that Rome 2.0 won’t be built in a day.