Yes, 2009 was certainly an interesting year for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and one that, while having some positive aspects to it, will mostly be happily forgotten by many in Leaf Nation.
This season started off terribly, and the team has been playing catch-up ever since. But with 2010 rolling in, it is finally time for the Leafs and their fans to forget about what happened in the past. This year is all about getting better and aiming higher; it's all about the now.
On the morning of Jan. 1, 2010, the Leafs found themselves sitting five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with exactly 41 games to go in the regular season. With the team showing at times they can put together a string of wins and play strong, smart hockey, the goal for the rest of the way should be to have a spot in the postseason when it's all said and done.
For each and every one of the players on the Leafs, they need to take the changing of the calendar as a second chance to make this 2009-2010 campaign count for something.
To them, it has got to be an opportunity to forget all the mistakes and letdowns that occurred in the first half of the season and look ahead at how they can improve. And what better way to look ahead to the new year than to make some New Year's resolutions?
It sounds cliché, but for the Leafs it should to be true.
And luckily enough I've decided to do it for them. So here are some of the resolutions that certain members of the Leafs should take into serious consideration if they plan on propelling their team into Stanley Cup contention come April.
It's not your average weight-loss plan or way to save money, because if there are two things professional athletes have under control, it's staying in shape and money. No, for these Leaf players, there needs to be more work done than that.
And like it or not, if some players don't get their act together in 2010, it could be their last time ringing in the New Year as a member of the Maple Leafs.
When describing the play of Schenn this season, no two words describe it better than "sophomore slump". And as much as I could sit here and type out an essay's worth of things he should strive for this year, I'm going to go off the map a little and mention something in his game that he literally has not shown since day one.
The slap shot.
Yes, that's right. Forget the turnovers, the poor play along the boards and the terrible one-on-one skills; a slap shot is one thing Schenn literally never uses. The puck squeaks back to him on the line, and instead of winding up and firing a rocket toward the net, he almost always limp-wrists a wrist shot tepidly towards the goal.
He has 42 shots on goal this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if 41 of those were of the wrist shot variety.
Whether he is hoping for a deflection on goal or simply trying to get it out of his hands as fast as possible, it just isn't working. There are very few things that are more effective for a defenseman than a low, hard slap shot from the blue line. And Schenn just doesn't seem to understand that.
He has three career goals in the 108 games he's started in the past two seasons, and even though he's not a goal scoring defenseman, if he wants to get his total higher, he should seriously consider ditching the wrist shot.
It might work when clearing the zone (well, we will talk about that problem later), but when it comes to scoring chances, the slap shot is the way to go for Schenn in 2010.
When Grabovski came to Toronto from the Montreal Canadiens, there were plenty of rumblings about his issues with authority and teammates. And for the first little while it seemed as if he had turned over a new leaf—pardon the pun—with Toronto, but this season those rumoured problems seem to be beginning to surface.
He is not happy with his play, with what coach Ron Wilson has to say about him, and throughout the season has been involved in various scuffles during practice with a few different players.
It's not that Grabo is a bad player, because he certainly has the skill and exciting play to be in this league, but if he plans on playing an important role on this team, he better smarten up and worry more about scoring goals than making points.
Grabovski's New Year's resolution needs to be to forget about everything going on around him and focus on playing hockey. Easy for me to say, since this is Toronto after all, but the kid is going to run himself into the ground if he can't lose the attitude.
In a game that is all about the team, he repeatedly seems to forget that. Get him on board with the team and he could take his play from fast and exciting to fast, exciting, and effective.
In the 2006-2007 season Blake scored an impressive 40 goals with the New York Islanders. In the three seasons with the Leafs since that time, he has a combined 49 goals. It's no surprise to anyone that if Blake wants to continue 2010 a success, he's going to need to regain the scoring touch he had during his time in New York.
His resolution is simple: score more. Easier said than done, of course, but for the type of style that he plays (fast-paced, drive hard to the net) he should have more than just nine goals in 41 games.
Whatever it takes for him to find that scoring ability he once had, he needs to do it. When players go into a slump, it's usually an issue with confidence, but Blake sure does get his chances. He leads the team with 132 shots on goal, two more than Phil Kessel (who has five more goals in 12 fewer games).
So for Blake it's simple. When you shoot, make it count, because your own coach and GM seemingly thought your play wasn't good enough for the American Olympic team; and you've got to think they wouldn't have any problem limiting your play with the NHL team either.
Frankly, everyone and their dog knows that this year is the last for Toskala as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. And if there was one thing those people and their dog would appreciate, it would be if the beleaguered goalie could go out with a bang.
Heck, you're getting let go, and if you're planning on getting signed somewhere else for anywhere close to what you're getting paid now (not likely), then it would be in your best interest to show the many teams in need of a net minder that you can be a starter.
Because this season, you certainly have not shown that. Not even close.
Toskala will be starting 2010 in Toronto, but he certainly won't be finishing it in Hog Town. And the way the fans work around here, you get one of two reactions when you leave the ice for the last time.
If you take the Brian McCabe route, you'll have Leaf Nation booing you all the way to anywhere but here. But if Toskala can dig in and help lead this team to the playoffs, then he may get the same treatment the many goalies before him got when they skated off the ACC ice for the last time; thanks for everything and we'll see you later.
The latter is unlikely, but if the 32-year-old can think about one thing as the New Year arrives, it's going out on a high note.
There is no other way to say it other than this: 2010 is the year of the Monster in Toronto. With Toskala hanging off the ledge and slipping fast, the door is wide open for Gustavsson to cement his spot as the number one goalie and have Leaf fans forget about the last few years of terrible goal tending.
It's been a tough season for the young goalie, who has had two separate heart surgeries within a three-month span, but he has shown that with some work he is capable of leading this team.
The rebounding needs some tweaking, and he needs to work more on his stick handling, especially behind the net, but if he can get those two aspects under control, he will have all the opportunity in the world to get the number one job.
It's your team in 2010, Jonas. Go out and get it. It's as simple as that.
Free up some space in your wallet, Ian.
There is a major pay raise coming your way, and you'll deserve every penny you get after this season.
Ron Wilson and Brian Burke
It has been more than a year since Mats Sundin left Toronto, and for the first time in a long time, the Leafs were faced with having to name a captain. It was evident that when Sundin left there was probably no worthy candidate on the team at the time.
But when this season comes to an end, it will have been two complete years without a captain, and that is enough. The Toronto Maple Leafs should have a captain, and this season there are a few players that have stepped up and proven themselves worthy of that position.
Whether it be Tomas Kaberle, the longest standing member of the Leafs, or Ian White, the heart and soul of the defense, someone needs to be named. Whether it be Francois Beauchemin, a veteran presence on the blue line who has shown his leadership skills already this season, or Mike Komisarek, whose toughness and will to win makes him a solid leader, the time has come for a player to have that responsibility put on his shoulders.
Of course, none of these guys come anywhere close to Mats. The solidified leader of the room and beloved captain of an entire Nation left Toronto as the most clutch performer this team has ever seen, along with being consistently productive throughout his 13-year Leaf career.
But if we're sitting here waiting for someone to walk in the door who has those Mats-like characteristics that made him such an amazing leader, then we'll be waiting for a long time.
The fact is, there is a captain on this team, someone who deserves a C on his jersey. Not because he's like Mats or Wendel or Doug, because there may never be another like them, but because this is the new age of the Maple Leafs, and with all this team's rich history and strong fan base, there needs to be a captain.
It's time that Wilson and Burke recognize somebody on the team and slap the oh-so important letter on their jersey, right over their heart. Because in this city, as the heart of their captain beats, so too does that of Leaf Nation.
Happy New Year everyone.
Go Leafs Go.