Oh, to be a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There isn't much of a cheer rising from the bowels of Leaf Nation right now as the faithful sit at home and watch the Finals of yet another postseason that doesn't include their beloved blue and white. The helpless feeling stewing as they count down the days until the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft that will not call for their team's services.
It doesn't help that with the Chicago Blackhawks two games away from hoisting Lord Stanley's Mug, the Leafs could potentially begin next season as the proud members of the longest Cup drought in the NHL.
Did I mention the lack of cheering in Leaf land?
Yes, though the future for the next generation of Maple Leafs is bright, and GM Brian Burke has promised an improved roster before the offseason is done; there certainly is much work to be done before the Leafs are lacing them up on the crack of June.
But as slow as things seem to be moving in the self-proclaimed center of the hockey universe, watching the Finals might be more useful to Burke and Co. than one may think. Much could potentially be learned by simply looking at how the two teams battling for the Cup have been built.
Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks have an immense amount of skill, there is no denying that. With the ability to ice two of the most impressive lines in hockey there is no doubt that offensive firepower mixed with a monstrous defensive presence are a major reason why both are representing their respective conference's in the Finals.
But that isn't the only reason, and this is where the Leafs come in—because Burke is good, but he's not getting Jonathan Teows or Mike Richards anytime soon.
Skill is a given—and the Leafs are on their way to getting enough of that to just be in the conversation—but where the Flyers and Hawks also excel in is an area (or word) that the burly GM of the Leafs certainly enjoys discussing on occasion.
Truculence. And lots of it.
Both teams have some of the toughest, most annoying players in the NHL at their disposal every single night; and on almost every line.
The Flyers can throw out the likes of Aaron Asham, Blair Betts, Daniel Carcillo, Scott Hartnell, Ian Laperriere, Ville Leino, and Darrol Powe at any given time in a game. Not only do these players get the job done offensively from time to time, but they throw their weight around, fearlessly block shots, and are willing to give their bodies up and do what it takes to win.
The Leafs? Well, there isn't exactly a throng of players on the roster who fit that description.
As for the Hawks, it's the same story: David Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Thomas Kopecky, John Madden, and Kris Versteeg. All players with no shortage of toughness, and have played huge roles in giving the Blackhawks a chance at winning their first Cup since 1961.
The toughness that has been on display all throughout the playoffs this year isn't just the ability to partake in endless scrums after the whistle, though that plays it's part too—but it's the toughness that has players sprawling on the ice to block shots, going hard into the corners, or doing what's necessary to draw penalties.
The small-salary, low-minutes, big-impact players.
To take a look at the Leafs' roster at the end of this season, you'd be hard-pressed to find any forward that could fit in the category of that kind of toughness. Colton Orr might actually be the only guy.
It's mainly a roster riddled with European skill guys and young, unproven, offensive-minded players concentrating more on making it in the NHL, rather than giving up their bodies to win a Cup.
And though they're a team in the rebuilding stage, Burke needs to find players who understand that giving up your body to win games is what gets you a permanent spot on any NHL club—especially the kind that find themselves in the Finals.
Sure, the fact that Chicago has such a skilled team that Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are good enough to be a second-line combination gives them a slight advantage over their not-so-fortunate opponents; but it's the tough guys that are the oil that makes this offensive machine run.
Free agent signings and trades are inevitable for the Leafs, and while Burke should certainly look to add more big name talent to his club, he needs to look only as far as the current matchup remaining in the Finals to know that the very word he used endlessly at the start of his GM job in Toronto, might be just the very thing that takes the Leafs over the top and squeezes them into the playoffs next year.
Talk is cheap, and most of the time so are these types of players. It's just where you can get them that is the problem. One that Burke should add to his 'to fix' list.
So Leaf fans, fret not about the depressing reminders about the lackluster team that's currently found in Toronto, they will soon pass. And on the horizon will be your trusty GM who would be smart to take a look at this season's Finals as a hint at how to build a Stanley Cup champion.
Then, soon enough, the word "tough" might actually describe the roster of the Leafs, rather than the kind of luck that has plagued the city of Toronto since 1964.