The evolution of any NHL team that rises out of the throes of mediocrity to become immortal in greatness is an epic ideal any fan of the game loves to see.
There is also something about cheering for the underdog and seeing them succeed in the end that can make the neck hair of even the most stubborn of curmudgeons stand on end.
Making the sport of hockey all the more enticing is the fact that it is a team game and as such, the collective efforts of all components make or break a successful season.
Perhaps this is why, as fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, we covet the holy grail of the hockey world to a degree arguably unmatched by any other franchise.
We've seen some forward progress to be sure, but what elements are still missing from the Toronto Maple Leafs roster to push them over the edge to become a bona fide top-tier club?
We'll look now at 10 players who have the potential to make the Maple Leafs the championship team we so desperately want them to be.
Ales Hemsky on November 11, 2011 versus the Detroit Red Wings
Ales Hemsky of the Edmonton Oilers is very close to being a point-per-game player, and that kind of offense could help the Leafs.
At only 28 years of age, Ales is getting close to completing his five-year deal, which expires at the end of the 2011-12 season. He is currently a $4.1-million cap hit, but would be looking to negotiate a new contract.
On the downside, he has only played more than 70 games four times over his nine seasons in the NHL and has had some ongoing issues with persistent injuries.
Should the Leafs want to add a bit more experience on the wing, Hemsky could be the answer. Ultimately, Brian Burke may opt to hold off on any trade scenario with him and take his chances at picking him up as an unrestricted free agent for next season.
Cory Schneider on November 3, 2011 versus the Minnesota Wild.
Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks is looking pretty good these days, if you're a Leafs fan.
In light of James Reimer's absence, the debate continues as to whether or not the Toronto Maple Leafs have reliable alternative options available to them within the system.
At only 25 years of age, Schneider is champing at the bit to get a shot at becoming a starting goaltender in the NHL. Living in the shadow of Roberto Luongo hasn't done him any favours to advance his career.
Now in the wake of Luongo's recently suffered upper-body injury, Schneider will get ample opportunities to prove he's ready for more responsibility at the NHL level.
If he should continue to impress under the added pressure in Vancouver, there will certainly be more teams than the Leafs looking to strike at the chance to land this talented goalie before season's end.
Brayden Schenn on October 22, 2011 versus the St. Louis Blues.
Brayden Schenn of the Philadelphia Flyers has been targeted by Brian Burke since the 2009 draft, where he went fifth overall in the first round. Unfortunately for the Toronto Maple Leafs, he has remained too elusive to land in a Leafs jersey thus far.
Burke has shown what bringing brothers together can do for a franchise (i.e., the Sedin twins in Vancouver), but acquiring him would be much more than a way to unite family.
Schenn is a potential star in the making with a big offensive upside. He has dominated in the AHL thus far with the Adirondack Phantoms, scoring eight points four games into the 2011-12 season. He is now looking to crack the lineup of a very deep Flyers team.
Bringing Schenn to Toronto would take some big-time wheeling and dealing on Burke's part but would be an investment down the middle that would surely pay dividends for years to come.
Alexander Semin on November 11, 2011 versus the Philadelphia Flyers.
Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals has already established himself as a potent offensive threat in the NHL.
This former 40-goal scorer has all the tools to produce big numbers and has shown he can on a consistent basis.
Semin will most likely be hoping for a run at the Stanley Cup with the Capitals this year, but failing to seal the deal might make it more difficult for the Caps to keep him in Washington.
He is currently earning $6.7 million on a one-year contract and would likely command a comparable salary in the future.
If the Maple Leafs can lure this Russian star to Toronto, he could have a substantial positive impact on the organization going forward.
Evgeni Nabokov on November 15, 2011 versus the New York Rangers.
Evgeni Nabokov of the New York Islanders is an extremely economical goaltender for the calibre hockey player he is.
Nabokov is a world-class goalie, and his composure and experience could help to settle (at times) a rather nervous-looking Leafs team.
With Nabokov only a $570,000 cap hit, should Brian Burke finally push the panic button and deal to obtain his services, he would no doubt have an immediate impact this season and beyond.
Mike Ribeiro on November 15, 2011 versus the Florida Panthers.
Mike Ribeiro's reputation as an impact player for the Dallas Stars is undeniable.
Not only is he a quality playmaker, but he has also been consistent over his five-plus years with the Stars, scoring 50 or more points in each season. Ribeiro has also managed more than 50 assists in three of his last five years in Dallas.
With a cap hit of $5 million per season, he is now coming to the end of a five-year contract.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs are serious about making the playoffs this year, they may need to consider what Ribeiro could do for the team to help balance out their top-six scoring.
Should they choose not to pursue him before his contract expires, they will at least get another crack at landing this talented center when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Jamie Benn on October 25, 2011 versus the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Dallas Stars stole Jamie Benn in the 2007 NHL entry draft, when he wasn't taken until the fifth round (No. 129 overall).
The only players in that draft year to play more NHL games than Benn are Wayne Simmonds, David Parron, Brandon Sutter, Jakub Voracek, Sam Gagner, James Van Riemsdyk and Patrick Kane. Of that elite group only Parron, Voracek, Gagner and Kane have amassed more points.
Benn's three-year entry-level contract expires at the end of the 2011-12 season, at which point he will become a restricted free agent.
Turning him into a Maple Leaf could pose a bit of a challenge for Brian Burke, but because Benn is due for a substantial raise it is not outside the realm of possibilities. The penny-pinching Stars might look at this situation as a great way to yield a high return and keep costs low.
If this is an idea General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk would entertain, Benn is exactly the kind of player the Leafs need to start enquiring about.
Bobby Ryan on November 9, 2011 versus the Nashville Predators.
At 25 years of age, Ryan is a player Burke has long desired to reacquire. He has the intelligence, skill and poise to dominate at the NHL level for years to come.
Scoring absolutely spectacular, highlight-reel goals is something Ryan has become well known for. He is also team player capable of single-handedly taking control of a game on any given night.
Some may remember trade rumors running rampant across the Internet that Ryan was coming to Toronto prior to him signing a five-year contract with the Ducks before the start of the 2010-11 season.
Although it might be difficult to pry Ryan out of Anaheim, to his credit, Burke has made some marvelous blockbuster trades over his career.
If Burke can find a way to bring him to Toronto, it would undoubtedly upgrade the potential of the organization in extremely significant ways.
Paul Stastny on November 3, 2011 versus the Phoenix Coyotes.
Paul Stastny and the Toronto Maple Leafs would be a match made in heaven.
He's skilled, consistent and one of the better playmakers in the game today. To have someone of his calibre playing in the middle of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul could make the Leafs seriously dangerous up top and would allow for more depth on the second and third lines.
Coming with that arsenal of talent is a $6.6-million cap hit. Now with Matt Duchene taking the reigns as Colorado's No. 1 centerman—likely to command a very handsome raise at the end of this season—the Avalanche might be more willing to part ways with Stastny sooner than later.
If they wait too long, they may lose him with no compensation, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2013-14.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, this big-time player is the property of the Colorado Avalanche until then—or at least until further notice should Brian Burke work some magic...
Zach Parise on November 8, 2011 versus the Carolina Hurricanes.
The versatile forward is exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs need on their No. 1 line. He found the back of the net 45 times during the 2008-09 season and has had multiple 30-plus goal campaigns.
His vision on the ice, coupled with his excellent conditioning, give him the skill and longevity to be a franchise player on any team in the National Hockey League.
Should Brian Burke have a window of opportunity to land him in a Toronto jersey in the near future, he will most certainly do everything in his power to make that happen.
Depending on how close the Devils are to postseason play by the trade deadline in February, it might not be such a bad idea for Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello to consider shopping Parise before he is lost to free agency.
One thing is for sure—if Parise does start entertaining offers as an unrestricted free agent next year, expect Burke to part the Red Sea, walk on water and raise the dead to woo him into Toronto.