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In 2008-2009, the star player on the team was Jason Blake, as well as fellow line-mates Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky. They had Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph as their 1-2 netminders.
Sure, their were some decent pieces in the lineup like Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, but for the majority of the year, this team was put together like a bad puzzle. There was too much of a gap between veterans and rookies, and they didn’t mesh well together (ie. Tomas Kaberle and Luke Schenn).
Ron Wilson still managed to get this team to win 34 games.
The next year marked the beginning of the re-build. Phil Kessel was acquired before the beginning of the year, as was Jonas Gustavsson. Mid-way through the year, J.S. Giguere and Dion Phaneuf moved in along with Jason Blake, Matt Stajan and others moving out.
Through all the trades and lineup shuffling, the Leafs could only manage 30 wins. But Wilson could now start to see some pieces falling into place.
A hot start last year was followed by a long drought, as J.S. Giguere battled season-long injuries and Jonas Gustavsson couldn’t live up to expectations. But along came James Reimer, who is being counted on as the goalie of the future—not to mention another strong season by Phil Kessel and the Mac-Russian line.
The acquisition of Joffrey Lupul fell under the radar, but has paid huge dividends so far this year. There remains very few pieces of the J.F.J. era, and now Ron Wilson has something to go with.
It is not a team that on paper looks like they can win the Stanley Cup. But Ron Wilson is now able to say this team can win on any given night. He has a team that has the right amount of youth and veteran leadership.
They are one of the youngest teams in the league, and for Ron Wilson, it seems like he is better at teaching the young players how to win. Wilson doesn’t have many excuses to at least make the playoffs this year.
If he can help this team avoid long losing streaks, then he should be renewing his parking pass and the ACC in the month of April and maybe beyond.