"...not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get a top 5 pick."
I'm feeling a small amount of frustration over the notion out there that being bad will be good. I'm sick of the Leafs being bad. Being bad is terrible. Not trying to be better then bad is even worse. That's when I start yelling "You Suck!" Losing is not winning, although, there are good ways to lose and bad ways to win.
Actually attempting to be bad is one of the worst things you can do. It should be outlawed in every form. Especially the Michael Jackson form, but also in sports. Finishing in the bottom-5 of the league by design is not a success. For the fans, that's a tragedy. We all know the Leafs are going to struggle this year, but I will be supremely disappointed if, when they lose, it's without a struggle. Even a crappy team, trying their best and playing to win, instead of playing not to lose, is worth watching. In the NHL, parity is so thin, that attitude is often the real difference-maker.
The sentence under the title is a direct quote taken from HockeyNews writer, Ken Campbell. It's especially frustrating because he has otherwise written a very good article about why Sundin would choose Toronto over Vancouver or Montreal. In fact, it reads an awful lot like my piece, The Good, The Bad, And The Brutal, except that he doesn't call Sundin a slut.
The big difference between Ken Campbell's article and my post is that Campbell is "mystified" as to "why the Leafs are interested in having Sundin come back". He obviously didn't read my follow-up post, or he'd know the answer. Sundin is, in one key word Ken, excitement. Win or lose, with him or without him, this team is rebuilding, and the character of the dressing room is gonna change. The vision is there, and it's the correct one, but there still has to be a product on the ice. MLSE has never sold "winning and losing" as a commodity. Like a casino, they sell excitement. Have you seen the roster? Can you imagine how exciting this team is going to be without Sundin? Leaf fans, now more then ever, need something to cheer for. Mats Sundin is a 100%, genuine, certified, bona-fide, garaunteed, no exceptions, crowd-pleasing, show-stopping, thrill-maker. Given that there are no expectations for success this season, the "joy of winning" will have to be replaced by the "joy of watching". Tomas Kaberle is one heck of a hockey player, but him and Jason Blake are not going to get Leaf fans out of their seats on their own. We demand entertainment. We require Sundin.
Why do people assume that landing a top-5 pick will automatically make the Leafs a better team? Because Washington has Ovechkin and Pittsburg has Crosby and Malkin, I suppose. Yet, Washington finished in the bottom-5 three times in the last five years (03/04, 05/06, 06/07) and they were only marginally better then a Leafs team that still had Sundin as its Captain, and Paul Maurice as the coach. Pittsburg (02/03, 03/04, 05/06), is a different story, but aside from Crosby, they've been luckier then they've been good. As an example, Chicago (03/04, 05/06, 06/07) and Columbus (02/03, 03/04, 05/06) have also finished bottom-5 three times in five years. What do they have to show for their failures? More failure? L.A. (06/07, 07/08), Phoenix (03/04, 06/07), and St. Louis (05/06, 07/08) have all finished in the bottom-5 twice. Are they projected to be the league's best teams next season? Or will they be lucky to avoid the bottom five again? Other teams that have finished bottom-5 in the last five years are: Atlanta, NY Islanders, Tampa Bay ( all 07/08), Philadelphia, Edmonton (both 06/07), Boston (05/06), and Florida, Carolina, and Buffalo (all 02/03). Do any these teams stand out as a serious Stanley Cup contender? I don't even think any of them stand out as being clearly better than the Leafs. And to think, we were able to build our competitiveness without tanking it or suffering through bottom-of-the-league mediocrity! We thought we might be a playoff team in March and then we weren't in April. That was humiliating enough, but at least winter was almost over.
Besides, as long as Cliff is the GM, it doesn't matter where we finish, it only matters what place Florida and the Islanders end up in. If they're willing to swap draft positions for draft picks we don't need, and give us draft picks for players we don't need, then give us players for pucks we don't need, then all we have to do is worry about beating those 2 teams and making sure we finish higher in the standings than they do. The only thing better than a top 5 pick in the draft, is getting to select Luke Schenn with someone else's pick.
Detroit, San Jose, Dallas, Calgary, Nashville, New Jersey and Ottawa have all made the playoffs the last 4 seasons in a row. Since Detroit is the only team to win the Cup from this group in the last 4 years (New Jersey's Cup was 5 seasons ago, 02/03), the rest of these teams must be in a state of disaster, right? Aside from Nashville, the Leafs would do well, and surprise a lot of people, if they could keep pace with any of these teams next season. Making the playoffs and missing out on a top 5 draft pick does not seem to have hurt any of these teams or slowed them down at all. More than likely, (with the exception of Nashville again) each of these teams is heading for another playoff spot again this year, and will miss the big John Tavares raffle. Clearly, winning starts at the top with good management and strong leadership. Attitude. Losing is not winning, and it will only help you get better if you're smart enough to learn something from it.
And The Winner Is...
A team that competes hard every night, that plays up to its potential. and then beyond, is its own reward. It's not just if we win, but the way we lose, that makes heroes out of men who've never won a championship. When the players care, it shows on the ice - if not on the scoreboard or in the standings - and the victory goes to the fans.