John Iaboni has been covering the Maple Leafs and the NHL for nearly 30 years. For the last 10 years, he has been the managing editor of the team's game day magazine and now you can share his exclusive inside access.
Whether he likes it or not, Jonas Hoglund is very much on trial with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That issue can't be underscored considering the Leafs and the Boston Bruins were one botched fax message away from completing a trade last summer that would have transformed the Swedish left winger from blue-and-white to gold-black-and-white.
Through the initial stages of the 2001-02 National Hockey League season, Hoglund has deftly taken the challenge of showing the Leafs' organization that he not only belongs here but he wants to remain a Maple Leaf.
His numbers are tantalizingly impressive - four goals and six assists through the club's first 11 games, with a very healthy +7. Only his centre and good friend, Mats Sundin, looms larger in the Leafs' stats pack through that stage, posting five goals, eight assists, 13 points and +10.
But it's the desire to play effectively at both ends of the rink that has lifted Hoglund to a dynamic start, largely in partnership with countrymen Sundin and Mikael Renberg.
Hoglund pressures against the Pittsburgh Penguins last Saturday night worked the puck loose to the very opportunistic Sundin for Toronto's first two goals in what would be a 4-0 victory. After employing the Sundin-Hoglund-Renberg line for the first seven games, head coach and general manager Pat Quinn juggled his units. Ultimately, he restored the trio, and the benefits were felt in a thorough, workmanlike win over the Penguins.
It's perhaps perplexing that a player who achieves seasons of 29 and 23 goals while producing 105 points in 164 games over the past two seasons might find himself in danger of losing a roster spot with the Leafs. But six points in 22 playoff games over the same stretch factor heavily into the analysis of Hoglund.
As the season gets to the latter stages and as the postseason offers its firmer tests, teams stick with those who rise to the occasion. Hoglund's pointless 2001 playoffs came on the heels of compiling 10 points in the final 22 games of the regular season. Those declining returns put him on the brink of becoming a former Leaf in a sweeping offseason of change.
He regained another shot at the Leafs by a quirk of fate. And the watch is on to see if the personable Hoglund can finally rid himself of the doubters by playing with offensive and defensive consistency. So far, he's made an excellent push toward that effort.