Brian Burke said that before the season began. His message was pretty-well echoed by coach Ron Wilson when the Leafs climbed back into the playoff race in December.
“We do want to make the playoffs this year and to take our foot off the gas right now would not be a wise choice,” were his exact words.
There is, as you know, a history of this in Toronto. In a final act of professional suicide a couple of years ago, former coach Paul Maurice said “we will make the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup.”
At first glance, predicting a playoff spot shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a cry for help. Maurice and General Manager John Ferguson felt they needed to do something to kick some life in a dowdy lineup. Burke did it to reinforce his commitment and Wilson did it because he feels what he says as much as he says what he feels. The club was playing well and was sitting three points out. He spoke his mind.
I would revel in being proven wrong, but we are now into late January and it’s becoming harder to believe that the predictions from Burke and Wilson will be proven right.
And as with everything involving the Leafs there is the jagged issue of history.
Children conceived around the time of the Leafs last playoff appearance are now in Kindergarten.
Let me put it another way. Based on current mortality and population trends, there are 10 million Canadians around in 1967 who won’t buy any playoff tickets when they do go on sale if you take my meaning.
Every day, the number of people who remember the Leafs post-season achievements shrinks incrementally. And with them go the memories of a fan base that found in spring an intoxicating blend of courage, resolve and commonly-held pride.
On the day he retired, Curtis Joseph said one of the great things about being a Leaf was driving to work on the Gardiner Expressway during the playoffs and knowing that every person who lived or worked as far as he could see cared about what he was doing that night.
For those of you who are new or from somewhere else, the playoffs in Toronto are part Olympics, part Mardi Gras. They are the signal of spring and possibility and there have been an unending parade of heroes, from King Clancy to Red Horner to Bill Barilko and Dave Keon and Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark and Joseph and Gary Roberts and Mats Sundin.
I don’t begrudge Paul Maurice or John Fergusun, Brian Burke or Ron Wilson for reminding us of what could be.
I want them to talk about the playoffs as something more than possible. I want the buzz back and even if reality shoots it down, I want to believe all that a playoff brings is indeed possible.
It’s a long winter. Promise me a sweet spring.