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What Do You Hope For?

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, what do you hope for?

Oh I know, you hope for Stanley Cups and scoring titles and unfathomable success.

But what do you hope for right now?

The Leafs lost to Nashville the other night in as disconsolate a night of hockey as you will watch.

They rebounded very nicely Thursday night. Jason Blake scored three times and the Leafs beat a pretty good Carolina team 6-4.

So which was the better result?

That is the agony of being a Maple Leafs fan right now. Everything is counter-intuitive. Be careful, as the old saying goes, what you wish for.

The NHL draft is designed to strengthen the weak and humble the mighty. That’s a noble enough goal, especially in an era of equalization payments and struggling markets.

But it sets up the classic conundrum of the welfare state, it favors, even demands failure. Not necessarily ineptitude for it would often be glaringly inept to succeed. It demands failure.

It’s a game that the Leafs, cheered on by a voracious media and maniacally loyal fan base, have never really played. When Cliff Fletcher arrived for his first incarnation in Toronto, he didn’t worry about the draft. He traded for Grant Fuhr, Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk and Mats Sundin. Later on free agency was used to render the draft irrelevant thanks to the signing of talents such as Gary Roberts, Curtis Joseph and Alexander Mogilny.

The salary cap, another contrivance, has slowed the flow of free agents here to a trickle. For a team starting from the Leafs’ lowly position, there is no meaningful way to improve outside of the careful drafting and nurturing of talent.

That means losing and that is the unnatural part of the equation. It means every team has to be run into statistical bankruptcy to qualify for a meaningful bailout.

So what do you hope for if you are among the legion of Leafs faithful… short of better days?

Well, how about a team that reflects the values, if not the success of better times. That has been visited upon the Leaf many times this season.

You hope for a quick passing of these times and a return to the days when you read the standings from the top down and not the bottom up.

You hope for more talents like Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski, players for whom you can cheer unequivocally.

What you really hope is clarity of purpose and that begins with the final bounce off the floor and the first few steps up. It comes when someone else worries about improving their draft position.

Those steps are not here yet. Here’s to hoping they come soon.
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