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The Leafs Like ‘Em Young… Finally

The 2014 Trade Deadline kept hockey fans busy last week, but the Toronto Maple Leafs were not one of the reasons why.  The team was one of the few who remained quiet until 3:00 p.m. hit, despite having been on a losing streak right after the Olympic break.

 

In a press conference on Wednesday, Leafs GM Dave Nonis said it wasn’t fair to shuffle around the roster for a team who has been working hard to make a push for a playoff spot, which would be their first in an 82-game season since 03-04. Nonis also said that the young players need a chance to grow inside the franchise. Now there’s something you don’t hear every day.

 

“That’s one of the reasons we didn’t make a deal today, was that the asking price for us was a lot of the young players,” said Nonis after the presser. “For us to take the step that we want to take and that we need to take, we need to develop those players and have them become a big part of our future.”

 

For almost the last decade, the common catch phrase of a Leafs fan  has been “we’re rebuilding”. But how could they have hoped to build a stable team for the future if they weren’t investing in players who would be veterans in no time? To see them finally putting some faith in their up-and-coming players is a breath of fresh air, and quite frankly, exactly what they need.

 

For the sake of this article, let’s assume that young players are ages 24 and below. Not only are many of these players the future of the franchise, they are also a big part of the present team. Of the young players, only 11 have played at least one NHL game this season. Those 11 have amassed 153 points so far, 32% of the players’ total points.

 

Toronto is known in hockey as being one of the most difficult places for a player to perform well. The pressure that comes with being part of the Leafs franchise has taken it’s toll on many players in the past, making way for an endless supply of “black-hole where careers go to die” jokes.

 

As important as these younger, less experienced players are to the team, it’s also important to remember that the way they’re going to develop greatly depends on the veteran presence they have around them, both on and off the ice.

 

Hockey is a game, but the NHL is a business, and a lot of a team’s success has to do with how well the players interact with each other, their coaches, and the media.

 

Having veterans who can guide the young athletes not only with their on-ice performance, but for things like being tossed back and forth between the minors, or the constant media attention Maple Leaf players receive (Kessel, we’re not looking at you), will help them become stable both physically and mentally, which is crucial in today’s game.

 

Let’s take a look at tonight’s competition: the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have 10 young players who have been dressed for at least one NHL game this season. Those 10 have 131 points between them, 26% of the players’ total points.

 

Anaheim is second overall in the league right now, and the other four teams in the top five look similar as far as young players go. The St. Louis Blues‘ young players have accumulated 27% of the players’ points, the Chicago Blackhawks’ 22%, the Boston Bruins‘ 22%, and the San Jose Sharks‘ 16%.

 

The most successful teams in the league right now have a handful of young talent teaming up with strong veteran presences, and it’s paying off. While numbers like 16% don’t seem very significant, it shows that the new kids on the block are managing to put points on the board at a professional level with and against some of the best in the world. Not to mention, the other 84% of the players’ points come from a group of players who, not long ago, were the young talent themselves.

 

For the Leafs, the most important part of developing young talent is teaching them how to excel in the playoffs, something that they haven’t been able to do in a long time. It’s taken awhile for management to figure that out, but maybe these youngsters will be the ones holding the cup over their heads in 10 years, rocking the blue and white, and breaking the most notorious dry-spell in the league.

 

Maybe that’s the 11-year-old girl in me talking, the one whose Mum told her “there’s always next year” in 2004 when the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs (seriously, those exact words.. anyone a fan of irony?), but it’s nice to think that the future of the team is being taken equally as seriously as the present, and right now the future is looking a lot like Lord Stanley.

Rebecca Gilchrist

Rebecca Gilchrist

After 21 years of the emotional roller coaster that is being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I've now decided to write about them. Wish me luck.
Rebecca Gilchrist

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