With 22 games remaining in the regular season and the two-week Olympic break looming large, the Toronto Maple Leafs have some time for reflection on where they are as a franchise.
If they’re honest with themselves, Leafs brass knows that, while the organization continues to make short, slow strides toward consistent competitiveness, there will be more than a few gruesome evenings such as their 3-0 blown lead (and subsequent 4-3 loss) in New Jersey last Friday.
Mixed in with that sobering reality will be stretches where the Leafs provide their fans with some genuine hope. People will see, for example, Tyler Bozak or Carl Gunnarsson meeting or rising above expectations and they’ll imagine such feats can be reproduced each and every night.
That isn’t the way it works when an NHL franchise is breaking in a new generation of core players. Look at the Vancouver Canucks — and their star forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin — for an example.
Henrik Sedin, in particular, was drafted (along with his twin Daniel) with much fanfare in 1999. He was thought to be more playmaker than goal-scorer and his stats — he didn’t have his first 20-goal campaign until last season and amassed at least 60 assists in each of the last three years — underscored that belief.
But this season, Henrik has elevated his play to the point he is a genuine candidate to win the league’s Hart Trophy as its most valuable player. He already has a career-best 25 goals, and through Vancouver’s first 57 games, he was just five points shy of establishing a new high in points.
Let that time frame sink in for a moment. It took a young NHLer with exceptional talent a full decade to realize his potential. Does that make you think a 19-year-old Leafs prospect such as Nazem Kadri will step in next season and assert himself as an impact player?
It certainly shouldn’t. That’s why you Leafs grasshoppers need patience — and lots of it — to make it through the tumult and intermittent triumphs that will lie ahead for a long time to come.