2019 will soon be over, and we will soon celebrate the beginning of a new decade.
The 2010s have certainly been quite an interesting decade of hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I know this Leafs season has been quite a rollercoaster ride for fans, and with this being my last column in 2019, I have written about a few of my favourite Leaf moments of the current decade. For this exercise, I will go through the events chronologically.
To start, in August 2014, the Toronto Maple Leafs introduced Legends Row. For those who don’t know, Legends Row is a lineup of statues, in front of Scotiabank Arena, honouring some of the most talented players in Maple Leafs’ history. Some current members to have their likenesses sculpted include Johnny Bower, Mats Sundin, George Armstrong and Dave Keon, among others. Now, let me say while I enjoy watching present day hockey, I also like to read and learn about the interesting stories, players, moments of this franchise’s past. This, for me, was a way, during a more difficult time in the franchise’s recent history, the newer Leafs management were showing they could do something different, honour the past in a creative way instead of just simply raising a banner to the rafters inside an arena.
All right, now let’s jump forward two years. In 2016, the Leafs won the National Hockey League (NHL) draft lottery, and drafted centre Auston Matthews, first overall. Since that time, as of press time, Matthews has scored 129 goals and 238 points in 243 regular season games for the Leafs, which includes his record four-goal rookie debut game against the Ottawa Senators. More than that, at the time Matthews represented and still represents hope for the Leafs. In 2016, the team had just finished in last place in the league and had lost the previous year’s draft lottery, missing out on picking up Connor McDavid. Plus, the last time the team had the opportunity to draft first overall before this was 1985, when they chose Wendel Clark. Also, prior to the Leafs drafting Matthews, during the time I had watched hockey, the Leafs were not particularly great at winning anything or even making the playoffs. He was the first line centre the Leafs had coveted for years, and I’m happy the Leafs have him.
The 2017 playoffs are another highlight for me. It was a time the Leafs, who with a young core of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner debuting, didn’t have very high expectations, especially after finishing in last place the season before. But, this young team rallied together late in the season to clinch a playoff spot, and wound up facing the Washington Capitals in the first round. They ended up losing the series, but this team held their own against the higher seed opponent through much of the series, forcing the series to six games. It was great for me to see a team who coming into the season was expected to be closer to the bottom of the standings, defy the odds, get post season experience and give Toronto fans hope for future playoff success to come. While the Leafs have had little playoff success since then, I remain hopeful.
Hopefully, there will be much more success for the Leafs in the new decade.