The argument could very easily be made that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the closest thing to royalty in the NHL.
Think about it: they have a storied history, loyal (mindless?) fan base and near bottomless treasury. These are the right ingredients for preeminence in the hockey world (or any world for that matter).
Few other teams in the NHL – the Montreal Canadiens being the main (sole?) exception – can claim such success. To the contrary, most other teams can only claim envy (see the Ottawa Senators).
At the same time, however, the Leafs have been one of the major running jokes in the NHL over the past decades alongside the Phoenix Coyotes (why won’t the locals accept them?) and the New York Islanders (what crazy thing will ownership do next?).
Tellingly, Toronto hasn’t won anything significant since 1967 – a time when there were only six teams in the league! They couldn’t even win the Brad Richards sweepstakes in 2011, settling for Tim Connolly instead (they were outbid by the New York Rangers – another team known for its uneven success).
That’s why tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Kings is so important for the Leafs.
It’ll help determine if the Leafs are finally moving in the right direction. In fact, that can be said about their current road trip through California in general: are they good enough to beat the top teams in the league and challenge for the Stanley Cup?
The road trip began with great success – the Leafs knocked-off the league-leading Anaheim Ducks (a feat that the Calgary Flames just accomplished as well, diminishing its significance somewhat) – but they came out flat the following night in San Jose where the Sharks devoured them 6-2 (yes, there’s a play on words there).
To redeem themselves and exit California in winning fashion, the Leafs must beat the Kings tonight. Nonetheless, there’s a lot more riding on the game than just that.
After spending the last few seasons working to improve themselves, the Leafs now need to show some solid progress or the whole exercise will be put into question.
It’s not enough that they made the playoffs last season for the first time in eight seasons (why congratulate the lamentable?) or that Phil Kessel is currently ranked second in the league for overall points (he has an impressive 73 points in 67 games).
There’s only one prize worth mention in Toronto – the Stanley Cup – and until it’s brought home again, many people will continue to see the Leafs as jokes.
Thus, Toronto’s long road to the Promised Land continues tonight in Los Angeles. They can leave as kings or remain as jesters.
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