We’ve gotten so good at, well you have, uncovering and discovering the game. Dissecting it in the lab, freeze frames, even going as far as taking it the law offices. Certified chartered accountants with a minor in salary management. The Leafs fan is cunning today. And also it can tire you out. So I suggest we just put that aside for a few minutes and talk about some human nature. Human Leafs hockey nature because we don’t stray too far off topic here.
I really should say it’s one guy that kinda kicked off this Leafs domino in my mind and on top of it the first story out of the gate was about William Nylander and that’s almost unfair in many respects. Timing wise the team is flirting with 1st overall in the NHL. Although actually Willy ties in with what I’m about to talk about perfectly, I still probably would’ve liked to been talking about something from the on ice performance. Or someone. Someone I’ll save for last.
When the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Washington Capitals in 2017, they put up a strong fight. I loved that type of game. No room. Two sides toe to toe, all contested shifts. The club had been exposed to the type of hockey you hear about but we haven’t seen in a long time.
Playoff hockey. The real stuff. It’s not fun at times, it’s not pretty, but it’s real.
The Caps and Leafs were and are very skilled. But it was TIGHT. And it was…HEAVY. It was a grind of a series and we played admirably. Toronto stood tall. In the end a really good experience for the organization. And what was the difference? What separated them?
You know at the top I mentioned how we put the game under a microscope now. It’s enjoyable to be honest. Trying to feel in tune with the Leafs machine. But other times it’s simplistic, it takes less thinking. Put all the analysis aside. In this series, in the end, the Capitals boys were men.
When he said it after the series, it stuck with me because it was so true. Babcock knew why they lost to Washington. Even in the immediacy of defeat you couldn’t help but find the optimism not very deep into his words.
“A lot of our guys are light yet.” Babcock stated after speaking with pride of the growth of his group after the Game 6 overtime loss. “But you know so were those guys a couple years back.”
Plain and plump. Every line doesn’t have to be at Socrates level to be insightful (though Babs has some humdingers). And now the Caps, where are they? They’re the defending champs. Where are we?
Okay, hey look. I’m hitting fast forward here a little. I don’t want to get into the Bruins series, I’m not gonna say there weren’t more factors than “heavy” at play. That wasn’t what it was about, least of all solely. But it was still a major player especially if coupled with the maturation only achieved by the sands of time and a dumbbell.
You give Auston a year of experience and physical growth, let’s see what happens. Look at him out there, he’s not a man. He’s THE man. That’s only going to progress. Mitch vs the Caps, that was a thick and eye opening series. Marner was the “lightest” in terms of weight and the mature Caps provided a chance to be in it and see it first hand. He’s gotten stronger and faster, he’s no boy out there and you see where that’s heading. Correction, where it is.
No different circumstances than Willy getting torched for the Bruins series. *Reminder – he’s a fkn kid. It comes with the territory, sure. But guys and girls that’s growth. That’s how it works. I always think of Datsyuk’s early playoff struggles. We all wanted it but you gotta be willing to watch it and go through it. Nylander has his opportunity now to come back and show what his buddy has. His buddy I’m saving until the end. Exponential growth in the man department. Think of Willy today. Now think of the progression of everyone else. He’s only begun his climb. Actually it’s Kuznetsov who I think of with Nylander, or any of them. Not because they are the same player, but the arcs are similar. Which fits perfectly with what Babcock was trying to say. He was dubbed a show off and a floater and light all that and hey I don’t come from an era that likes anybody doing the goddam bird dance. But today he’s a top top top flight player now and a Stanley Cup champion. All he needed was a chance to grow up, fill out, learn, and take over.
Which takes me finally to the muse of the piece, Kasperi KapaMAN. Who is quite frankly been a pleasure to watch this season.
I saw Kappy straight out of the gate here as a rookie with the Marlies. He was talented, great skills. Duh. He was also thin, but with a long enough frame. No horse, was no bull. Now?
He was just a kid then, but when you saw him on or off the ice you had a different vision of what he’d be. Not what he’s become. And what he’s become is not only a bullet (I mean he’s an absolute bullet) but he’s gonna put his shoulder on you. I’m not talking run you, which he will, but he can lean on you for position. When he locks his stick down and uses his weight on a puck battle, chances are he comes away with it. If not he’s using his powerful legs to track you.
KapaMAN is the poster child for the science department, the R&D department, whatever department is looking after making players lol because they made one hell of one here let me tell you. Killing penalties, scoring goals, making plays, just being a sturdy, reliable winger. He’s been developed so well. Or what I should say is he’s developed himself so well, or allowed himself to be. Two things had to or have to happen with our kids. Can you play the whole ice and can you play right when push comes to shove. Kapanen, he cranks it up in those circumstances. He epitomizes the cultivation the Leafs have gone through, in every respect. Travis Dermott, next man up on the same trail.
Toronto are lucky because they have professional adults to emulate in their room with Patrick Marleau and John Tavares. They are helping to bring out the best in our youth, but it’s in their naturally. Time is bringing it out too. Our boys were born hockey players. But they aren’t boys anymore. As any proud parent will tell you, they’ll always be our boys. But as it turned out it wasn’t a group of young boys in the first stage of their journey who would bring Stanley home.
It will be our men.