What is this strange feeing?
I feel so strange inside.
It’s so strange, but appealing!
I feel good…Oh!
My current feelings echo those words sung by the great Dennis and Dee Reynolds, and while their strange, but good feelings revolved around the love of a boy in a magical musical (Sunny fans will get that reference), mine are for two of my Toronto sport loves: the Maple Leafs and Argonauts.
This good feeling stems from new era’s that these two franchises are about to set out upon, eras of hope and pride.
Beginning with the Maple Leafs, the young me used to have a tremendous amount of pride and optimism surrounding the club. When I began to understand and really watch the game, it was a time when the Leafs had a fair amount of regular season success that seemed to guarantee a playoff berth come spring between 1999 and 2004. I was hopeful that the buds would find that final piece of the puzzle and make that championship push the following year, as they always seemed to be just on the cusp of becoming a legitimate contender.
But after the 2004-05 lockout, that hope gradually turned into pessimism and embarrassment due to the lack of being a Stanley Cup threat, terrible managerial decisions, and likely peaked with the team finishing dead last in the East in 2009-10. It was pessimism that was only cemented further with collapses to Boston in the 2013 playoffs and in 2012 and 2014 that led to missing the playoffs.
Slowly though, that pessimism has been chipped away. Two years ago at this time, the Leafs were floundering, their cupboards bare of top prospects (aside from William Nylander), and led by a management team that would try a quick fix by changing the core’s supporting cast, all with a coach who had one of the worst possession based systems and was reluctant to change.
With President Brendan Shanahan’s “ShanaPlan” firmly in place though, it’s amazing how much things have changed. With one of the best staffs in the game, the team is now ripe with potential top-tier talent and players who could be excellent bottom-six skaters. Joining Nylander in the past two years is Mitch Marner, possibly the best playmaker in junior hockey, solid, skilled players who’ve proven thus far they can hang at the NHL level, including Nikita Soshnikov, Zach Hyman, Connor Carrick (who had an amazing AHL playoff run) and Josh Leivo (second best Marlie in the playoff run). And of course, the Leafs have nabbed Auston Matthews, a franchise centreman who has already drawn comparisons to Jonathan Toews, but possibly even more offensively-gifted, and gives the Leafs their first, true #1 centre since Mats Sundin. All young studs that will continue to grow with talents such as James van Riemsdyk, the progressing Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner and you can’t forget about a leader, chemistry building individual like Leo Komarov. Oh, and on top of that, it appears the Leafs finally have a real #1 goalie as well, from their deal acquiring the Ducks Frederik “Don’t call me Anderson” Andersen.
When was the last time the Leafs had this much homegrown, talented potential to build from? Maybe the early 1970s with Sittler, Salming, Lanny, etc.? Even so, it wasn’t to this extent, and didn’t have the staff that this current teams does.
Things look good for Maple Leafs in the short road ahead, especially if they sign a certain someone come July 1st (is his contract going to be worth it though? That’s another issue all in itself). It feels good to be a Maple Leafs fan, so much so that at the thought of what may lie ahead, I kind of feel like this…
The hope and optimism has returned with what management has done these last two years. But there should be a reminder put out: be patient. Potential is potential, but it may take some time to fully develop, so don’t throw all hope and optimism out the window if the new look Leafs start the season, say, 7-13-2 next year. Patience will be key, but trust in the Shanaplan, it’s worked thus far.
I will end my thoughts on the Maple Leafs though by stating that while things are looking bright for the on-ice future, I do feel as if the organization dropped the ball with the new jerseys. While I love the return to the old logo, the jersey is way too plain. Being simple is great if it’s done correctly, but these new sweaters remind me too much of the “t-shirt” jerseys from 2007-2010. Shanahan has said it’s too focus your eyes on the crest, but honestly, they’re just not doing it for me. Where’s the shoulder patch? Or triple striping on the bottom? I seem to be in the minority on this thought toward the jersey, but what do you think? Let me know on Twitter @nkonarowski2
Onto the Argos,
The team has entered 2016 in a re-birth of their own. For a franchise that has become stagnant in recent years, there’s hope that a return to outdoor football will lead the Argos into a new, successful era.
As a longtime fan, I’m hopeful for the double blue, I really am, but two things concern me about this new era of Argos football.
First, the attendance and fan base issue. The team was obviously hoping to re-capture older fans and bring in new fans to the team with the move to BMO Field, as well as a better fan atmosphere by allowing tailgating, but will people actually buy in? While there was a decent crowd for the season opener, the game wasn’t sold out, reaching 91% capacity, and tickets were very cheap on Stubhub, going for as low as $8 on game day. Shouldn’t tickets, if they were in demand, especially for a stadium/season opener, be going for a lot higher price than that? Let’s see how attendance fares for the next home game vs. Ottawa. Also, will the move remove the negative stigma among younger people regarding the Argos and CFL? Based on personal and anecdotal evidence, it seems that those 30-and-under don’t really care about the CFL in Toronto, and it’s seen as an amateur league by some, or “not-the-NFL. ”
I’ve always said the CFL is a distinctly Canadian game, and we should embrace that. So what if it’s not a 32–team, monster of a league? It’s still great, big-play football. If attendance is to climb and the fan base is to grow in the future, this stigma needs to be properly addressed and erased. How though? That I’m not so sure of.
Finally, another way to draw fans to your club is to obviously put a successful team on the field. I’m not sure the Argos will be that successful on the field this year though. After one game, QB Ricky Ray, who claims to be at 100% after last years shoulder issues, sure didn’t look like the Ricky of old, though he didn’t get much help from a porous O-line. If the Argos are to win this year, it’s going to rely heavily on Ricky being that Ricky of old. I get that the Argos need a name like Ray, a fairly recognized one, to help promote this new era of Argos football, but they’re going to regret letting the much younger, and already proven, Trevor Harris go in the near future. Also, what was with the defense? Defensive Coordinator Rich Stubler made Ti-Cats backup QB Jeremiah Masoli, who is only playing because Zach Collaros is hurt, look like a wizard, as Masoli scorched the Argos on every drive. Then again, it has only been one game, so maybe I just need to practice what I preach as I said when discussing the Maple Leafs, be patient.
Images credited to: thestar.com, youtube.com, cfl.ca