When a relationship comes to an end, that doesn’t mean that you have to feel hatred for the person you’re moving on from. Such is the case right now, as many ex-Leafs push ever closer to winning the Stanley Cup. In fact, with a representative on all four teams, it’s guaranteed that someone who once wore the blue and white of the Leafs will hoist the silver mug above their shoulders for the first time in their career.
This week, our roundtable talks about who we’re rooting for the most.
Katy Tearle (The Leafs Nation)
Alright, so this isn’t going to come as a huge surprise. But my vote goes to Phil Kessel. I know, as a Toronto fan, I (in theory) should’ve been cheering for the Penguins to just make the playoffs and then get bounced in the first round, guaranteeing us the highest pick possible.
But I couldn’t do it. Phil has been such a joy to watch in the playoffs, racking up an average of a point per game, higher than any current player. The #HBK line of Hagelin, Bonino, and Kessel has been, quite frankly, ridiculous. Primanti Bros in Pittsburgh has even named a sandwich after them. And it has made for some outstanding playoff hockey. And even if the Penguins win it all, Toronto is still guaranteed the 30th pick. And I’m down with that. Especially considering that Toronto then has the 31st pick, right after it.
But let’s be real. There’s one reason, deep in all our Phil-Kessel-loving-hearts, that we want Phil to go all the way in the Playoffs. Wouldn’t it just be the absolute best thing ever to see Phil Kessel win the Conn Smythe trophy? Be the MVP? Raise the Cup over his head? I love the idea of a delivering a grand ‘F-You’ to the haters in one’s life. Phil Kessel raising the Cup in the Pittsburgh black and gold this year? Quite possibly the best and biggest F-You he could pull off.
Peter Baracchini (LeafsHub)
I find it funny that bad luck continues to follow the Toronto Maple Leafs even when they’re not even in the playoffs. But, it’s also great to see that some former Leafs are eyeing a shot at the Stanley Cup.
Ever since he was traded to the San Jose Sharks, I’ve been pulling for James Reimer hoping that he would get another chance to get back to the playoffs after that game that should never be mentioned again, ever. Even though that game wasn’t his fault. He battled through adversity with a new goalie coming in and with management effectively saying, “we don’t have any faith in you.” Tensions also began to run high between him and former coach Randy Carlyle, even though he carried the team to the playoffs. This year was the first time, in a long time, that we saw the real James Reimer that made him successful early in his career.
I remember meeting James Reimer in person. He’s just as nice in person as he is on the television or in any media scrum. With everything that he’s been through and his positive attitude towards everything, it’s hard not to root for him. Even though he hasn’t got any significant time in the playoffs, he’ll at least be able to have that trademark smile of his should he end up lifting the Stanley Cup over his head.
Shawn Reis (The Leafs Nation)
Phil Kessel was abused by bitter members of the media and ignorant fans alike during his time in Toronto, but it was almost entirely undeserved. He had four 30 goal seasons in Toronto, and it would’ve been five if not for the lockout-shortened season. Phil was a point-per-game player in three of his seasons here. He was the most exciting player to watch on the team during his tenure with the Leafs. He’s the best player the team has had since Mats Sundin. He had four goals in seven playoff games against a Boston team that had haunted him for each of the last four years. He was just completely awesome, and all that ever got him was snarky comments from miserable “pundits” that somehow deduced that he was the reason the team was terrible.
So, yeah, it’s pretty cool to see him go on this run in the playoffs and prove to the Steve Simmons of the world that teams actually can win with him and then some. It would be awesome to see him not only hoist the Stanley Cup but possibly win the Conn Smythe as well. Kessel never got the full appreciation that he deserved, at least from the few that pretended to speak for the many, during his time in Toronto. It’s great to see him finally get some love for being the talented and clutch hockey player that he is.
Jeff Veillette (The Leafs Nation)
I’d also love to hop on the Philwagon here, and he’s my main choice. But Katy and Shawn have covered it pretty well, and I’ve got something more long-form coming on him in the next few days.
While we’re here, though, I think it’s worth pointing out the runs that a few others are having. Anton Stralman is a couple of games away from going to his second consecutive Stanley Cup Final with Tampa Bay and has vindicated every Leafs fan who believed that he would become one of the League’s best defencemen. Alex Steen continues to be one of the best support forwards you can find in St. Louis, and it’s great that he and Carl Gunnarsson are both part of the team that finally breaks the years of struggling to win more than a handful of playoff games. Roman Polak isn’t a star, but his fearless attitude is made for big games like this. Nick Spaling, well, he’s there.
It just goes to show that even if the puzzle you’re in is fundamentally flawed, that doesn’t mean you can’t be an essential piece elsewhere.