This 7-3 start marks the Leafs' best start since 1993. That team started off the season 10-0 before finishing second in their division and losing to the Canucks in the Conference Finals that year. The roster of that team is still revered by most Leafs fans, and it continues to be immortalized in NHL '95 (which still receives semi-regular play in my house): Gilmour, Andreychuk, Clark, Anderson, Borschevsky, Ellett, Macoun, Potvin. That streak was when I officially became a Leafs fan, and it was probably one of only three windows in the past thirty years in which any rational person not living in Toronto would have chosen the Leafs for a team; the other two were the 1998-2002 teams that beat Ottawa every year in the playoffs, and this current 2013 edition.
|Maybe someday the Whale will rise again...|
|Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Toronto Maple Leafs (as seen in The Love Guru).|
|Awww, they're hugging...|
But this team is not interesting only as a group of players; it's also interesting in terms of the way the game is played and evaluated. Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown wrote a great article for Grantland about how the Maple Leafs are genuinely one of the most interesting teams in the NHL this year because of how they have defined conventional knowledge and found a way to win despite the confluence of advanced statistics that continue to state that the Leafs' current success is flawed and ultimately will fail. McIndoe explains it well, but in summary, he discusses how the Leafs fail at most of the advanced metrics that are now being used in the NHL that focus primarily on possession and control, and that they are one of the luckiest teams in recent memory. They are arguably closer to the pre-1995 lockout method of building teams than any Leafs team or other NHL team has been in the last twenty years - a blast from the past. This is a anachronstic team that would fit perfectly into that aforementioned world of NHL '94-'95, and it's going to be fun to see how it ends up for them over a full 82-game schedule.
I had the chance a couple of weeks ago to watch a topsy-turvy game between the Leafs and the Oilers that the Leafs ended up winning 6-5 in overtime. Although it was nice that the Leafs ended up winning in the end, I realized partway through that it didn't really matter if they won or lost; it was actually just fun watching them play. And that's the joy of this season: regardless of how things end up - as long as they make the playoffs, of course - it's going to be fun to watch this team play. They are finding their way as a group and forming an identity in one of the most demanding sports markets that exists, and they seem like they're enjoying it. We fans are enjoying it, too: after a decade of playoff irrelevance, bad coaching, shoddy management, and poor play, we finally have a team worth cheering for. Go Leafs go!