With today marking the third anniversary of Leafs’ GM Brian Burke’s tenure, it’s a good time to re-visit his now famous vision of building a team with truculence, so boldy laid out at that first media conference.
It’s one of the fanciest words ever to describe a hockey team and is thus favoured — mostly in a sarcastic way — by media when the Leafs are playing in a decidedly un-truculent way. After three seasons, it’s a term that no longer seems to fit the team Burke has built. They’re by no means soft but they also aren’t the Boston Bruins. These Leafs are fast, skilled, persistent and most importantly, deep. And that’s not a bad thing.
Truculence may or may not enter into the equation but it doesn’t seem to be a priority now. Ask Colton Orr or Jay Rosehill who’ve seen about as much ice time as Nazem Kadri — who, as he finds himself buried in the minors seems a waste of a first round draft pick (but that’s another story).
Anyway, so much for loading a team up with tough guys and fighters. Today’s game rewards speed, skill and strategy. Let the other goons take the dumb penalties and allow teams like the Leafs to make opponents pay. In case you haven’t noticed, they’re now a top-five PP and have made improvements in practically every facet of the game. Things are beginning to click into place and it makes sense to keep a good thing going.
Now that may change this week as the Leafs return home in high spirits after winning their third in a row on the road to face those, ahem, truculent Bruins. This will be a challenging home-at-home series with the Boston going 9-0-1 in their last 10.
It will be an opportunity to see if the Leafs can run with the big boys or are an early season flash-in-the-pan. Pride matters too as it’s a chance to redeem themselves after being run out of their home rink by the Bruins in that 7-0 spanking three weeks ago.
And hey, let’s not even get into the whole Kessel-Seguin trade thing again, it’s so 2010. But it would be nice if Phil doesn’t completely disappear in these two games as he tends to when playing his old team. As the NHL’s leading scorer, he’s better than that now, right? We’ll see.
What will be interesting is whether Wilson tweaks the lineup against the Bruins who, after a slow start, are looking every bit like Stanley Cup champions. Will we see the likes of Orr or Jay Rosehill to combat the Lucic’s and Charas or will he go with what’s been working of late?
The Leafs go into Wednesday’s game with the Bruins second overall in the eastern conference with 30 points — two behind the Penguins and one ahead of Boston. The outcome of this two-game clash should prove to be highly useful in assessing what the Leafs really have as a team.
Still, just being part of the conversation for first place is refreshing in itself. Certainly not what many predicted going into December.