Eulogy: Remembering the 2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs

(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we’re bound to lose some friends along the journey. We’ve asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The bloggers and fans who hated them the most. Here is Washington Capitals blogger Jason Rogers of Japers’ Rink, fondly recalling the 2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs.)

(Again, this was not written by us. Also: This is a roast and you will be offended by it, so don’t take it so seriously.)

By Jason Rogers

Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello wipes the sweat from his brow and steps back to observe his latest creation. His masterpiece.

The monster is foul and unholy, stitched gruesomely together from the corpses of half-century old championship banners and reanimated with the supple young flesh of children. This pleases Lou. Unable to deny the devil inside him, he throws the switch, and electricity not seen in Toronto in 50 years crashes through Air Canada Centre like some cheap Florida gimmick.

The beast groans and stirs to life, arising to serve its grim shark-faced master. The operation has worked. His terrible creation sits upright and grasps dumbly for a hockey stick as if by instinct. Lou smiles his mafia don grin, cheeks creaking from years of disuse.

“I am your master!” Lou roars in a voice like like a bag of driveway gravel soaked in cognac. “You shall be known as…..Austonell Nymarntthews!”

He peers closer.

“Oh, [expletive]. I got the nostrils wrong.”

Lou glances across the room, where a fellow scientist is frantically beating the corpse of a similar but clearly failed experiment, pounding its chest in desperate frustration as it falls to pieces around him.

“Well, at least we aren’t Buffalo.”

* * *

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2016-2017 season was a soaring success by any standards, except by those of twenty-nine other teams who generally aim for a championship. Ask Leafs fans, they’ll tell you: their team is “actually good,” and “the future is bright,” which is also something people say immediately before a nuclear apocalypse. Given the Leafs’ appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Armageddon may not be far off.

This year, the Leafs rode several talented youngsters so hard that head coach Mike Babcock’s press conferences regularly featured reporters from the Toronto Sun, the Canadian Press and child protective services. Youth is a virtue, and Toronto’s rookies surely benefited from the wisdom that the Leafs’ past successes could teach them, like how to dial the training staff on a rotary phone, how to send a telegram to the PR department when you don’t like your roster daguerreotype and how to smile graciously when posing for a cave painting.

Of course, much of the credit for the Leafs’ season — a crazy go-go rocket ship to the moon if the moon were an early playoff exit — flows from Mike Babcock, a man who constantly looks like he’s haunted by a ghost that rips stinky farts that only he can smell.

Amazingly, Babcock has only missed the playoffs twice in his 14-year NHL head coaching career: once with the Mighty Ducks, and once with the wimpy Leafs. This year, Babcock scowled his team to its first playoff appearance in four years, an occurrence not unlike a leap year except that this insignificant blip usually occurs in April instead of February.

Exuding unearned confidence and the braggadocios swagger of a drunk who just hit the urinal from several feet away, Babcock is forever one condescending “Pshh, poser.” away from being the rich guy villain in a Disney Channel movie. After winning Game 5 in Washington, Babcock told all the staff at Verizon Center, “See you in a couple days,” an allusion to either the Game 7 that he was sure his Leafs were going to force, or the two dozen episodes of NYPD Blue waiting for him on his DVR at home. Babcock usually watches Lost, but caught the season finale early in Toronto.

That premature verbal ejaculation is characteristic of the Leafs’ ahead-of-schedule spunk. Rookies Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews combined for over 180 points this season, and are anxiously awaiting the onset of puberty next year.

Matthews, distant kin of Cubert Farnsworth, became just the 15th rookie in NHL history to score 40 goals and put all of his dirty clothes in the hamper, not just around it. Marner recorded 42 apples, which he traded for Dunkaroos, and Michael Nylander watched gleefully as the rest of the Maple Leafs’ daddies became Washington Capitals this postseason, too.

Which brings us down the roster to Nazem Kadri, a tremendously talented skater whose cat has an Instagram.

Some people say Kadri is a dirty player, like the Department of Player Safety, the Department of Player Safety, and the Department of Player Safety. Don’t listen to them; this is nothing more than a witch-hunting smear campaign led by former DoPS Vice President and current Leafs President Brendan Shanahan. Nevermind that Kadri nearly dislocated Alex Ovechkin’s kneecap in Game 5 with a dubiously low hip check, or that Shanahan conducts meetings with Kadri safely behind a whip and a stool. What you should remember is that Kadri scored 32 goals this season, is a spark plug for his team, and is only slightly more likely to injure you than a recalled Takata airbag.

Goalie Frederik Andersen, the great Dane with the red mane, posted 33 wins this season and dueled reigning Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby to a near stalemate in the playoffs. And like a duel, Andersen was killed by shots. The Leafs’ blueline, devoid of both Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak for most of the postseason, finally succumbed to Washington’s ice-borne onslaught like the British on the other side of the Delaware River. The potent combination of Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and being a Maple Leaf was just took much for Andersen, but he’ll be remembered as the most successful postseason Toronto goalie in over a decade. A bronze statue of Andersen is already being cast to be displayed outside Air Canada Centre, engraved fondly with the words, Almost Good Enough.

And speaking of statutory things, let’s talk about Brian Boyle’s mustache. More pirated than overpriced software, Boyle’s facial follicles are a harbinger of spring, a beloved postseason tradition like booing Gary Bettman or delighting in Montreal’s bed-pooping. They signal a return to a simpler time, a more familiar time when life was slower, kids said “sir” and “ma’am,” and the Maple Leafs were out of the playoffs. It should come as no surprise that on a roster with Brian Boyle and a kindergarten’s worth of children, the best playoff beard in Toronto belonged to Dart Guy.

* * *

So what does the future hold for the Maple Leafs?

Nothing but good things, baby. Good like the odds of Connor Carrick picking a fight with his own reflection on the sidewalk. Good like the laughs Ontario middle-schoolers have at the names James van Riemsdyk and Zach Hyman. Good like how this season will feel next spring when the Leafs manage to lose 40 games despite having the exact same roster. Good like the whole team’s golf game after 50 long years of practice.

And, yes: good like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are, actually, good.

Jason Rogers is a blogger with Japers’ Rink and does TV stuff for Comcast SportsNet. Find him on Twitter here.


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