Guest Column: How real is Toronto’s future as a NHL team?

Imagine a Canadian ice hockey team for which the style of play, from the start, is not elite. Those 10 players who make the National Hockey League if they’re actually NHL players and there isn’t the end of the regular season (at least it hasn’t happened), one comes to mind. Well, it’s here. It’s a promising National Hockey League expansion team in Toronto that has been 18 games into the season. My big surprise was how defenseless they looked.

How could that be? It didn’t seem to matter what team pressed them in their own zone or who took shot after shot. Toronto was easily able to clear the zone, produce the puck at key times and support the shooters from behind the defense. They were in rhythm from the drop of the puck. They looked sloppy and disorganized. (There are people to blame for that.)

Also problematic, they looked confused in their play. Their goaltender, the best player on the ice, was at a standstill and only rarely was he encouraged to move around in his crease. The defenders often blocked shots or made no effort to get out of the way to clear the zone. They were too slow to change goalies. They made little sense as a line combination.

Add to this a habit of hitting at the bottom of the faceoff circle instead of trying to carry the puck up ice, and the Toronto Greyhounds don’t look so bad, do they?

The University of Toronto-Mississauga Mooseheads of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) are proof of the trouble going forward for a young team, and an early warning for a team trying to win the Stanley Cup in a hurry.

The Mooseheads are a powerhouse organization that should have a team with the current number of players. It always will. Winning isn’t important, yet it is, and they have a ready-made hockey team in the lineup now.

If anything, the problems getting them started in the first place were a poor club of college kids who didn’t realize how to play team hockey. For they are wonderful players. They are not, however, great hockey players. The one problem with good players is their teams.

Now add a coach who was a true scholar-coach for an entire career and didn’t settle on a system. He knew what he wanted, but didn’t do it. The plan was to seek out skilled players who can pass the puck, and maybe skate, and be great defensemen, but not very skilled goalies.

He soon started to see players who either couldn’t score or didn’t like to play hockey. A shut-down defenseman, who doesn’t skate, is finished. For the first 20 games, no one wanted to pass the puck to him. My father is not an advocate of any of these players, and he used to try to get them to enjoy themselves.

The good news is that it is only hockey. If players develop a deeper faith in each other, and the coaches know what they’re doing, they can start to get the pace they need. Not every goal may be scored or moved the puck to a teammate. Sometimes it just might be the most disciplined, disciplined possession-based game we’ll ever see.

Give it a chance. The future should be bright for Maple Leaf Nation. One way or another, Omicron (the team name) will change things. It’s a necessary step in building the NHL around a true team.

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