Saturday, December 19, 2020

Leafs Preview: Wendel Clark Autographed Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Two more caveats: at this point, the NHL has not even confirmed the division make-ups yet despite the season being set to start a month from now, and several impact players such as 25-to-30-goal scorer Mike Hoffman and 20-goal journeyman forward Anthony Duclair, among others, haven't found a team yet. And quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

That being said, let's start with the one division we're pretty sure is going to happen if only because of the border situation, the Canadian Division, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After three straight first-round eliminations at the hands of the Boston Bruins, the Leafs technically missed the playoffs altogether in 2019-20 after being ousted in the Return To Play by the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite a powerhouse offense that features Auston Matthews - who was on pace for 50 goals and 100 points - Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson but no defense to speak of. Gone are Kapanen and Johnsson, as well as Kyle Clifford, Cody Ceci, Frédérik Gauthier, Kevin Gravel and Tyson Barrie, replaced by grizzled veterans Joe Thornton (off a decent warm-up in the Swiss League), Wayne Simmonds, T.J. Brodie, Stanley Cup winner Zach Bogosian, Aaron Dell and former star U.S. College player Jimmy Vesey.

What makes their odds look good:
All that offensive firepower (minus the 40 goals provided by Johnsson and Kapanen) is still there and Morgan Rielly won't have to compete for ice time with Barrie and will be able to go back to accumulating points from the blue line.

Question marks:
Brodie will cover Rielly's back, but he is not a contributor like Barrie. Thornton, Simmonds and Bogosian are but shadows of their former selves, although the first two might get at least a temporary boost from playing in their hometowns. Goaltender Frederik Andersen no longer has the Toronto media hype machine to overrate, inflate and rate as great his performances and we can see him for what he is: a fine starter, but no Vezina contender.

As currently constructed, the Leafs' back end and depth is not made to withstand a condensed schedule, what with all those veterans in the middle of the lineup (Thornton, Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Jake Muzzin, Bogosian) and sudden drop-off in productivity up-front. Sure, there is something to be said about leadership, experience and character, but there's a reason why it's always the veteran who is two days from retirement who dies in all those cop movies and never the brash rookie: he just can't keep up and the gam has gotten past him. I also have a thing about Thornton and Tavares never winning a Cup and rooting for more of the same forever.

Fifth in the Canadian/North Division, a point shy of a playoff spot.

Which brings me to Wendel Clark, the only good forward not named Borje Salming the team had in the 1980s, who represents the team extremely well. Again, he was very good, a two-time All-Star Game participant (in his prime in 1986 and as a veteran prior to retirement in 1999), but no Hall Of Famer. Ask any Leaf fan and they'll tell you he was a multiple 50-goal scorer, when he in fact surpassed 40 only once (46, in 64 games, in 1993-94), although he did reach 30 four more times, three of them with Toronto. He collected over 200 penalty minutes twice and nearly did so a third time, and was a "minus" player for most of his career, doing worse than -20 four times, and worse than -10 three more.

Like Andersen, Tavares, Thornton, Rielly and nearly every player who dons the blue Maple Leaf jersey, Leaf fans overrate him and expect more than what he can provide - and whether he eventually does or not does not seem to matter.

He did captain the team from 1991 until 1994, as attested by card #325 from Topps' 1992-93 Topps set:
He signed it in black sharpie at a card show nearly a decade ago, between the time the Leafs honored his number (2008) and retired it (2016).

No comments:

Post a Comment