10/26/2010 at 12:07am EDT
The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Nashville Predators have a lot in common. Both have young stud Captain defensemen who play a similar game. Both have good goaltending. Both are strong on the backend. And both have a core of forwards that isn’t deep with offensive talent.
But the Nashville Predators are better.
You can thank Barry Trotz for that (the fact that he has not yet won the Jack Adams trophy is criminal). Every year sports journalists write off the Predators, and every year around February the same sports journalists churn out a string of articles about how the Predators keep on proving their doubters wrong.
The journalists aren’t just bandwagon jumpers. In fact, they are right. On paper, the Predators had no business making the playoffs 4 out of the last 5 years; after the 2006-2007 season, the Predators should have finished out of the top 8 in the Western Conference every single season. On paper.
8 games into the season, their top point getters are Steve Sullivan and Cal O’Reilly with 6 points (no where near the league lead in points). Yet somehow Nashville sits in 1st place in the West with 13 points as of today. Granted they likely won’t hold down that spot in the standings. But as the season runs its course, the Predators will once again be in the playoff picture, and their top scorer will, more than likely, have less than 70 points.
That is the amazing thing about the Predators: they are always greater than the sum of their parts. Guys like Wilson, Ward, Dumont, Franson, Weber, Legwand, Suter, Goc and Sullivan (the list keeps going) all fulfill their role optimally. No, not optimally. Robotically. Surgically. Trotz assigns them a role and they flourish in it like clockwork.
The Maple Leafs are no different. In fact, the Leafs are better endowed. We have a potential 40 (maybe even 50) goal scorer in Kessel. Our secondary scoring is just as good, if not better. Our D core has more depth and talent than the Predators. And our starting netminder has the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup his resume.
Again, however. All of this is on paper. 7 games into the season, the Leafs have proven they have a tough time doing what the Predators do night in and night out: sticking to a system consistently and sustaining a high level of team play.
It’s more of a Jekyll and Hyde act that the Leafs have going. Flip flopping between being a solid two-way playoff team and a borderline out-of-the-playoff-picture club.
But flip flopping doesn’t get you into the playoffs. Flip flopping doesn’t make you better than you are on paper.