How many times have you heard someone speaking of their favourite team utter the sports cliché “they’re three to five years away?”
Now that the Leafs appear to have established a sound foundation through the draft, the logical query for the fan base is how long before we see a Champions parade?
It’s a very interesting request because the beauty of sports is the unknown thus why they play the games. Parity in the NHL is head and shoulders above the other Major Professional Leagues in North America which begs the question, “Who are the legit contenders to win it all?”
The immediate responses usually heard range from, 3-years away, they are “too young”, “need more experience”, “need confidence”, “missing a couple players” and so on. These are nothing more than “white noise” excuses to ease the burden of growing pains, but mostly losing.
Players play a long time before they reach the NHL and the concept of the game has been the same for 100 years. Out score the other team. Period. Granted, the approach, systems, analytics and training have all changed over the decades along with the player that continues to get bigger, stronger, faster and younger.
They say a player is young but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten how to play the game once he reaches the highest level because since the said player first laced on a pair of skates, he’s adjusted to the level of compete, speed and execution. The challenge is whether the new player can produce at the highest league.
Confidence is not something that just arrives by Fed-ex one day, its earned.
A student can show up for school everyday for a year but when an exam is placed in front of them, they implode. Yet if the student has studied hard and put in the time at the library or at home, the chances of success are accentuated immensely because being prepared is confidence. No different than the player who trains beyond his limits vs. the one who coasts through the summer. Who do you think will have more confidence entering training camp?
Sophomore jinx? The second year player has not forgotten how to play the game but other teams are aware of how quickly he adapted warranting more attention and if not prepared to push his level of compete; teams will adjust to shut him down.
The sophomore jinx is an excuse.
Management’s role is critical because obviously not only must they acquire the players, they must also nurture the team’s progress through the peaks and valleys the club will experience.
If a coach isn’t prepared, how can he expect his team to execute at an elite level game in and out? In today’s NHL, a player can’t hide if the preparation is substandard because as the game continues to get younger, the competition for jobs is at an all-time high and the depth of most organizations has never been stronger.
There is a fine line between the “win now” and “win at any cost” scenario because team fortunes are a bad bounce, break or injury, a shift away.
There is no time frame for a team to win today and yes you must draft well and fill in the holes with roll players. There is a growing curve, no question, but it’s much shorter than it’s ever been. I’m not talking about an instant Stanley Cup Championship because even the most ready team can lose at the hands of a fluke goal or injury but my contention is if a player is good enough to play at the level, he’s good enough to win. But like anything in business it all starts from the top and how management handles the day-to-day challenges and the attention to detail filters throughout the organization. Like losing, winning is contagious.
The difference between winning and losing narrows as the years pass and this past Stanley Cup final witnessed a sixteenth seed as a finalist. So the message is quite simple; anyone can win at any time and the team that wants it more usually wins. That same mantra can apply to everyday life but I’ll leave you with this great quote from Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock that sums it up,
“Never let your talents override your work ethic.”