Anyone who watched the Leafs crush the Canadiens on Saturday couldn't help but notice the contrast in the two teams. The Leafs battled for the puck all night and won most of the time. They are beating teams without the front line players of yesteryear...no Mats Sundin, no Darcy Tucker, no Bryan McCabe, no Alex Mogilny, no Gary Roberts, no Own Nolan, not even Nik Antropov. In fact they have no front line players.
Last night the Leafs dressed 6 rookies (Schenn, Stralman, Oreskovic, Grabovski, Kulemin, Mitchell) and 4 players from the minors/scrapheap (Ondrus, Devereaux, Hamilton, Gerber). Their top scorer (Blake) has chronic myelogenous leukemia. (He would be my pick for the Bill Masterson Trophy again.) Had the Leafs played this hard the previous season they might not be in a rebuild mode right now.
Now I realize it's easier to play the role of spoiler than it is to be a contender. In previous season the Leafs most often played their best hockey when nothing was on the line. But this year it is clearly different. The culture has certainly changed. Ron Wilson has been teaching these guys how to compete hard every night. The lessons appear to be sinking in. The players on the team know the Leafs are rebuilding and have essentially been given the choice - play hard and you might be able to become part of the process or don't play hard and you surely will move on.
Frankly, I don't care if the media likes Ron Wilson. I don't care if he doesn't gets along with Howard Berger or that he doesn't care to be interviewed by Bob McCowan. I just want to see the Leafs win every night. Ron Wilson makes you believe that it could happen.