Toronto Maple Leafs alumni Darryl Sittler and Jim McKenny believe the current edition of their former club has the potential to be better.
Speaking to a crowd of excited hockey fans at Dundas Square in Toronto on Wednesday as a part of the NHL’s Face-Off 2010 opening night festivities, the former Leafs duo, along with Walter Gretzky, said the key to a successful season for the Buds will be to start hot out of the gate.
“We’ve got to get off to a good start and get some confidence and get the fans and the media behind us and that’ll help some of these young guys,” Sittler said.
McKenny, a popular Leafs defenceman from the late 1960s into the 1970s, agreed.
“They have to get off to a good start and build some momentum,” he said. “I know that their forwards aren’t maybe as talented as a lot of the other teams, but they were a very hard working team last year, they’re a tough team to play against.
“It comes down to the first 10, 15 games. If they can get some momentum going and get it to guys like [Phil] Kessel and Tyler Bozak and [Kris] Versteeg, who I know will really help, then I think they’ll do okay.”
The performance between the pipes will also be vital to a successful Maple Leaf season.
“I think, if our goaltending is solid in the first half, it’ll give us a chance to get our confidence and be better,” Sittler said. “I think we’re going to be okay, [J.S.] Giguere obviously has got a lot to prove coming from California and he’s still only 33 years of age.
“I think [Jonas] Gustavsson, getting a year under his belt, he had some health problems at the start of the season but towards the end he had a lot of confidence, played a lot better.
“The goaltending is the key thing. If we get good solid goaltending, then that gives us the chance to possibly win each game.”
Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf’s performance will be another important piece to the team’s success, and former Leafs captain Sittler believes he will excel in the role.
“I was there when Dion [Phaneuf] was made captain, at the press conference,” he said. “He’s a very passionate guy, he loves the game, he knows what it means to be the captain of the Maple Leafs in Toronto, he knows he’s under scrutiny.
“He also knows that if you have success and you do well, it’s a great opportunity.
“I think that he leads by example. We see him on the ice, he plays it tough and rough and apparently in the dressing room he’s vocal, he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in and I think he’ll do a good job.”
There were a lot of good vibes around the Maple Leafs’ fortunes for this coming year, however, according to McKenny, fans should probably hold off on the Stanley Cup parade.
“I’m very hopeful. I’m thinking positive, but I don’t know if I’d bet on them.”