December 15, 2010
Pressure's on Flames to win now, Leafs enjoy young-gun growth
By STEVE MacFARLANE, QMI Agency
Struggling stars and disappointing starts to their seasons have plagued both Canadian clubs going head-to-head Thursday night.
But which one has a brighter future?
The Calgary Flames host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Saddledome amid a campaign that both thought would be on a very different path right now.
A playoff path.
Neither team is anywhere near that goal at the moment. The Leafs and their 28 points are tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of the eighth seed prior to Wednesday night’s action. The Flames’ 29 are good enough for 14th in the Western Conference, seven behind the final post-season position.
Relying heavily on their leaders for offence, the Leafs haven’t had a lot of consistent support from Phil Kessel, and the Flames are only in the last few weeks receiving strong performances from Jarome Iginla.
But while both of these players are definitely the key to each club’s offence, only Kessel can be considered a long-term option.
The 23-year-old is part of a young core of Maple Leafs that inspires hope for the future in spite of the pricey cost — a first and second-round pick in 2010 and this spring’s first-rounder — to acquire Kessel.
He’s surrounded by a handful of players still on entry-level contracts who are expected to round out their scoring lines of the future.
Mikael Backlund — a potential healthy scratch Thursday — is the only Flames player currently on his first pro contract.
That wouldn’t be a bad thing if there was a serious youth movement just a step ahead of him, but not a single other member of the Flames is 25 or younger.
Their top offensive prospects, Ryan Howse, Max-well Reinhart, and Mitch Wahl, need time to grow as pros.
The Leafs young guns are getting that time now, and growing together.
For the Flames, the future is now.