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Maple Leafs Watch: Future less bleak

There, there, Maple Leafs fans. The heartbreak of another lost season will go away soon.

Granted, the spiritual trauma probably won’t disappear instantly following the Leafs’ final games of the NHL’s 2009-10 regular season. Instead, it will linger all the way through the league’s entry draft, when one of Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or Cam Fowler will be drafted by Boston with Toronto’s first round pick from the trade for Phil Kessel trade.

But once July 1 rolls around – and Leafs GM Brian Burke goes shopping for a few free agents to bolster his lineup – the pain of five seasons without Toronto in the playoffs will begin to recede.

And once Burke trades longtime blueline star Tomas Kaberle (for either a draft pick and prospects, or a veteran forward who can help immediately) this summer, the team will have a completely new identity for fans to embrace.

Next season, Toronto will be led by youngsters Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin, Carl Gunnarsson and Jonas Gustavsson (assuming the latter in that group is re-signed).

A scrappy, youthful Leafs squad might make the post-season – although in the weaker Eastern Conference, a team comprised of myself, yourself, and a collection of peewee players could grab that eighth playoff seed – but even if they don’t, there will be a growing core of developing talent with which to build.

You couldn’t say that about Toronto’s teams in recent years. By and large, the Leafs’ off-season intrigue since the 2005-06 lockout has centered around which bloated contracts of over-the-hill players would be bought out, and which additional band-aid solutions would be undertaken to keep the franchise “competitive” (i.e. good enough to be out of the NHL’s basement).

Come next September, Burke and head coach Ron Wilson will have removed virtually every link to Toronto’s rotten modern hockey history. Finally, the slate will be fully clean.

The Leafs’ future isn’t yet bright enough to require shades. However, at least their fans won’t need a lifetime supply of Kleenex just to make it to the fall of 2011.

This column also appears in the Toronto Metro newspaper.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

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