Haggerty: Leafs-Bruins not a rivalry

Haggerty: Leafs-Bruins not a rivalry
November 5, 2011, 6:13 am
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Brad Marchand had his tongue planted firmly within his check when he let the words slip, but he couldnt help make a playful crack about the marquee players involved when asked about a budding rivalry between the Maple Leafs and his Boston Bruins.

Yeah, I think the rivalry is more between Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, said Marchand with a laugh. Toronto is playing great hockey right now and theyre a good match-up for us. We want to find a way to get a roll going, and playing teams that are hot and playing good hockey is big for us.

It was a joke about the SeguinKessel rivalry, of course. There have been some hard-fought, competitive tilts between the two Northeast Division foes over the last couple of seasons as the Maple Leafs have been on the steady upswing.

Kessel had a multiple point game at the Garden in a win that allowed him to snap a long personal slump in his old home rink, and the red-hot Leafs slapped the Bruins around last March in Toronto at the tail end of a long road trip.

But to call it a rivalry might be a little much by the very strictdefinition of the word.

Its truly not a rivalry until both sides have had the upper hand in the grand arena of competition, and the Leafs havent landed close to enough punches against a Bs team coming off a Stanley Cup season. The Bruins have put up a gaudy 11-4-3 record over the Leafs during the last four seasons, and "upper hand" is probably the only term to describe Boston's role in the burgeoning relationship between the two clubs.

A couple of wins over the Bruins and some fine Kessel performances are nice, but there wont be any true bad blood brewing until Toronto dominates the Bs during the regular season at the very least or knocks them out of the playoffs once Toronto actually finds its way back into the Stanley Cup tournament.

The Leafs might be the darlings of October this season and they certainly have put themselves in a good position with 19 points in their first 13 games.

But Brian Burkes hockey club still has plenty to prove over the long haul. Aside from Toronto and Boston existing as two unapologetic hockey teams that dont shy away celebrating their caveman leanings with flying fists and missing molars, the only real point of the rivalry is the trade of Kessel to Toronto thats irrevocably created imprints on both franchises.

The trade looks as positive as it ever has for the Maple Leafs these days with Kessel tearing up the NHL scoring categories with 10 goals and 21 points in 13 games, and the steady defenseman play of Dion Phaneuf has further cemented their teams good fortune in this young season.

Phil has matured just like any other player. Hes getting older, and hes matured as a person Im sure and as a player you can see it. Certainly hes a lot stronger hanging onto the puck than he ever was, and he shoots the puck, said Julien. He gets shots off every game and he gets opportunities for himself. Hes getting better with age and thats what were seeing out of him. Hes off to a good start, and right now the one thing everybody wants to see is whether he can sustain it or not.

Add Joe Colborne coming off AHL Player of the Month honors as he works to bust through from the minor leagues to Toronto permanently, and Burke can look himself in the mirror knowing hes extracted some value out of the Bruins' coffers.

But its difficult to call the main Kessel-for-draft picks swap as anything but a resounding victory for the Black and Gold despite Kessels meteoric start to this season.

Tyler Seguin has become a point-per-game player for the Bruins this year at 19 years old, and has consistently performed as Bostons best offensive player on a nightly basis. Hes been elevated to the No. 1 line for the Bruins alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and hes getting the ice time both five-on-five and on the power play to thrive in his second time around the league.

Both Kessel and Seguin are in the NHLs top five in terms of plusminus, and dont exactly lack for motivation when they suit up against each other. There should be a little more bounce in Seguins step Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre with his newfound confidence, and the ability to finally put on a show for his friends and family.

I cant say that Ive watched them too much this season, but I know theyve got a couple of guys that are leading the league in points, said Seguin when asked about the Leafs. Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are doing pretty well playing together and capitalizing on their opportunities. We have to be prepared for that.

Above and beyond the business of hockey on the ice, however, a trip to Toronto also means a visit home and to the NHL barn where Seguin grew up watching and learning to love the game.

Its not like playing another NHL game. Its about going home and having all of your family come out to watch, said Seguin. With everyone there its definitely a homecoming. I went to the ACC growing up at least a couple of times a year, so its still really special.

During warm-ups Ill look up in certain areas where Ive sat with my dad for games, and its pretty cool to be out on the ice. Its a whole different world down there on the ice. In warm-ups and during stretching my mom and my sisters will always be somewhere banging on the glass like theyve never seen me before.

But back to the Kessel deal, and the full components making up the trade.

Then theres the matter of 2011 first round pick Dougie Hamilton, who has put up 24 points (7 goals and 17 assists) in 15 dominant games for the Niagara Ice Dogs right in Leafs Nations backyard this season at the OHL level. Dont forget 2010 second round pick Jared Knight, who is likewise tearing it up with nine goals and 14 points in 14 games for the OHLs London Knights in his final year of junior hockey.

No matter how good Kessel becomes as a 5 million a year player for the Maple Leafs during his career, the Bruins won a Stanley Cup before the Leafs even managed to get back into the postseason and Toronto has set Boston up with three young cornerstone players that will be part of the Black and Gold solution plan for the next decade or more.

A true rivalry will materialize when Toronto finally gets the upper hand on the Bruins, and theyre not there yet no matter how good their first month of the season turned out to be.