This article is part of our From the Press Box series.
What a difference a year makes in one of the world's most rabid hockey markets. During the 2014-2015 season, the Leafs seemed to be the butt of every joke as the ugly losses mounted and fans routinely booed with displeasure, not to mention their littering of the Air Canada Centre's ice surface with waffles, paper airplanes and sundry other objects. More troubling than that, a number of fans took Leafs sweaters off their backs and tossed them onto the ice with regularity. It seemed that the new management team, headed by freshly installed team president Brendan Shanahan, was offering no hope.
We fast forward to this season and the mood around the club is very different, even if the on-ice record is going to be similar to last season. The Leafs' management group has stuck to its rebuilding plan in a fashion that hasn't been seen in these parts for many years.
The first part of the blueprint was to clean up salary-cap issues by moving some onerous contracts. At the top of that list was Phil Kessel, who was dealt in the offseason for some nice future pieces, including a conditional 2016 first-round pick (if the Penguins make the upcoming playoffs, and they will) in addition to Pittsburgh's first-round pick in the 2014 draft, Kasperi Kapanen. Later, they found a way to dispose of David Clarkson's contract by moving him for the injured Nathan Horton, whose cap hit is similar in cost and term.