With NHL teams slated to open their training camps during the next two weeks, love them or hate them, a large number of Kivalliq hockey fans have their eyes fixed on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For members of Leafs Nation, it’s a matter of is this really our time? Are we ready to finally take the next step and make a run at ending one of professional sports longest futility streaks and bring Lord Stanley home at long last?

For those who despise all things Maple Leafs, it’s a matter of continually pointing to the Leafs defensive core and screaming at the top of their lungs that Toronto cannot take the Cup with the six D-men currently slated to patrol the Leafs blue-line.

And, of course, the focal point of the increased Maple Leafs hubbub is the signing of free agent all-world centre John Tavares during the off-season.

But, as giddy as the Tavares signing has made the Toronto faithful, there is far more going on in Leafs Land.

The parting with hockey stalwarts Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter, coupled with the naming of Kyle Dubas as general manager, signals a major move away from old-school thinking for the Leafs, who have gone all-in with the modern – and so far exceptionally successful – approach employed by Dubas.

The embracing of the analytical side of the game and the full-adaptation of Dubas’s preferred method of hiring the best person for the job regardless of race, creed, colour or gender has the Leafs moving to the front of the NHL pack in gender diversity.

Harold Ballard’s Leafs these ain’t!

This past week Toronto announced the hiring of Hayley Wickenheiser as the Maple Leafs assistant director of player development.

And, make no mistake about it, this is another shrewd and effective move by Dubas.

Wickenheiser, 40, is the greatest female hockey player of all time and the woman knows the game top to bottom and inside-out.

Not only has she been around the sport for almost her entire life, she was also around top professional players and some of the top coaches the game has ever seen for her entire professional and Olympic (four gold, one silver) playing career.

And Wickenheiser wasn’t Dubas’s only female hire.

The 32-year-old wunderkind created a new position within the Leafs structure (director of athlete well-being and performance) this summer and promptly named Dr. Meg Popovic to the post.

And, as if to further convince the masses of his convictions, Dubas named Noelle Needham as an amateur scout in the U.S. Midwest, making her the first female member of the Leafs rather vast scouting array.

Add to that longtime Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill and Toronto is making a bold statement during the Dubas era – the organization is all-in to win in the here and now and it’s going to hire the people it believes best suited to help it achieve that goal.

Leafs fans rejoice.

This is a radical and much-welcomed departure from the days when Toronto – again, under Ballard’s direction – was the last NHL team to allow female reporters in the dressing room.

As reported by the Toronto Star, Wickenheiser has all ready gone on the public record to say she would have had no interest in the job had she thought for a second she was a token hire.

Wickenheiser stated publicly, “The biggest reason why I was intrigued about this role was that Kyle (Dubas) was interested in me, not to hire a woman, but to hire somebody who can do the job.”

You just have to love that if your a Leafs fan, or just someone who shares the belief the best person should be given a shot at the job, whether they’re a traditional hire or not.

I am a Leafs fan and I am also a believer in the direction Dubas, Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and head coach Mike Babcock are taking the club.

It’s a bold new era for the Maple Leafs that has the team surrounding its players with a winning culture not seen around the club since the heady days of the 1950s and 1960s.

Start planning the parade!

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