Saturday, March 31, 2012
I understand the Leafs beat the Sabres tonight 4-3 ending their 11 game losing streak at home. That is one-quarter of all their home games. I couldn't bear to watch the game. Despite the win the Leafs remain in 26th place and keep a hold on the last lottery pick in this year's amateur draft.
It's hard to understand what has happened to this year's promise. What went wrong and who is to blame. Harold Ballard is no long around. We have one of the top general managers in the league. Richard Peddie has faded from the scene. There is no interference from the MLSE board. There is no management power struggle like the one between Ken Dryden and Pat Quinn. John Brophy has retired coaching in the ECHL. Andrew Raycroft, Jason Allison, Jason Blake, Vesa Toskal, Mark Bell and Jeff Finger are no longer playing for the Leafs.
How could this team become the worst team over the last third of the season?
Has the past 45 years become such a burden on the team that no one can succeed?
The worst of it is that the team has quit. They would rather accept a series of humiliating losses than work to win meaningless games. They really don't deserve the unwavering loyalty of their fans. The glory years were so long ago that likely over half of their fan base wasn't alive when the Leafs last one the Cup and almost 10% of Torontonians weren't born when the Leafs last made a playoff appearance.
In 45 years no Cup appearances and only two post-seasons where the Leafs made it to the final four. We are the Chicago Cubs of hockey. The alleged centre hockey world except they don't know how the play the game very well.
Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, the team couldn't sink any lower, sure enough things do get worse.
Welcome to Leafs Nation.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
The best part of the Leafs collapse, Brian Burke has become a mute! No bold predictions, looking for the bogeyman, challenging people to fights, or excuses. Suddenly he no longer speaks. Sweet!
His team left for their spring/summer hiatus already leaving him with no explanation. Because the season isn't quite over yet. Yes this is one to tell the grandkids about. The year the Leafs played a 50-game season and then just disappeared.
You have to feel sorry for Randy Carlyle. He knew this team had problems but he likely had no clue how bad it would be. The pained look on his face behind the bench says it all.
Oh and the Leafs lost to the Flyers tonight by a score of 7-1. This was the highlight of the game for the Leafs.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Each year, the NHL dips into the pool of undrafted collegiate players to bolster their system. The Leafs got the ball rolling by signing 23-year-old left winger Spencer Abbott of the Maine Black. Abbott leads the nation in both points (56) and assists (37). And not surprisingly, he has become one of the top candidate's for this year's Hobey Baker Award as well. In addition to his point production, Abbott's quickness and game-changing ability at the college level are among the assets that have put him squarely on the NHL radar.
At 5'10", 175 lbs, Abbott is not a very big player in college hockey. The attribute that has allowed Abbott to thrive is his tremendous quickness. He can move pucks quickly and dart almost seamlessly through traffic. Abbott's great vision and sense of anticipation can be seen in his transitioning and his innate ability to set up and finish plays, including his own.
Excuse me for not getting too excited about this signing. The Leafs are loaded up with small players who are good skaters. Do they really need another Tyler Bozak? I understand as a free agent the risks are quite low. But can Brian Burke cool it with the nonsense that these signings are the equivalent of a 1st round draft pick? Most collegiate signings are a bust. So I'm getting too excited over this one.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
This season the Maple Leafs might actually be in synch with their fans. Most fans understand that finishing 20th is not better than finishing 28th or 29th. If you aren't going to make the playoffs then dropping in the standings makes the most sense. That increases the possibility of drafting a player who can help you next season. Provided you have hung on to your first pick.
Yet each season over the past few years the Leafs make a run on the standings with too little left in the schedule. Frustrates the hell out of fans since the wins are meaningless. But this year the team has essentially given up on the season. A few guys are playing for spots next year but since of the team is signed for next year why bother. Welcome to the 2012 strain of the blue and white disease. The team has the serious look down pat along with the standard "we are working hard to turn this around." Sure you are.
So tonight was an important game for the Leafs. A win by Carolina along with a win by the Islanders dropped the Leafs to 26th overall and lottery country. Gustavsson was at his worst and got the yank after it was too late to mount a comeback. It would only be fitting if this was his last game at the ACC. The Monster has long ago become a nightmare. The night had a little bit of irony with two ex-Leafs scoring for Carolina. Both Jay Harrison and Tim Brent were journeymen players who mostly spent time with the Marlies. The third goal by Harrison was particularly ugly. He just lofted the puck at the net and it went over Gustavsson's shoulder. Vesa Toskala lives on! Thanks guys for sticking the knife in nice and deep.
So the Leafs are now mathematically eliminated so one set of cliches will be dropped for a new bunch. Next up is Philadelphia. We can only hope for a bloodbath.
The Leafs players say they are now playing for pride which suggests they have none. It's hard to believe that in week 9 Sports Illustrated had the Leafs ranked 5th overall. Seems so long ago now. I hope Burke finds out what's wrong with this team this summer. Otherwise he's next to walk the gang plank.
ESPN - 25th (0)
Playing out the string for a seventh season in a row. If the Panthers hang on to make the playoffs, Toronto will be the only team not to reach the postseason since the 2004-05 lockout.
Fox Sports - 25th (0)
The Hockey News - 25th (-3)
Thanks to David Steckel, the one area Toronto isn't mired at or near the bottom of the league in is faceoffs: they're tied for fourth with a 51.9 percent efficiency.
National Post - 25th (-3)
Head coach Randy Carlyle is 4-6-2 since stepping behind the bench.
CBS Sports - 26th (-1)
He's already shattered his career high in points with 77, and as of Monday, Phil Kessel is just one goal away from setting a new personal best in goals. His next one will be his 37th of the season.
Sports Illustrated - 27th (0)
It's been just a dismal second half for the Leafs, who will miss the postseason for the seventh straight year. Reports out of Hogtown say goalie Jonas Gustavsson is probably headed elsewhere next season. Remember when teams flew all the way to Sweden to court this guyTSN - 27th (-3)
It's been an epic collapse for the Leafs, winning three of the last 23 games in regulation, but they were especially awful in four games prior to Saturday's loss against the Rangers -- registering a total of 62 shots on goal.
Monday, March 26, 2012
The Toronto Maple Leafs are totally baffling and frustrating. We've been watching this wreck being rebuilt over the past 3 years by head mechanic Brian Burke and no one can be sure where we are. Does this team have a solid core of players that needs a few finishing pieces , most of all a solid goalie? Or has the flawed team coming out of the post-lockout period been replaced by different flawed players?
During parts of this season the Leafs have been able to rollover teams with their speed and aggressive play. Other times they have looked limp, timid and confused. Good teams have bad games. Bad teams will have good games. This is a team that will have great games and horrible games.
How much has coaching contributed to all this? Hard to tell. Certainly Brian Burke will never tell. He isn't going to throw his former coach under the bus but we do know that something motivated Burke it replace a couple of assistant coaches in the off season.
One thing is certain, this team needs more than a coaching change to compete. Three years into a rebuild it would be difficult to start from scratch but each piece of this puzzle needs to be examined to see if it is a good fit. The players logging the biggest ice time are Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, but are they really capable of taking on such a load? Some players have been brought in to play a certain role - Colby Armstrong, Tim Connolly, Dave Steckel, Mike Komisarek and Mike Brown. Have they been able to deliver? Some have while others have not.
Remember this is the second youngest team in the NHL. But how much better will some of the 24 to 26 year olds get? Have they plateaued? Do they need more veteran leadership? Do they have the right veterans? Making moves will be tough since 19 players are under contract for next season. It would help if the Leafs could grab a pick in the top 3 in this year's draft. They have had draft picks this high but not kept them. Their last top 3 draft pick was Wendel Clark. We could use another Clark.
Friday, March 23, 2012
But the real hero was Reimer who stopped 43 of 46 shots while the Leafs only managed 17 shots on Bradeur. The Leafs only managed 3 shots in the 3rd period and overtime. After blowing a 2-goal lead in the third period at least they didn't let this one get away from them.
73 Tampa Bay
Meanwhile Washington with the same number of points as Buffalo would be pretty much out. Their conference would have been much tougher.
99 NY Rangers
89 New Jersey
71 NY Islanders
Vancouver's conference would have been the tightest. Five teams would be in fight for 3 spots much like the current situation.
84 Los Angeles
82 San Jose
The final conference would have been the strongest. Winnipeg who still has an outside chance at a playoff spot would have been 16 points back instead of 5. Even Dallas would have been out of the running for the playoffs.
100 St. Louis
Thursday, March 22, 2012
That Brian Burke is one smooth talker. And boy he likes to talk. Too bad he can't deliver on his many platitudes. He sure has got the excuse machine working on overtime this season. If you ask Burke about the the Leafs' collapse he can come up with lot of reasons. The media pressure, the market in general, the difficulty of the NHL, the fact that players are programmed at birth to hate the Maple Leafs. Burke has blamed a lot of people. By default he blamed Ron Wilson for part of the failure when he excused him. He blames Don Cherry. He blames Dave Feschuk for calling James Reimers mother. Just about everyone but the fans and yes the suits that pay his inflated salary.
Let's look back on what he promised the abused Leafs fans three years ago.
He said the team needed a culture change to eliminate the blue and white disease. Twenty-three new faces in the dressing room but same culture.
He said is this team needed to get tougher. Burke brings in soft players like Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur, Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly. Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill are scratches for most of the season then demoted to the Marlies.
The top 6 forwards would be skill guys and the bottom 6 would be plumbers. Well he sort of got the skill guys in place though neither Bozak or Kulemin have proven themselves to be top 6 forwards. As for the plumbers - Connolly and Lombardi, more like dead weight.
He said he was going to build from the net out. Right now James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson don't look any different than Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph the two goalies he inherited. The only thing that is missing is the 185 foot goal bouncing over a goalie's shoulder.
Meanwhile not a single Burke draft pick is playing for the Leafs. Luke Schenn, Matt Frattin James Reimer and Carl Gunnarsson were drafted before Burke arrived. All others youngsters like Jake Gardner, Carter Ashton and Cody Franson came through trades.
I just don't see a plan. Move around draft picks. Try to make a splash with free agency but refuse to give out the long term contracts. Pick up bad contracts from other teams in exchange for some other assets and then burden your coach with underachievers. Impose your own trade deadlines. It's all bullshit.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
What a typical Leafs season - not good enough to make the playoffs and out of the running for the first pick in the draft. It's the hockey equivalent to purgatory. I still insist that the franchise continues to be punished for torturing Frank Mahovolich until he had a nervous breakdown then trading him away.
But don't get me started.
The Hockey News - 22nd (+4)
Next year's Leafs ought to be hypnotized into thinking they've been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in training camp.
Sportsnet - 23rd (+3)
Now that the Leafs’ season is essentially done, they can get back to winning some games. By beating both Tampa Bay and Ottawa 3-1, the Buds linked their first consecutive victories since Feb. 4-6.
TSN - 24th (+3)
In March, the Maple Leafs' goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson has posted a .926 save percentage, a far cry from their disastrous February (.894 SV%).
ESPN - 25th (-1)
The Leafs have won two in a row and are six points out of eighth, but it might as well be 60.
Fox Sports - 25th (-1)
Though affected by a return from a concussion, John-Michael Liles has two goals, four points, and a minus-10 rating in 22 games since signing a four-year contract extension.
CBS Sports - 25th (+2)
Probably too little, too late, but at least the Leafs were able to snap their losing streak this past week with a couple of wins.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Tonight's one-sided, inept effort against the Boston Bruin hopefully ended the silly talk about the Leafs still having a chance to make the playoffs. The six-game series against the Bruins would convince most people that the Leafs roster needs to be blown up. It was embarrassing.
Only 13 shots on net. Tim Thomas must have had difficulty in staying awake. Meanwhile the Bruins fans happily chanted "Thank you Kessel" and who can blame them. No Bruins player has 35 goals but no one in Boston misses him. When the game gets tough, Kessel looks real small out there.
It seems each season the Leafs aren't good enough to make the playoffs but insist on making a futile push to anyway. The only thing they accomplish is to move the team out a lottery pick and the possibility of picking first overall.
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Although these games mean nothing anymore to the Leafs, we are all just looking for some positive signs. So seeing Mikhail Grabovski taken on Chris Neil tonight was certainly a pleasant surprise.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Four years ago Brian Burke vowed to cure Toronto of the cursed 'Blue and White Disease' and end of the culture of complacency and losing. Evidently that's not so easy.
Burke literally cleaned out the roster and started fresh. Everyone is gone except Nick Kulemin, Luke Schenn and Mokhail Grabovski and they began with the Leafs just two months before Burke's hiring. But he also built his roster around players that had worn out their welcome with other teams. Calgary was happy to part with Dion Phanuef, same with Boston and Phil Kessel, Buffalo and Tim Connolly, Anaheim and Joffrey Lupul, Montreal and Mike Komisarek, and Nashville and Matthew Lombardi. These players are the core of the team and represent $28.9 million in cap space. What you have is a different group of players who don't compete hard and accept losing. You can't pin this on Harold Ballard, John Ferguson or any other name from the past.
In stead of rebuilding through the draft, Burke chose reclamation projects from around the league. How many are earning their salary? Not too many. All of these players remain seriously flawed. Not what you would want as your core. In addition, they are all at their prime or even a little past. So don't expect any of these players to improve.
Forget about Burke's inability to recruit a number 1 centre or a experienced goalies. They may have helped make the playoffs but the team would have remained flawed and far from being a contender.
I don't doubt for a moment that Burke is a skilled and experienced executive. But this is the most difficult hockey market on the continent. Rebuilding is never an option when lower bowl seats go for $200. Yet no one has successfully found a short cut to building a winner. Burke's experiment has failed and he might as well contemplate ripping apart this roster.
The Curse of Frank Mahovlich continues.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Today Brian Burke announced that tanking was a non-starter. I'm not disappointed at all. It would be inappropriate for an GM in the NHL to indicate that he was no longer interested in winning games. The paying fans would be mad, teams jostling for a playoff spot but with no games against the Leafs would be upset and the league would be furious.
But the reality is that the team is in a free fall. They are now just 3 points out of last place in the East. Their offense has dried up but Burke didn't promote Nazem Kadri or Joe Colborne to replace the injured Joffrey Lupul but Carter Ashton, a grinder and future 3rd liner. Ashton was the only meaningful trade made by Burke in 2012. So sitting pat with a lineup that has fallen off a cliff is about all you need to do if you intend on tanking.
Just look at the Leafs remaining games - Boston, Rangers, Philadelphia, Florida, New Jersey, Ottawa, Buffalo (2), Tampa Bay (2), Islanders, Carolina, Montreal. Not too many easy games there. The Leafs are 24th overall right now. If they win 5 of their remaining 13 games they will finish with 78 points. That could easily drop them down to 27th or 28th which is lottery pick region.
It's been 45 years folks since we last kissed Lord Stanley's mug. The Curse continues.
So while I was away the losing continued. I see the Maple Leafs lost all four games and walked away with a single point after a shootout loss to Philadelphia. The coaching change has appeared to have changed the style of play but not the losing. That may take more time.
Under Carlyle the Leafs are playing a more discipline style of hockey which has made games closer but has undermined the offense. I presume that this is partly due to the loss of Joffrey Lupul who has been their most consistent forward. Carlyle has played Jonas Gustavsson every single game. I wouldn't read too much into this really. James Reimer is under contract for 2 more years while Gustavsson is a free agent at the end of the season. The Leafs need to decide if they want to resign him so since the season is lost anyway he is having an extended tryout for a roster spot.
The second half collapse came as a bit of a surprise to me and many others. I was certain the Leafs had enough to make the playoffs although some critics were skeptical. The fundamental flaw they saw was inconsistent goaltending and a team that was defensively lax and exposed their goalies far too much. They got by early on with a strong offensive games but as opponents played a tight checking game against them, the Leafs found themselves frequently behind in games taking too many chances.
I still believe that this team has enough to contend with the following changes:
1. Their offensive run and shoot style was very entertaining but didn't bring results. Fans will accept more boring games if it means winning. So they need to continue to tighten up defensively.
2. You cannot win without consistently good goaltending. I don't believe this tandem is the answer. The Leafs are beginning to feel like the Philadelphia Flyers who also can never find the right goaltending combination.
3. The Leafs have too many small forwards which is just one of many contradictions coming from Brian Burke. He is not shy about expressing his philosophy to building a winner but seems to not follow it. Perhaps the Leafs need a better balance between size and speed.
4. There are too many players who are not pulling their weight. Joey Crabb at 8 goals for the season is acceptable when he is being paid just $750,000 for the season. But Tim Connolly at 10 goals being paid $5,500,000 and Matthew Lombardi at 7 goals being paid $3,500,000 is a disaster. Burke has merely replaced someone else's deadwood with his own.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Welcome back Randy Carlyle! We missed you.
Yes they played the worse team in the East but going into tonight's game the Leafs played like they were the worst team. There was a difference out there tonight. It may have been the result of the coaching change but the defensive game looked better. Not sure if Randy Carlyle can take credit for that. And as the game wore on the Leafs began to dominate and ended up outshooting the Canadiens 42 to 22. They totally took over the third period as Mikhail Grabovski scored two goals to lead the Leafs to a 3-1 win.
I couldn't help notice that the game was quite chippy and physical. The two teams threw 60 body checks with the Leafs dishing out 29. More noticeable was how the ice time was handed out. The big winner was Dave Steckel who has been averaging 12:12 in ice time per game. Tonight he was on the ice for 15:08. Clarke MacArthur has been averaging 14;57 but tonight he was on the ice for 19:52. Matt Frattin has been averaging 12:30 but tonight it was 18:23. The big losers were Matthew Lombardi at 7:44 (season average 13:17), Joey Crabb at 8:10 (season average 12:49) and Tim Connolly at 14:07 (season average 16:47). You wonder if there will be more changes in ice time in the remaining games.
Look a playoff spot is still a long shot. To reach 93 points which is likely what is needed to make the playoffs, the Leafs would need 13 wins in the remaining 17 games. I'm not optimistic.
The latest edition of the Burke v. Cherry feud was on Coaches Corner this evening. It got down right silly too. Tonight Cherry criticized Burke for not having any Ontario-born players on the Leafs. He seemed to suggest, as many do, that Burke has an American bias.
Well back in the fall I reviewd the Leafs' 50-man reserve list to determine if the allegation of an American bias was true. It is not. The breakdown is:
Canadian - 56%
American - 24%
Others - 20%
Last season the breakdown by nationality in the NHL was:
Canadian - 54.6%
American - 24.1%
Others - 21.3%
There are 28 Canadians on the Leafs' reserve list. Now Cherry is no dumby. He knows that the Leafs current roster is loaded with players from Saskatchewan and Alberta so he calls out Burke for having no players from Ontario. And had there been some players from Ontario I'm sure he would have then criticized Burke for not having players from Toronto or maybe Kingston. These arguments are silly. The NHL is an international league and you go after the best players.
There is no anti-Canadian bias in Toronto. Incidently there are Ontario boys on the Marlies including Nazem Kadri, Jesse Blacker, Mike Zigomais, Richard Greenop, Ryan Hamilton and Simon Gysbers. Prospects David Broll, Sam Carrick, Andrew Crescenzi, Jamie Devane, Josh Leivo, Greg McKegg and Stuart Percy are all from Ontario.
Leave it to Cherry to wrap himself with the flag to win an argument.
Brian Burke extended Ron Wilson's contract in late December in order to give his coach a vote of confidence and to remove the lame duck label from him. It was also a message to the dressing room. Well in hindsight the move was a complete failure. Wilson totally lost the dressing room just weeks after that. The media continued to criticize him. The fans were calling for his scalp.
Before the Christmas extension the Leafs' record was 18-13-4. With extension the team was a miserable 11-15-3. To underscore how he had lost the room, for the first time in my memory the team had absolutely no injuries. All the talk of distraction. It seems it was Wilson.
The strangest part of the affair is the rationale provided by Burke which we can all take with a grain of salt. He indicated that the heckling from fans made him fire Wilson. He couldn't "put him through that again." So Burke is suggesting that the fans fired Wilson. Only in Toronto.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Then the Wild picked up the loose puck, brought it down to the other end, and, with the Minnesota net still empty, Devin Setoguchi tied the game.
There really is no point to firing Leafs Coach Ron Wilson at this point of the season. The Leafs are just 5 points back of Winnipeg with 18 games remaining and 2 games in hand on the Jets. Ignoring the past 11 games, their winning percentage in the first 50 games of the season suggests they will not be able to make up the gap.
I guess a miracle turnaround can happen though these things never happen to the team with the "Curse of Frank Mahovlich." Since the Leafs are all but mathematically out of it then there is no point in changing coaches. Let Wilson get his team out of their current funk and see what happens. I believe they are a good team that is not playing to their potential.
During the off season Brian Burke can evaluate his team and decide whether he should move forward with a new coach or the current one. Despite the angst from fans, Burke knows what he is doing. He agrees that the best time to make coaching changes is in the off season. I agree except where you think a mid-season change can salvage your season. This is no longer the case in Toronto.
In the interim if the team wants to avoid the boos and catcalls, they need to pull up their socks.
UPDATE: Well as usual I can never predict what Brian Burke will do. In fact he always seems to do the opposite of what I think he will do. No doubt he is not prepared to write off the season and gave Wilson more than enough time to pull the team out of the slide. I'm predicting it is too late but Burke will likely prove me wrong.