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Sometimes, there’s really just nothing left to say.
After the Leafs 7-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, they officially hit that point. You can only talk about the same things so many times before it just becomes tiring, old, and frankly, a waste of time.
Preceding Toronto’s shellacking to the Flyers, they played about as lackluster a game as you will ever see at the NHL level, in a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Yes, they summoned some pride against Buffalo and played, all things considered, a solid game. But it wasn’t chalk full of meaning in this situation, at this time of year.
Thus, we’re changing gears to the summer and some serious things the Leafs need to look at and address. If you’re expecting trade proposals, and a guess at what the Leafs roster “should” look like next season, you can look elsewhere. Rather, I want to go through some fundamental, foundational questions the Leafs seriously need to ask themselves in the coming months, and then figure out ways to properly address the problems.
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim
Remember Alex Steen?
The Leafs drafted him in the first round in 2002, 24th overall. He cracked the NHL in 2005, in part due to the lockout that occurred the year before. Regardless, he played alongside Mats Sundin and had a relatively successful rookie season scoring 18 goals and 45 points. The following season he regressed statistically, notching 15 goals and 35 points.
In that leap from year one, to year two, everyone expected Steen to take “the next step” in his development and grow his point totals playing on Sundin’s wing for a second straight year. Unfortunately for the Leafs and Steen, that didn’t happen. Alex struggled to rediscover his scoring touch, increased expectations mounted on him, and it basically wasn’t the year everyone expected from him.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
A disappointing reality of which most viewers arenâ€™t aware, modern â€œrealityâ€ television is â€“ in fact â€“ fairly scripted. â€œSoft scriptingâ€ is the technique a showâ€™s producers use to vaguely outline what should happen to the showâ€™s participants, and oftentimes, they will implore those contestants to perform as requested. Documentaries are no different, typically outlined based on extensive research and footage collection and them assembled to form a coherent, calculated point.
Since the February announcement that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings will compete in the January 2012 Winter Classic, many have assumed â€“ correctly â€“ that HBO will film and broadcast their next season of 24/7 focussed on the two teams. What many readers wonâ€™t have realized is that HBOâ€™s award-winning writing teams have been working on scripting the show secretly since the announcement in preparation for the expected deal.
Photo: NATIONAL POST STAFF PHOTO
Right now is the easiest possible time to dump on the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke, Phil Kessel and anyone associated with the organization in general.
Call me crazy, but there are a ton of reasons to be happy moving forward.
The fact is, when Brian Burke came to Toronto, the Leafs were a terrible team (roster here. In comparison, here is the Nashville Predators EXPANSION roster) . Some may argue they still are, and that may or may not be valid.
But letâ€™s look at what Burke started with compared to where they are now before we conclude his tenure has been a total disaster.
"No, Mr. Burke. I expect you to die trying while I COMPLAIN!"
Februaryâ€™s losses devastated the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs! The NHLâ€™s most arrogant coach ever couldnâ€™t save the flailing squadron from amateur mistakes â€“ and was fired for it! The softest forward corps in the league is totally un-truculent! Jim and Gus couldnâ€™t do their jobs if they went out pregame and found a 600-page guide entitled â€œHow To Tendâ€ sitting in goal!
This team is junk, top to bottom! Fire Burke! Rebuild the rebuild! This is a SimCity nuclear meltdown, hail on summer corn crops, â€œI can see Russia from my houseâ€-sized DISASTER!
Hyperboleâ€™s way too easy, people.
1-0, baby! (Photo: Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Going to cut right to it this week. This was a hard Leafs Notebook to write. Where to start? TalkÂ aboutÂ why Wilson failed? What’s good about Carlyle? How they actually played this week? How about the trade deadline?
There was a lot that happened in a short period of time, so I broke it up accordingly: There is a chart on the teams who finished seventh and eighth since the lockout, that I highly recommend you explore, then I talk a bit about what went wrong for Wilson at the end of his tenure, draw some comparisons between he and Carlyle, talk some lineup changes under Carlyle, and throw in some Don Cherry, just for fun. Enjoy.
Photo: Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
This past Wednesday I had the great good fortune to see the guest speaker, Toronto Maple Leafs President and GM Brian Burke, at the Scotiabank Â® Presidentâ€™s Breakfast.Â In no way should I have been in attendance at this swanky affair used to reward lucrative business clients and senior management, but my branch manager is an avid hockey fan and when a favoured client had to pull out, I was a last minute substitution.Â As we stand on the eve of the trade deadline with the Leafs in a tailspin, Iâ€™d like to share with you some of the highlights from Burkeâ€™s speech and Q&A session held in the opulent Ratcliffe Room on the 63rd floor of Scotia Plaza.
As a brief primer, I must report that Brian Burke is a terrific raconteur who speaks confidently and lucidly at all times; but when given a chance exhibits a tremendous, ribald sense of humour.Â His bravado and bluntness quickly came to light as he approached the podium.Â With a cup of coffee and some prepared notes in hand, I expected him to begin formally with pleasantries and platitudes for his sponsor.Â Instead, raucous laughter met his opening line regarding the Leafs OT loss to the New Jersey Devils the night previous, â€œSo that goal was horseshit!â€
Photo: Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Hockey is not a sport without its politics.
If there’s one thing HBO’s 24/7 has briefly shown its viewers, it’s that there is a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that affect roster decisions, play, signings and so on that a lot of the times we generally never find out about.
On that note, simply judging a roster decision, a player choice, a line combination and one single game is nearly the equivalent of judging the entirety of an iceberg, just by simply looking at what you can see above water. As many of you know, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
That’s why playoff hockey is so great. By the time teams hit playoffs, it’s not so much about contracts, status, style points, or whatever, it’s about winning. It’s pure hockey.
So why is this all being brought about? That’s simple, it’s James Reimer. He hasn’t had a great year, Jonas Gustavsson has better numbers across the board, the Leafs are in the thick of a playoff race, and yet Reimer is still starting over Gustavsson.
Photo: 98.1 CHFI
Funny how a week changes everything.
This time last Monday, the Leafs were coming off handling Ottawa easily and two very good efforts against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They took it to two teams who are in the same playoff clout as them and fared very well.
Fast forward to the present moment and they beat a bad Edmonton team, lost to the Jets in Winnipeg, the Flyers in Philadelphia and then at home to the Montreal Canadiens on Mats Sundin night… so naturally, they suck now.
The truth is though, they are essentially right where we thought they would be all along: in a dog race to make the top eight.
It’s a week of celebration, but it has nothing to do with the current Leafs team. Mats Sundin is back, and this is the week to remember him.
This upcoming Saturday the all-time leader in points for the Toronto Maple Leafs is deservedly having his number raised to the rafters.
Surprisingly, there are mixed feelings on Mats in Toronto, but when it comes right down to it he gave everything to this team on the ice and that’s all that matters. You know the numbers by now, you know the playoff runs, the overtime goals, the consistency; but above all that, Mats had a special aura about him.
Photo: Kathy Willens/AP Photo
Harry Sinden, the great Boston Bruins GM, once had an interesting quote about the job of being a General Manager and what it’s all about. Said Harry:
“I think the bottom line is pretty simple, who can play and who can’t play. That’s the bottom line. That is the fundamental job of the GM. Most GMs, if they didn’t have to make that call, [anybody] could do it, because administratively, it’s [straightforward]. There is a little more involvement because you have to plan how you’re going to field the team, make such things as a salary cap work, but that’s just mechanics. You read the CBA once and you go through a couple of incidents with it. ‘Capology’– it’s nonsense and a myth to think that that’s the most important part of the GM’s job, it’s definitely secondary… You’ve got to know who can play and who can’t, because you’re held responsible for that, and it’s very risky if you entrust that [to assistants] without having any input at all.”
At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about – player evaluation. Coming into an organization with no personal attachment to the players in it and a fresh, untainted view of the guys on the team makes it easy to clean house and know exactly who should stick and who shouldn’t, and Burke took advantage of that as he cleared out pretty well everyone.
Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images
If there’s a theme to this weeks Leafs Notebook, it is going to be two things: toughness and desperation.
You can have all the talent in the world, but at this time of the season if you aren’t playing tough, desperate hockey, you won’t be going anywhere except the golf course.
So to talk about toughness, to talk about desperation, we’re going to go back to last season first. When the Leafs went on their run to attempt to make the playoffs we saw a lot of things on display from that group and toughness and desperation were two of them.
Whether that be desperation to prove you are an NHLer – Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, etc.- or desperation to finally make the playoffs with Toronto – Luke Schenn, Mikhail Grabovski, Phil Kessel – or desperation to prove you belong on this team and in the role you’re currently playing – Carl Gunnarsson, Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur – there was desperation in the Leafs play.
Amid all the trade rumours swirling around the Toronto Maple Leafs, I think we’re looking at this all in the wrong way.
The Leafs have been linked to some big ticket names this year (Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Eric Staal, Rick Nash, etc.) and the thing is, they actually have the players to make that deal should they be so inclined – even if that means overpaying.
Before when a player of that ability became available, the Leafs did not have the proper assets to pull off such an acquisition. Now, they could win a bidding war should they really want to.
Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images
Forty one down, forty one to go; the Leafs have shown a lot so far this season but now is when we really begin to see how far they have come.
There used to be a substantial difference between the top teams in the league and everyone else within the standings. Crunch time in the season would begin with around 20 games left in the season.
There is too much parity, too many points on the line, and one bad week could bring you from contender to pretender status at the snap of your fingers. From here on out, it’s all about results. One bad week takes two good weeks to recoup.
It seems frustration with penalty kill ineptitude has reached a boiling point in Leafland. After conceding at least one PK goal in six straight on their way out of a playoff spot for the first time this season, Phaneuf and Cronin have been heard arguing over the specifics of shot blocking, David Steckel has been swearing again, and Wilson says the PK units are dreading their own demise pretty much the moment they step on the ice.
My thinking in regards to solving this (quite literally) season-dissolving issue is to go a little more drastic. Why hasn’t a totally new look in terms of personnel been employed (What’s Einstein’s definition of insanity again)?
The likes of Joey Crabb and David Steckel are not getting the job done. Worse than that, it seems the current units have experienced so much failure they’re lacking confidence, fearing the worst, and second and third guessing themselves as a result.
Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Happy holidays, everyone!
In light of the holidays, it seemed like a good time to thank everyone for the warm reception I’ve received since I began writing here. Half way through writing the first Leafs Notebook I ever drafted for MLHS, I remember apprehensively wondering how would it be received and if I would get ripped apart, but you guys have been great. I enjoy the conversation and for those of you who don’t comment, I appreciate the time you put in to read it.
Due to being out of country I won’t be writing the Leafs Notebook next week, and with that I won’t be around to wish everyone a Happy New Year, so I’m doing that now. Happy New Years! I look forward to continuing with the notebook tradition in 2012.
This is a short(er) edition this week, but nonetheless there’s hopefully some good tidbits to take out of it.
Enjoy everyone, and I apologize if I’m not able to respond to any comments directed my way seeing as my flight leaves in the afternoon.
Photo: Darryl Dyck/AP Photo
Last season Brian Burke boldly stood in front of the media after trading Tomas Kaberle and made it clear, â€œGetting into the playoffs by the skin of your teeth and getting your ass kicked in the first round is not my idea of building a championship team here.â€
A little under a year later and 32 games into the next season, it’s fair to begin evaluating whether the Leafs are playing hockey that would make them competitive in the playoffs or if they’re doing just enough to make it and subsequently get their “ass kicked in the first round.” At this point in the season, it seems a lot closer to the latter.
Systemically, the Leafs play to outscore the other team, instead of playing to win.
NHL realignment, more Burke & Wilson vs. Cox & Simmons, new owners and, oh yeah, the Leafs played some hockey games, too.
Quite the week and a lot to discuss, so we’ll get right to it.
The most important thing to happen this week, believe it or not, was not the new ownership change, it was NHL realignment.
The Leafs will of course be playing the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning six times a year now, each. They already play four of these teams six times a year, but now they’re adding 12 more division games. So you play 44% of your games within your grouping (I’m calling it that for now) and you only make the playoffs based on your point totals compared to those other teams.
Photo: Toronto Star
If the Toronto Maple Leafs ownership group was one person, it would be pretty safe to say that win or lose, that one person is not losing any sleep over it at night. I’m okay with that. And you should be, too.
Full disclosure is necessary, and that’s to say the John Ferguson Jr. hiring was terrible. There is no hiding behind that, and it is far and away the worst decision MLSE has ever made.
To their credit though, they turned it around and signed one of the premier General Managers in the NHL to follow that up, Brian Burke.
Whether you like Burke or not, from an ownership perspective, they’ve done their job. Beyond hiring Brian – who is not only a big-money acquisition, but one with a worthy resume of managing the Leafs – they’ve also stepped up financially in almost every department of Leafs management.
Glove tap to Mislav for the new Notebook graphic.
Something very interesting is unfolding with the Toronto Maple Leafs and it has nothing to do with anything they’ve done on the ice, or any of their players for that matter.
On November 19th, Brian Burke joined his friend and co-worker Ron Wilson by entering the Twitter world. They then proceeded to have a now-notorious exchange with Sun reporter Steve Simmons. The interesting thing here is not the exchange – that was immature, pitiful, funny, take your pick – what’s intriguing is the new dynamic Twitter is creating and the paradigm shift that is beginning to take place.
Now, I should preface this by saying that maybe Brian Burke and Ron Wilson simply got Twitter because they want to interact with the fans and they think it’s fun, maybe they are naive to the potential long term ramifications here and the trend they could be starting. But then again, Ron Wilson is a Providence College graduate and Brian Burke has a degree from Harvard, so they probably put some thought into this.
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