Here’s the third in a series of Leafs-related posts. While not quite ready to give up on the team a la Eric Zubert, Kyle Pitman is not quite as optimistic as Chris Lewis about the future of the franchise. And hey Brian Burke, he’s looking right at you.
All of these words and others can and have been used to describe the freefall that our Toronto Maple Leafs’ squad is currently stuck in. I haven’t seen a collapse like this since the entire American League fell asleep while Rick Vaughan and Jake Taylor’s Cleveland Indians somehow came back from the basement to win the AL Pennant. At least for fans of those teams, those events were fictional, while the horror that is currently being lived out in Leaf Nation is very real and very painful. This skid, as frustrating as it is for Leaf fans such as myself, is merely a microcosm of a much larger problem that has plagued the Leafs dating back to the Pre-Burke years. More on that later.
Leaf fans tend to be a fickle bunch, and it has been amusing for me to read friends’ tweets and Facebook statuses this season. One particular guy would angrily tweet that we needed to fire Ron Wilson after every single loss this year, starting with the first whitewashing by the Bruins, way back in October. For some reason, I haven’t seen any “Fire Carlyle” tweets yet.
Even during the early season hot streak, I’ve been skeptical of this team’s ability to ascend into the playoff ranks, let alone the upper echelon of the East. While it did appear that the team had quit on Wilson and that Wilson had severely failed in terms of implementation of coaching strategies to correct the Leafs’ shoddy penalty killing and powerplay over the years that he had the job, it must be noted that the roster composition of the Leafs is a major ongoing issue, as it has been for years.
Brian Burke has gone on record with the assertion that he builds his teams from the back out. If that’s the case, then when is Burke going to start building his team? Going into the season with 2 unproven goalies was a colossal error. He whiffed completely on the opportunity to ensure that there was a capable veteran backup to provide support for a very unproven James Reimer, despite the fact that he was superhuman in the second half of last season. His defence corps is overpaid and not as strong as he likes to say they are. The Leafs have a boatload of money tied up in Schenn, Komisarek, Liles, and Phaneuf. The forward group has talent and speed but lacks the one thing that every playoff team has: a #1 Centre. Reality check, fellow Leaf Fans… Grabovski is not a number one centre, and neither are Bozak or Connolly. Somehow, the Leafs’ ability to roster a substantial surplus of third line players has transcended regimes. You’ve got a GM who claims his groups are built on toughness and play from the back out, yet the team on the ice plays like they were taken straight out of an NHL Hitz video game. You can’t go 82 games playing firewagon hockey with players who don’t have the skill set to make it work.
Optimists like to talk about how our prospect cupboard, once bare, is now full. I’m not so sure about that. If any of these guys were as good as we leaf-goggled fans like to think they are, they’d be up with the big club. Kadri, TML’s Travis Snider, has not been able to get a sustained look at the NHL level. Colborne has been up and down, mostly down. Frattin has shown glimpses of potential. Korbinian Holzer, constantly praised for his NHL-readiness, can’t get a sniff of ice time with the big club, but that might be because we are trotting out high-dollar stiffs every night. I’m sure Marlies’ fans, all 36 of them, are excited for a Calder Cup run, but I think I’m in the majority when I say I would like to see some of the fruits of this so-called re-stocking of the cupboard producing at the NHL level.
Where do I sit today as a Leafs’ fan? I am and will always be a loyal Leaf fan, but I’m sick of the same game that gets played out every year. I’d like to see the Leafs pattern themselves after my first love, the Toronto Blue Jays. Say what you will about the Jays not having made the playoffs nor having been close in many years, but credit must be given where it is due to GM Alex Anthopolous. When he took the job, he committed to a complete re-tooling of the roster that would lead to sustained success. He has stuck to that plan despite plenty of unrest from both the fan base and the hypocritical – or just plain uneducated (Damien Cox, I’m looking at you) media that cover them.
Brian Burke made the same re-tooling claim when he took the job and then promptly unloaded a boatload of assets to acquire the enigmatic Phil Kessel, who has been great for the Leafs, but ultimately cost them three potentially significant building blocks. Burke has created a mess; bad contracts to Connolly, Komisarek, Schenn (for the moment it seems like a bad deal), and Colby Armstrong, combined with an enormous deal that was inherited in the Dion Phaneuf contract, and claims that he rejected offers that included #1 picks on 4 of his players at this year’s deadline are painting Burke as an inept GM whose mouth often outperforms his brain.
One look at CapGeek is enough to make your stomach churn.
Burke loves to project the aura of a tough, hardline guy who gets the job done. In reality, he hasn’t had the stones to do what he set out to do, and if he can’t produce them, he should be replaced by someone who can follow through.