Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Woe Is Toronto

There aren't too many teams that I know of that enjoy opening the season with a loss. There are even less who enjoy losing another game after that. And it becomes less with a third loss. In fact, there aren't many teams who enjoy losing three games in a row, let alone at the start of the season. Yet here we sit with the Toronto Maple Leafs - a team that was hyped before the opening game - at an 0-5-1 record, just one loss short of their worst start ever. While there has never been any mention of head coach Ron Wilson's job being opened unceremoniously, something has to give in Toronto. The goaltending is abysmal, the defence is porous, the offence couldn't find the net with a map and a GPS unit, and the special teams appear to heading for the Special Olympics. When everything is going wrong, where do you start going right?

Check back to September 9 when Burke was speaking to the media. "We have higher expectations for this group," he told the Toronto Star. "It's not the same group. We've made some changes. It's our goal ... to make the playoffs."

Flash forward to September 28, and Burke was making proclamations once again. "Like I said from the start, our goal and our intent is to be in the playoffs," Burke told the Toronto Sun. "We think we are good enough to make the playoffs."

Do you think he maybe wants to rethink those statements?

Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, and Ricard Wallin are the only players without a negative plus/minus on the Leafs' roster. All three are sitting at an even plus/minus. Jason Blake, a veteran on this team, is a team-worst -6, while John Mitchell, prized defenceman Tomas Kaberle, and high-priced free agent Francois Beauchemin are sitting at -5. Honestly? That's horrible.

Grabovski and Matt Stajan were described as top-six forwards by Burke before the season began. While Grabovski has been playing well enough to earn some praise, Stajan has scored three powerplay goals, and is tied for the team lead in goals. With three. His play during five-on-five situations has been less than admirable, and coach Ron Wilson has been highly critical of the youngster. Tonight saw Hagman and Stajan both in the pressbox as the Leafs skated to a 4-1 loss against the Avalanche.

Here's what I don't get: for a team that is clearly short on veteran talent, why is Wilson benching two of his better forwards? I understand his rationale of not benching a third- or fourth-liner who has played hard, but this is a team that has scored only 13 goals in six games. If you want to bench two of your leading scorers to send a message, the only message I'm getting is that it is acceptable to lose in Toronto.

And what does a coach do with Mike Komisarek? The expensive free agent is sitting with no points in six games, a -4 rating, and 23 PIMs. He's logging the fourth-highest time on the ice, but can't seem to grasp his defensive responsibilities. And when he does, he's taking penalties to negate any sort of positive play he's generating. In short, he's a liability thus far this season.

It only gets worse as you near the nets. Vesa Toskala has been... um... I don't think there is a word for how poorly he has played. He has allowed 19 goals on 101 shots for an .812 save percentage, a 5.56 GAA, and an 0-2-1 record. Of the three goaltenders who have played this season - Gustavsson, MacDonald, and Toskala - they have GAAs that resemble those of 30 years ago: 3.09, 4.00, and 5.56 respectively.

It's clear that all the changes that Burke made coming into this season have certainly not worked out even close to what he may have imagined. His goaltending has been atrocious, his defencemen are lost when they set foot on the ice, and the offensive output has resembled the aggressiveness of the famed Swiss people - none, zilch, zip, nada, nothing, zero.

I'm not here to wallow in the Maple Leafs' sorrows. Everyone knows that the gong show going on in the Air Canada Centre needs some sort of serious fixing. But bringing up the kids from the AHL Marlies, waiting for Phil Kessel to return like he's some sort of demi-god, and carrying three dozen or so mid-level NHL defencemen on your roster is proving to be worth its weight in fool's gold.

I'm going on record here: if the Maple Leafs exceed their total of 81 points from last season, I'll raffle off an NHL jersey. You read it here first. The Maple Leafs must finish with 82 points or better for this contest to happen. If they do not finish with more than 81 points, there will be no jersey raffle. Cross your fingers, pray to your deities, and do whatever it is necessary to get the Leafs going. It's the only way I'm giving away a jersey this season.

While I'm not suggesting that you cheer for the Leafs in any sort of capacity, at this point in the season they can use all the help they can get.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Captain Canuck said...

Now the rest of the world will understand what Montreal has had to deal with in Komisarek. Good riddance.
And NO WAY Burke gets rid of Wilson before the Olympics. That would be awkward.