Monday, 19 March 2012

Consider It Done

There isn't much more to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs as they finish their fourth campaign with Brian Burke sitting upstairs other than "same old". The Boston Bruins pounded the Maple Leafs into submission on the ice, as seen to the left, as the Bruins laid eight goals on the Leafs in yet another season of disappointment. When Brian Burke took over, Leafs fans were told that Burke wasn't interested in a five-year rebuild of the Leafs. They were promised truculence and a willingness to play hard, yet we're four years in and we've hardly seen anything that Burke promised. Once again, the Leafs will miss the playoffs, and we're looking at the fifth year of the "rebuild" next season with absolutely no progress having been made.

The Leafs have seen flashes of brilliance this season from players like Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, and Mikhail Grabovski, but there is too much not to like to say that this team was unlucky this season. Porous defence, abysmal goaltending, no secondary scoring, and a team that plays more often scared than confident has taken the Leafs right back to the same place they started four long years ago: no playoffs, and a need for a major retooling.

The dismissal of Ron Wilson was, in my view, probably the right thing to do as the players may have started tuning out Wilson's messages, but it's not like the team has turned the corner with Randy Carlyle directing the troops. In fact, they seem less interested now than they did with Wilson. Fingers can and should be pointed at the players for the mess that the Leafs are in with respect to the standings, but let's call a spade "a spade": Brian Burke built this team, and he needs to be responsible for the mess that Carlyle sends out onto the ice.

13 minutes into the game tonight saw the Leafs down 4-0. Forget about "showing up" at that point. That's when you see the true character of a team. A team that finds itself in a big hole early but battles and fights for every inch on the ice to get a couple of goals back before the end of the game is one that you can say has some heart and determination. Not every game will go well, and that's just how the puck bounces. But when the chips are down, players - especially professional hockey players - have to show some backbone and have a sense of pride in representing the guys on the ice and the logo on the front of the jersey. I got none of that in watching the Leafs tonight.

There have been theories floated around that this slump that the Leafs find themselves in coincided with the loss of Joffrey Lupul to injury. That would be a very good theory except that Lupul isn't the heart and soul of this team. Lupul is having an outstanding season - I cannot deny that. He has made Kessel better, and vice versa. But let's get something clear here: there was supposed to be more than one line in Leafs-land that could score and play in their own zone. Instead, check out the stats on the regular centermen for the Leafs:

  • Tim Connolly? 11 goals, 20 assists, and a -10 rating.
  • David Steckel? 7 goals, 2 assists, and a -14 rating.
  • Matthew Lombardi? 8 goals, 9 assists, and a team-worst -15 rating.
  • Tyler Bozak? 15 goals, 26 assists, and a -8 rating.
Totals for these four Leaf centermen? 41 goals, 57 assists, and a horrific -42 rating. The only centermen that the Leafs have with a rating above even are Mikhail Grabovski (+3), Nazem Kadri (+3), and Joe Colborne (+1).

This is a team that is horrible in its own end, and rarely plays with enough of Burke's "truculence" to make the opposition worry about standing in front of Reimer and Gustavsson. And it's not like the two goaltenders have given any opposing shooters nightmares either.

I'm not going to say that Brian Burke's Stanley Cup victory in Anaheim was a fluke because he did some tinkering when he took over for Bryan Murray. The core of the team was there, however, and Burke added the missing pieces to help push the Ducks over the hump. In Toronto, however, he was starting from scratch with a team that really needed to build around Sundin and look to develop another legitimate superstar. Instead, Sundin left and there has been little development after Burke dealt away high draft picks to acquire Kessel.

When Burke promised that there wouldn't be a five-year rebuild, he got it right. The first five years will, at best, yield one playoff appearance for a team that has zero personality, zero heart, and zero determination. But I'm almost guaranteeing that the Leafs are at least another five years away from being a powerful team in the Eastern Conference thanks to the lack of development in their farm system and Burke's idea of how his team should be built.

This season is already over, Leaf fans. I hate to say it, but the Leafs are done after tonight's horrific loss. Next season is already being examined, and, if the Leafs decide to head into battle with the same troops, will most likely be looking at an oh-fer in terms of playoff appearances in Burke's tenure.

If Burke was honest, he'd tell everyone that the rebuild is starting now. It took four years to weed out the garbage, and that he sees the playoffs in three years. But Burke will never say that because he'd have to admit he was wrong - something Brian Burke has never done in a public forum yet.

If the Leafs don't make the playoffs next season, there's only one person who should get his walking papers after boasting about not wanting a five-year rebuild. As for this season's push to the playoffs, consider it done.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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