Editor's Note: pevans hits a lot of the right notes in this FanPost. There are bright spots on this team. There is no doubt of that. But as a whole this team is not headed in the right direction right now.
5-0 to the worst team in the NHL. Shut out, no less, for the sixth time in 16 games, we're now well on our way to shattering the all-time NHL record for a season in that ignominious category. And with apologies to Islanders and Panthers fans, we were blown out by the only other team in the league that's being described as a mismanaged laughingstock -- except they're the ones stockpiling a large pool of young talent, with another injection soon to come.
I thought we'd hit bottom last year. But I don't think we've hit it, even now.
As a team, going into this season, I sort of thought they would be a mediocre team this year. My call going in was that if everything came up best case scenario, they'd be a low seed playoff team. The formula for that happening was based on the D improving (it has, though they're even more overpaid) the goaltending improving (it has, but are also overpaid) and we'd find ways to score garbage goals to complement what few skilled topline scorers we have (we're not.)
Above all, I thought they'd lose to good teams, but if they could beat enough of the mediocre-to-bad ones, they might squeak into the playoffs. Coming up on 1/3 of the season, that's not happening. We're actually on pace for less points than last season, the worst one I have ever experienced in my 20 years as a fan. That's astounding.
Are the Leafs getting an unbelievable amount of bad puck luck? Absolutely. Search the archives for all the great posts around here about how they have unsustainably bad fortune in terms of shooting percentage, save percentages, and stuff like Corsi. Any way you slice it. But add it all up and they're still finding ways to lose.
We're nearly 200 games into the Ron Wilson era -- i don't think he's the problem, but he's certainly not part of the solution. I dont give a crap that he's prickly with media or comes off as a dick. I want to win hockey games. If helped do that, he could personally call me just to berate me every day. We've been trying to win for almost 200 games with him in charge, and we've overhauled the roster from top to bottom in that time. Once Tomas Kaberle's gone (for nothing) this summer, Nikolai Kulemin will be the longest serving leaf, if you can believe that. Yes , they're young, but at what point is it not just the players? I hate the reactionary coach-firing as much as the next guy, but.... 200 games? Come on.
I'll give you some positives. I thought Luke Schenn was overrated during his OK rookie campaign, downright bad last year, but I'm pleased to say he's rounding into form. More offense than I thought was capable. Definitely a bright spot. For me, his floor is Chris Phillips, maybe Adam Foote. Scott Stevens is a longshot.
Nazem Kadri looks like the style of player we desperately need, even though it's in a tiny sample size and he's completely not NHL ready at this point. Jonas Gustavsson has been very good in net, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been average. The Leafs are finally getting the NHL average goaltending we haven't had since the lockout. If we can shave $4M off of our goaltending expenses to overcome egregious overpays elsewhere, so much the better.
Kulemin? Power forward in the making, and absolutely my favourite Leafs forward already. A protoype of the "makes his teammates better" mould. Lock the kid up long term.
I'm unfairly tough on Mikhail Grabovski for some reason, but I'll admit he's getting it done and is improving as he goes on as a Leaf. I think Grabovski can be a legit 2nd line centre on a Cup winning team. Certainly not overpaid for what he brings, at what he earns. There are very few Leafs I can say that about.
Phil Kessel scores goals. Of one particular type, in streaky bunches. Better than probably 90% of the league, though still really one dimensional. But he's only 23, so we'll see what he turns into. Right now, he's a poor man's Luc Robitaille or Brett Hull, BEFORE they finally "got it" in their early 30s and won cups as savvy vets on contending teams.
Those guys became complete players after moving away from the teams where they cut their teeth, I'll point out. My new worst fear is he bolts as a UFA at 26 when he's tired of all the shit in Toronto, but I acknowledge it's unfair to be reading tea leaves for something so far in the future.
Beyond Kessel the player, let's talk Kessel -- the turning point. (this would be your cue to stop reading if you don't like where this is headed)
I am fully aware that draft picks are lottery tickets. Saying the Leafs traded Seguin, Knight and, let's say, Sean Couturier for Phil Kessel is as intellectually dishonest as saying they once traded Tom Kurvers for Scott Niedermeyer.
But what Brian Burke did to acquire him -- I didn't like it then, and it looks worse by the day. I wasn't entirely sold on that trade and his salary when I mentally told myself it was a 21 year old perennial 30 goal man for two picks at 15th overall. $5.4 million is also a ton of money in a cap system. Lost in all the crazy vitriol of that trade is why the hell Boston was so willing to part with him. Yes, I know goal scorers are hard to come by. So why wasn't Boston frantically dumping role players to make cap room and keep this stud-in-the-making happy? Chiarelli made the organizational choice that he was better off trading him for the picks. Who's made more good decisions in the last two years, Brian Burke or Peter Chiarelli?
People give Burke a pass by saying "there's no way he thought he was trading two lottery picks" but isn't it his job to know that? To evaluate talent? and players? and teams? Any way you slice it, it was a gross miscalculation.
I don't buy the theory that's being bandied about that if we hadn't made that trade, we'd all be crucifying Burke for not going out and trading for a young sniper. We'd be sitting here with Seguin, Schenn, Kadri, maybe a few more picks from dumping some of our vets, and licking our lips over that lottery pick to come.
I'd be fine with that state of affairs, and I bet a large number of people round here would be too. No ways the Leafs would have been booed out of the ACC last night, for example.
This entire crapshow needs to be viewed through the prism of the Kessel trade. I don't see why it's a dick move to acknowledge that. Burke went all in and lost. Except he hasn't taken his losses and left the table. He's taking off his Rolex, he's about to throw it onto the table, and asking his buddy to front him the re-buy.
We were bad last year, we're somehow even worse this year, and there's just not enough light at the end of that tunnel to convince me that Burke is on the right path.
I forget who said it around here in recent days, but I was fine with the early 2000s Leafs trades that mortgaged the future a bit because we were close. Dammit, we were. Getting guys like Nolan and Leetch in exchange for picks and prospects, some of which panned out and some of which haven't, was a smart, sensible risk at the time.
This isn't. Burke wanted to hurry up the process and try to skip 2-3 years of team development because a player of Kessel's calibre (which i admit is rare) suddenly became available.
We have made a mistake. And I worry that the guy with the power to fix it won't acknowledge he's made a mistake, and will keep making bandaid fixes to retroactively prove he's right.
Anyway, I've said my piece. I'm trying to ghettoize my negativity surrounding this team into this thread, out of the way, so as not to bother anyone.
I'm going to try really hard to keep it out of other threads. I'll limit my bitching elsewhere to more day to day stuff like blown coverages on plays, mailed-in backchecking, and boneheaded penalties. Sound fair?
I'll be watching. Thanks for the catharsis.