I wrote a post for the site on January 18th that was perhaps the first of many eulogies for the complete and utter devastation that was the Maple Leafs 2009-10 season. You can find it here - it was as painful to write as it is to read.
Let's face it, Leafs Nation is very fortunate that Team Canada captured hockey gold in Vancouver, because that season really stung. Without that short reprieve, that small taste of victory, I know that I surely would have gone insane.
Uggh. Anyway, my January post highlighted 10 failures that had resulted in the Leafs season being a complete nightmare. The response from the Barilkosphere was rather positive...well, as positive as a post about how awful your beloved franchise is can possibly be received. So, given that we are less than a month from the start of Leafs camp, I thought I would re-open the subject once more and re-examine these 10 failures, in light of everything that has happened between January and the present.
Failure #1: "No Puck Luck."
Jan 18th Status: Like getting blue-shelled on the last lap of Rainbow Road in Mario Kart.
Current Status: Unknown.
Recommendation: Human sacrifice. *cough* Jeff Finger! *cough*cough*
Failure #2: "Shooting Percentage."
Jan 18th Status: How do I shot goal?
Current Status: The Leafs showed some improvement once Jason Blake was traded (I can't imagine why...). But the Leafs still finished the season ranked 25th in goals scored even though they were 5th in shots per game. It's pretty obvious to Leafs fans that Ron Wilson's offensive strategy is "PUT IT ON NET, PHIL!" And this year Kessel will get some help. Kris Versteeg shoots 12.8% at the NHL level...and I have a feeling he will get a bit more ice time this year given Toronto's depth at forward. Is one more skilled forward enough to correct this problem? Absolutely not. Expect a lot more tight games this season.
Recommendation: Shooter Tutors?
Failure #3: "Truculence."
Jan 18th Status: "It's one thing if your team is poor defensively, but it's another thing altogether if your team is extremely poor defensively after your GM signs two "stud" UFA defensemen in the offseason and promises a new commitment to "pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence." The Leafs are 0 for 4 so far. Instead, if I had to pick 4 words to describe the '09-'10 Leafs I would choose "inconsistent, lacksidaisical, unskilled and spineless."
Current Status: Since January the Leafs have shed some tissue-soft forwards and added Dion Phaneuf, Freddie Sjostrom, Mike Brown and Colby Armstrong. No other team has come close to adding that much sandpaper over the last 8 months. Is it possible that Truculence is finally here?
Recommendation: We need stretchers. Lots of stretchers...
Failure #4: "The Matt Stajan Problem."
Jan 18th Status: If you asked NHL coaches the question "if you had a powerplay, or if you had to kill a penalty, which of your centre's would you ask to take the faceoff?" You might get answers like "Joe Thornton" or "Jonathan Toews" or even "Sidney Crosby." Last January, Ron Wilson might have answered "Uh...umm...well...Matt Stajan...or maybe John Mitchell?"
Current Status: BOZAKAZOB!!!
...but seriously, Bozak better not have a sophomore slump this year, or were right fucked. A former college player of 24, I think there is less chance of this familiar blight happening to Bozak due to his maturity level. And playing with Kessel will continue to give him a bit more space out there.
Centre is the Leaf's weakest position by far and in all honesty we have not improved since January. We need Grabbo and Bozak to put up a combined 100 pts - we get 25G-25A out of both of those guys and we might be able to post enough offense to sneak into the playoffs.
Recommendation: Brendan Morrison (2009-10: 12G-30A-42P). Or a similar veteran UFA Centre. Hopefully a faceoff specialist. Just to give us options, especially on the PK.
Failure #5: PK + PP = :(
Jan 18th Status: A Power Play of 17% (thanks to a game against Anaheim where the Leafs scored 5 Power Play goals) and an abysmal Penalty Kill of 68%. Meatloaf may think that's "not bad," but most pee-wee teams have better stats.
Current Status: The Leafs Penalty Kill "improved" to 74% by the end of the season, thanks in large part to the Monster's strong finish and Giggy's .916 sv% in 15 games with the Maple Leafs. With a healthy Komisaurus and above .900 goaltending, this upwards trend should continue. But the Power Play fell to 14% by the end of the 2009-10 season. Will the addition of Versteeg and Armstrong be enough to compensate for the PP shortfall we experienced when we traded away Hagman, Stajan, Stempniak and Blake?
Recommendation: The Leafs should take advantage of the fact that Kessel gets double-teamed on the PK and, you know, pass to someone else. Also Kaberle has to NOT SUCK like he did for the last 30 games of the season.
Failure #6: Vesa
Jan 18th Status: Booze. Lots of Booze.
Current Status: Healing.
Recommendation: Those memory erasing things they had in Men in Black.
Failure #7: A Monstrous Heart
Jan 18th Status: Scary.
Current Status: "There - all better Jonas, it was just a scratch... now run along and play with the other buds!"
Recommendation: Gus should eat lots of Cheerios?
Failure #8: The Lonely Kessticle
Jan 18th Status: Kessel had a great year, but he didn't have much company. When opposing teams walked into the ACC the head coach would walk up to the white board in the locker room and write one word: "Kessel." The fact that Phil succeeded in spite of this attention should give us lots of hope.
Current Status: Versteeg is a start. He is amazingly talented, and the Hawks will miss him. I truly believe that he can be a 30-30 man in Toronto this season. If Kulemin, Grabbo and Bozak can each pot 20 goals, the Leafs could definitely eclipse the 210 goals they scored collectively in 2009-10.
Recommendation: Another scoring threat/playmaker up the middle. A 50 point rookie campaign from Kadri would be fanawesometastical *fingers crossed*.
Failure #9: Bonus Points
Jan 18th Status: The Leafs suffered 8 overtime or shootout losses before Jan 18th. To put this in perspective, a .500 record in the extra frame over this span would have forced the Bruins to pick 3rd or 4th in the draft.
Current Status: After this date the Leafs improved to 8-5 after 60 mins. That's 8 bonus points. It seems clear that given the Leafs current roster our boys are going to be playing a lot of 60+ minute games. The ability to continue converting extra points will determine if the Leafs will secure a playoff berth next spring.
Recommendation: Guys who are deadly in the shootout. This need alone could secure a roster spot for Kadri!
Failure #10: Luke Schennwalker
Jan 18th Status: Embarassing.
Current Status: Schenn had a very rough start to his most recent campaign, but finished strong. It was hard to watch, but Leafs Nation, the sophomore slump is over, and we should expect great things from OLAS this season. Especially in the competitive environment he now finds himself in - starting at training camp he will be fighting for ice time with every D-man not named Dion. I think he will flourish under these circumstances, just like he flourished when he was fighting to get on the team back in '08.
Recommendation: A breakout season?
So, Leafs Nation, we have definitely improved in lots of ways, and by no means have we gotten weaker. I think more than one player is poised for a breakout season - the real question is, can they make that leap?
If they do, it could be a very fun year.