I read through the fan post Adzbass submitted earlier this week and it was great. I loved it. I don’t want to discredit anything he said, but I guess I can just find a cloud for every silver lining. Maybe that is because I have been a Leaf fan for so long, but it just did not feel right to be looking for bright spots in a season that is falling apart so quickly. Since 17 is a magical Leaf number, I will list the 17 bad things that happened this year.
17. Kessel and Lupol: top 10 scorers. This could be counted as a really good thing if it was not so painfully obvious that the Leafs have wasted these efforts so horribly. Nobody thought this pairing would be so successful, but even still, what good is having two guys scoring at this clip if the team is still losing. The Leafs did not maximize these performances at all. Also, does anyone think that they can do any more next year? Under Randy Carlyle? Carlyle is already playing Kessel less than Wilson, and before he got hurt, the biggest question was whether or not Carlyle and Lupol would play nice after a bad relationship in Anaheim. Are we due for a decline next season?
16. The Leafs are starting from scratch. The firing of Wilson was necessary, but it sets things back a bit. The current roster was geared to be a bit of a run and gun team. Now they are going to be a defense first team (even though they don’t have the pieces in place to play that kind of game). This may take some time, and it may feel like the team is spinning its wheels.
15. The Leaf team defense is terrible. Sure, Carlyle is going to turn things around with his defense-first approach…I will believe it when I see it. Going into this year the common theme was that the Leafs had such depth that things were going to be all rainbows and unicorns in Leaf land. They had Phaneuf and Schenn to shut things down. They had great young prospects in Aulie, Gunnarsson and Gardiner. Liles was brought in to be a better version of Kaberle. They even have Komisarek to kick around! An embarrassment of riches! Explain to me how the Leafs have given up more goals than any team other than Tampa and Columbus?
14. The Leafs strutted into the season with the saviour James Reimer and the Monster in net. Things started off well, but at some point the inevitable happened. Reimer was probably overrated and eventually was derailed by a head shot that rocked his world (and probably rocked his confidence). The Monster gives up at least one soft Toskala-like goal a game. Ugh.
13. Now that we know what this tandem is capable of (giving fans ulcers), where does the team turn? The Monster is a UFA at the end of the year. Carlyle is riding him like his name was Brodeur, so either he thinks he is a legit #1 or they are just trying to measure him up to see if he is even worth bringing back. If this is your tandem again next year, are you happy? Didn’t think so.
12. The depth in net was also a supposed bright spot. The Leafs could boast that they had youngsters Scrivens, Rynnas and Owuya on the farm. Would you feel comfortable with Reimer and Scrivens next year? Didn’t think so.
11. No problem you say. The Leafs can pick up a free agent! Take a look at the list of UFAs. Vokoun, Nabokov or Niittymaki tickle your fancy? Maybe Huet will make a triumphant return from Europe (keep in mind his stats for Fribourg in the Swiss league are a little uglier than any current Leaf keeper). Also, the trump card that the Leafs used to play (coaching guru Francois Allaire) has lost a little of its lustre lately as he takes some abuse for ruining the Monster.
10. No problem you say. A trade! I don’t really feel all that confident in swinging for the fences with Bernier or Schneider when they could turn out to be the next Andrew Raycroft. They are not exactly proven players, and their stats are inflated by the strong defensive teams they play on and the quality of their opponents thanks to their back-up status. So who else is out there? Take away the franchise guys that will never be moved and what do you have? The Blues have two great goalies, but that is probably thanks to Hitchcock. Backstom or Harding? Meh.
9. Tyler Bozak is your number one centre. Chances are, he will be next year as well. In his 17 good things article, Adzbass made a comparison between Bozak and the miscast Matt Stajan that made my skin crawl a little. I don’t really want another Matt Stajan on our hands. I just puked in my mouth a little.
8. In actual fact, Grabo is the best centre on this team, and is now being paid like one. Instead he plays on the second line, which is great, since it spreads the scoring out a little. But wait, last season this second line had all three guys flirting with 30 goals. That was last year. With 13 games left on March 13 (oooohhh, spooky!), McArthur and Kulemin have 26 goals combined. Combined! They averaged 60 points last year and have 55 combined right now. Man.
7. Well, a free agent signing to add some depth scoring can help all that, right? Burkie addressed that need last year by signing….uh…oh yeah, Tim Connoly (10 goals, 19 assists) and adding Lombardi (7 G 7 A). Next years free agent crop is not exactly stellar, which is why we can justify the signing of Grabo to $5M over 5 years. Other than Parise (who will probably re-sign with the Devils) and Semin (who has a few flaws), what is left? Guys under 30 include Penner, Boys, Stoll and Andre Kostitsyn (play him with Grabo!). Get ready to overpay for everyone as well!
6. Secondary scoring has been awful, but look at all the guys that the Leafs have gotten rid of. I know it is unfair to play around with some revisionist history and go back and rethink all these moves, but humour me. How would Victor Stalberg look on the Leafs right now? Or even Versteeg, who they shipped Stalberg to Chicago for? I always thought the Leafs gave up on Jiri Tlutsy too early (31 points). Alex Steen has 24 points in 36 games. Hell, even Wellwood has put down his sandwiches long enough to collect 40 points for the Jets. OK, maybe I have lost my mind a little.
5. Things aren't exactly going to be getting any easier. The Leafs have missed the playoffs (let’s just assume), and the teams above them look pretty solid. You could likely pencil the Rangers, Pens, Flyers, Bruins and Caps in to the playoffs next year. The Devils have some issues (aging Brodeur and signing Parise) but always seem to get there. Buffalo as well. Ottawa has surprised and look good. The Jets can ride their crazy home fans into the playoffs one would think. Tampa has more skill and are a goalie away from being the complete package. This all assumes that the proposed realignment does not take place in time for next year. That system would mean only four teams from the Boston, Ottawa, Tampa, Florida, Montreal, Buffalo and Toronto.
4. Along the same lines, it was fun being on top, and now that is gone. I was taking some pleasure early in the year chirping my friends that support the Habs and Sens. That was one part of the season that I was loving when the Leafs were playing well. Now? Not so much. This could come back to haunt me.
3. Another bad part of this season is the progression of the team’s young core players. Nazem Kadri has been pencilled in as the heir apparent for a top centre job but has not been given the opportunity to grasp it. His confidence may be shot since he has not exactly ripped of the AHL (29 points in 39 games). Never mind, Joe Colborne will pounce on that spot! Oh wait, he only has 37 points in 51 games. The fact that the Marlies are having a really nice season should make you feel pretty good about the prospects, but the leading scorers are a pair of career minor leaguers (Zigomanis and Hamilton) and a prospect that doesn’t get much print (Marcel Mueller). Maybe the best thing the team has going for them is the coach (who was not deemed worthy to replace Wilson). It may very well be that Leaf fans are once again buying into the hyperbole spewed regarding the team’s can’t miss prospects.
2. The Leafs were good, and that is what hurts the most. This team showed promise. They made us think everything was going to be OK. Then, when you least expected it, the Leafs punched us in the balls and watched as we writhed on the floor. I have to admit, I think I didn’t mind the being around the bottom since 2005 because I didn’t know any better. The Leafs had a few last minute moments of greatness in the past that came up short but were fun to watch. There is not much fun in playing along right now. While it may be true that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, it is way worse to have been winners that blew it than being losers all along.
And the worst thing that happened this year:
1. The organization and the fans believed the Leafs were good! This was a big problem because it placed the team in a position that they had to live up to the expectations. The coach had to put a team on the ice that could win, not develop young players and put them in roles that would help long term. Now that the move got him fired, but not until it was too late. Carlyle has only a handful of games to teach a new system and see whether or not the current roster can fit around it. The GM stood pat at the trade deadline in case the scrappers on his bench could fight their way into that final spot. This is incredible since he famously claimed that he rejected deals that would have generated five first-round picks for players on his roster. Is it too late for a do-over? From what we are told, this draft is pretty deep.
The worst thing for a team is to finish in that no-mans land that the Leafs currently find themselves in…just missing the playoffs and not blowing things up and starting from scratch. In 2005-06, know who the bottom 6 teams were in the standings? In order from worst upwards, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, Boston/Columbus. Other than Columbus, things have turned around nicely for those other clubs wouldn’t you think? Where were the Leafs that year? 9th in the East. No-mans land.
Here is a recap for everyone who is currently having a very difficult time remembering how good things were.
- Oct. 31, 2011: After a fast start, the Leafs are in second place in the East, 3 points back of Pittsburgh (who have 2 games in hand). It could be argued (at least by a Leaf fan) that the Leafs are the best team in the East. When is the last time that could be said on Halloween?
- Nov. 30, 2011: The Leafs are still in second place in the East, 2 points back of Pittsburgh (who have 1 game in hand). It could be argued (at least by a Leaf fan) that the Leafs are the best team in the East. Still. At the end of November! Leaf fans are giddy.
- Dec. 3, 2011: A few days later, and the Leafs are suddenly in 6th place, but only 4 points back of the Penguins. Evan a true fan probably would not argue that the Leafs are the best team in the East, but things are still looking great.
- Dec. 24, 2011: Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the land, the Leaf fan optimism hour glass was slowly running out of sand. The buds were now clinging to the last playoff spot by one point. Please Santa, put some wins under our tree. What is that you say? Ron Wilson has tweeted that he has a contract extension in his stocking? Good God.
- Jan. 1, 2012: A New Year, same old Leafs. 10th place. Here we go again.
- Jan. 15, 2012: Wait! Not the same old Leafs after all! A couple weeks into 2012 and the Lafs have climbed back into the playoff race! 7th place and climbing!
- Feb. 1, 2012: The Leafs are still in a playoff position! 8th place and only 1 point ahead of the Panthers, but still…
- Mar. 1, 2012: OK, the Leafs are in 10th, and they just went through a 1-8-1 run. The wheels are falling off, but somehow they are only 4 points out of the playoffs. Things can turn around!
- Mar. 13, 2012: Never mind. Wilson fired, 8 points out of the playoffs, and 3 points above the Habs for last in the East.