I watch a lot of hockey. On any given night I will watch some of the best teams in the league and there's something different between them and the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's not just one thing either, it's a lot of things.
What happened on Saturday and Tuesday night wasn't hockey. It was a lack of organization to say the least.
I would never say the Maple Leafs didn't try, I would never say there was no effort in the game because there are only 23 guys who know the answer. Professional athletes are proud, they worked their whole lives and dedicated themselves to reaching the NHL. You can't be great every night but you can't be complacent either.
Head coach Randy Carlyle shouldn't have been extended this summer when only one call was made to a coach that likely won't be leaving the Detroit Red Wings. Mike Babcock doesn't have a contract for next season but there is no chance he leaves the franchise to help overhaul the Maple Leafs.
It's not just on Carlyle but it's not just on the players either. First and foremost this is still a team but they take their marching orders from the man behind the bench. It's obvious the Maple Leafs need to make changes but won't.
Changing management will help you long-term. You'll draft better, give better input on potential trades, have a comprehensive list of players on your radar. At least that's what one hopes happens when a different management team is put in place. An analytics department can give you all the data you want, they can work around the clock for you but it's up to management to make changes based on those findings.
When you lose 6-2 to the worst team in the league on the road, have a significantly higher corsi and face-offs won, there wasn't a lack of compete as Dion Phaneuf claimed after the game and Carlyle likes to say like a broken record. The Maple Leafs kept up with the Sabres and overpowered them looking at analytics. They also made some terrible positional and defensive plays that led to their downfall. The swarm is alive and well, unfortunately.
The next god-awful display of what was supposed to be NHL hockey was the 9-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night. They had relatively similar stats and seemed to, once again, keep up with the Predators statistically except for that 9-2 team goal for column. Nashville, obviously the superior team, pulled away in the third period scoring five goals while the Maple Leafs thought, "Let's get 'em boys!" after the eighth goal was scored against them.
It's the same narrative in Toronto; the media is too hard, what will the media say now? Really, it's none of your business to criticize what the media says about your team that can't seem to get their shit together long enough to make themselves look like a hockey club. Is Carlyle's job safe? Fair question at this point. Are you trying to get the head coach fired? *Sips tea*, also, fuck no.
Brian Burke wanted nothing more than to deny, deny, deny any reports he was coming to Toronto to take over as general manager. Then when he took over the position he said it's the greatest hockey club in the history of the NHL and he had a five-year plan. Every true hockey fan knew unless he fleeced every general manager of their greatest assets, this five-year plan was unrealistic. If you're a Catholic, you go to the Vatican. If you're a hockey fan you join the Toronto Maple Leafs. We all remember those lines. Well, Burke went to the Vatican and thought, "It's a little crowded here, it's pretty high security with everyone watching my every move, probably not going to be able to meet the Pope... I'm out."
And here we are, again, in the midst of trying to make things work with a team that has one NHL superstar in Phil Kessel.
Over two seasons between 2006-08, Paul Maurice held a record of 76-66-22. In Carlyle's 17 games with the Maple Leafs when he took over for Ron WIlson, the lockout shortened season, and his first full season behind the bench, his record was 70-62-16. There's not that much of a difference between the records, but Maurice was let go after two seasons, while Carlyle managed an extension.
It's hard to make trades when you have to consider the cap as well as the players you want to target. There's another fold we're all very aware of which adds to the pressure of being a general manager, but it's still part of the job description. Something has to change, and yes, trading someone just to trade someone doesn't make much sense, but putting Matt Frattin on waivers doesn't make a statement at all. He played six games this season for zero points. That'll show 'em.
One fluke appearance in the playoffs since 2004 in a shortened season was just what management needed to say things were working. What they decided to overlook was the fact that Phil Kessel bears too much load and in a full season, he can't carry this team through a season and then to and through the playoffs. In a full season, the Maple Leafs find a way to play themselves out of a playoff spot. The Detroit Red Wings find a way to get themselves into one.
When your top defensive pairing on the power play consists of Roman Polak who is a career minus-13, and Dion Phaneuf who barely manages to hit the net, you've got a bit of a problem. When you give up players like Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin who played well together for your team for years, there's a bit of a problem. When David Clarkson plays on the first unit power play after proving he's not worthy yet, there is a problem.
The problem is, there are a lot of problems with this team that won't be fixed without a coaching change.