Our "beloved" Maple Leafs return to the ACC Monday night against the lowly, yet always dangerous against Toronto, Carolina Hurricanes after a winless road trip against four of the perennially toughest Western Conference teams.
There is no shame in losing close games on the road against the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Blues. What is a shame is that the Leafs lost to those teams trying to beat them at THEIR game, and not the Leafs' game.
At least before, the Leafs were always a fun team to watch. True, you never knew what team would show up on any given night, but there was a reason to watch them. Now, watching the team play is about as exciting as watching paint dry. They have tried playing to what management has asked them to, but this simply not their game and the results are just not going to be there, especially against the teams they just faced. And let's not kid ourselves, those four teams have proven quite a bit in recent years, but only the Ducks in my opinion, played a good, solid game start to finish against Toronto on this trip. LA was not strong Monday, San Jose was suspect most of the night despite throwing 40 some shots at James Reimer, and the Blues were awful in the first period last night, yet all three got away with it and each got the two points up for grabs.
Like I have mentioned before, no GM, President or coach is going to get this current Leafs team to play a style similar to the teams mentioned above. It is not going to happen and it will not lead to success. The Leafs are now completely in the doldrums and nobody in blue and white can seem to figure out what to do about it.
I am watching the Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks go back and forth tonight at the United Center. This is the style the Maple Leafs are suited for and how they have been built. But, smack in the middle of a season, that was not all too bad (at least not yet) Dave Nonis, Brendan Shanahan and company decide to get rid of Randy Carlyle after a poor showing in Winnipeg, a game which was the third in four nights from the east coast of Boston to central Canada. Big deal. Management tells them to start playing defensive hockey or else. Or else what? No moves have been made as far as player transactions or other coaching decisions. Moreover, the decision to fire Carlyle was after two solid efforts of two-way hockey in both Boston and Minnesota, with the team winning one and falling a bit short in the other on top of the team being without three of its regular players.
The timing of Carlyle's firing was wrong on so many levels and everyone at the top is to blame for it. If Shanahan truly was all in favor of firing Carlyle at the time, then I do have some concerns over the decisions that must be made in the very near future with him included.
Randy Carlyle should have been let go after last season's collapse when the team came back from California and somehow won two of the three games. The team went into another unexplainable downward spiral and missed the playoffs once again. I would also argue that the Leafs played better in the three California games this season then they did last year. I recall Jonathan Bernier getting hurt after the first period in LA and was down 2-0. James Reimer entered the game and shut down the Kings the rest of the way and the Leafs battled back and won it on a Mason Raymond short handed goal. The game in Anaheim, a 3-1 victory on Monday to start that trip, was thanks in large part to Bernier playing in perhaps his best game of the season.
But here is the catch...the Maple Leafs played to their strengths on that trip, just as they had done during the 10-1 stretch in December of this season. We can all sit here and say, well they played a solid game the other night in St. Louis (as well as in SJ and LA) and deserved better. This is crap! The team must be allowed to play their style and keep skating. Sure they deserved better, but they just did all four of those teams a huge favor by taking their speed and offensive skill out of their game. When teams play the Leafs, they are worried about one thing...not to let the game turn into a track meet. Sorry to say, when the game turns into more chaotic, north and south hockey, the Maple Leafs are much more dangerous. They seem to succeed when the game is played similar to the one Dallas and Chicago is playing as I write this.
Well, wait the Toronto media and people who think they know the game say, the way the Leafs play is not conducive to long term success. Okay, so my answer to that lies on the management of this team. Do what teams like the Canadiens and Penguins have done and bring in some solid, gritty players who are not afraid to do the dirty work and let guys like Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri do their thing. And yes, I see the great Patrick Kane circling around the opponents blue line looking for that breakaway pass. Kane doesn't play a lick of defense either and neither does Tyler Seguin. Does the Chicago and Dallas media grill them? Granted that Chicago and Dallas are not the same type of hockey city as Toronto, but those teams have had a lot more success than Toronto has had since 1967 wouldn't you say? (Chicago more so than Dallas, but don't discount the fact Dallas snuck in last season and has a cup from 2001)
The bottom line is that management has made the Leafs into a complete mess. The entire team is playing tight. Guys are afraid to make plays and to keep skating. Most shots on goal have not been dangerous as before.
The shot totals! They have been much better! Bernier has really felt better in goal hasn't he? After the LA loss, Bernier said he would take games like that all the time. Well, last night Bernier allowed a very soft goal after the Leafs had started out just fine, forcing the Blues into uncharacteristic turnovers and were out shooting the Blues 15-9 at the time. After the bad goal, it seemed as if it took all the wind out of the Leafs' sails the rest of the night. So, during this stretch in which Bernier has praised the defensive effort, he still allowed three goals in Anaheim and three more in St. Louis. When the Leafs were playing their exciting "run and gun" style, Bernier was allowing around two goals a game. Not to trash Bernier, I did plenty of that last season as so some of my readers said. I wasn't necessarily trashing him, it was just that I expected more of him. Here is the deal I have with him. If Bernier is not comfortable with the way the Maple Leafs were playing earlier in the season (but winning games!) then perhaps he is NOT the guy the Leafs should build around going forward. If he wants his team to play like they have been the last few games, then Toronto is not the place for the 26 year old. Like I have stated before about Bernier, perhaps playing in the Eastern Conference is not best fit for him. The East is more about speed and skill compared to the West, which likes to slow things down. Since nobody is untouchable as per a report from Eklund and Mike Augello before, why not move Bernier back to a Western Conference team?
I say big deal to the shot totals. They mean absolutely nothing! I am tired of the Toronto media making such a big damn deal (pardon my French but all this analytics is starting to really make me mad more so than the teams' failure) of shots against and taking a serious toll on the goaltenders. When Boston was making their runs with Tim Thomas in goal, he was facing 30-35 shots a game. That team went on to win the Cup in 2011. Jonathan Quick was repeatedly getting peppered in the Kings net from 2010 to 2012 when the team won its first of two Cups. For God sakes, it is NOT the shot totals it is the amount of prime scoring chances the team gives up as a whole. Sure the Leafs were giving up quite a bit of good scoring chances, but if both Bernier and Reimer cannot handle it, then the team really needs to look for guys like Thomas, Quick and several others who are going to feed off the shot totals they face. Bernier could have slept through the STL and LA games and the outcome would have been no different. They still lost the game, and Bernier still allowed three goals last night, the first one was awful and let his team down. But as a former goaltender myself, a team cannot win when they don't score... (and boy did I experience that my senior year of high school when most of the team graduated the year before! I would make 40 plus saves a game and lose 2-1, 4-0, etc...So I have been there myself and know what it feels like.)
All I wanted to see from this team was to be a bit more responsible at both ends of the ice, refrain from making stupid passes and being lacksidasical at the wrong times, all of which could have been corrected by Randy Carlyle. However, the team continued to play with its inconsistent style that has plagued them from season to season under this current core of players. How to fix it? Toronto could have fixed it last summer when both Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette were available. That was the first major mistake the team made pertaining to this current season. Then, allowing the Toronto media to "snakebite" many of the players on and off finally leading to a squabble between Kessel and reporter Dave Feschuk immediately after the firing of Carlyle. First of all, who is this Feschuk guy and what right does he have over any of us to rip and grill the players face to face? Perhaps the Leafs should be closed off to the media, since I really think that the media has been one of the main problems when it comes to the Leafs having success and it is not just this season, it seems to be a rather serious issue well before the Ron Wilson days even.
Basically, there is a lot of "housekeeping" items that need to be taken care of first before there are player decisions made going forward. To forget this season and recent failures, the team should look into taking some other directions how the team functions off the ice in respect to their fans and the media. Perhaps that will take some of that unnecessary pressure off. But for the rest of this season, I would like to see the team return to its exciting style and forget about the damn wins and losses, the shots on goal, etc. Just play hard, exciting hockey. Keep skating and try to make plays like they had been doing before. Let the management make the decisions and if they are right or wrong, so what and keep playing hockey. This team is clearly not having any fun and they have been told by Nonis, Shanahan, Dubas, God knows who else from management and all these Tom. Richard's (not trying to be funny, just part of an age old expression) and Harry's and other fools from the Toronto media telling them how bad they are and reminding them about all their damn failures. You stop all that crap and let the team function on their own, it will make things a lot easier in determining which guys stay and which guys do go.
God bless Don Cherry who stated on HNIC the other night in regards to Kessel...just go out and score...forget about back-checking. While the comment seems a little irresponsible, he is right. Phil Kessel was not brought in to be a Patrice Bergeron or an Anze Kopitar. He is the Leafs' Patrick Kane, Tyler Seguin, Luc Robitaille, etc. Yes you want him to be more active all over the ice at times, but he needs to play HIS game. The rest is up to management to decide if they want that type of player or not.
This is the last time I write about the current management and team. Shame on the management team for making the decision to fire Carlyle a bit too late and for telling the team to play a foreign, unsuccessful style given the roster at their disposal. Trying to beat the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Blues at their own game was just a stupid idea. Stupid and more irresponsible than the play of players on the ice. It is their mess, and they must deal with it.
I cannot finish this blog without mentioning the idea brought up on HNIC last night from the mouth of Elliotte Freidman and further posted on Hockeybuzz earlier this morning from regular Leaf blogger Mike Augello...an idea which I brought up on a blog and in a response to Eklund's blog over two weeks ago!! (I should therefore get credit for the rumor!!)
Dion Phaneuf for Mike Richards...a trade which involves one bad contract for another, but both teams get exactly what they need not only right now but going forward. Although I wouldn't stop there, I would see what other assets could be added in a larger deal, with Phaneuf and Richards as the center pieces.
Both guys are seasoned veterans. Phaneuf will turn 30 in April and Richards will turn 30 in February. Sometimes in hockey, trades are made for the betterment of the human aspect. Both guys need a change of scenery, which speaks volumes for Phaneuf. Not to mention his wife, a young actress who would no doubt love the idea of her husband being under contract for the next five seasons in LA.
Richards gives the Leafs much more depth and muscle up the middle. His presence, leadership and experience will help take some of the pressure off Tyler Bozak and further help the development of both Kadri and Peter Holland.
Kings main blogger just posted on the very same idea, and I understand from his words to be a rather bad idea (mostly from a Kings point of view however.) Well, here you will get the POV from both teams!
This deal DOES help both teams. What Lewis and Augello forget to mention, is that the Kings are done with Slava Voynov. Of course, I don't know for sure, but they should be finished with a potential criminal. I also doubt that given the Kings' cap issues, Robyn Regehr will be unattainable as well. Adding a contract like Phaneuf's does not help their situation, but the Kings basically replace both Voynov and Regehr with Phaneuf and I can live with his contract because you are not really giving up one big contract for another, but rather replacing a criminal in Voynov and will ultimately have to buy out his contract and replace that with Phaneuf.
Is Dion Phaneuf's game declining? I don't see it that way. He has never been a top pairing defenseman, neither should he be a captain. In Los Angeles, he won't have to be the guy. He won't have to eat up all the ice time like he has in Toronto and he won't have to be the leader on a team that is chock full of leaders like the Kings. As a Kings follower as well, I would love the idea of adding Phaneuf to the blue line, one in which will be solidly in tact for the next five to six seasons. No harm in that at all!
I would like to see this deal happen. It would be a much better deal between the two teams than the last one and both players will remain with their new teams for the foreseeable future and hopefully both teams get exactly what they need which is stability in a position in need of it. But, I still would like to see perhaps more players involved.
For now, I have seen as much as I want to in both the Kings and Maple Leafs. I think both teams, not just the Leafs are in dire straits going forward and both have quite a few big decisions looming. These decisions will ultimately determine which directions each team will take heading into 2015-16 and beyond. I would like to see both teams try and help each other out. But this potential rumored deal would just be the start of a lot more that needs to happen. Good luck to both of them!