This season is finally over and after a lot of promise and hope, the Maple Leafs collapse, which saw them go 7-18-4 from February 6th at the time they sat in 6th place in the Eastern Conference and dropped all the way down to 13th by the time the season ended, with the fifth worst record in hockey. What the hell happened?
We can point fingers at everyone in the organization from ownership to management to the coaching staff to the players themselves. The Leafs for the first time since the lockout actually posted their worst record after the all star game, the big difference is that for once the club was actually on the inside looking out at the time of the break.
The club made a coaching change on March 2nd from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle, this did little to stop the free fall. The lack of leadership was apparent on a club which is one of the youngest in the NHL. The captain himself did not seem to have a grip on the club and with a lack of veteran lieutenants that Phaneuf could fall back on the free fall never stopped.
The management with Brian Burke at the helm, talked a good game the results were no where to be found. Burke's truculence failed to materialize and with new coach Carlyle at the helm expect anywhere between 6 to 10 player changes for next season. Burke's build from the net out with two young goalies was a complete failure. Reimer was never the same after his concussion and Gustavsson dropped the ball almost every chance he got to show he was a goalie the club could count on.
Reimer will be back, Gustavsson will be like "Bigfoot", you heard of him but you wont see him after this season, possibly not anywhere in the NHL. Burke's building of the defense was a hit and miss all season. Phaneuf was no where to be seen when they going got tough. Liles like Reimer was never the same after his concussion. Schenn is reminding me of pitcher Bret Saberhagen with his one good year one bad streak.
Franson is afraid to throw his big body around and Komisarek was well Komisarek at best. Gardiner was a surprise to many and although he made many mistakes looks like a building block for the future, while the Leafs best all around defensemen this season Gunnarsson may get shopped around this off season. Burke needs to dump players from the back line, starting with Komisarek, Schenn and Franson... Leave Gunner alone.
The forwards seemed afraid to get dirty and with the new coach looking for players that come back off their shifts with advertisements stuck to their faces, this is where we could see the most changes next season. Lupul had a great year and the team felt his loss, he regularly got his nose dirty, Kessel was once again a 30 goal scorer, one of only 8 players to do so in the NHL for the last four seasons straight.
Grabovski, MacArthur and Kulemin, last seasons most consistent line was erratic all season dropping from 80 goals combined in 2010/11 to 50 in 2011/12, look for one or possibly two of the three gone from before the start of next season. Bozak had a career year but first line centers need to produce more then 47 points, if he is not gone, then look for him to drop to bottom six forwards. Steckel, Brown and Crabb should stick around with the club.
While Rosehill, Lombardi, Armstrong and Connolly should be sent packing, the latter three have hefty contracts and buyers could be sparse. The youngsters from Frattin, Kadri, Colborne, Holzner and Carter, their presence will all depend on what Burke is looking for in the off season. A Rick Nash could mean one or two of the group is gone.
The ownership which is going through change from the Teachers Pension Fund to a Rogers/Bell majority stake holders could be the most disgusting and embarrassing of all, the cash cow that is the MLSE has never stepped up and said a word, not one to the loyal fans of the blue and white. Does this board make visits to the dressing room to argue with who the coaches should play? Lets hope not, these would be the days of Ballard in the 80's, come to think of it they seem to be already if not worse.
Last and not least the fans of Leafs Nation, a group devoted like no other in the NHL, a fan base that hungers a playoff game of all things let alone a Stanley Cup, a fan base that now has to answer to all their friends who cheer for other NHL clubs, who laugh in our faces that we are now the only club since the lockout to not be in a playoff game. The fans who continued to watch every game when we knew we shouldn't. We all looked on in disbelief and shock as the club fell through the standings. Embarrassed by a ownership who won't lower ticket prices by a club that lacks pride and passion of wearing the Leaf and by a management team that talks a good game but delivers none.
Leafs Nation the season is now over and it could not have come quick enough, just be glad that the GTA has a tonne of golf courses or we would be up a creek without a paddle as all associated with the Leafs will be running with their clubs to the nearest green once again.
There is some playoff hockey in town this April as the Toronto Marlies look to make a run for the Calder Cup. Make your own choice if you want to support an MLSE team and go to Marlies.ca and get some playoff tickets that most can actually afford.