My main concern when I wrote my article on our beloved Leafs for the last issue of the IW, was that it would become irrelevant between the Friday deadline and distribution date the following Wednesday. After all, the Leafs were winning, and how long could that last? Sadly, my pessimistic attitude fuelled by watching the Leafs lose for fifteen years or so, was once again accurate. At least I won’t have that worry this week, because the true 2010-11 Leafs have revealed themselves, and they suck.
Many fans will attribute this losing streak (0-5-2 in their last seven) to the absence of captain Dion Phaneuf, who went down with a laceration in his left leg in the Ottawa game on November 2nd. Sure Phaneuf logged a lot of minutes, but I’m going to be frank, his performance with Toronto up until the 2ndhad been mediocre, if not awful. Losing your premier player is not an excuse to suck, especially when your premier player is nothing more than a defensive liability with an oversized contract. The good teams in this league, namely the Capitals and Penguins, have proven they can still perform without superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and those guys are much better players then Dion Phaneuf.
The main issue on the ice is the lack of scoring. Phil Kessel has always been a streaky scorer, and right now he is on a cold streak, having not scored for seven games in a row up to the stinker in Florida on Wednesday the 10th. I have to admit that I am not a huge Kessel fan, but somebody has to bury it for the Leafs other than the former Bruin. The guy who was supposed to fill that role as backup scorer was Kris Versteeg, the former Blackhawk who buried 20 goals with Chicago last season. So far this year he’s netted two in fourteen games, and I’m starting to think that this might be attributed to the difference in playing with Nikolai Kulemin or Mikhel Grabovski instead of Jonathan Teows or Patrick Kane.
On the game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday the 9th, the Leafs had two five on threes in the first period and failed to score on either one. There’s no excuse for that. It’s time to show some desperation and charge to the net, or find somebody in the Marlies who will, because passing the puck around the perimeter isn’t going to accomplish anything, especially on their miserable powerplay.
Unsurprisingly, the penalty kill ranks only one spot ahead of the power play in league standings, at a miserable 26th. Frankly, I am tired of coming up with reasons why the Leafs suck in every aspect, and although I am sure a lot of it can be blamed on the players, it is high time Brian Burke starts rethinking his commitment to Ron Wilson’s position as head coach. This guy has proven nothing in his time in Toronto, except that he can coach an Olympic team a lot better than an NHL one. He came here touted as an excellent special teams guy and a good player coach, only to see the Leafs’ special teams drop to league worst and premier defenseman Tomas Kaberle become dissatisfied with an environment he has played in for the last eight seasons.
For a Leafs team that was supposed to be completely different than last year’s, right now they seem to be pretty similar. Apathy, sloppiness and a lack of leadership still define a storied franchise with a fan base that deserves better. That fact has been true since Dave Keon lifted the cup in 1967, and it’s not going to change this year unless Brian Burke does something. To all those in the sport who admonish panic in desperate situations, I am going to be frank, the Leafs are in a position to panic. Burke traded two first round picks for Phil Kessel, one who turned out to be Tyler Seguin, and he also gave up quite the price for Dion Phaneuf. He also put his faith in the hapless Ron Wilson as coach. All of these moves were gambles by the Stanley Cup winning general manager, and if they don’t start to pay off soon fans and management are going to hold him responsible for another two years of losing. Time is running out for Burke and Wilson, and if they don’t put their big heads together and pull this team out of the league basement then heads will roll, and worse than that, it will be another year of disappointment and mediocrity for loyal Leafs fans who deserve so much more.