The Don Valley Blues; or, Throwing in the Towel in Toronto

In Hockey on January 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Outside of a digressing piece on the merits of employing a goalie such as Vesa Toskala, as a native Torontonian, and a die-hard Maple Leaf pessimist, while watching the hometown team bring new meaning to the meaning of struggle, there is one serious question that has been un-broached by the mainstream media. As we (the royal We) bemoan the loss of a potential top-3 pick next June in LA (Hall? Seguin? Fowler? Maybe Melchiori…) We ponder the meaning of not having a captain (either trade Kaberle, or make him the man. And if they trade him, Ian White would make a good on-ice leader). As their hopes are dashed repeatedly (killer, even) by their inability to kill penalties (or play at all with only four skaters – they have been outscored 7-0 in 4-on-4 situations, all seven goals against coming in overtime settings). We share glee at the prospect of Tyler Bozak being called up for his 2nd career game, or from a great pre-season from Viktor Stalberg, or in light of the great performance of Jerry D’Amigo in the WJC.

But the big question remains unanswered. As the light of dawn emerges on Leafs Nation and a new generation understands the curse of Tom Kurvers (don’t worry – Kessel is better than Kurvers, and much younger than Kurvers was at the time of that ill-fated deal. And the odds of any of the picks surrendered to get him turning out to have careers as valuable as Scott Niedermayer are very, very, very slim), we may anxiously wonder when Brian Burke will take action. According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “I’ve been moving heaven and earth on the trade front for some time, I would be more concerned if there were deals going down all around me. There aren’t,” said Burke. “We’ve looked at call-ups. No one at this point has kicked down the door to the point where we have to give them a recall. Bozak and Rosehill have been strong the last couple of games, so we’ll think about giving them a look.”

Since that time some players kicked down the door to the point where they have proven that they definitively do not belong in the NHL, Rickard Wallin was scratched again and Bozak received the aforementioned recall in his stead. Brian Burke’s reasoning aside, it may be the case that he has simply been too busy preparing for his duties as General Manager of the US Olympic team to take proper charge in his day job with the Leafs. Granted, the Red, White and Blue will likely be far more successful than the plain old Blue and White, but a job is a job. For example, Mike Zigomanis, after earning a non-participatory Stanley Cup ring as an injured member of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins, spent seven games with the Leafs’ local AHL club, the Toronto Marlies. In that time, he provided 13 assists. Now he plays in Sweden for Djurgarden.

Ron Wilson has failed colossally so far with the Maple Leafs. His record with the Leafs is 49-58-22. That’s 49 wins in 129 games (38.0% winning percentage). But Burke has repeatedly stated that his job is 100% safe. How many people honestly believe that if Wilson (who I do believe to be a good hockey coach – just not here) were not also slated to work under Burke next month in Vancouver, he would not already have been fired? More successful coaches have been fired for less failure.

How about his band of merry assistants? I have been unable to find concrete task breakdowns online, but I have heard on the airwaves that Keith Acton, who has been with the Leafs since the 2001-02 season, is responsible for special teams. Not that they have been good at any point since the lockout, but my special team aggregate score (rating efficiency of the power play against team efficiency killing penalties) has them ranked 28th in the NHL. This includes a penalty kill ranked dead-last in the league, surrendering power play goals at a rate of more than 70 seconds more frequently than the nearest competitors as of games ending December 31, 2009, as they have averaged 1 power play goal against for every 5.5 shorthanded minutes. Six NHL teams have proven able to kill double the shorthanded time as have the Leafs before giving up a goal. Whether it’s Acton, Tim Hunter or Rob Zettler, it isn’t working.

The big question Toronto Maple Leaf fans need to be asking is why they should believe that Brian Burke is paying attention? Why has he not addressed the woeful special teams? Why is Wilson’s job safe? Why has he not been able to come up adequate and ready replacement level players from the AHL to replace the sub-replacement players performing in the NHL? What is his plan to turn things around? Will the Leafs sacrifice more of the future (by not trading assets for future promise) so as to try to avoid the ignominy of having traded away a top pick?

What’s done is done. In the big picture, it no longer matters who the Bruins get with the first round pick of Toronto’s they own this summer. What should matter is what the Burke can do to ensure that they only get one lottery pick. It’s time to tear the house down.

– by Ryan Wagman


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