In the course of nature, leaves tend to start budding in spring, become full-grown and sit on top in summer, before falling to the ground in autumn while changing colour. In hockey the Toronto Maple Leafs tend to start budding in autumn, reach full bloom in winter then fall to the ground in spring while never-changing their colour.
Yes another hockey season of discontent has risen in the Centre of the Universe. It has been 8 years since the Leafs made the playoffs, and eternity in pro sports. When GM Brian Burke arrived in Toronto in late 2008, he came in full of bluster and promise. Burke was hailed a saviour for the woebegone franchise. Fast forward to 2012 and the Leafs are still the Leafs.
Burke has made some moves, dumping useless waste such as Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Vesa Toskala. But he hasn’t received the upgrade he was hoping for. When Burke acquired Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames in 2010, he boldly stated that Phaneuf would win the Norris trophy and be the next great captain in Leafs history. Two years later, Phaneuf is still not a Norris candidate, makes far too many reckless errors in his own zone, and has not shown signs of being a great leader.
While Phil Kessel is an excellent player who provides much-needed offence, giving up two first round picks to a division rival for Kessel is too steep of a price. That division rival was the Boston Bruins who used one of those picks to draft Tyler Seguin who is a future star in the NHL. It must have stung Burke to watch the Bruins raise the Stanley Cup last year and have Bruin fans taunt the Leafs with the “Thank You Kessel” chant.
Burke has also stayed very loyal to coach Ron Wilson despite the team’s failings. Wilson has missed the playoffs in his first three years behind the bench and has done a better job at making enemies with the bloodthirsty Toronto media, than motivating his players. Wilson is cranky to begin with so lately he’s been throwing everybody under the bus from his goalies, to his defencemen, to his forwards, to Don Cherry. Maybe Wilson should take a look in the mirror instead of complaining about everyone else. But I think his ego won’t let him. The fans have definitely turned on Wilson. Following a loss to Florida at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs faithful began a chorus of “Fire Wilson” much to the amusement of the media.
Wilson is true in saying the goaltending hasn’t been great but it’s not all their fault. James Reimer arrived in Toronto last season and looked like the second coming of Johnny Bower. Then early this season, Reimer suffered a concussion and hasn’t been the same since. I feel bad for Reimer. He seems like a good kid who is trying to carry an entire city’s hopes on his shoulders. Jonas Gustavsson was never really that good to begin with and Burke and Wilson overrated his abilities.
This season was supposed to be different for the Leafs. But after going 1-9-1 in the month of February and falling from 6th to 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, it’s looking like the same old Leafs again. Everyone must be held accountable in Leaf land but none more so than Burke. His arrogance and “I’m smarter than all of you” routine doesn’t work when the players are working on their golf game in April, than preparing for a playoff series. Worse yet for Burke is that the Bruins are preparing for another Stanley Cup run and the young Seguin is starting to prosper. Maybe it is time for the Leafs to turn to a different approach. One that isn’t so high and mighty. Maybe someone who speaks softly but carries a big stick. Sam Pollock didn’t tell the media how great he was, yet he won a total of 12 Stanley Cups, 9 of which he was the GM of the Montreal Canadiens. In other words, he let his record do the talking. Perhaps that’s the type of person the Leafs should be looking for. They just might find more success.
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