The Leafs of OZ
Just like a farm girl living in Kansas the fans of this beleaguered Toronto Maple Leaf franchise have been trying to find the end of the yellow brick road for almost 7 years. If of course, the yellow brick road is the NHL post season and the fans are a pigtail singing Judy Garlands, but I dare not digress.
This season has unfolded like a meltdown, played out like a dramatic tale and entertained like a soap opera. One thing this season didn’t do is produce a feeling of enthusiasm for many fans. This Toronto Maple Leafs team have been on an epic move towards mediocrity now for seven full years chasing but tiny rainbows of hope. With this in mind allow me to walk us into the Technicolor of both fantasy and reality that this Maple Leafs franchise seemed to support throughout this season.
The man behind the Curtain
Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke has been picking up the pieces of this previously mismanaged team for four seasons now and continues to tinker the Leafs out of the bottom of the standings. Fans have been asking over the last two months of this season if his tenor should be shortened. I am a firm believer that Brian Burke should get another six months to prove his worth. This season for the most part has been a right off. However this is the first season that I can say in years he has had a team on the ice that is capable of winning. Leafs Nation witnessed some moments of brilliance from this team over the course of this year, not enough to propel the team into the playoffs but enough to recognize some progress.
Burke would take to the podium after a game or for an impromptu press conference and like any good Wizard of Leafs, pull the levers so the smoke machine can deflect criticism.
Don’t look behind the curtain everyone! Behind the curtain is a fragile team standing with their GM breeding an ignorance that would lead to contempt. Too worried about the media and pending trades, not looking within would be their ultimate demise in the standings. Burke has only until next December to get the smoke and mirrors to look more like a team in progress, not one going backwards.
Most of the positive progress is the development of some serious depth on this team that had been missing over the last decade. Look no further than the AHL Toronto Marlies who sit atop of their standings and prepare for their own playoff run. There is depth to this team and that is for the most part due to the changes the man behind the curtain has made. His biggest move and most important of this season will also turn out to be the most memorable move of this season. That is of course when he sent his long time friend and colleague Coach Ron Wilson packing.
Former Coach Ron Wilson for what it was worth this season seemed to be making some serious brain cramps. There is no doubt that Wilson is a great NHL coach and that his previous coaching record is nothing to sneeze at, but his tenor here in Toronto won’t be one for the record books. Like trying to stuff straw back into his sport coat, Wilson spent a better part of the first 40 games of the season juggling between goaltenders. Between throwing his goalies under the proverbial bus and not listening to his goaltending coach, Wilson did nothing to help out his own cause by creating a goalie controversy.
Having a great power-play and penalty-kill are essential in the new NHL game of speed and skill. The penalty kill was atrocious this year. An absolute mess is an understatement. The fact that Ron Wilson and his coaching staff allowed this team not only to take penalty after penalty with such a fragile penalty kill, they also had no answer to fix it. This team looked like a central junior hockey team on the penalty kill; boys amongst men. This was the key component in this Toronto Maple Leaf on-ice meltdown. Not one ounce of confidence can be built from the net minder to the top six forward if the team is constantly playing the game from behind. The shaky starts along with bad penalties and poor performance on the PK had goaltenders with zero confidence often trying to stop a 2-1 breakaway.
Taking the time to fix the confidence of the penalty-kill as it imploded would have been a ‘no brainer’.
More Photoshop work to come.