The Leafs have struggled at times this year but is it really fair to call the Leafs “vehemently awful” as Howard Berger does today? If vehemently awful describes a team which is 6-5-2 when not playing a team with a 13-1 record, what adjectives would you use to describe the Washington Capitals who are 2-9-1 in their last dozen games? The Leafs are not without problems but to call them vehemently awful is probably something only a vehemently biased member of the media would write or say, particularly when you follow that up with “emerging catastrophe.”
As for my opinion, the Leafs need a change. They need a new direction. I have liked a lot of what John Ferguson Jr. has done except for what he has done with his goalies. He has made two major moves with his goalies and both have flopped thus far and the worst move of them all was giving Toskala a 2 year, $8 million extension before he proved he could do the job. TO a lesser extent, I am not convinced that Paul Maurice is the right guy for the job either. For whatever reason he has not been able to get his team to play as a team for a full 60 minutes as and some of his teams worst efforts are against the weaker teams in the NHL. When Maurice was hired he was supposed to be a systems coach (compared to Pat Quinn’s more free flow approach) but I don’t see any kind of system in place. Ian White had a horrible game last night and looked out of place on several occassions but somehow he got rewarded with 24 minutes of ice time. That just doesn’t seem logical to me. Maybe I am wrong and that this group of players aren’t capable of playing a system but if Ken Hitchcock can get the noname Columbus Blue Jackets playing a strong team system and off to a 8-3-2 record I suspect that this crew can too. You cannot convince me that a defence anchored by an aging Adam Foote and waiver pickup Ron Hainsey and first round dud Rostislav Klesla and complemented by Jan Hejda, Kris Russel and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is any better than the Leafs.
The problem is, the team is playing paranoid. They are playing as individuals. The forwards seem to be trying to do too much on their own rather than play with each other. They are trying too hard to score goals and make the big plays but not remembering to help out their teammates and defensemen in particular once and a while. It’s not that hard. When a defenseman pinches, a forward drops back to protect his place. If you are undertaking a 5 man rush, you do everything you can not to turn it over at the opposing teams blue line as your players are not moiving in the right direction to defend a counter attack (play dump and chase instead if you can’t skate the puck across the blue line). But for some reason this team isn’t playing that way. The players definitely deserve some blame but so does the coach. If he doesn’t have a system, he should be fired. If he has a system but the players aren’t responding, players need to be benched or even called out publicly. But I don’t see that either. And on top of that it seems apparent that Leaf ownership is not committed to JFJ and in turn not committed to Maurice. That is a problem too a the players know that next week, next month or next year there will probably be a new GM and coach in place. Why learn Maurice’s system (if he has one) when a new coach and a new system is likely to be right around the corner. Why do that when I can play all out offensively and pad my offensive statistics which should land me a better contract?
So, while the Leafs are far from “vehemently awful”, that do have some problems that needs to be addressed. If the teams upper management is not going to commit to JFJ and if JFJ is not going to commit Maurice then something definitely needs to be done and it is better it gets done now. There is just too much lack of focus and lack of consistency and lack of committment (from the players to the coach and from the owners to the GM) to justify not making a change of some sort.