Just listened to the Brian Burke press conference and I have to say it was a whole lot of nothing. I’ll give Burke this summer to make some changes but based on that press conference I don’t have a lot of confidence in his assessment of the team.
He talked a lot about how everything was fine with the club on February 6th before things unexpectedly fell apart. Well, in reality it wasn’t that unexpected. They had a good record from January 1st through February 6th but in that stretch only 6 of their 15 games were against teams that ended up in the playoffs. Their next 17 games consisted of 12 against playoff teams and 5 against non playoff teams. It isn’t a shock that they had a good January and a poor February/March. It the start of March I wrote about the Leafs dreadful record against good teams. It isn’t rocket science and it bothers me that Burke is willing to use the Leafs ability to beat bad teams in January as a reason for optimism. On December 10th I wrote that the Leafs are a long way from being good so this isn’t just a pessimistic view after a late season tailspin.
The other things that disheartened me are some of the reasons for optimism. One was that the second line showed signs in the second half that they may be able to return to their ‘career year’ levels of 2010-11. Well, that is all fine and dandy, but last time I checked the Leafs missed the playoffs that year as well so hoping some players can match their level of play during that season is not a sign for optimism, but a sign of desperately looking for something to hope for. As for Kulemin, in his 4 NHL seasons he has had 31, 36, 57 and 28 points. Now tell me which one is not like the other? Is it realistic that Kulemin can be a perennial 25 goal, 55 point guy? Could be, but the evidence to support that thus far in his career is pretty thin.
Brian Burke also had the guts to point to Carter Ashton’s play at the end of the season as a sign of hope. Sorry, but Carter Ashton had zero goals, zero assists, zero points and was a -10 in his 15 games as a Leaf. If that is a sign of hope then the Leafs situation is far worse than even I believe. Maybe Ashton will end up being a good top six forward in the NHL, but you wouldn’t conclude that based solely on those 15 games.
The same goes for Matt Frattin. Now I actually like Frattin and I think he might be a useful player, but Frattin isn’t going to turn this team around. He is probably no better than a 3rd line player. The Leafs problems are not going to be fixed by the development of Matt Frattin into a quality 3rd liner.
There are really only two really good things to happen to the Leafs this year. The first is how well Kessel and Lupul played together offensively and the second is what Jake Gardiner managed to do as a rookie in the NHL. Overall I am really disturbed that Burke seems to have the attitude that this team is a good team that unexpectedly fell apart down the stretch because to me they still need significant improvements in all facets of the game.
Over the next week or two I will be discussing the Leaf situation in more detail grading the players and looking at what the Leafs need to do to get things moving in the right direction.