The Onus of Blame now falls on Burke's shoulders

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Dec 272011

So we found out over Christmas that Ron Wilson got his wish and got a new contract.  With that the onus of blame for any failures this Leaf team has now clearly falls on Brian Burke’s shoulders.  Specifically, I am talking about the Leafs horrid penalty kill.

Ron Wilson was one of, if not the, top paid coach in the NHL.  He is paid like one of the best coaches in the NHL and he was given a contract extension so clearly Brian Burke doesn’t believe Ron Wilson is the reason for the Leafs PK failures.

So, if Ron Wilson is not the problem it must be the players.  Clearly Burke believes the players are getting a good message from Ron Wilson so either the players have tuned Wilson out or they just don’t have the skill level to implement Ron Wilson’s PK plan.  If the players have tuned out Wilson you have two options, fire Ron Wilson or get new players who will listen.  Ron Wilson wasn’t fired and there is no indication that the players have tuned out Wilson or that Burke thinks a mass overhaul of the team is deemed necessary.  So, if it isn’t the coach and the players haven’t tuned out the coach then it must only be the talent level of the players.  These are Burke’s players so if they are a failure it is a problem created by Burke and Burke’s problem to fix.

This is Burke’s team now.  These are his players and his coach and everything to do with this team now has his stamp of approval.  Everything good, and bad, with this team is now Burke’s doing.  Burke talks confidence about this team and how it only needs tinkering but I don’t share that same optimism,  The team is clearly better and is a definite contender for a playoff spot but I wish I had more optimism that there is a viable path towards cup contender without major upgrades at several positions.

Dec 102011

The Leafs have played 29 games so far this season, or just over one third of their season.  For the most part it has been relatively good start to the season.  Kessel has led the league in goals and points for most of the season, Lupul has been close behind, and the team has generally been fairly comfortably in a playoff spot.  But in reality, the Leafs are a long way from being a contender.

The teams offense has been quite good.  They are scoring goals at about a 3 goals per game pace which ranks them 6th in the NHL.  For the most part I think this is sustainable, especially if they can get healthy and Grabovski and Kulemin can get back to scoring.  The problem is, the Leafs continue to stink defensively and there are no real signs of this getting any better any time soon.  Their goals against average is 3.16 which is 4th worst in the NHL and is worse than last seasons 2.94 gaa.  Only Columbus, Ottawa and Carolina are worse this season and that is not a recipe for success in the NHL.  Yes, not having James Reimer for much of the season is a factor, but the problem has not just been goaltending.

Defensively this team is awful.  It’s been awful for years and there is no evidence that it will be anything but awful in the future without significant changes being made.  The penalty kill is second worst in the league, it was 3rd worst last season, and dead last in both 2009-10 and 2008-09.  The roster is completely different.  The goalies have been changed more than once.  The one constant during those four years has been the coach.  I have given Ron Wilson the benefit of doubt long enough.  Despite the teams record, we have not seen this team make any progress in the one area this team has the most room (and need) to improve.  It is time to fire the coach.

Now it is not all the coach.  The players need to take responsibility too and so does the general manager.  But we need to start with replacing the coach with a good defensive minded coach.  Everyone quickly jumps on the Randy Carlyle bandwagon but I am not convinced he is the guy for the job.  Generally speaking Anaheim hasn’t had a great PK team the past several seasons, but I am open to the idea.  I am actually open to anyone who can bring a fresh look and new defensive awareness to the team.  Once we get the coach in place it will be up to the players to improve.  If they can’t, it’s time to ship some of them out and get some players in who can.

Now I don’t expect any coaching change, if there is one at all, to occur until January (unfortunately), but the Leafs currently sit 4 points out of 12th spot and most of the teams behind them have games in hand.  They are 1-3-1 in their past 5 games and if they go 1-3-1 in their next five they may be out of a playoff spot.  Since November 3rd they are  6-8-2 and that is no where near good enough.  They only reason they look good is their 9-3-1 start.  Come January they could be a few points out of a playoff position.  Let’s hope they don’t wait too long to make a change.

You may be asking, why this post and why now?  Well, it started on Monday when the Leafs were playing the Rangers.  The Leafs got off to a 3-0 start before giving up two goals to the Rangers in the second half of the second period.  Entering the third period I had zero confidence that this team could maintain the lead and I got to thinking that that isn’t a very good reflection on the team.  From that point on I decide I would not consider the Leafs a quality team until I had relatively good confidence that they can maintain a lead.  The Leafs did manage to hold on to the lead and won the game, but they were out shot 12-7 in the third period and generally out played.  It did nothing to change my lack of confidence in their ability to hold a lead.  They have played two games since the Rangers game, one a 3-2 OT loss to the mediocre Devils and the second a 4-2 loss to the struggling Washington Capitals.  They combined to give up 6 powerplay goals in those two games.  These games they could have, and maybe should have, won if they only knew how to kill penalties.  This just reaffirmed to me that until this team learns to play defense and learns how to kill penalties, I cannot consider it a good team.

(End of Rant.  Enjoy your weekend and don’t worry, I’ll guarantee you the Leafs won’t give up any more PP goals this weekend.)