Let the title soak in for a few seconds before reading the article any further.
How are we right now? Should I continue? Ah, screw it, let's start.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, as of January 22nd, 2012, are not in the playoffs—at least in the realm of the Eastern Conference standings.
However, this article isn't going to focus on where the Leafs sit in the standings, it actually will focus more on their style of play and why they will miss the playoffs for a record eight straight years. Yes, the futility and demise of the Leafs looks to be continuing for this once great franchise.
There are many facets to a good playoff team.
You have steady scoring, solid defence and solid, consistent goaltending.
If the team has weak scoring, usually it has great goaltending and defence. Same goes for a team with bad defenders, they usually have the scoring and goaltending to get them through.
Lastly, a team with a bad goaltender rarely makes it, but if they have great scorers and solid defence, they can at least get a chance at the bottom of the playoff standings or they have one often forgotten asset: a great coach who leads them to a great record.
The Leafs, on the other hand, let's just say they're mediocre in all categories. If it wasn't for one line—that is now broken up—doing the majority of the scoring, the Leafs would be in far worse shape than they are now.On November 3rd, the Leafs were at the top of the Eastern Conference, sitting at 9-3-1. However, since then they have gone 14-16-4 for only 32 points.
The start, to be honest, was really a mirage or a tease to all Leaf fans. The Leafs began the year against some of the weaker teams in the NHL, and the Leafs managed to take care of business.
When the harder teams came forth and the injuries hit, the Leafs' season began to crumble.
Having only got 32 points out of a possible 68, the Leafs went from Northeast Division leaders to a non-playoff team.
It just isn't one facet of the Leafs' game that is ugly, it's practically their entire game.
Their forwards are all soft, don't go into the dirty areas and are easy to knock off the puck. Rarely do the Leafs keep sustained pressure in the offensive zone, unlike playoff teams like Detroit, who never seem to give up the puck in the offensive zone.
Secondly, the forwards, as a unit, all play a crafty, fancy game, always looking for passes out of their own zone rather than relying on a simple clearing of the puck. Usually this results in one of two things: a goal against or a penalty.
Is that a coaching issue, or have the Leafs' players just shut out Ron Wilson altogether?
The Leafs' D corps is struggling and is definitely playing below its potential, at least defensively. They are still one of the top scoring defensive units in the league, but they struggle to keep the puck out of the net.Whether it's failing to block a shot, screening their own goalie or failing to clear the front of the net and giving the puck away in the neutral or defensive zones, the Leafs manage to obey Murphy's Law. What can go wrong, will go wrong.
To a man, they still miss John-Michael Liles' presence back there, but not having him there doesn't mean they can't do the basics.
Once a human eraser, Luke Schenn has transformed from the handy pencil attachment to essentially a broken piece of pencil lead. I can't put it more clear than that. Like most of the Leafs' defenders, Schenn needs some sharpening for him to succeed.
I may be harping on Schenn a lot, but his flaws right now are a perfect example of the Leafs' holes in their game.
Tonight against the Habs, not only Schenn, but many other defenders pinched at awful times and gave the Habs multiple two-on-ones and breakaways. One huge gaffe happened on the power play when Clarke MacArthur made a back pass to a pinching defenseman. The result was a breakaway from the red line in for Lars Eller, who decided to shoot it five-hole, but the shot was easily handled by Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
This is just a small example, but this happens on a game-by-game basis, and to be a playoff team, those mistakes have to be minimized.
All the playoff teams—aside from possibly the Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators—are better than the Maple Leafs, and the reason is because they have at least two facets of their game that work well.I believe New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Washington are surefire bets for the playoffs. Florida is falling, but because of a great system, timely scoring and a deadly power-play combo, they could see the playoffs. Same goes for Ottawa, who have the scoring, a deadly power play and a solid goaltender in Craig Anderson.
In the West, Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, Chicago and St. Louis are easy bets to be the top five in the West. After that, Nashville, Los Angeles and Minnesota (one game in hand on Colorado, I'd put them ahead right now) round out the top eight in the West.
Although each of those three teams have plenty of holes in their game, they do have some superb facets of their game.
Nashville relies heavily on the defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and they have a great goaltending tandem in Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback to aid their mediocre offense.
Los Angeles has two great top lines, a solid defensive unit and, of course, one of the better goaltending tandems in the game with Jonathan Quick and Jon Bernier. If it wasn't for Drew Doughty playing way below his potential and some early-season injuries, they'd be higher in the standings.
Minnesota relies heavily on a solid, but unspectacular defense, and again, one of the best one-two punches in net with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
Needless to say, the Leafs don't have any of that.What do the Leafs have?
Simply put, the Leafs have three second lines—one of which scores more than the others—a young, inexperienced defensive unit that is prone to giveaways and mistakes in all three zones of the ice and, lastly, an inconsistent goaltending tandem that has some glaring holes in their game.
Gustavsson's holes are the soft glove-side and short-side goals. James Reimer, on the other hand, struggles when screened and can't for the life of him stop pucks top cheese glove side.
Does that sound like a playoff team? Not right now at least.
What does GM Brian Burke have to do to get them back to the promised land?
Acquire a first-line center? Acquire a goaltender? Acquire a top-two defender? All of the above?
Feel free to comment on what you think needs to happen to make me change my opinion on this team.