Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 People Most Responsible for the Leafs' Struggles
Randy Carlyle may have gotten a win in his debut as bench boss for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but realistically his new team is in dire straits and there is no shortage of people at fault.
Coaches, players and management deserve to share the blame for Toronto's misfortunes this season. Even the most spirited of Ron Wilson's haters cannot deny that with any sincerity.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of 10 people most responsible for the Leafs' struggles this season.
Might as well get the obvious out of the way first.
Ron Wilson endured much criticism during his coaching tenure with the Leafs, but perhaps none as daunting as the "Fire Wilson!" chants that serenaded him off to the locker room following what would turn out to be his last game in Toronto.
His firing was a move that many Toronto fans had wanted for quite some time. In part because of his less than favorable demeanor with local media, but mostly because of the Leafs' recent skid and the 130-135-45 record with him behind the bench.
Brian Burke has made some big blunders as GM in Toronto, but certain free-agent signings have really turned his critics' cranks.
Known for his skill game in Buffalo, it seems Tim Connolly's inability to keep pace with Toronto's young speedsters is his crutch.
He was most recently spotted Sunday afternoon practicing on his club's forth line.
Considering he was signed to be the No. 1 center at $4.75 million per season, Connolly represents the most expensive experiment on the Leafs gone wrong.
As part of a once-dynamic trio along with Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin emerged as one of Toronto's most potent offensive threats last season, scoring 30 goals and 27 assists, good enough for fourth in team scoring.
While he is on pace to amass just as many assists this year, Kulemin has struggled mightily to find the back of the net—having only scored seven goals.
Without doubt, Kulemin is one of the best two-way players on Toronto's roster.
His saving grace this season has been his defensive play. But his goal production has been missed more than his stout defense has been relished.
First off, allow me to say that I agree with Burke in saying that Jonas Gustavsson deserves much credit for salvaging Toronto's season to this point.
In James Reimer's stead, the Monster has, on occasion, been able to carry No. 1 duties between the pipes. But numbers don't lie.
Gustavsson has a 2.86 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. While those number could be worse, they don't necessarily scream top-notch goaltending either.
Injured or not, Colby Armstrong has spent most of this season watching his team from the press box.
As the resident jokester on Toronto, Armstrong has the ability to lighten the mood in the dressing room.
But he was brought in to do more than amuse his teammates by picking pine needles out of his hockey pants.
Unfortunately, the days of being an impact player seem long gone for this overpaid Leaf, so feel free to add him to Burke's list of free-agent blunders.
James Reimer started this season just as he had finished the last—hot.
He won his first three starts. But since incurring a head injury in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, Reimer has been unable to recapture his No. 1 form for more than a few spot starts.
Perhaps more alarming than either his 3.07 goals against average or his .899 save percentage is Reimer's overall record this season (11-11-4).
The man once dubbed "Optimus Reim" has yet to live up to the high expectations that came with the three-year, $1.8 million contract extension that he signed in the offseason.
Brian Burke would have Leafs fans believe that Francois Allaire is the best goalie coach in the world. If this is the case, why have Toronto's goalies been anything but spectacular this season?
Could it be that Burke's assessment of Allaire's coaching ability is predicated on the past alone?
There's just one, big problem with that—neither Reimer nor Gustavsson is the big-bodied Jean-Sebastien Giguere of 2007.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, scouting reports throughout the league have exposed cracks in Allaire's coaching all season.
Fans should be hoping that Burke hasn't made a similar mistake with the hiring of Randy Carlyle.
Poor defensive play, inability to hit the net with his slap shot and questionable leadership—Dion Phaneuf has been anything but a steady and consistent leader for Toronto this season.
He has been good but not great, and great is what the Leafs were counting on from their captain at the outset of this season.
Will he be as favored under new head coach Randy Carlyle as he was under Wilson?
If so, Phaneuf will have to up his game with attention to detail.
Rounding out Brian Burke's list of free-agent blunders is Mike Komisarek. Shockingly, he is signed for $4.5 million for another two seasons.
When he is with the team, Komisarek provides a veteran presence in the locker room.
But similarly to his press-box friend Colby Armstrong, Komisarek has been anything but a reliable player on ice.
His game does have the grit and sandpaper that Carlyle seems to favor, so Komisarek will be given yet another chance to prove his worth on what has become a defensively porous team.
Last but not least is the man in charge—Brian Burke.
Now in his fourth year with Toronto, Burke has done well to build a young, upcoming team.
However, not all is good.
You already know my thoughts concerning Burke's free-agent track record as Leafs GM. It is atrocious, to say the least. But even worse may be his so-called blueprint.
Burke has changed his philosophical approach to team building from big and strong to fast and agile, and apparently now back to big and strong.
Toronto's boss is now on his second coach, which means he is all out of scapegoats. Should his team fail to deliver a postseason berth either this season or next, Burke will be next in line for the guillotine.
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