6 Things the Toronto Maple Leafs Can Do to Recapture Their Storied History
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second most successful franchise in the history of the National Hockey League.
However, that past success is nearly ancient history.
The Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup since the 1966-67 season, and they haven't even been back to the Finals since then.
The year 1967 to Maple Leaf fans is beginning to resemble 1940 to New York Rangers fans. That was the year the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup until Mark Messier and Brian Leetch brought them to victory in 1994 over the Vancouver Canucks.
It has been 45 years since that last triumph, and the Leafs have not even made the playoffs since the pre-lockout season of 2003-04.
They appeared to be on the way to the playoffs last year, but they went through a disastrous February and March.
Here's a look at six things the Leafs need to do recapture their past glory.
Bring in a No. 1 Center
The Maple Leafs have talent at the center position in Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly. They are also hoping that top prospect Joe Colborne develops into a solid NHL player.
However, what they don't have is a top-of-the-line NHL center who can dominate in all aspects of the game.
The Maple Leafs need a center like Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. We are not shooting for the moon and asking for Sidney Crosby. Bergeron is dominant in the faceoff circle, is responsible defensively, carries the puck well, passes accurately and takes advantage of his scoring opportunities.
Grabovski, Bozak and Connolly are not at that level. Grabovski is a talented offensive center, but the other areas of the game often escape him.
Finding a responsible center, who does not shirk any of his duties, will help turn the Leafs into a powerhouse.
Unless the Leafs can acquire Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks or Los Angeles Kings backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs' goaltending weakness will continue to drag them down.
As it stands now, the Leafs will head into the 2012-13 season with James Reimer, Ben Scrivens, Mark Owuya and Jussi Rynnas sharing net duties.
Reimer and Scrivens should be the top goaltenders, and they are not good enough. Reimer was 14-14-4 last year for the Leafs with a 3.10 goals against average and an unhealthy .900 save percentage. He beat out Jonas Gustavsson (signed with Detroit in the offseason), but a neck injury bothered him through much of the season.
Scrivens has looked good as a minor-league goalie, but he has struggled when given a chance at the NHL level. He had a 4-5-2 record, 3.13 GAA and a .903 save percentage last year.
It's not all on the goaltending.
While that is an obvious weakness in Toronto, the Leafs don't get a lot of help from their defensemen.
Dion Phaneuf is supposed to be a No. 1 defenseman, and he fulfilled that role when he was in Calgary. But since he came to the Leafs, it seems as if he's not the dominant player on the blue line that the Leafs are expecting.
While Phaneuf has issues, he is light years ahead of the rest of the defense. Mike Komisarek is little more than a punching bag for Milan Lucic at this point, and John-Michael Liles, Carl Gunnarsson and Jake Gardiner are ordinary.
The Leafs moved Luke Schenn to Philadelphia to bring in forward James van Riemsdyk, so there has not been an influx of talent.
One of hockey's iconic images is the video of Bob Baun getting taken off the ice on a stretcher in the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Leafs' defenseman had blocked Gordie Howe's shot and suffered a broken ankle in Game 6 of the Finals. Yet it was Baun who came back on the ice and scored the game-winning goal in overtime, while playing with the injury.
Baun was a rock-solid defenseman who was not known for his offensive heroics, scoring just 37 goals in his career.
The Leafs need more Bob Baun-types on their roster today. They don't have the rock-solid, stand-up players, who have the toughness to lead the team back to greatness.
Fire Brian Burke
Nobody is saying Brian Burke is not a bright mind and one of the most forward-thinking men in the National Hockey League.
He won a Stanley Cup as the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, and he did good things with the Hartford Whalers and Vancouver Canucks in the GM position.
He has also tried to lift the veil of homophobia from professional sports with the "You Can Play" campaign that is designed to let everyone have a chance to compete, no matter what their sexual orientation.
However, the Leafs' situation has not gotten better during his four years with the team.
Perhaps he will eventually turn the situation around, but the Leafs have not been to the playoffs during his tenure.
It's time for a change.
Randy Carlyle will coach the Leafs for his first full season—assuming the lockout ends at some point—and the first thing he needs to do is get this team in better condition.
The Leafs wore out over the final third of the season.
They were often outskated and outhit. They did not appear to have the conditioning needed to earn the playoff spot that their fans want so badly.
Pudgy players like Phil Kessel need to drop the excess weight and pay the price to get in shape.
If they don't, they will continue to get outworked, outskated and outhit.
They will not return to glory until they take the lead in this area.