Toronto Maple Leafs: Third Time Not the Charm

Matthew Di NicolantonioAnalyst IMarch 28, 2008

As most of the sports world is well aware of by now, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be on the outside looking in for the NHL playoffs for the third consecutive year. 

This is the first time in more than 80 years that this has occurred, way back when the franchise was still the St. Pats for the first of the three losing seasons.

For Toronto fans, the late-season push, while impressive, should not have been looked upon with great enthusiasm. 

There were too many nights earlier in the season where the team threw away points that could have been used to make the margin for error in the final 12 games a little easier.

Just to name a few of the horror stories for the '07-'08 Toronto Maple Leafs:  

Oct. 15 @ Buffalo:  The Leafs blow two third-period leads of two goals, and Bryan McCabe ends it in overtime by putting the puck in his own goal.

Oct. 20 vs. Chicago:  The Leafs again blow a two-goal lead as they go from leading 3-1 at the start of the third period, to losing 6-4 at home on Hockey Night in Canada.

Dec. 18 @ Carolina:  Leading 2-0, the Leafs allow two goals in the final 1:31 after Alexei Ponikarovsky has the puck stolen at the Hurricane blueline with nothing but a gaping open net in front of him. 

The Hurricanes tie the game and then win in overtime. Two nights later in Tampa Bay, a Pavel Kubina broken stick allows the Lightning to streak down the ice and Vinny Lecavalier to beat Vesa Toskala with less than a minute to play as the Leafs gain only one out of a possible four points, when three of four had seemed very much attainable.

Jan. 10 @ Los Angeles:  Having been shut out 5-0 by the Anaheim Ducks the night before, the Maple Leafs played arguably their worst game of the season as they were embarassed by the worst team in the NHL 5-2, while Jason LaBarbara stopped over 40 shots and looked like George Vezina.

Jan. 12 @ San Jose:  Leading 2-0 after two periods, a number of questionable calls result in San Jose powerplays, and by result, powerplay goals, as the low point of the Leafs' season ends with a 3-2 loss in Silicon Valley.

This is just a sample of what was wrong with the Maple Leafs this season. Other lowlights included losses by five or more goals on home ice at least four times.

Moving forward, Leaf fans need to pray that the GM who is hired over the summer will implement the proper strategy to turn this team around.

It remains to be seen whether the likes of Jason Blake, Darcy Tucker, and Kyle Wellwood will be given another shot to prove themselves or if they will be bought out or shipped out.

Defenseman Kubina can be traded during a month-and-a-half window this summer since the Leafs missed the playoffs, and that may be the route taken if the club can't convince McCabe to waive his no-trade clause. 

Given the play down the stretch, Kubina responded to his increased minutes and responsibilities and finally started to play like the man John Ferguson signed in summer 2006.

But there is only room for one $5-million man on this blueline, and Kubina may be the better option. 

Either way, the new Leafs' management needs to explore any and all possibilities of re-moulding the hockey club into something that resembles what this once-proud hockey franchise looked like so many years ago.