Even with all the parity that has been accomplished in the league today, there are teams with big problems. And while all 30 teams had some hope of making the playoffs, there are those who have glaring, well publicized shortcomings. Some teams generate constant talk of bad management and foolish contracts. Angry fans protest years without a Stanley Cup win, and more recently playoff contention failure. A lack of production from its most valuable players and some painful taunting by its fan base have become commonplace news in print and on the internet. Could I be speaking of my beloved NY Islanders; the NHL’s red-headed step-child of the Big-Apple? Nope, not today.The guys I’m talking about today are the Toronto Maple Leafs, or as I like to call them, “The Islanders NORTH.” Seriously, on the ice, if not for the color of the jerseys, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the vantage point of the nosebleed seats. Let’s discount for a moment that the Leafs reside in the center of the Hockey Universe, while the Islanders lie in the shadow of the mighty MSG in an aging building. If the Leafs were anywhere else but Toronto, I believe they would have the same attendance and financial woes as the NY Islanders. Let’s just look at the similarities shall we? Why? Well, I had nothing else to do because I couldn’t get my office VNC connection to work and actually WORK, and as I already wrote my NYI Blog Box entry for the day (http://islanders.nhl.com/blogbox/blog_box.htm) I did some research and came up with the following items that are oddly similar.
Management: While the Leafs are owned by a gaggle of high-powered businesses and the Islanders are owned by a single high-powered businessman, they have both been accused of some bad hockey decisions based on business reasoning instead of “hockey sense.”
Standings: This is the easiest as these two teams came in at 12th and 13th The Leafs ended their loser season with one more win and 4 more points than the injury plagued Islanders. Granted, their Goals for total is far higher, but at the end of the day, they are both on the outside looking in.Buyouts: While the Islanders have already had to deal with a buyout of their ex-star player, Alexi Yashin, the Leafs are now faced with the possibility of doing exactly the same thing. However, they have a list to go through to decide who should be paid for nothing, and who may end up being sent to the minors. For the Islanders there was only one decision, and it was not an easy one. The fan base called for the buyout long before the owner agreed to it. The only difference in Toronto will be the lack of personal friendship attached to the business decision of sending someone packing.
Less than perfect General Managers: What can you say about Mike Milbury that hasn’t already been said? But then you look at John Ferguson Jr. and just shake your head. Now they can sit side by side on the TSN set and compare notes on their “illustrious” careers…. And laugh I’m sure.
Insane Contracts: The large contract given to Alexi Yashin didn’t start out as a problem; it just ended as one now that the buyout will count against the Islanders salary cap while he plays in Russia. Then the unprecedented 15 year contract for young (hopefully) superstar goalie Rick DiPietro. In Leafland you have the large contracts with the added bonus of “No Trade” clauses. So not only can’t players be moved because they are overpaid, they can’t be moved if they don’t want to be.
Good Coaches deemed ineffective: Both Paul Maurice and Ted Nolan have completed the second year of their contracts. Both have not been given any indication of contract extensions as of yet. Both are exceptional gentlemen who are excellent with the media. Granted, Maurice’s media attention is far more scrutinizing than Nolan’s, but they can both handle themselves in front of a camera during the good times and bad. And of course, both will NOT be Jack Adam’s candidates this year.
Where was the “Face of the Franchise” at the end of the season?: Well, Ricky DiPietro had an early exit for hip surgery this year , and it seems Mats Sundin didn’t make the last few games either to heal a groin tear. So basically, the most recognizable player for each club wasn’t there on the ice for the final dance.
They tell me that hockey is a religion in Toronto, and yet their team, one of the original six, has spent 41 years without a Stanley Cup. I’m hoping that 41 years isn’t another similarity we end up with. It just goes to prove that while the off-season is usually a time of sheer boredom for a puck-junkie like me, watching these two teams try to fix their inadequacies will make for very interesting reading and heated conversation. And while I pray that there will be a quick fix, I know it’s a time consuming process. I just wonder which one of these two teams will do the better job, or if they will end up neck in neck in the “Loserpalooza”* again next year.
*Thank you to Lance Hornby and his article of 4/6/08 titled “A Comedy Of Errors” on SLAM.ca for a new term for failure that I just couldn’t resist repeating!