We all know how terribly the Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled over the last few years. The franchise has failed to qualify for the playoffs since 2004—the worst drought in their 94-year history.
Because of this, only four players remain from that time—Kaberle, Ponikarovsky, Stajan, and White—while two coaches (Quinn and Maurice) and general managers (Fletcher and Ferguson) have been forced to move on.
The fact that this organization—the league's equivalent of the New York Yankees in wealth and fanbase—is in such a confused and humiliating bind is bewildering.
Home to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the NHL's Annual Awards, there is no question that it is a challenge to live under the microscope of a city—and country—obsessed with this team's success, but honestly, what of it?
If you don’t like the truculence, one could always go back to Anaheim.
While Brian Burke’s direct and brawling statements are well and good—after all there is nothing wrong with tough, physical hockey—the message doesn’t seem to apply to the man himself.
It’s not that to be belligerent the team requires a blockbuster trade, nor to be pugnacious must our treasured draft picks be recovered. What's done is done, no matter how much testosterone influenced those decisions.
The truth—the throwback truth—is that this team does have the talent, and for that, Burke does deserve credit. His acquisitions of skilled and young players—Kessel, Kadri, and Gustavsson—is to be commended, as are the signings of veterans Komisarek and Beauchemin, and role players Orr and Wallin.
But he missed the main ingredient. The team needs a leader, both on the ice and behind the bench.
Adrift since the departure of Sundin, Burke has been foolish to leave the team's captaincy vacant for so long. Every team needs a captain—what indeed are the alternates alternate to?—and our captain is career-Maple Leaf Tomas Kaberle.
Skilled and unassuming, he embodies what a leader must be. He waits before he shoots, and it is always the team first.
As well, Burke needs to get some snarl of his own and fire his friend Ron Wilson, the man responsible not only for the team's franchise-worst season start, but also the league's worst record on the penalty kill—laughably, insanely so.
As awkward as it might be, given their common fantasy of American gold at the Olympics, there’s no getting around a coach who has lost his team. And there are other tougher, more pugnacious coaches out there. Just ask Ted Nolan about that.
Burke knows that Leaf fans will wait. But he must also remember that while we'll name schools and streets—entire districts even—after whoever gets the Leaf names back on the cup, we'll also drive the charlatans from our land.
Leaf fans know hockey. We know that we need luck and patience to win. We know that the game is won in the corners. We know that no one should stand in front of our net. And we know that hard things have to be done.
A guy who was supposed to be traded needs to be made captain, and a good friend has to be fired, because the black and white truth is that we want to win.