Toronto Maple Leafs Desirous To Win a Game on The Way to The Cup

Graeme BoyceCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2010

TORONTO - DECEMBER 26:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jaroslav Spacek #6 of the Montreal Canadiens skate behind the net during their NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 26, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Unable to take advantage of a slumping New Jersey team, The Toronto Maple Leafs, who simply should have clobbered The Devils, are now facing a future apart, having been unable to prove their worth as a team. On the ice the promise of our current team shone through on several occasions, as against other top teams recently, while off the ice fans have been treated to a wonderfully crafted campaign related to The Leafs lengthy history and its many characters.

The game, a loss in OT, is disappointing.  They have added up.  Even the so-called best teams suffer the result of mistakes, of bad luck and of a bad call.  The Leafs' season has been surely disappointing, and clearly demonstrates the difficult task assigned to management of strategically delivering a winning team in the short-term, and a team the enjoys a run through the playoffs, unless a horrific run of injuries simply prevents it.

Colton Orr is using his body along the boards, and let's not deny his memorable goal against Brodeur, as opposed to deploying his honed fighting skills, while also honing younger players and with some assured good advice ensuring a level of confidence during this recent peculiar string of losses, shortly after beating Pittsburgh and Washington a month ago. 

Jamal Mayers is delivering, he is, and together with Primeau make a great fourth line.  Luke Schenn is having a rough year.  Too bad.  But he's learning, and we all have to be patient.  I believe Nicolai Kulemin is delivering this season, nary a mistake in the backend, and gets the puck up the boards quickly, and scores occasionally.

However, Brian Burke can now not avoid the offers for his attractive but obviously underperforming contracts this season and for players that in the process disappointed both their fans and management alike.  The fans simply entrust the latter to deliver a winning team, as do the players; certainly to deliver an exciting and entertaining team.  As a result, the entire team is surrounded by and enjoys the best management, best coaching, best trainers and best health and nutrition advisors that our money can buy.

Ultimately, despite the frustrations of the losing season, Burke - along with his own hand picked and well paid staff - will be addressing The Leafs' goalie situation and over the next few months announce a solution.  The Leafs need a dependable goalie, and definitely one with guts. 

Actually, The Leafs need a #1 goalie who is spectacular and gutsy.  On occasion, not consistently, Gustavsson has delivered some spectacular saves this past season.  Facing his early medical issues, and coming back so effortlessly to work between the pipes, I think you'll agree he should be re-signed.

This past season was not supposed to be a winning season (as in winning The Cup), but at least competing and in fact entertaining.  Burke was not putting a team together that was small and nimble.  A great save, great pass or a great hit, or - yes - a great fight... just a great moment, I suppose, could have supplanted the need for more great goals from Kessel night after night.

Burke and Coach Wilson have a wonderful opportunity to deliver a great Olympic experience for American hockey fans.  Even if they only deliver a great upset victory, then they'll come back as local heroes, as proven, once again.  And then the changes will begin.  These changes admittedly need to begin - due to the UFAs facing Burke, and we fans too.  But they need to deliver on their promise to the Maple Leafs' fans who pay the piper, let's not forget.

I like Poni and Stajan, and I think as examples of developing and seasoning players with whom we've been patient over the years, I think they continue to improve and we'll be duly rewarded with great performances next season on the way to The Cup.  They both try hard, and deliver results on the ice, but overall represent an investment.  So, I'd suggest to keep 'em. 

I like Hagman, and he's obviously been productive, as expected, frankly.  He's feisty too and not unrestricted.  But he'll be gone soon, if he doesn't get hurt.

Too many of The Leafs shots have whistled wide and missed the net so far, not enough "Kaberle to Beauchemin, he shoots he scores.  What a shot.  What a pass."  Komiserek has been injured.  But Beauchemin is a quiet player.  Oddly so.  I was under the impression he was one of the truculent ones.  I like Exelby, and think he's displayed decent truculence, yet delivered a degree of no-risk play.

Burke will be announcing player departures and we will begin to talk about Kadri, who should be beefing up nicely, and Stalberg, and of course Bozak soon enough, whose full-time addition to the team will certainly benefit cornerstone Kessel and Blake.  The latter only because his contract will never be bought by another team.

I like Big John Mitchell too, and wouldn't mind seeing another year with the team.  But it's at this level, that the chess game begins for Burke and his team, including his many professional scouts and the players' own agents and agencies.  Onwards and upwards.  What can possibly go wrong?