The Toronto Maple Leafs began last season, incredibly, with seven losses and a tie before winning a game. Several notable acquisitions that beefed up Coach Ron Wilson's blue line, given the demise and dismissal of McCabe and Kubina, included Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komiserik. Unfortunately, Vesa Toskala remained between the pipes as the No. 1 goalie, and Jason Blake was expected to deliver goals nightly, and a few other veterans upfront, especially Matt Stajan.
After 20 minutes, in their second game against Washington, the writing was on the wall for Toskala, as he was pulled after letting in three goals. In retrospect, Wilson stated, if he had to do it all over again, he'd have played the youngsters who he'd sent down to the Marlies, rather than the veterans, regardless of their contracts. Throughout the season, the team remained in or near the basement, never recovering from either a lack of confidence or trying too hard.
The team was impressive during the preseason and provided a glimpse of hope for an entertaining season, while management was leaning toward truculence as a tactic to protect a highly touted crop of new talent on the forward line. When the puck dropped, and the season began, the team did not display any energy or creativity and waited week after week for Phil Kessel to inject some life. The Maple Leafs were simply lacklustre.
Brian Burke eventually moved out these veterans halfway through the season, and the team played much better heading down the stretch with the injection of Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere, who took the pressure off The Monster. Kessel led the team with 30 goals, potted over 70 games, even though admitting he was not 100 percent healthwise. Tomas Kaberle, with the emergence of another talented youngster Carl Gunnarson, now says Wilson did play him enough.
Kaberle's father has just stated his son will not be returning to Toronto anyway, after this upcoming season, if Wilson is still the coach. If Burke is GM, then Wilson is coach. Thus, at the right time, for the right price, Kaberle is being traded. Kaberle is the longest serving Leafs player, but had an awful season. Here are his dad's comments, as reported by TSN: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=331099
Prior to each game last year, Wilson faced the media and clearly stated what he and his team needed to do to win. After it was all said and done, the team had played out their worst season since 97-98. It is unfair to blame a handful of players for that result, nor can Wilson shoulder all the blame either, as have other Leafs coaches in the past. Those decisions were typically made by the media, and typically while a GM without a plan was at the helm.
I wonder if Burke will have the balls to remove Wilson if, once again, he fails to motivate and inspire the team early enough in the season, to then skillfully guide the team to their rightful position in the playoffs next year. We've enjoyed discussing possible new player additions (and subtractions), in light of Kaberle's recent trade window, but Burke must be cognizant that other coaches are available and enthusiastic to lead the Maple Leafs to victory each night.
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