The Leafs have pretty much been the poster child for mediocre team hockey for years in the NHL.
Having gone through multiple head coaches and general managers the past decade or so, one simple fact remains, the Leafs have not played inspired hockey in years.
From the pre-lockout days of Pat Quinn as head coach, regime changes began took place and the Leafs would welcome coach Paul Maurice and GM John Ferguson Jr. to the fold. Not much would change during that time in terms of winning and the Leafs continued to struggle in the standings.
After yet another losing season at the helm in 2007-08, Maurice and Ferguson Jr, would be ushered out of Toronto and in their place would come some instant credibility of Ron Wilson and Cliff Fletcher as the interim General Manager.
By signing Ron Wilson on as head coach, the Leafs brass thought that they picked up the next great coach of the Maple Leafs.
After Wilson coached the US World Cup team in 1998, the Washington Capitals to a Cup Finals appearance in 1997-98 and most recently before signing with the Leafs—coaching San Jose Sharks to multiple playoff appearances and 100 point seasons from 2002-2008—the Leafs felt like they had some light at the end of the coaching tunnel after Quinn was let go.
However, that has not been the case for Wilson in the early going. His best season with the Leafs thus far was in his first year with the team in 2008-09 where the team finished a with meager 81 points and finished in the basement of the Northeast Division.
Last season Brian Burke was brought in to become the teams new General Manager coming from the Anaheim Ducks. Burke brings his own persona and own style to his teams, one in which he believes he can contend with and Ron Wilson can easily coach.
Things have not gotten much better since these moves, as the same problems with the team still appear to be staring the fans right in their faces. A lack of overall forward skill, no finish from the forwards, playing with no heart, and lastly, no confidence in their abilities appear to be hitting the Leafs team hard lately.
To Wilson and Burke's credit, they have drastically improved the teams lack of defensive play, as the team have improved their goals against from previous seasons and the team's defence as a whole has improved greatly, even to the point that All Star defenceman Dion Phaneuf's loss in the lineup doesn't appear to be that noticeable in the early going of his injury.
This is not a Dion Phaneuf roast here, just a simple observation that the Leafs defence has depth with or without their Captain in the lineup.
But even with giving up a fairly decent 2.57 goals against per game, the Leafs offence continues to struggle only tallying 2.21 goals per game, which lands them in 29th only ahead of the New Jersey Devils who are playing without their best overall player and many other pieces.
Is that the players fault? Yes, absolutely you can give the majority of the blame to the players, however, my viewpoint is that most of the blame should lie with the coach, and not the players.
Ron Wilson is a very technical coach, having brought in multiple forms of technology behind the bench. From the use of DVDs when he was in Washington, to the use of iPad-like video screens behind the bench, Wilson is willing to try everything to get the upper hand.
Again, to Wilson's credit, the Leafs only allow the third best shots against in the NHL; however, they are third worst in shots per game, and to follow that point up, most of their shots are low-quality shots.
That total shots per game could be improved if the Leafs players could get their shots through and avoid them being blocked. It would also help if they hit the net with some regularity.
Wilson is still looking to improve the teams special teams, as even the new additions of Kris Versteeg, Clarke MacArthur, and a full year for gunner Dion Phaneuf from the point have done practically nothing to prove anything is improving on the power play.
As for the penalty kill, having a completely revamped bottom six in hopes they could improve the penalty kill has really done nothing to change the Leafs' penalty-killing woes.
So, even with bringing in new players, ones in which penalty killing are their specialities (Mike Brown, Fredrick Sjostrom, Tim Brent, Colby Armstrong, Mike Zigomanis), nothing has changed with the penalty kill.
Simple observation: Simpify the game and motivate your players, Wilson!
However, the one glaring fact is staring many Leafs brass in the face and they don't even realize it. This Leafs team is very young, one of the youngest in the league, yet management has full belief in a coaching staff that personally, I think is more suited for a veteran team who can follow systems, but can also play instinct hockey, such as the San Jose Sharks squads from years past.
Another thing about Wilson is that he seems to favor the NHL journeymen veteran, over young, untapped potential in younger NHL players. They will obviously make their mistakes, but their long-term potential is so much greater than what is in their spots. The Leafs aren't making the playoffs, with or without these guys.
Players such as JS Giguere (albeit he's playing great hockey this year), Francois Beauchemin, John Mitchell, Colton Orr and even Mikhail Grabovski (to a very small degree) seem to get extra rope, yet players like Luca Caputi, Christian Hanson, Jonas Gustavsson and most notably, seventh overall selection Nazem Kadri all seem to get shafted.
Caputi, for example, was placed on the first line in one game where he saw first line duties for one period and was ushered to the fourth line to make room for John Mitchell on the top line. He never even got a handful of games to prove something, he was given only six minutes of ice time to prove his worth. Incredible!
Another example, Nazem Kadri was moved to the wing to play with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel in a game against the Senators in the preseason. He scored two goals and added an assist in his best game of the preseason. He would later be sent down to the Toronto Marlies the following day.
Kadri was given one game as a make-or-break audition for the team, and even despite giving his best performance of the preseason, was sent down and is currently averaging a point per game with the Marlies.
This fact can be simply reaffirmed by looking at last year, even despite great training camps from the likes of Viktor Stalberg, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Jonas Gustavsson and Christian Hanson, the team opted for the more veteran approach and ended up taking it on the chin.
The Leafs realized their mistakes and called these players up after mutiple moves made by the team, but it was too late, despite the final 20 games played earning 26 points, the team missed the playoffs and finished with the second worst record in the NHL.
To put it simply, the Leafs team just is not good enough right now to compete for a playoff spot, so I beg of Wilson and Burke, stop over-analyzing, and simplify the gameplan. Give the youngsters such as Caputi, Kadri, Hanson, and eventually Brad Ross, Marcel Mueller, Jerry D'Amigo, and build for the future.
Luke Schenn made it to the NHL as an 18 year old, again he was a special case, but Leaf fans are seeing the difference now in his game play. This was all caused by getting an early start to his career and getting his feet wet early.
He struggled in his sophomore season, much like Tyler Bozak right now, but overall Schenn's work ethic in the offseason and him getting more adjusted to the game as he matured, has now vaulted him into discussion for possibly a Canadian Olympic Team roster spot in 2014, and an anchor on the Leafs defence at the tender age of 21!
The success of the Leafs will lie in their system, and their prospects getting a shot. It starts with bringing in Nazem Kadri, placing him on left wing on the top line and going from there.
The future is now, and the Leafs need to start thinking that way. Burke and Wilson need to stop leaning on the Bobby Ryans, Ryan Getzlafs and Corey Perrys as excuses for leaving Kadri and others behind in the AHL. The NHL has changed drastically from back then and went from a physical, grinding game, to a more skilled, fast-paced game. The old NHL is out and the new NHL is in. Leafs coaches need to get with the times.
Should Wilson be fired? I won't say that right now, but he'll need to change a few things in his philosophies if he ever hopes to win as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and keep his job in the future.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment I usually will respond to all comments.
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