Toronto Maple Leafs Implement Change, Fingers Starting to Point?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IOctober 13, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 12: Marek Malik #22 of the Tampa Bay Lightning hits Matt Stajan #14 the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 12, 2009 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Destitute. That is the best word to describe where the Toronto Maple Leafs level of play is these days.

Last night, the Leafs put together another embarrassing effort, losing a “close” one to the New York Rangers. In case you missed it, the final score was 7-2 and no, the Leafs were never in this game, and for good reason.

The finger-pointing started last week when, after a couple of sub-par efforts, goaltender Vesa Toskala was outed by Leaf fans from coast to coast as being the main cause of the Leafs' poor showings and with good reason—frankly, he was terrible.

I am not suggesting that Toskala is the sole issue in Leafland, there is ample evidence that there is much more to this situation than just Toskala’s poor play.

Brian Burke made several offseason acquisitions, amongst them, defensmen Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, and Garnet Exelby were brought in to solidify a defense that was amongst the NHL’s worst last season.

To date, there has been no improvement from the back end and there is some evidence of the defense actually being worse. Beauchemin has a -5 rating and looks lost out there, Komisarek has a -2 rating and has a team-leading 21 penalty minutes, and Exelby has only managed to get into two games. Clearly, Burke and co. expected much more from these three.

Then there is the Leafs offense. To date, the Leafs offense is ranked 24th in the NHL, simply put, that’s not good enough. Much maligned Jason Blake has a team-leading -6 rating, John Mitchell has a -5 rating, and Nikolai Kulemin has a -3 rating.

None of the forwards are playing with any confidence, they are not finishing their checks and, for the most part, there are just too many passengers. Lee Stempniak, who I have heard more than a couple of people say has been the Leafs' best forward, has a grand total of one goal with a team-leading 17 shots.

Accountability seems to be an issue. Nobody seems to be willing to step up as the Leafs' leader, the team does not communicate on the bench and there seems to be very little cohesion between what the coach is asking from the players and what the players are delivering.

Passion, or lack-thereof, has contributed to the Leafs' losses, as well. Sure, the Leafs played a spirited game against the Montreal Canadiens, but that was game one of the season and I am yet to see that kind of effort since.

Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson has to take his share of the blame, as well. This run and gun offensive system that the Leafs have implemented is laughable. If the Leafs are going to be competitive, they are going to have to grind out the victories and put an emphasis on DEFENSE.

On another note...watching the Leafs send out the likes of Colton Orr, Jamal Mayers, and Jay Rosehill to beat up the opposition has been an act of futility and a source of embarrassment for fans and the opposition alike.

Fact is, the Leafs' muscle has lost its fair share of fights this season and, with the majority of the fights seemingly being void of any reasoning, the result has not been a change of momentum and there is no message being sent, it’s just plain stupidity and, to date, fighting has had no value to the Leafs.

Seemingly wanting to send a message to his players, Wilson has decided to bench forwards Matt Stajan and Nik Hagman this evening, when the Leafs face the Colorado Avalanche.

Leafs rookie Viktor Stalberg, who is coming off a concussion, will take one of the roster spots and fellow rookie Tyler Bozak will be called up from the Leafs' AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, to take the other.

The additions of Stalberg and Bozak should add an element of speed and an offensive threat to the Leafs' attack, but I am not convinced that either one of them will add any defensive presence, which is where the Leafs are really lacking.

It was also announced today that Vesa Toskala has an undisclosed injury. It is unknown how long Toskala will be sidelined; fact is most Leaf fans don’t care.

The Leafs will start veteran NHL goaltender Joey MacDonald tonight against the Avalanche. MacDonald, who was signed as a free agent this offseason as insurance, has a career record of 17-34 with a 3.31 goals against average and a .900 save percentage.

MacDonald is no Patrick Roy, but he is accustom to facing a lot of shots and has battled wherever he has played. Expect the Leafs to play a strong defensive game in front of him, something that should serve the Leafs well.

There are not enough fingers on one hand to point at all the problem areas with the Leafs. The defense, the offense, the goaltending, the coaches, the system—heck, even Brian Burke has to assume some level of responsibility here.

Fact is, if the Leafs cannot manage to turn this ship around inside of of the next 10-15 games, the playoffs will be nothing more than a pipe dream, something Boston Bruin fans will be applauding all season long.

Until next time,


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