Tuesday, November 09, 2010

There's no imagination in the blues

Most people pegged the Leafs to be 12th in the East and they're certainly playing down to expectations.

That said, the two biggest and most common question before the Leafs' season started - is Bozak ready to be a #1C and who is going to score for this team - have turned out to have rather ugly answers so far (No; nobody).

It's hard to believe that the Leafs scored more goals (16) in their first four games than they have in their last ten (15). The team is now on pace to score fewer goals this season than any team since the lockout.

One win in their last nine, shut-out three times in their past six. The trend lines are all pointing in the wrong direction.

The worst part is, lots of people saw this coming.

Looking at this mess of a club, to my mind the latest horrific slide appears to come down to:

  1. The team has tuned out the Coach. The penalty kill is bad and the power play is a whole new level of atrocious. Too frequently the team comes out flat and isn't coming up with an adequate compete level; and/or
  2. Burke has consistently mis-judged the state of the club and applied the wrong "fix." (When the team had three wins in their first 18 games using the NHL's most expensive group of defencemen, acquiring another "stud" d-,an didn't strike me as the club's biggest priority. This off-season, with goals at an absolute premium, committing $3.5M to 15 goal man Colby Armstrong seemed like a horrible use of resources).
Now, if the problem is the former, it's rather easy to address. Put a bullet in Wilson and his crew and move on.

If it's the latter (and the voices in my head are telling me it might be) I'm not ready to go there quite yet...

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  1. Paul Steckley12:43 am

    I think there is another possible explanation: this team has simply lost its confidence. This is not unexpected as it is a team full of young, unproven players who have not yet learned to accept adversity and move past it. What this slide leads me to believe is that for all the talk of changing the culture in the dressing room (which I think has been a success), Leaf management has not yet found the right veteran leadership for this group of players. They need a Messier-type messiah to lead them through stretches like this and until Burke secures someone like that, nothing will change. Talent without confidence is Gary Leeman.

    Armstrong was a good pick-up by Burke, whose cap hit is I believe $3.0M. His drive and effort are an example to the younger players.

  2. Lack of confidence is well put. Tough to put a bunch of young players in this position without the experience to overcome the adversity of being a Toronto Maple Leaf.

  3. Paul We'll have to agree to disagree about Armstrong. I think he's a terrible signing.

    Dirty Dangle It could be a matter of young players struggling, but that's on Burke. He assembled this roster and perhaps should have taken this into consideration.

  4. Paul Steckley8:04 am

    I guess so, but we'll have a better idea when he returns from injury and we have more than just 8 games upon which to base an opinion. One thing I did notice about the few games Armstrong has played with the Leafs so far is that he doesn't appear afraid to crash the net, which too few Leafs seem to want to do.

    I agree that Burke ultimately has to be responsible for the quality of the team Wilson has to ice every game, but let's not forget that he's basically had to rebuild this team from scratch since he arrived. As much as we'd all love to see more talent and more desire from this team, trades seem to be a rarity in the league now and the quality of players available this summer as free agents left much to be desired. I for one am not looking at this season as true representation of Burke's final vision of this team but rather as a work very much in progress. If two seasons from now there is no change in the talent level or compete level of this team, then I'll be calling for Burke's head but for now I'm going to be patient and see where things fall. I've waited 40 years for a Cup, I can wait a couple more.

  5. Have to say, it seems Armstrong was doing something right. While there were signs of a decline before he was injured, it's been an all-out catastrophe since he went down. Add to that the fact that the Captain is out for a month or so, and it seems any motivating presence is gone from both the forwards and the defense.

    Everyone's playing an individual game out there. If it's out of panic, and everyone trying to win games on his own, then Ron or one of the veterans (Beauchemin seems well-suited) needs to calm down the troops. If it's because people aren't buying into the system, then we either need a new system or, if Wilson is unwilling to go down that road, a new coach.

    If the Leafs play defensively (a good use of resources, I'd say), then they might be able to grind out close wins. If things stay the way they are, I expect we'll see a lot more 4-0 and 4-1 games, and continue spiralling downward.

    Go Leafs. Let's turn this thing around.

  6. Adam - Armstrong plays 13 minutes a night.

    He has 1 goal in 8 games, averages 0.5 shots a game and his hits-per-game put him 8th among Leaf forwards.

    I don't see Armstrong as a difference maker.

  7. Paul Steckley10:55 am

    Stats don't always tell the entire story, though. Wilson was quoted as saying that Armstrong and Phaneuf are the, "emotional barometers of our team, they keep everybody up." Losing that presence in the dressing room, filled as it is with young players still finding their way in the NHL, is likely contributing to the slump. Adam is right that it's up to the other veterans on the club to stand up and take control. Komisarek was considered for the captaincy when he was first acquired, so he, along with Beauchemin, should be trying to fill the gap left by Phaneuf's and Armstrong's absences.

  8. Paul A barometer measures pressure, it can't change it.

    There's no reason Captain Intangible and his trusty sidekick Armdog can't be in the room while they recover from their injuries.

    Agree that it's time for the vets to stand-up.

  9. Paul Steckley12:13 pm

    Agreed on the actual definition of barometer but I don't think that's the meaning Wilson was using in his comment.

    I'm not sure what the reasoning is, but it seems like injured players either aren't allowed in the dressing room or it simply isn't done. I've often wondered why certain players wouldn't be on the bench or nearer to the players during the games if they're injured but it never seems to happen. Phaneuf and Armstrong were up in the press box again last night. For all I know, it may be a league rule.