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The blog equivalent of Maple Leaf open-line radio

Vince Lombardi, perhaps the finest NFL football coach of all time, used to tell his players “fatigue makes cowards of us all…”.  This was one of the many motivational phrases that he would use time and again when he wanted to push them past what they thought they could give.  He always wanted a little more, a little more.   He was trying to build winners, men who would be champions.  He obviously did something right.  His leadership and inspirational methods saw his Green Bay Packers go to the NFL championship game 6 times in last 8 seasons with the franchise as coach between 1960 and 1967—and the Pack won 5 of those title games (and two Super Bowls, as well).

That said, (and as much as I admired Lombardi as a young man in the 1960s, as did his players) I’ll claim fatigue on this occasion, or maybe simply having nothing of consequence to say after yet another meaningless late-season game involving the Leafs at the ACC.  A 3-0 loss at home to another non-playoff-bound team, the Hurricanes, does not exactly inspire a "writing" mood. The Tuesday night result has become an all-too-familiar reality of late, a frustrating situation dating back years- a situation that was supposed to be “fixed” by this season.

You know how talk show hosts (when they clearly have run out of ideas) simply say, "Now we will open the phone lines to take your calls.  Discuss whatever is on your mind..."?  Well, that's where I'm at right now.  When it comes to the Maple Leafs, we are reduced, it seems, to hoping for a good draft pick, or listening to Burke’s people complimenting the Senators (did you hear that one?), and basically telling us fans that, hey, we just need to be patient.  Look at what those snappy Senators have done with their re-build, we're being told now.

Sure.  I’ll just do that.  And I'll wonder, if that’s such a good model (you know, pulling for the Marlies in the playoffs this spring in the AHL playoffs because that’s valuable experience for those players and hey, they’ll all be up and contributing to the Leafs next season…), exactly why the Toronto Maple Leafs—with all of our super-smart management types, who have been re-building this team for years—are still behind the Senators in the standings, when the Sens were an absolute mess just one year ago.

I assume this is supposed to give us hope?

Anyway, I claimed that I had nothing to say—and that’s true.  I seem to have nothing new to say today, it seems. So, I’ll open the forum to you, just like they do at times on talk radio. If you want to opine on Carlyle, Burke, the plethora of young Leaf talent that we are assured is coming right around the corner, jump in.  Maybe you have thoughts on our goaltending future (as we wonder about Reimer's latest "upper-body" injury)  or how great it is to be the youngest (or is it second-youngest now…or third…) team in the NHL.  You might have an opinion on who we might be able to pick in the draft, or whether there should be another NHL team in Toronto.  (Or maybe, just one really good one here, finally.)

In any event, in the meantime, if you're more in a mood to read instead of posting and you missed some recent columns here that might be of interest, by all means check out:

  • Do we need to trade Jake Gardiner to expedite the “re-build” (seems like a contradiction, I know…)?
  • 10 issues facing the Leafs going forward
  • The Brian Burke melodrama
  • How MLSE spin doctors are trying to flood the media with self-serving messages  (The above reference to the Senators re-build came after my original entry posted here...)
I just realized, you might want to talk about the game against the Hurricanes—and while you're at it, help me understand again why we gave away Jiri Tlusty for nothing- not that, in truth, I much noticed the trade at the time.  Back then, the deal seemed like just another player from the Ferguson era being moved along...

Oh well…..


  1. They can fire Burke, I don't really care that much. I am not his supporter. I could be happy with a variety of competent GMs

    However, I am feeling positive. The Leafs are finally losing.

    They are losing properly. None of this 19th place stuff. We are inching toward the bottom of the barrel. At this rate we could actually get a lottery pick.

    If you are feeling sad, head over to

    Lots of foul language but very funny Leafs humor.

  2. Thanks DP. Yes, I've heard of that site.

  3. Something struck me today while going over various Leaf news outlets. Here's the scenario.

    1.The team has won 4 of the last 20 or something close (I don't even care enough to ook it up anymore)

    2.Your coach was fired during this flameout.

    3.A fan base is finally starting to lose interest. ( this is anecdotal but it seems the anger is giving away to apathy)

    4.Your new coach is a hard ass task master who you need to impress to stick around next year all the while learning his system.

    5.He calls out your team saying your home record is an embarassment. Your home play is unacceptable. He wants passion some sign that you care.

    6.He calls an optional practice on game day

    What do you do?

    Well if your the so called leadership on the Leafs you all take the day off. Not one of the Captains shows up for practice. Then come game time you can't get to the end of the game fast enough. You have three shots on net 19 minutes in. You have zero hits, zero passion. You get beat yet again not even scoring a goal.

    Imagine if you will a player like Crosby or Malkin in the same situation. I guarentee they would be at practice working as hard as they ever have. When your best players are your hardest workers you have a winning team. By all acounts I have ever read Crosby is the hardest worker on the Penguins followed closely by Malkin. Same goes for Detroit with Datsuyk and Zetterberg. Everything I have ever seen or read about Kessel is first off the ice at practice last guy on the ice.

    Tonights game was a travesty in a travesty of a season. Kessel and Phaneuf (and most other Leaf players) just want this season to be over without getting hurt. They are no longer interested in playing hard, they don't care and they have no passion.

    It is a lot easier over the last two months to see exactly why Calgary and Boston were ammendable to giving up two young players with so much skill. You will never, ever win with leaders such as this.

  4. Not only a good overview (and realistic), but well said when it comes to the issue of leadership with the Leafs. It's baffling. Or maybe it isn't.

    I remember writing, in the early days of the Phaneuf "captaincy", that while he may be Burke's choice, I wondered if anyone would follow him. We seem to be finding out that either he is not, at this stage in his career, a true leader, or whatever leadership style he has, is not one that others follow.

    Kessel, at this point, is what he is. A highly-skilled offensive player who can make sweet plays in a wide-open environment.

    The danger here is that the cycle becomes very negative for all concerned- the players, the organization, the media and for the fans, too.

    Fans need to have something to hope for, and we need something to believe in. Hopefully there will be reasons to feel that way again.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I always appreciate your perspective, Willbur.

  5. Wow. Even though it's been inevitable for some time now, hard to believe we're doing a postmortem on the 28th of March. Although you do a masterful job here at all times, I can't blame you for not being inspired this time, Michael.

    Even the booing at the ACC seemed forced. Those unlucky souls in attendance just couldn't summon the energy to boo, let alone toss waffles. Sad. Despite Carolina's position, it was difficult to watch Tlusty and his 17 goals and more so Brent score after. Ouch.

    I tend to agree with a lot of Wilbur's assessment. Lack of leadership and enthusiasm seems to plague this team. Guys like Crosby, Datsyuk, Chara, the Staals, etc., all come to play, whether it's practice or game. I'm beginning to wonder if Dion is the right guy for the "C" ... I don't think he's living up to it.

    I would've been willing to look the other way on the Kessel trade, but we're constantly reminded by Mr "I" Brian Burke that he would do it over in a heartbeat and that makes me mad. And he never did give him a talented centre to play with, compounding matters. We've come to accept that Phil's a one dimensional player and almost a one-trick-pony with his wrist shot, spectacular as it may be. No amount of coddling, it seems, is going to make him a complete NHLer. I know, it's too late to cry Seguin and Hamilton, but we may be crying for some years.

    On the plus side, we won't have to listen to the B S about salvaging the season, and all the other crap the MSM feeds us to stir faux excitement. We're officially out and maybe that's a good thing. Perhaps we can improve our lot in the lottery and land us some leadership and character...


  6. Hope we miss the playoffs next year too - it would be great.

  7. The worst part of all this is that the end of this season is rife with anxiety. Anxiety over the fact that very, very little is working right now, and (nearly) every reason we had for optimism over the course of the year has sputtered and failed more often than not.

    We can't battle for--and hold--a playoff spot, even when we have one.

    Instead of two promising goalies--either of which we had assumed would break out into a respectable year--we have two that let us down.

    We're heading into the 5th year of a rebuild when ostensibly lesser teams are leapfrogging us.

    Not that a coaching change would solve everything, but we expected it to at least solve a LITTLE.

    Our Alternate captains are generally regarded as little more than boat-anchor contracts.

    And I know it won't happen, but I'd love to see Lupul as Captain. At the very least, he should get the A next year.

    Sorry the bleak attitude, but this is so demoralizing I can't take it. It's worse than last year, when Kessel was still largely an unknown quantity and we knew our goalie situation was shaky going in. I stand by my argument that we had the tools this year despite the evidence to the contrary. What happened to this team is baffling.

    Thanks for the chance to stand at the soapbox.

  8. On the topic of Phaneuf, I think that (for once) Kypreos made a fair point on TV after the game. The organization made a kneejerk reaction putting the C on him so soon after arriving here, maybe wanting to appease fans who were sick of the void left after Sundin. Coming out of Calgary he was a former all-star defenceman who had regressed, and he should have been allowed to work on returning his game to that level quietly, not as captain of the damn team. Nothing wrong with having a young player wear the C, but you have to have veterans who are respected and can help the man lead. And our group of veterans are far from respectable. They're our worst players.

    As for Kessel, I don't really get why people are ragging on him as someone who's supposed to provide leadership. He's not a leader at all. Is that unfortunate? Yes. Don't we wish he *looked* like he cared a little more sometimes? Sure. But the player that jumps to mind is Alex Semin. He's not asked to be a leader, he's asked to score goals. And like Semin, Kessel is clearly a complimentary player, not a centrepiece. He just needs help, plain and simple.

    On to Burke. What can I say. He's been completely embarrassed on a professional level these last two months, and I think it's safe to say that whatever "aura" existed around him when he first got here is long gone. He has failed to do his job in several critical areas, and in my mind he has one draft and one FA period to fix this.

    The decisions of he and his staff will shape the direction of the franchise long-term. When they assess this team now, do they really still believe they're anywhere near contention? If so, open the bank vaults and LAND Suter and Parise, and get creative at the draft in order to patch another roster hole or two. If not, BLOW IT UP and stop trying to reinvent the wheel. And enjoy that humble pie.

    As always, it's never dull in Leafland. It'll be interesting to see what happens next.

  9. Well said, Caedmon. Reality has hit home. No amount of 'spin" will save the season - or the sentiment of most fans.

    Leadership is an issue- on and off the ice.


  10. Steve W. While it is unlikely they would make Lupul Captain over Phaneuf at this point (can you imagine the discussion and attention if that were to happen?), I hear what you're saying. He seems to be one guy who, earlier in the season at least, seemed to provide a spark when the team was behind in a game, etc. and hated losing.

    Fans have every right to feel disappointment. This season was a disappointment, and in fact, a failure.

    It's not the end of the story, but much more is expected, and soon.

  11. Mills,

    Great post. The Phaneuf question hangs over this team, for sure. As for Kessel, I think fans have been hoping he might become that all-around guy, but you're right, he is (at least at this point in his career) what he is: a really, really good offensive player who can score, but not a team leader.

    Where this all goes next is hard to say. Will one "high" draft pick really do it? Can they win with the current roster? Where does a goalie come from?

    Lots of questions. A long wait for answers.


  12. Darryl K. tried to post here but it didn't is his comment

    I can't help but think something happened in the locker room to kick off this horrible run of futility to end the season. For all the talk of Kessel's one-dimensional nature, Phaneuf's inability to lead, and Wilson's inability to coach, this team was a SURE FIRE playoff team as of the beginning of February. And then the wheels fell off completely.

    I find it hard to believe that it was a matter of the other NHL teams "figuring the Leafs out". Sure, there are going to be slumps, but I, and I'm sure many others, didn't expect this level of mediocrity.

    As someone mentioned earlier in their comments here, the coaching change should have inspired SOME kind of a spark, considering the playoffs were still a possibility when the change was made. But little changed. The Leafs still floundered, regardless of the philosophical changes Carlyle has tried to implement.

    So here we are again. The Leafs are a non-playoff team and looking more disorganized and out of sorts than ever. I, for one, can't believe it's solely an on-ice issue.

  13. I agree, Darryl. Nowadays, every NHL team scouts and prepares so thoroughly they can all "figure each other out". There has to be something else.

    The simple "answer" for some will be goaltending. And yes, that's part of it, for sure.

    Others will say talent, but while you're never as good as you seem (early season) or as bad as things sometimes appear (last two months), there is talent here. But this is a team with such fragile confidence that even, as you cite, a coaching change (which almost always provides at least short-term inspiration) did nothing.

    Now, that coaching change should bear fruit longer-term, yes, but this season is baffling, no question. All teams go through stretches of uninspired play. But this has gone on far too long.

    Thanks Darryl. Good stuff.

  14. Darryl, I did not intend to avoid your locker-room reference. I just am without answers on that one...

  15. I don't know about anyone else but I watched the Carolina game and the first thing that came to mind was that this team had quit on the coach already. I have gone on record as saying that the Carlyle hiring appeared to be a panic move. No effort was made to look for alternatives. No thought was given to putting an interim coach in place so that all candidates could be considered including those that will inevitably lose their jobs as a result of their team's playoff performance.
    Although it is only a small sample, it appears that we are destined to be subjected to incredibly boring hockey for the next 3 years.
    Which begs the question, why would Burke not find a better fit for this team than Carlyle? Why would you put yourself in the position of having to tear this thing down once again in order to find players that fit your coach's style?
    The Leaf team of 2011-2012 lacked a couple of key pieces. It needed a goaltender and it needed some character guys, preferably veterans, that didn't like to lose and that could provide a settling presence when times were tough.
    I am not optimistic that this can be fixed in the near future. And, if the CBA reduces the cap and prevents teams from burying players in the minors then we are in for a world of hurt indeed.

  16. As for Kessel not being counted on for leadership I think that is just not true. Yes he is young, but he is a 5 year veteran player as well as being the most talented.

    As a 5 year vet it is absolutely expected to show some leadership. Otherweise why would the Leafs put an A on his shoulder? You could argue that is managemnet screwing up yet again and I would except that argument. The fact is though the Leafs did put an A on his shoulder and in the publics eye that makes him a leader.

    Comparing him to Semin is a good call. I tend to comapre him to Kovalev supremely talented but lacking in desire. I'll stand by my comments
    from earlier though, you can not win with these types of players.

  17. That's fair, Michael. As I said, even if there is a rift in the locker room, we as fans would never be privy to it. It just seems to be the most likely answer for the absolute drop off that this team has displayed.

    Thanks again!


  18. cbh747- you've captured in a few words a lot of what's troubling here.

    Carlyle may be the "right" coach. I'm not sure, though. Again, it's like Burke was locked into one idea: it had to be Carlyle- and not one of any number of bright coaches who are out there or soon will be. (Of course Burke didn't like Babcock in Anaheim, and he seems to be not too bad a coach, eh?)

    Usually (not always, of course) a GM will go from a hard-ass (Wilson) to a "player's" coach. Instead, we went from tough to toughest.

    Again, it may work, but we have a lot of players here who may not respond the way the Blues, for example, have responded (at least in the short-term) to a demanding coach like Hitchcock.

    Burke had to have Kessel, at a big cost. He had to make Phaneuf captain because he was "tough". What other leadership traits (beyond loudness) did he identify in Phaneuf? It does make one wonder about the ability to think things through.

    Goaltending, veteran leadership, coaching (as in keeping Wilson for three seasons when they didn't agree on a fundamental principle: how rough the team should be). All key misses so far. The CBA comes next. We'll see.

  19. Your comments are fair, Willbur. You're not knocking what Kessel brings, but talking about what he does not, as an Assistant captain on the team.

  20. The Leafs ability to implode is almost impressive- I suppose if you're going to lose, you might as well go on one of the most spectacular losing streaks of the season.

    I think what hurts most is that for a majority of the season, the Leafs looked like a team perfectly capable of making the playoffs. Not a Stanley Cup winning (or even contending) team, but not a bunch of bottom feeders who had a few lucky bounces enabling them to crawl up the standings. For the first time in years, I actually felt optimistic about a Leafs' roster, and was giddily joining in with everyone else daydreaming about who would be our best match-up in the first round. And then February happened.

    That the fall was so swift and sudden feels almost like a reason to have hope for next season (talent doesn't disappear that quickly!), but it actually makes me worry even more. If it was merely about swapping in a few more talented pieces...but a rift in the locker-room (if that's what the actual problem is) seems like a much more difficult problem to fix.

    I don't have as much of an issue with Brian Burke as some other Leaf fans, but I do wish he'd turn down the bravado. All it does is paint him into corner, causing it to be more difficult for him to make the changes this organization actually needs. (Proclaiming Reimer to be the "real deal" doesn't make me anymore confident about starting next season with him and some scrap "veteren" in net; and bragging about not exchanging players for first round picks doesn't seem so wise now that those same players appear to have given up.)

    I guess there is one thing to look forward to next season: watching more former Leafs- who we gave up for nothing- blossom in other cities. (I am also finding some amusement in fans who are already proclaiming Jussi Rynnas to be our new saviour- just wait until he's spent another year or so behind the Leaf's defense...)

  21. Tremendous post, Alexandra.

    It was certainly a "spectacular" streak.

    I agree that talent just doesn't fall off a cliff. I don't have an answer as to what happened- I don't think any of us really know. Locker-room? I think it may well have been a case of slippage, as in, once they started to lose a few, confidence waned, and fragile confidence doesn't help a team win games. And it seems as though there was no one in the locker room who could pull the team out of it.

    A move at the deadline might have helped, simply in the sense of sending a message to the team that management was doing everything it could to not just ensure a playoff spot, but so that the team was prepared to actually do well come playoff time.

    I think when it comes to Burke, some criticize his "moves", some (like me) more focus on the unfortunate and unnecessary bluster. Most of us believe he's a solid hockey guy- there is no need to keep reminding us. Try the old Nike thing, just do it.

    We are indeed good at anointing saviours. It usually takes just one save, one good shift, a goal or a hit to proclaim a player as such. (Look at Ashton two weeks ago....he may be a fine NHL player, but people were all abuzz because he was new and "worked hard", which is what all new, young players do to impress.)

    Right now, most fans would just appreciate the absolute fun that comes with a playoff series in the springtime in Toronto.

    Thanks Alexandra.

  22. I haven’t read the comments yet, so please excuse me if have missed something in the conversation; however, I have become exasperated with Jonas Gustavsson and need to get this off my chest. Anyone following my comments here would know how much positive, encouraging ink I have spilled trying (rationally) to encourage fan support for the Monster. His talent, compete and potential is indeed of monster proportions, but his concentration and positioning problems have proven to be well, horrific.

    Greg Millen is absolutely right about Jonas’ positioning and too early commitment to the butterfly. Goaltending fundamentals do not get any more fundamental than that. The contrast to Cam Ward’s positioning spelled it out. Gustavsson might be the better raw talent but he is too deep in his net, he commits to early, he sometimes loses his angles and he loses his concentration far too often. (Bowen’s comment about Potvin, I feel was a bit off, as that was a different era and Felix Potvin could successfully break longstanding rules about positioning.)

    I still have a feeling that Gustavsson will exorcise those demons, sign somewhere else and could well end up with a Stanley Cup or even Conn Smythe trophy on his resume. However, he probably needs to move somewhere else to realize his potential and I wish him well. Who knows, maybe he will still be in the Leafs' net come September. That said, I would point out that I really enjoyed watching Josh Harding play for the Pats and I believe that he is slated to be UFA this summer. I think he had some injury problems, but this is a goaltender that I want to look into at this time to see where his development has brought him.

  23. I'm with you on the Gustavsson question, Bobby C. Whether we can put this at the foot of Allaire (I do, but I concede I may well be wrong, of course), I'm not sure. But as I've noted here recently, the analyst and ex-goalie you cite (Millen) has subtly mentioned all this about Gus without invoking Alliare's name (which would get him in hot water with the Leaf brass, I'm sure, if he did link Gustavsson's performance to Allaire).

    I, too, believe Monster will be better off (as you know, I've said that here for a long, long time) somewhere else. It just has to be.

    And Harding is very much a name that seems to be "out there" this summer. He seemed to be a bright young goalie, so he may be worth having a look at him.

    Thanks Bobby.

  24. Talent may not fall off a cliff, but sometimes you do catch lightning in a bottle.

    I am at a loss, in that I am really pretty tired right now of the whole thing. I will say this... many people saw that even while the team was winning and we all felt good about it, there were issues. Some were larger than others, but whether it was Gus allowing a soft goal in a game the Leafs score 7 for themselves, or Kessel-Lupul had 3 goals in a 4-3 win, or a poor pinch resulted in an odd-man rush but not a goal, there were issues with this team.

    It's not 'luck', so much as you just didn't get burned. Almost like you have a job and a sideline, and you have a habit of dining in restaurants 3 nights a week. You're spending cash, but it's not hurting you. Suddenly the sideline dries up, and you wonder "why am I so short of cash lately" as you drive to Ruth's Chris...

    So whether it was shaky play from goalies, lack of secondary scoring, poor defensive decisions, for one reason or another they played well enough to overcome it. But when you don't address those issues, eventually they do become factors.

    Next season is a real test, and I think the defining one for Burke. His team looked ok and then collapsed, and he was unable to do anything to right the ship this season. He now has an off season, and a relatively high draft selection. Management needs to harshly evaluate what is here, what the new coach needs, and what needs to be acquired to move this team forward - the playoffs are a must, it is the only 'next step' acceptable.

    If that cannot be accomplished, Brian Burke's tenure is an abject failure, and he should be replaced if he doesn't resign first.

  25. Great stuff as always, Mark.

    I think we share a similar perspective. I like your point on "luck". I think you're right- often a team "gets away" with little errors that only show up if, well, they show up on the scoreboard. The team had plenty of weaknesses in the high-rolling, point-gathering part of the season, when their offence took advantage of wide-open space and they had to time to do what they wanted many nights.

    (I will say this, though, about "luck". As I've often stated here about Kessel, for example, there are times he makes the same plays, the same moves, the same shot, everything. One game he'll score a pair but then for several games, it hits the goalie's shoulder, the cross bar, whatever. Or a line mate doesn't convert. Is that "luck", or just the reality that it is a game of inches? I don't know...)

    There is no question next season is "it". You've written it clearly. The team showing "improvement" will not be enough for even the most hopeful Leaf fan, I don't believe. In fact, I would go so far as to say we have lost a year. Next spring, making the playoffs won't be "enough". Fans will expect us to do some damage come playoff time- not get bounced out right away.

    Thanks Mark.

  26. This is one of the ways I keep myself happy...I think of center, Alex Galchenyuk playing with Kessel and Lupul.

    Watch the video. The kid has the speed and skill to play with Kessel and Lupul:

    Plus his father is Belarusian and played Belarus...just like Grabovski.

    It wouldn't surprise me if they all know each other.

    He was born in America so Burke would like him.

    He seems like the perfect fit and should be available at around the 5th spot.

  27. Just looking at the video, DP, it goes without saying the guy has remarkable skill.

    If he's projected as a top 5 guy, that seems to fit where the Leafs could be selecting.

    The wait is on....

  28. Breaking News....

    Hamilton's Spencer Abbott - Hobey Baker favourite and Maine star forward - has just signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.