Wednesday, February 3, 2010

State of the Leafs: 2010

I started writing report cards for the Leafs, Jays and Raptors in 2004 long before this blog ever existed. Back then I would simply email them to friends. I've always enjoyed writing them, but slowly at first and now quickly there are sports team report cards everywhere. I posted a Raptors edition two weeks ago and it would have been time for a Leafs version but...I can't.

I'm not saying I invented the concept of handing out grades to sports teams (read: I probably did), but I am saying I'm done with them. I'm retiring the report cards and moving on.

I'm replacing them with State of the Union type columns. Of course if they bomb (the articles, not the teams) I have no problem pulling a Jay Leno and slipping the report cards right back in there. We'll see what happens. For now, it's on to the State of the Leafs: 2010.

The last year has been exceedingly rough for the Maple Leafs and their fans. Actually, tough isn't nearly strong enough. It's been a nightmare. A fourth straight spring without playoff hockey (and soon to be five), a number one goalie who wasn't even AHL quality, and a clear lack of goal-scoring ability amongst the forwards have all contributed to the futile state of the franchise.

But that's only the beginning.

Brian Burke, the chosen one, the crusty, egotistical and (previously) successful GM who was hired away from Anaheim in November 2008 and given total autonomy over hockey decisions...has not been able to turn the ship around. He hasn't even offered up his typically crazy sound-bites that would have at least provided an entertainment value that is clearly missing on the ice.

Unwilling to fully commit (or accept?) to a proper rebuilding phase, Burke again swung for the fences this past Sunday, trading for Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere, two players with monster contracts that their previous teams were desperate to move. The trades leave the Leafs with approximately 14 defencemen eating up 98% of the team's cap space and an aging, expensive goalie at a time when nearly every successful team allots minimal salary to a position that can be filled by almost anyone (except Vesa Toskala).

Even worse, Burke's September trade for Phil Kessel coupled with the season-long funk his team has shown on the ice have combined to sap every ounce of feeling out of the season. Leaf fans are not upset as much as they are disconnected. The losing would be sufferable if the payoff - a top three pick - was still an option. You know, a reason to believe, a reason to care. But Burke traded Toronto's 2010 and 2011 first round draft picks to Boston to acquire Kessel. The result is a 2009-10 season that is totally lost. Toronto fans have become zombies, sleep-walking through the season without cause or emotion.

And the players that were supposed to be building blocks for the future, most notably Luke Schenn and Mikhail Grabovski, have regressed. Considerably. Schenn looks completely overwhelmed in his sophmore season, constantly fighting the puck and taking bad penalties at an alarming rate. The supposed defensive defenceman has been repeatedly victimized on one-on-ones and has been a healthy scratch at times. Grabovski, whom Burke curiously signed to a 3 year $9 million extension last summer, has failed to build on his 20 goal season and seems to have more fire in practices, where he routinely fights with teammates, than he does in games.

The rest of the roster is filled with role players (Beauchemin, Komisarek, Primeau, Mitchell, Orr), unproven projects (Bozak, Stalberg, Hanson, Kulemin, Gunnarson, Gustavsson), cap filler (Exelby, Wallin) and the stale leftovers from the Cliff Fletcher era (Finger, Stempniak). The two best Leafs aside from Kessel (Kaberle and Ponikarovsky), are rumoured to be on their way out of town, the next to be traded in the ongoing effort to...what?


  1. Nice summary. As a Wings fan, I'm obviously loving the perpetual state that the Leafs find themselves in. They have their own little Groundhog day going on.

    On the surface I like the Phaneuf trade. They traded a bunch of bit 4th liners and got a potential all-star in Dion. As you indicate though maybe another D was not what the doctor order. Here's a thought, how about some first line forwards (and no Poni, Kulemin, Bozak don't qualify ... agruably neither does Kessel)?

    As for Giggy, what's the point in tying up all the money when you know you are going to be losing for the next few years?

    Marlies are paper thin on talent, no drafts picks available, and little trade bait on the roster ... things are bleak.

    But you'll always have 1967!


  2. That was fairly harsh. Unfortunately the only comeback I have is that Kessel IS a first liner.

  3. Humble as always crazy trailblazer you

  4. I love long championship droughts. Give me all the Cubs, Leafs, Blackhawks, Browns, Sacramento Kings you got. Too bad the Red Sox/White Sox had to win.

    Keep it up Leafs!