The highest paid front office in hockey history must determine quickly how it is that their hand-picked roster has failed so miserably in the most disappointing Maple Leaf season in memory.
This isn’t just the year that got away. For the more than $6 million that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment doles out to its bloated management team — Brian Burke, Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle, Rick Dudley, Cliff Fletcher — one a general manager, three former general managers, and two assistants — it has every reason to expect something resembling progress. The same way the fans, paying the freight of these overpaid and under-producing executives, have every reason to expect more than they have gotten in this diminishing season of Leaf collapse.
Burke ended last season by saying “from the all-star break on, we were fourth in the East.”
As recently as the firing of coach Ron Wilson he talked about “playing at a 100-point pace.”
But as Bill Parcells would often say, you are what the standings say you are. The Leafs are 24th in the NHL and slipping fast. This season of promise, opportunity and management misread has been left behind. Now the challenge is for the tall foreheads of the front office to determine how and where the Leafs go from here. But first, before anything else, they need to stop deluding themselves that this collection of overpaid talent is good enough to go forward with.
The Connolly signing was not the reason the Leafs collapsed this year, but it is symptomatic of a consistent organizational misread the Leafs have found themselves in during the Burke years.
For all the supposed front office talent the Leafs have, they have misidentified and overpaid players time and time again, putting the overall structure in a salary capped league in difficulty.
The financial commitments to Connolly, to defenceman Mike Komisarek, to winger Colby Armstrong, to defencemen Luke Schenn and John Michael-Liles, and earlier to defenceman Francois Beaucheim — was a whopping $70.7 million in long term contracts. Almost all of it was misspent, although no one could have predicted Armstrong’s run of injuries which has rendered him marginal, and has put the Leafs in cap constraints going forward.
Komisarek was paid $22.5 million and has two years remaining.
Schenn, getting sixth defenceman minutes under both Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle, is in the first year of a $14.6 million deal.
Liles played well in the first half, signed a new deal, and hasn’t matched it since: He has three years and $12.7 million to go.
Armstrong was a $9 million investment: He’s contributed nine goals to date.
And the Leafs also did Nashville a favour by taking on the final $7 million of Matthew Lombardi’s contract. Burke has the highest paid third liners in the game.
I'm curious to see how kids these days view the Leafs...it's kind of depressing.
I'm 27 and I was lucky enough to miss the Ballard years and watch the Gilmour/Clark/Potvin playoff runs (92'/93' was my fav.), a few seasons of regression and then the Sundin/Roberts/Cujo playoff runs in my teens.
I didn't expect much from Lombardi this season. People were pretty surprised that he was going to be in training camp. He was sitting around waiting to get better most of the offseason. I think a full summer of preparation will do wonders for his game. Like Lupul this year.
It will be tough to make changes this summer. The FA pool is shallow. Top centres are a hot commodity and rarely change hands. Olli Jokinen will probably cost some team a king's ransom.