When we look at what feels like an epic collapse by the Leafs this year that while people around the team are saying that they do not have answers for what happened, this sad end to the season is actually somewhat explainable.
The Leafs season slipping away is something of a Perfect Storm, maybe not predictable before it occurred, but looking back at it, you can see how it happened:
The Leafs had something of an easy schedule through the first half of the year. They knew this, and Wilson talked about ‘banking points’ because they were clearly going to have to pay the piper after the all-star break.
Catching other teams on the back of back-to-backs and having no painful road trips caught up to us when we needed to make that fateful flight to Winnipeg to start the west-coast road trip that started the slide in motion.
When you look at that road trip realistically, the only game we would be favoured in was the game in Edmonton, which we won. The team then came home to play a series of opponents on hot streaks, and the slide continued.
The reality is: Our first half record was over-inflated due to a soft schedule – we have paid the price for that in spades in the second half.
For whatever reason, leaf teams play poorly after long opening ceremonies. We stunk the joint out after honouring the ’62 Leafs, and we stunk HUGE against Montreal on Matt’s Muskoka Chair night. It was one of the team’s truly bad performances of the season.
Ok, from the moment Gionta crashed into Reimer we’ve been in goaltending crisis – with the exception of a wonderful month of January with (I’m not sure I can actually believe this) something like 4 shutouts to our credit. A wealth of riches in net – but the reality has been that Gus was shaky enough replacing Reimer that they put Schrivens in net. Schrivens then caught the shivers and between them they were shaky enough that a clearly unready Reimer got the pipes back. You cannot win without goaltending, although we outscored our problems for a while.
The Changing Rules
This doesn’t get enough attention. Hooking is no longer a penalty in the NHL, since that Officials meeting in January that the NHL says didn’t discuss this. (yeah, right.) Obstruction penalties are down by 50%. The Leafs were rightfully following a strategy of ‘take no penalties’ due to our woeful pre-Christmas power play, so we may have been the last team in the league to realize that the rules had changed. Our ‘speed and transition’ game was mugged and interfered with to the point where it was not working at all.
Enough players have mentioned that they were not communicated with that we can assume communication between the coach and players was an ongoing concern under Wilson. That, coupled with a style of play that was, in the best case, too complicated for this group to execute, was a huge problem.
It started with the Anaheim statement that everyone was available, and continued through the Don Howson sweepstakes. Add to that the news from earlier today that a Luke-to—Philly deal was so close that Brayden Schenn actually phoned his brother to welcome him to the Flyers, and you know this was a massive, two month long distraction for the team. We can debate whether it should have been, but it was.
Losing Reimer was a big setback. Colby never got going to contribute for the team, but our real key loss was Liles to concussion, because for whatever reason, he has not returned to form. This has been a big loss at a bad time for the team. Obviously, losing Lupul has been huge.
Our second line vanished, leaving a huge gap in our secondary scoring. Kessel and Lupul have been fantastic, but they cannot do it alone.
The team is not yet good enough to be more than a bubble playoff team, so with the factors above, it is not surprising we have suffered.
Inexperience - Age
The team is still learning the ropes in the NHL due to their young age, and these growing pains cost games. That’s the sad reality of it, and you can see it happening. This inexperience also makes it difficult to overcome adversity, and when the factors above are considered, there has been more than enough adversity to go around. A veteran team could have seen they were in a tough schedule and gritted out a few games and not let it get them down. This team did not have that perspective.
Media and Burke
Seriously, I’m a big Burke fan, but if he’d just shut up, the Media may not give the team such a harsh ride. By picking fights with various journalists, Burke makes himself the center of attention, but he doesn’t do the players any favours either, because this contributes to the media frenzy around the team, when things are going well, or going bad.
The Perfect Storm
That’s it. The perfect storm. Stuff happens. We miss the playoffs, but the team does not need to be scrapped. Fixed? Yes. The good news is that they are not as bad as this seems, and we are going to collect a lottery pick.
Hopefully next year, we will sail clear of the storm clouds if our very large management team keeps an eye on the horizon.
Too little blame placed on Burke. In 4 years, our end point (total points of the season) has shown NEGATIVE improvement thus far (we need 82 points to equal Burke's FIRST season). And we've put together the longest home losing streak in FRANCHISE history.
Like cmon.... if you were gonna suck you might as well have given all the ice time to the prospects and tanked every season and picked up your picks. At least you would have a core of elite talent to base your next seasons on AND THEN you add free agents , etc. to improve the team.
As of right now, there is very little room to improve this team. We'll be back with more mediocre goaltending and a bunch of 3rd liners + kessel/lupul + a bunch of defensively retarded defensemen.
Burke tried a "retool" but he got zero success. Like dude, you might as well have gotten all the first round picks.
It happened in early November.....the Leafs were exposed. They were easy to play against....you hit them and the disappear.
look at their record after Nov 5th and you will see for your self.
Burke is to blame as this is his team. Any other reasons are excuses.
You're debating whether Burke should be blamed for the state of the team, I'm suggesting that the reasons for the team's dramatic drop-off are as stated. That doesn't mean I'm saying the team is complete or that Burke is blameless. Just that if you look back at the season as a whole, you can see why this happened.
I would add your point: Assembled team is too easy to play against.
(Although part (not all) of that is coaching, because in hindsight it was Wilson who wanted Orr and Rosehill off the team.)
While I agree with many of your points, since when was our beginning of the season an "easy schedule"?
We had a large number of back-to-backs at the beginning of the season, and we played Boston like 4 times pretty early on. In fact, are you sure you're not confusing us with Boston? THEY had an easy schedule...
There were many factors that compounded to lead to this period of underachievement, but I don't see how a harder schedule is one of them.
I thought this was going be to about something else.
My take on the 'perfect storm':
Looking back at the season, if I told you that we'd be getting a lottery pick, Ron Wilson would be fired, and that Phil Kessel and Joffery Lupul were PPG players, I don't think many people would be too pissed. Also, I think the team took some serious steps forward; we were in the playoffs for the first 3/4s or so of the season, and then burned out for the last 1/4... I think that's a serious improvement over being in a playoff position for 10 days... like last season.
I mean, obviously not making the playoffs is really hard, but the consolation prizes this year are actually quite nice.
It's quite evident that the slide has opened Burke's eyes to many concerns that a lot of people had coming into the season: goaltending, coaching, toughness, leadership, etc.
I think we're going to have an exciting off season; Burke knows this team isn't that good.