Argument: Leafs Only Option is to Clean House

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With expectations high, there is disappointment in the air in taking 9 of a possible 20 points in the first 10 games of the season. As a result, there has been plenty of calls for change by Leaf Nation for their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

With 8 of those 10 games at home, Leaf Nation has had a chance to see clearly how bad things are for their team and this has lead to the vultures coming out ready to chase just about everyone out of town.

The opinions have been wide spread. Trade Bryan Mccabe and Pavel Kubina, fire John Ferguson, fire Paul Maurice, trade Andrew Raycroft, get more defensive help, get more offensive help. Everyone seems to have their own wish list as to what they would like to see happen to shake up the team and try and salvage a season that has a long way to go.

Unfortunately no one change will make all that much of a difference to a team that has sputtered and dithered their way to 40 years of futility. The only change that seems plausible is one that involves a fundamental shift of the way the team has always done things. It involves a complete change in the current culture and philosophy of the team which has been around for decades and clearly has never succeeded.

Nothing short of a wholesale housecleaning will save this franchise from being nothing more than a middle of the road team. Too good and too arrogant to finish at the bottom rung of the standings, foregoing opportunities to pick up prize prospects available for the taking with high draft picks, too bad to finish anywhere other than in a dogfight for 8th place year after year.

But this alone wont do any justice unless they also give the replacement(s) the kind of power and autonomy to do as they see fit as to how to build and mold the hockey team. They need to remove the current setup of having meddling owners who know nothing of what it takes to build a good hockey team, and allow real knowledgable, respected hockey people do their jobs without having to answer to anyone. The organization is capable of doing this. Just look at the turnaround their basketball team has gone through bringing in the best possible candidate to their franchise and allowing him to bring respect and success to the team.

We’ve seen what the latest ownership groups have accomplished. A team of GMs (The Mike Smith/Bill Watters/Pat Quiinn/Anders Hedberg/Ken Dryden era) because no one could decide who was best for the job. A coach who became the reluctant GM. A green, inexperienced GM who was way over his head and was not even the top choice to begin with when he was hired. And two members of the board (Larry Tanenbaum and Richard Peddie) making the final decisions without being able to tell a puck from a basketball and who’s minds are on real estate, condos and lining shareholder pockets.

Its clear the current group in place and how things are set up cannot get the job done. Ferguson has done a horrible job as GM. He is probably the first guy who needs to go. Not only because he has done a terrible job at building a team that has no identity or purpose but also for the way he has gone about it. Also, considering what he has already accomplished, there is no sense in allowing him to do any more damage as the organization has suffered far enough.

His biggest complaint when he came aboard was simply not having enough stroke to do the things he wanted thanks to the presence of Pat Quinn. But once he forced Quinn out, he’s only made things worse.

He overspent, he depleted an already thin farm system, he parted with high draft picks for players no one would consider top end talents, he was gunshy in making big moves settling for middle of the road players just to make change for the sake of change, he ushered in the era of no movement clauses that clearly cripple teams both in flexibility and in terms of cap space. His team has gotten progressively worse since he took control from Quinn never making the playoffs and likely missing this year as well. He showed clearly he had no plan whatsoever dithering and bumbling around basically reacting off the cuff without any purpose or direction.

His hand picked coach has not gotten the job done. Maurice came with a reputation as a defensive coach. The result? The worst defensive team in hockey. But that was never a secret to begin with. The team has been futile in the own zone for a decade. But Maurice has poorly managed his goaltending going from one extreme of playing a goalie to death because he didnt trust the backup, to one where he flip flops goalies every game sort of showing he trusts neither goalie altogether. He wasted traning camp looking at players who a)would only be filling in 4th line/spare part rolls to begin with and b) auditioning for jobs taht were already going to be filled with players on 1 way contracts. He never got his full lineup to play together until the beginning of the season and this lack of chemistry has been seen early on this year. He wastes regular season games trying to find that chemistry augmenting the lineup on a daily basis. He’s degraded the powerplay to the point where it is one of the worst and far too predictable after being one of the best. The PK has never been good and is overworked because he cannot get his players to stop taking penalties, rewarding them with top line status instead of benching players despite routinely taking foolish penalties.

A fortune was spent on the current goaltending setup. 4 draft picks were sacrificed for two goalies whom have yet to prove they are worthy number 1s. The kicker is that two proven top 10 netminders were available at the time and were traded to other teams while the Leafs passed on their services. I am speaking of Roberto Luongo and Tomas Vokoun.

An even greater fortune in terms of money, contract length and job security was spent on the team’s defence. The Leafs currently take a 20 million dollar cap hit from their blueline and none of them are capable of actually playing defence. Lets not forget the No trade clause that Kaberle got and the No Movement clause to Mccabe. They are unmoveable parts until basically when their contract ends. During that time, he passed on acquiring two of the top 3 blueliners in the NHL at the time, in Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, who were available and eventually joined forces to bring the Stanley Cup to Anaheim.

The team has constantly dithered in finding legtimate linemates to play with their best forward who is now aging and soon likely unable to carry the team for much longer. Most of the forwards are one dimensional offensive minded folks who seemingly think taking penalties is the best way to backcheck.

The core group the team has committed to:

Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake up front

Tomas Kaberle, Bryan Mccabe, Pavel Kubina on D

Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft in goal

has shown that a) they are clearly not worth the money they are being paid (roughly 30 plus million combined) and b) are simply not good enough to be nothing more than average at best. Together they dont bring the Leafs any identity other than one that can score but are soft and cannot defend.

Therefore a roster overhaul in conjunction with the changes to the front office and behind the bench are all necessary to make change worthwhile. If the organization can get competent people to make those changes, then the results can only be positive. It certainly cannot get any worse than what it is now.

It would be counter productive to allow Ferguson to continue on even further and try and salvage the season and the team. He’s already shown he cant do that job based on all his moves and it can only make things worse for the Leafs.

Sure he was forced into a situation where he was working on a 1 year mandate to get into the playoffs or else (yet another failure of the organizati
on) but he even messed that up too. Even when he given this mandate and clearly knew what he needed to accomplish, he even frittered that opportunity as well, not doing what it takes to make the Leafs successful now when that direction was laid out to him. The environment of working in a lame duck status didnt help, but neither did his incompetency.

Its clear they need to start fresh. And thus the only change is to start with a clean slate, with fresh minds and fresh ideas and new philosophies and directions put in place to clearly give the Leaf organization a purpose and a plan moving forward. There is no guarantee this would work out and instantly make the Leafs a contender or even win them a Stanley Cup. But for now, the team is rock bottom and has no future beyond this season. The work will be plentiful, and the results may need time to come to fruition but considering 40 years of failure have come and gone already, I am sure a few more years of waiting is not going to make much of a difference. This is true if it means strong positive steps going forward. Only the backwardness of MLSE and the way they do things will keep them going in the opposite direction.