Game Preview: Maple Leafs v. Canucks





5-7-3, 13 points

9-4-2, 20 points

PP %

11.1%, 24th

26.8%, 2nd

PK %

76.5%, 26th

85.4%, 11th

Goals For



Goals Against




“This is the team I grew up with. Punch Imlach was the last coach who won. That would be just the coolest thing in the world. I’m not about coming back the next year and having everybody pat me on the back, knowing I could be the mayor of Toronto. That doesn’t interest me at all. I could just quietly go away and have all of this satisfaction, knowing that this was something I dreamed about all of my life, this was something I managed to do, and now I can actually breathe.”

Ron Wilson to Stephen Brunt

As fans sometimes we bemoan the fact that players, coaches, and management don’t feel the same burning desire to win as we do. When players don’t show it we wonder where the problem lies but maybe in executives and coaches that same passion is the problem.

Brian Burke has spoken often about how he considers Toronto the Vatican of hockey. As much as it’s in his nature to make bold moves I think that the desire to be successful in as rewarding a market as Toronto has made him impatient. The end result is that while he has cleaned up JFJ and Fletcher’s mess that he is on the way to creating his own. The situation has by no means reached the point of no return though it is in a critical period. Last year’s team had a record of 3-7-5 with 39 GF and 55GA after 15 games. Over the next 10 games the Leafs went 3-5-2 to bring their record to 6-12-7 with 67GF and 92GA.

One of the major reasons that the Leafs have been struggling is because their special teams have been atrocious. Their failure has been one of the more damning results of the Ron Wilson era. In this post I detailed the importance of the powerplay and penalty kill. A strong performance there can mask weaknesses at even strength. In some cases it has been enough to get mediocre 5-on-5 teams into the playoffs. The frustrating thing is that last year the Leafs were good enough at evens to be able to take advantage. Instead, the team put up the worst PP+PK mark since the lockout. This year they are well on their way to smashing that record. Last year’s mark meant that special teams gave up 32 more goals than they scored. That represents about six wins or about twelve points or a jump in the standings to 22nd. So rather than hearing about Tyler Seguin’s play with the contending Boston Bruins we might be hearing about Mikael Granlund‘s play in Finland.

The big news on the night is clearly Nazem Kadri’s re-call to the big club. What it says about the Brian Burke administration depends on how you view his record. There is no denying that decisions this year will be coloured through the lens of the Phil Kessel trade. You can view it as panic, which I think is the default sense in Leaf Land, or you can look at Brian Burke’s record. Before the season Burke outlined clearly that he considere Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry’s ascension to the NHL as proxies for Nazem Kadri’s development.

Ryan Getzlaf played 10 playoff games in 2004-2005 for the 44-win Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in which he put up 1-4-5 and was a -3. Getzlaf and Perry played for the 53-win Portland Pirates in 2005-2006. Both tore up the AHL with Getlzaf tallying 8-25-33 in 17GP and Perry notching 16-18-34 in 19GP. As a comparison, Kadri has 5-9-14 in 14 GP. The big difference in teams is that the Marlies were a terrible team last year and have been inundated with prospects. The weak team may have something to do with the depressed production.

At the end of the day, this call-up is probably only a little bit earlier than Brian Burke would have preferred with Kadri. As much as we would have liked to see Kadri play an entire year in the AHL the reality is that was never going to happen. Obviously, he’d rather not have had to call up Kadri during a 1-7-3 stretch but that same stretch has been marked by a lack of offence at all let alone on the powerplay. The other aspect of Perry and Getzlaf’s apprenticeship was that they were given plenty of powerplay time and protected at even strength. It will be up to Ron Wilson to ensure that he faces easy match-ups as much as possible. Ultimately, the narrative surrounding the outcome of Kadri’s career will be viewed through the prism of this call-up.

There is no doubt that this represents a compressed timeline and at the end of the day the only reason that it is necessary is because of Burke’s moves to compress the Leafs’ rebuilding timeline. Whether it’s panic on Burke’s behalf is up for debate. What I don’t think is up for debate is that Leafs fans are increasingly despondent and are looking for a change in attitude or leadership. If Brian Burke isn’t panicking then maybe he should be. Calling up Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie (oh yeah, they called up Keith Aulie too) is one of the last remaining rolls of the dice for Burke. He’s completely made over the roster, his major summer acquisitions have started out slowly for the second season in a row, and the team’s most glaring weakness hasn’t been addressed once again. Last year it was goaltending and this year it’s the offence. If Kadri can get the offence ticking Burke might look like a genius but that won’t hide that he had painted himself into a corner before making this move. Nazem Kadri is not being put into the best situation to succeed but if he’s the player that the Leafs and us think he can be tonight would be a great night to show it.

For your flashback, here’s last year’s 4-3 loss that precipitated the Phaneuf and Giguere deals. If the team doesn’t respond to the dual call-ups we may see the Leafs move one step closer to another big trade because the only other option is to can Wilson and Burke’s been pretty clear that that’s not going to happen.

  • daoust

    First off, great preview.

    Secondly, I just wanted to say that I really resent the fact that Wilson is invincible in all of this – completely immune to accountability. If he is the root of the problem, and the players are starting to turn against him, or view him in a negative light, how do you think it feels for them to hear that he’s not going anywhere?

    Burke needs to understand that a poor finish this season will result in both he and Wilson losing their jobs anyways, so he may as well can Wilson now in an attempt to save his own.

    Perhaps calling Kadri and Aulie up are the last test for Wilson?