It’s the Maple Leafs’ new team mission statement! Seriously, any time something isn’t working, it has to be changed. I think anyone between Fort Frances and Peterborough would agree that the Toronto Maple Leafs are not working (double entendre intended). So changes will be made. They have to be. On any hockey team, in any given game, there are 19 moving parts (assuming the back-up goalie doesn’t play). What parts can Brian Burke change? How does he change them? Here are the four biggest things that have to change – fast – if the Leafs are to save this season.
THE LEAFS MUST PLAY LIKE EVERY GAME IS LIFE OR DEATH – In fact, every game is. In more ways than one. On the outside, it’s as simple as a team making or missing the playoffs. But each player is, ultimately, playing for his hockey life. Losing teams are where careers go to die. Careers are dying in Toronto as we speak. GMs do not want players from losing programs for a variety of reasons – all valid.
A HEAD COACHING CHANGE – It has to come, folks. It has to come. Brian Burke will not, very soon, have a choice. NHL, non-expansion teams that have one terrible season, under their coach, get a reprieve. Teams that have back-to-back terrible seasons under their coach will see a coaching change. It WILL happen. Brian Burke just has to decide whether or not he feels this season is, in any way, salvageable for the Leafs. If he does, Ron Wilson will be out. I have no problem with Brian Burke’s self-professed patience – except when it’s to the detriment of the team. I think we’re at that point right now.
THREE PLAYERS ON SCORING TEARS – Mikhail Grabovski is on a scoring tear. He has been since December 6th – the night he dip-see-doodled his way to a shootout winner in Washington. In the 11 games since, Grabo has only been held pointless once, and goalless twice. If the Leafs had a couple more guys who were lighting it up like that (are you listening, Phil Kessel?), life at the ACC would be so much easier for Burke’s team. Prime candidates to pull off this trifecta are Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg. But Armstrong only had two goals in December (and both came in the same game). Versteeg only scored three times in the month. Not exactly beacons on the horizon.
CONSISTENT GOALTENDING – When this season started, the Leafs were getting just that. J-S Giguère was great. Not spectacular, but as solid as they needed him to be. But from the moment he first tweaked his groin, in a bizarre Leafs’ comeback v. Nashville on November 16th, the Leafs’ goaltending graph has been up and down and all over the place. Jonas Gustavsson started very strong after Jiggy was first forced from the line-up. But he’s been spotty, at best, since. That’s no good. The way the Leafs are playing up front, the guy in net has to be reliable. Jiggy was, until the injury bug hit. Gustavsson has, frankly, turned into more and more of a question mark. If the consistency of netminding doesn’t improve, the Leafs are toast.