WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE LEAFS (SPECIAL BLOG)
So the Leafs lose again 4-2 to the Red Wings. At this point, the playoffs chances left for this team is extremely thin. Even if the Leafs win 6 straight games in a row, it may not help them at all. With a Columbus and Detroit win, they now have full control of the wild card spots. This blog probably would not be written if the Leafs did not change from where they were two weeks ago.
It has been a long and adventurous season for the Leafs. There have been some mountainous highs, and some gravitational lows for the team as a whole. They started the year 10-4-0, had some up and down moments, and won the Winter Classic. The highest point of this season was January's 6 game winning streak, plus a 12-2-1 record before the Olympics. Since then, it has been a slow decent down the standings. After the Leafs defeated the Kings 3-2, something changed that made the 8 game losing streak become a reality. The team played individually, the power play did not have a plan, the penalty kill was horrendous, and the simple mistakes costed the Leafs valuable points. Although this season is not officially over, and the Leafs have not been eliminated from post season contention, I believe that has been decided tonight.
The question now is: What went wrong? It is a combination of a Bernier injury, a series of Phaneuf screw-ups, and a lack of scoring from the top line. On top of that, the Leafs did not play confidently and desperately like they should have been. They knew this game was so important, they knew what this would do to their season, and they blew it. It is unfortunate to say this, but I do not think the Leafs will make the playoffs.
So, how do we fix this and make the team better? The first thing that has to be done is to change the coach. I get it, Carlyle coached the Leafs to the playoffs last year, but that does not excuse the fact that the players don't seem to connect with him. The reason the Ducks won the Cup in 2007 is because most of the players on that team could understand what kind of a coach he is (Scott Niedermayrer, Chris Pronger, J.S. Giguere, Brad May, and more). He is not an encouraging coach, doesn't make the Leaf players feel good about themselves, and doesn't shake the line-up enough to help his team when things are not going swell. The thought then is, who is the replacement? I always had an eye for Peter Laviolette, but who knows?
The second issue that needs to be addressed is the captaincy. Should Phaneuf be the captain, or should it be someone else, and who? Although Phaneuf may be a nice guy to his teammates and may play a type of inspiring hockey that makes a captain who he is, Phaneuf is trying too hard to be the leader. He should still be on this team, of course, (besides, we don't have anyone else) but I think Joffery Lupul seems like the best replacement. Why? Because he can handle the media well, plays an inspiring brand of hockey (as shown ever since he arrived in 2011), and doesn't mind all of the attention he gets everyday. After all, he is a model! But in all seriousness, Lupul is the ideal captain that can make the team better. Phaneuf can be the alternate and play the way he used to play: a big hitter and point scorer.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the centre position, the defense, and a back-up goalie. Should the Leafs attempt to trade for Tavares, Weber, any good back-up goalie? It is always worth a try. The Leafs also need to decide what to do with Kulimen, Raymond, Bolland, Franson, Gardiner, and Reimer. Who stays and who moves out? Of the players mentioned above, I can only see Raymond, Bolland, and Kulimen (maybe Gardiner) sticking around. That means figuring out what to do with Franson and Reimer, who to trade them to, and what to get back. At the heart of it all, this offseason is going to be a huge one for the Leafs.
Fortunately, there are some positive things to look forward to. For starters, Morgan Rielly looks to be a superstar player of the future, and can put the whole team on his back and win the game by himself. It was evident tonight, as he set up the Lupul goal on his stomach, and made a smart defensive play to prevent a goal. Also, the Leafs have one of the best lines in the NHL (when they play well) with JVR, Bozak, and Kessel leading the charge. The Marlies has developed some nice young talent that can one day help the Leafs, and some of them have played in the NHL this year. And, the Leafs finally have a starting goalie that will one day be an elite goalie, in Bernier. He gave the Leafs a chance to win almost every night, and he has been the MVP all year.
Unfortunately, the Leafs began the year with no real identity, gave up far too many shots, and had a terrible penalty kill. That reality alone is what should be the focal point of the Leafs. Last year, even though the season was short, the Leafs proved to be a "Tough-team-to-play-against, "with a great goalie and offensive threats that can win the game. This year has been more like a guessing game that never seems to end. Even now, I still do not know what team this is. Vince Lombardi said it best, "Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit."
In the end, I will always be a Leaf fan, no matter what happens. However, the Leafs are playing true to what people thought they would be, a bubble team. The fans may not like what I wrote, but that's ok. But, this fan base deserves much better than it is getting right now. What will be the most disappointing is that the Leafs will be made that they made the playoffs last year, but they could not keep it together this year. I will end this blog with a picture of the five stages of grief.
I am pretty sure most people know this, but right now, we are at the last stage: Acceptance. Really, throughout this streak, I have heard rumours that the Leafs might not make the playoffs and I DENIED it. When the streak got to four, I was very ANGRY that the Leafs were continuing to lose even after such a successful trip in "Death Valley." By the time it reached 6 games, I was BARGAINING that "If only the Leafs played desperate. If only they played a full 60 minutes." The game against the Flyers made me DEPRESSED, and I could not live with the streak going on. After this game, I have ACCEPTED the fact that the Leafs are not that good anymore. And that is that.
P.S. I will continue to write blogs throughout the rest of the season, and beyond. I enjoy writing this blog for you guys (even if the Leafs are losing!). Also, I would like to thank you guys for helping me reach 1000 page views! It has been a short period of time, but it means a lot that the blog has grown fast. Thank you very much!
See you all on Tuesday!
The future of the Leafs.
P.S.S. I have since learned that Jay McClement is another player that needs to be signed. If we do not sign him (regardless of the coach) a big role needs to be filled.