The Drawback Of Losing So Many Games

This season seems to be long over, but the Leafs just continue to tug along the home stretch. While this time may have been one where the Leafs try to make a push for a playoff spot or simply get the fans excited for spring  hockey, we are instead forced to see the team we love play out the rest of the schedule in the worst way possible. The only thing fans can look forward to at this point is the possibility of drafting a generational talent in Connor McDavid.

However, with all of these losing streaks and adversity, especially in the last week, one has to wonder: What are these losses doing to the players?

What Is The Current Situation Like?

Oh boy, where do I begin? Since December 31st, the Leafs have only been able to win six out of thirty two games. SIX... OUT OF THIRTY TWO. What is worse is that since Carlyle has been fired, the Leafs offense has plummeted from second in the league to 20th. The penalty kill has been faring poorly lately, the power play can't seem to get anything done, and the goalies are having a difficult time making saves.

But in the last week, the situation has gotten so bad, it is almost as if the fans are saying "How are the Leafs going to lose this time?" Last Monday, the Leafs were playing the Isles and were up 3-1 midway through the third. Throughout the game, the Isles seemed sloppy and were not playing at their best, something that the Leafs sort of took advantage of during the first two periods. However, they chose to repeat their Game 7 nightmares and allow the Isles to come back, capped off with Tavares' highlight reel overtime winner. 

Two days later, the Leafs engaged in the McDavid match up against the Sabres. While the Leafs won that night, what was real worrisome was that throughout the game, many players (most notably Lupul) were playing very sloppily and seemed out of place. This allowed the Sabres top line to score all three goals for them. 

And of course, just two days ago, the Leafs faced off against the Flames. Things didn't seem to go well early, as the Flames dominated the opening period for the most part. When the score was 2-1, the Leafs were awarded a special gift that they have not been given in a long time: a five minute major power play. It seemed as though this was a chance for the Leafs to score a few goals and change the complexity of the game.

Then this happened:

Those two shorthanded goals became the difference maker, and it resulted in a really bad game overall for the Leafs in a 6-3 loss.

I could write a novel on how bad it has been this season, but you get the idea.

What Are These Losses Doing To The Players?

While the losses are making many fans, including myself, jumping for joy at the thought of McDavid being selected first overall because of it, the losses are doing a whole lot more to the players on the current roster themselves.

You see, like every other teams in the NHL, all of the Leaf players are human. They are pretty much normal joes just like us, except that they love to play hockey and are playing for, what many of them say, the best city in the NHL. Knowing very well that there is a long road to follow which could lead to a better tomorrow, a majority of the group have in some way stated that they want to be part of the solution and part of the rebuild. That is good.

However, what is not good is how the players must be feeling at this point in time.

See, because they are human, the players can get upset or drained when all they see around them is constant hate and criticism from both the fans and the media. From fans calling out Kessel for being too fat and slow, to the media treating the Kadri situation none too kindly. From fans making fun of James Reimer and his wife simply because of their name and the team he plays for, to the media constantly bashing the team for not being good yet again, the amount of hate and criticism given to the team is at an all time alarming rate. 

This extremely high pressure from everyone for them to succeed, as well as the ever looming fear when they lose, it eventually gets to the players. Why do you think the Leafs got ticked when jerseys were being thrown onto the ice and then proceeded not to salute the fans after winning the next game? Because like many of us, they got emotional when people were mad at them, and decided that not saluting was the best way to show how they felt. Why was Kessel so annoyed at the media for calling out Phaneuf and treating him like trash? Because he was sticking up for his pal who has been bullied for so many years.

And the situation gets far more concerning when you look at the Leafs players right now. At the moment, it seems as though they are simply going through the motions with their heads hung low and their passion on the ice at an all time low.

I am not saying that this is it, but perhaps the reason the Leaf players don't have any willingness to play right now is because they are so emotionally strained and so depressed that it is really hard for them to stay positive. You can see it in their interviews, what they look like, how they act, what they say, and what they do on the ice.

And with social media being everywhere, the players can't escape the criticism. The media is hammering the team down emotionally to the lowest possible levels, and the fans expect them to do one thing and one thing only: lose.

It becomes clear that there is a lot on the player's minds right now, and perhaps all of this has taken away their drive to play the game they love.

The Leafs are, right now, a broken down team.

Then What Should They Do About It?

With only 12 games remaining on the schedule as I write this, the only thing really for the Leaf players to do at this point is just play. But not just play, play with anger. Play as if they are ticked off at being stomped on for so many years that they want to take a stand. They did so many months ago against the Bolts, and it led to a 6 game winning streak.

But more than that. The young guys need to play for their long term future with the club. Morgan Rielly has all the makings of being an effective number one defenseman, so now would be the time to show management how valuable of an asset he is. Richard Panik, who was acquired from waivers earlier this season, needs to play to prove that he can become a top-6 forward. Kadri, as well, wants to silence the critics who don't believe that he is a capable number one center down the road. Kozun, Brennan, MacWilliam, Erixon, and Holland need to play to earn more respect from their coaches and ice time for next season and beyond. The Marlies, who are playing on the other side of the city, need to play their hearts out and push for not only a playoff spot for this season, but a chance to crack the Leaf roster for next season and beyond. And of course, Gardiner needs to play like the Bobby Orr-type player that some scouts deem him to be and have the haters look away from his turnovers.

The same goes for the aging veterans who have found their place on the team one way or another. Booth, who is already doing a fantastic job at this, needs to prove to the Leafs and the NHL that he can still play and can contribute, which he hopes could lead to a big pay day. Or perhaps Eric Brewer, who is out there to prove that despite his age, he can still be effective. Joakim Lindstrom has to prove that he belongs in the NHL and that he can produce points. It has worked to an extent, as he was playing with Kessel and Bozak at one point. Komarov also needs to show that he made the right choice to return to the NHL during the summer of 2014. Even Polak and Robidas, who are both done for the season, need to step up when they come to training camp next September and show that they can play and contribute. 

And of course, the main stars have a lot to show in these last few weeks. Kessel, obviously, needs to play with the passion and care that many teammates say he has and push for 30 goals. JVR needs to continue to show that the Flyers were ill-advised in letting him go and that he is a star. Bozak has to play for his life if he wishes to stay in Toronto come September and that he is a capable player. Joffery Lupul, who has not been himself since the TSN fiasco a few weeks back, needs to be the leader-like player he is and play with the passion that led to one of his best point-per-game season back in 2013. Dion Phaneuf, who may be leaving in the offseason, needs to demonstrate that he is an effective leader and show flashes of what made him famous. And lastly, Bernier and Reimer both need to play their hearts out the rest of the way and do their best if they wish to stay here.

All I am trying to say is that the Leafs need to play with a passion and anger if they want to end the season on a positive note and go into the new season in a good state of mind.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, this has been the wildest season I have seen in a long time. No matter what has happened, it seems as though the fans impatience has reached an all time high, the media has been the hardest on the players since the Harold Ballard era, and games seem more lopsided than ever. Because of all of this, the players have been emotionally strained, and it has reached a boiling point.

It is no wonder that many players on other teams are beginning to feel bad for the Leafs and their fans.

As the season winds down, the only place we can look now is ahead. And I think the players need to do just that. If they want to enter the offseason with the feeling that everyone has their back, then they need to play with heart, passion, and anger. Should they do that, the player's mood will not be very sour for long.

However, the fans and the media need to remember that the players are human like everyone else and that if you piss off someone long enough, they will eventually snap. It has been the hardest three months for these Leaf players, and it won't get any better if all they hear is hate, criticism, abuse, and humiliation. Give them some space and let them play the game they grew up playing. 

Because at the end of the day, it is only a game. Isn't that right Connor McDavid?



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