When Even Success Means Nothing
Sadly, it seems even when the Maple Leafs try to win, they lose.
That's no slight to the players of the Toronto Marlies, a hard-working, dedicated group that seems destined to be knocked out in the third round of the AHL playoffs by the powerful Chicago Wolves as early as tonight. The Marlies, after a strong regular season and two tough playoff series wins over San Antonio and Syracuse, are down 3-0 in the series and showing no signs of coming back.
|TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR|
|No offence to Scott Clemmensen, but this just hurts the Leafs.|
The benefits of all this to the Marlies and the parent Maple Leafs? Negligible.
Crowds have been worse in the post-season for the Marlies than during the regular season - 2,500 fans for Game 3 - suggesting there is no reason to believe being a better team has helped the club gained any kind of a meaningful toehold in the tough Toronto market.
In terms of hockey and prospects, the decision to nail goalie Justin Pogge, the organization's top prospect, to the bench for virtually the entire playoffs has never made much sense and now looks absolutely pointless. The AHL is a developmental league, and when a NHL teams allows it to become more about winning and less about development, it only injures its own system.
Using Scott Clemmensen to the point of exhaustion hasn't really meant anything, in the end, while Pogge has to have had his confidence shaken and his value as a prospect has been reduced.
During 17 post-season games, he wasn't worth a single start? Not one?
This isn't 20-20 hindsight here. This question was asked about Pogge when he didn't start the playoffs in goal, and now that this playoff run is essentially at an end, it can be asked again.
Obviously head coach Greg Gilbert thought the 30-year-old Clemmensen was the better goalie. But when you are where the Leafs are, that doesn't matter, and somebody in a leadership position - Cliff Fletcher? - should have made that clear to Gilbert. This was a chance to take a long, hard look at Pogge, who was certainly good enough to play long stretches during the regular season (41 games, 2.34 GAA, .908 save percentage) and it has been utterly wasted. Pogge has played 53 playoff minutes in two separate relief appearances, allowing two goals.
The most effective Marlies, meanwhile, have probably been Kris Newbury, Bates Battaglia and David Ling, none of who are going to ever be of much help to the NHL club. Jiri Tlusty, meanwhile, has scored only twice in 17 post-season games.
So even having a successful AHL team, it seems, will be of basically no benefit to the Leafs, who still have people in the organization who believe the mess that has been created can be cleared up in a year or two.