Call For Character
The 2009-10 season has begun in nightmarish fashion for Ron Wilson's team, and all the coach's wisecracks and media baiting can't change the facts.
Winless in five, backstopped by a goalie who now has an .812 save percentage and a 5.56 goals against average and clearly the NHL's worst defensive team on merit, the Leafs have sunk to a shocking low already this season.
Last night's loss in New York might have been their worse yet. Tonight it's apparently improved Colorado in town, and really a last chance for a host of Leaf veterans to demonstrate whether they care enough to turn this thing around, or have the will to do so. If they can't, there will be changes, if only because GM Brian Burke has lots of time to make 'em.
After tonight, you see, the Leafs have only one game for the next 11 days, a bizarro break in the schedule, particularly in an Olympic season which is supposed to compress the schedule for everyone.
They get the Rangers at home on Saturday, then don't play again until the following Saturday when they begin a road trip in Vancouver. By then, rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson should be back, but it's a little early to start depending on The Monster.
The Leafs, right now, look like a team desperate for a leader, desperate for somebody to point the way. Clearly, it's not Wilson at this moment, a coach who has proven completely unable to get this club to play anything resembling big-league defence over the past 14 months. It's fine that he regards anyone holding a pen or a microphone as a complete moron, but it's an approach that doesn't sell nearly as well when you're dead last in the standings.
Given that the team does not own a proven NHL starting goaltender, the need for quality defensive play is greater now than at any time previously during Wilson's reign. Yet the club ran around at Madison Square Garden last night even worse than they did at home to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
It would be a shocker if Burke pulled the plug on Wilson, and don't bet on it. But coaches do get canned after starts like this. It happens.
Here's one from the fantasy department for you. Imagine if Burke axed Wilson and turned to ex-Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky to coach the Leafs.
Would Gretzky do it? Could he possibly turn it down?
Now that would be a shakeup.
But again, that's pure fantasy, not even worthy of being called speculation. Try idle chatter.
Burke could do any number of things if the Leafs can't beat Colorado tonight.
Waive Vesa Toskala. Send Luke Schenn to the minors for seasoning (is everybody understanding more clearly now why I was so set against keeping this kid in the NHL last season?). Demote Jason Blake. Recall Tyler Bozak.
None of these moves would solve a whole lot. It would be more like shock therapy, moves designed to jolt the rest of the roster or clear cap space. But suggesting it's still early with no reason to make significant moves is ignoring the reality that this is not a problem that is five games old. It's 87 games old, the length of the Wilson coaching reign, the time span in which the problems with this club have become obvious yet mostly gone unfixed.
If the Leafs don't win tonight, Burke will have to do something. With all the optimism of training camp gone, he's quickly becoming a man on the hot seat.