No One Disagrees Any More
And, after another woeful home-ice performance last night against the Buffalo Sabres, nobody would disagree any more that the Maple Leafs are a lousy hockey club this season, destined to finish in the lower rungs of the NHL.They are second worst in the league, with a four-point gap between themselves and the third worst outfit. If not for disastrous Carolina, the Leafs would be looking up at 29 other teams.
After 25 games, the hole is too big for Ron Wilson's group to be in contention for even the last playoff berth in the east, and maybe that's good.
After all, being close time after time during the past five years hasn't done much except add confusion to the picture. You know, whether this player actually might be better than he looks, or that player is just having an off-season, or whether breaking a Leaf record for wins or assists by a left winger really makes a player untouchable.
These Leafs are clearly what they are. No argument.
No one would seriously suggest any longer that Vesa Toskala has either the stamina or ability to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, or that Matt Stajan or Alexei Ponikarovsky are bona fide top six forwards in the NHL. Luke Schenn is a prospect learning the game, not a player poised to be youngest captain in team history. Jason Blake just isn't in a slump — that's what he is. Lee Stempniak is just the residue of a bad trade, not a player set to re-discover his lost scoring touch. Mikhail Grabovski is speed and energy but not a No. 1 or No. 2 centre in the making.
There will, this being Toronto, always be exaggerations. You hear it these days with suggestions that now it's Ian White, not Schenn, who deserves to captain this team. C'mon people — wait for players to establish themselves, and that takes more than one or two seasons.
So the fact that awfulness brings clarity should actually assist GM Brian Burke when it comes to making moves this season to try and make the future better than the present.
Tomas Kaberle should be put on the trading block, and if he doesn't like it, too bad. A first round pick is the asking price and somebody will pay. The players set to be free agents — Stajan, Ponikarovsky, Stempniak, Toskala — shouldn't be re-signed, and so should be moved if anything of value can be retrieved.
Having so few players under contract after this season should open a world of possibilities for Burke, and he knows now more than ever he'll be spending money on college free agents next spring.
The only uncertainty in this picture is that of Wilson and his coaching staff. Burke will have a tough decision to make on his coaches if this turns out to be a 20-win season.
Otherwise, nobody's fooling anybody any longer. The state of the Leafs is crystal clear.