The Big Disconnect
This thing is now a lot bigger than Jonas Gustavsson's gigantic error Tuesday night in overtime, or his future as a Maple Leaf.
That's because the Leafs are now in the midst of a full-blown goalie crisis that isn't likely to blow over by Monday's trade deadline if nothing is done.
While Leaf management continues to kick the tires on Rick Nash - and continues to be stunned by the demands of the Blue Jackets, which are believed to start with Jake Gardiner plus at least two of the team's best Marlie prospects - the Leafs are also now officially scouring the goalie market looking at all options that may be available. That, of course, might mean that assets used to pitch for Nash might be needed to buy a netminder.
Really, the club has only two choices.
Hand the crease to James Reimer and hope he can recalibrate, regain his confidence and summon the beast that was so good down the stretch last year, albeit in games that weren't pressure-packed like they are now.
Or get somebody else as a short-term solution to stop the bleeding. Nikolai Khabibulin, Evgeni Nabokov, whoever. Khabibulin has another year left at $3.75 million, a paycheque the Leafs would find unappealing but may have to look at. There's no interest in Marty Turco, currently blocking shots in Europe. L.A.'s Jonathan Bernier is as much an unknown as an NHL starter as the Leaf goaies. Josh Harding in Minnesota is a possible option, but he's never been a starter. No chance that if the Sabres decide to trade Ryan Miller either now or later it will be to a divisional rival. Jaroslav Halak has been a starter, but he has two years left at $3.75 million and it seems unlikely St. Louis would let him go with that team gearing up for a possible spring run.
What about the Marlies? Interestingly, that's a very good defensive team being coached by Dallas Eakins with 133 goals allowed in 54 games. Only one AHL team has allowed fewer.
But the Marlie goalies haven't been anything better than good. Ben Scrivens has been up and down ever since returning from the Leafs, Mark Owuya is just a raw rookie and Jussi (The Bus) Rynnas is currently trying to get his game together with the ECHL Reading Royals.
So no answers at Ricoh.
While the goalie question burns, there's a sense the Leafs have not quite ruled out being a bidder for Nash, but almost. Talks with Columbus haven't progressed at all, and reports around the league suggest Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is telling teams he can just wait until June to make a deal and doesn't have to move now.
Indeed, it seems unlikely any team will be willing to pay the cost that Howson is demanding, making it more and more likely Nash will stay put beyond the deadline.
As far as the Leaf goalies, meanwhile, many fingers are being pointed at goaltending coach Francois Allaire, who won a Stanley Cup with Burke and J.S. Giguere in Anaheim, but who has no shortage of critics, most of who criticize his "cookie cutter" approach to goaltending.
To be fair, nobody was criticizing Allaire when Reimer was playing splendidly last season, and certainly Allaire didn't instruct Gustavsson to leave his net and redirect a puck going wide in for the winning New Jersey goal on Tuesday.
The Allaire approach is less about athleticism and more about percentages, but some criticize it as too rigid. The goalie guru held a rare media conference on Wednesday to try and explain what has happened to the team's netminding.
Allaire's system might work more effectively in Toronto if married with a more defensive team approach. Instead, Wilson is preaching a go-go, run-and-gun style, exposing two inexperienced goalies struggling to master a technique ill-fitted for the type of shots they're facing. Plus, it's all happening in Toronto where the glare of scrutiny can be harsh indeed.
You're not going to get the goalies to change styles, at least not this season. You could play a tighter style, but Wilson and Burke have shown no interest in doing that, although Burke's Cup ring from Anaheim came from a hardnosed, defence-first approach that hasn't been transferred to Toronto.
So the problem isn't just the two goalies, or Allaire, or the team's style of hockey.
Its all of them. Its not a formula for success. Problem is, Burke has married himself to Allaire and Wilson, and even if he wanted to change his goalies now, he may not be able to with the trade deadline on Monday.