As of right now, you've got one forward--Phil Kessel--who knows how to play the game. For now, anyway: he's only been a Leaf for seven games. Give him time: eventually his hockey sense will desert him and he'll be able to miss an empty net on a clear-cut breakaway the way every other Leaf forward does.
You've got one all-round defenseman in Ian White who plays the game hard every shift. He's the obvious choice for captain, but the Leafs' braintrust evidently does not feel his game is worthy of emulation. Or something.
You have half a goalie in Jonas Gustavsson. He's great positionally and he has acrobatic reflexes but his rebound control is atrocious and he handles the puck like it's a live grenade.
This team would play better coaching itself than they do under Wilson--if Ronnie had any dignity, he'd quit. Every game, he makes boneheaded decisions--like insisting Luke Schenn play on his off side and scapegoating him for every mistake he makes, while continuing to trot out far weaker players shift in and shift out. Like demanding Kessel play with the least talented wingers at his disposal. Like selecting Stempniak to play in a shootout, based on--well, who knows, a dartboard, maybe. Certainly not on anything like his ability to score.
The Leafs blew a 3-0 lead to the only other team in their class tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes. The 'Canes had previously won just one of fourteen games, but they prevailed 6-5 in a shootout against the jugger-nought Leafs.
At least the Leafs got a point. Now they're on pace for a whopping 49 points this year, by far the worst total they've ever mustered, considering points are soooo much easier to come by now that you can get one for losing in overtime or a shootout. The standings say they have twelve points. If this was twenty years ago, they'd have six. Six points in twenty games, for a lovely .150 winning percentage.
You know what? I don't mind so much that they're horrible. I'm used to horrible. What really irks me as a lifelong fan is they just keep on doing the same things, playing the same lines, as if something that hasn't worked all season will magically work all of a sudden. It's the very definition of insanity. And this after all that blather about "a culture of accountability" and the need to continually earn your ice time.
To be perfectly honest, my misgivings started just as the preseason ended. They'd played very well in the exhibition matches, thanks largely to the play of guys like Kadri, Bozak, Hanson and Stalberg...only one of whom made the team. Kadri was sent down to junior, on defensible grounds that he was as skinny as a beanpole and if he'd stayed up he'd eventually be killed. But they also demoted Hanson and Bozak, both of whom clearly deserved to make the team. Stalberg was kept up, but lacking linemates with whom he'd established a fiery chemistry, he wasn't himself and was soon relegated back to the Marlies. Nothing against Mitchell and Wallin (well, okay, I've got something against Wallin: he can't play hockey)--those rookies are clearly the better players and deserve a roster spot you're taking up.
Burke has really backed himself into a corner. He's got a last-place team getting worse instead of better. He's hard against the salary cap, meaning he's getting no value whatsoever out of his payroll. He's got two, maybe three players worth keeping and the rest are trade bait--but who would take them, and for what? Even worse, he's traded away his first round picks for the next two years in the Kessel deal. And yes, Kessel is easily worth one of those picks himself and maybe even both of them. But man, that's hard to say when you're staring at a couple of drafts in a row with no first round pick in them.
The only, and I mean only, consolation is that half this dreadful team is on expiring contracts. (If this is how they play when they're angling for a raise...) Loads of cap room will open up in the off season and Burke will be able to target a bunch of free agents--that's if their current teams don't lock them up first. So it's that old Leaf chant. "wait until next year", coming out in freaking NOVEMBER.
I have box seats to a game this Saturday against the Washington Capitals. At this point, sorry to say it, I'm going (a) because it's free and (b) because I get to watch a real team play hockey. Until the Leafs decide they want to win hockey games, I've decided I'm not going to cheer for them. I'll be waiting with blue and white bells on, and--let's face it--I'm probably still going to watch, if only to see if they have, in fact, decided to show some desire. But I'm growing increasingly weary of cheering for a loser that seems perfectly content to remain one.
And that's how I feel about that.