When I was a young Leaf fan back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and Toronto went on the road to play a team (Boston, for example) my buddies and I figured they had no shot against, we’d joke about them simply “mailing” the other team the two points, as in: they shouldn’t even bother to show up.
Well, to the Leafs’ credit, even though they knew their nemesis, Roloson, was in net for the vastly improved Lightning Tuesday night, they showed up anyway. Despite an uneven start, they came on to play hard and they certainly didn’t mail it in.
Reimer did his job—clearly (for now) the guy Leaf fans (and maybe players) are most comfortable with when they see him in the net.
Still, it was yet another night when the puck just didn’t want to go in. Kessel alone had six shots on goal, but took several other attempts. It was part Roloson, part, well, the puck just not going in.
You can’t play much more than Phaneuf played (more than 30 minutes) with Beauchemin not far behind.
The Leafs have 43 points in 49 games. We head to the break.
When Ron Wilson became coach of the Leafs the summer prior to the 2008-’09 season, and after Brian Burke came aboard as GM a few months later, there was much talk of ridding the team of the supposed ‘blue and white disease’ and the sense of ‘entitlement’ that players had.
It sounded as though rot had set in going back several generations.
To be honest, as frustrating as being a Leaf fans has been for good chunks of the past 40+ years (and I've lived through those years), I’m not sure there was any ‘disease’ that needed being rid of. A culture of ‘entitlement’? Well, unfortunately, that sense of entitlement exists in many sports from very young ages, when athletes are first streamed into “rep” and “all-star” teams. These young players hear how great they are, and that is exacerbated when we later pay them millions of dollars a year to do something they used to do for fun.
So whether being a Toronto Maple Leaf is somehow unique in that regard, I don’t really know.
The thing that I’ve never fully understood is what was so wrong with the organization (Peddie aside) in the first place? When, for example, the team was within a whisker of going to the Cup finals in 2002, or before that in 1998, 1994 and 1993, was there a problem? Those teams played their guts out, were very well coached, and provided us with entertaining hockey. Even in 2003 and 2004, the Leafs were involved in spirited playoff series. They were tough, proud teams who, in the end, just didn’t have quite enough to advance. We can argue that, with their pre-lockout payroll, they should have achieved more, and perhaps that’s fair. (Then again, New York Ranger fans, who have been frustrated since 1994, could make a case that their team spent even more back then and was far less successful…)
I don't think many fans felt there was "rot" in the organization, or that the team needed a change in culture.
came aboard, was he being critical of his predecessors as coach? Of the players he inherited? What exactly were he and Burke getting rid of? (Clearly they weren’t happy with what they had, and a review of Burke’s player moves demonstrates that he has created virtually an entirely new roster. And Leaf fans largely applaud him for that, though they are still a team in progress.) Wilson
Now, if a fan wants to criticize the John Ferguson Jr. era, well, that’s fair game. I am among those who believe that he was not equipped to be a GM at that point in his career, and that he did not lean on the knowledgeable people around him, possibly because he was insecure in his new, very powerful, role.
This is not to unfairly criticize
. He worked to try and improve the team. It simply didn’t work. History shows the team went quickly backwards under his watch (it’s useful to go back and look at the player movements after the end of the 2003-’04 season, the last year they were a good team), beginning with the post-lockout 2005-’06 season, which was really the first year that it was “his” team, the squad he built. Ferguson
So after Paul Maurice, like Pat Quinn before him, saw little success when handed the talent at his disposal, he was gone after two seasons and in came
. But it’s not as though the organization had been wandering around in the dark for 20 years. Far from it. As I mentioned above, on four separate occasions in the previous 15 years the team made it to the “final four”. So any “rot” (if it’s even fair to go back to that term) existed at all in terms of player attitudes, it had set in only very recently. Wilson
But my question for fellow Leaf enthusiasts is this: For all the changes in the front office and on the ice, is the culture really much better now under Burke and Wilson? Is this team any prouder of being Maple Leafs than the good squads I noted earlier?
It’s a different era and a different league now, I well realize, but after Cliff Fletcher took over and brought in Pat Burns shortly thereafter and when Dryden/Mike Smith brought in Quinn, they turned the team around in very short order.
If an “attitude shift” was required during both earlier regimes, it happened very quickly. The teams in those eras were tough, hard to play against most nights and generally well constructed and proud units. Strong leadership was in place (Gilmour/Clark in the mid-‘90s, Sundin/Roberts etc. years later) on those teams.
I’d be interested to hear if you believe things are so different now. Are the the Maple Leafs “better” attitude-wise than they were back then, or just better than they were between 2005-2007?
If so, how?
I look forwarding to your comments.