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The 2013-‘14 Leaf season upon reflection: perhaps the Leafs needed not only leadership, but better followers, too…

It’s easy to look back on another seemingly lost season and suggest the Maple Leafs are still in hockey’s wilderness- rudderless and without direction.  It’s even easier to follow that line of thought if we accept the utterings of Tim Leiweke and mainstream media suggestions that the Leafs need (here we go again) a "culture change". It’s difficult to feel too positive when even the club’s management and coaching staff talk in terms that give the sense that things are simply not as they should be in Leafland.

I really don’t know about the need for a culture change.  I mean, we heard much the same from Ron Wilson when he arrived, and Brian Burke after that.  I have no doubt that management in Toronto has long wanted to win (you can’t convince me that Cliff Fletcher, Ken Dryden, Pat Quinn and Brian Burke didn’t want to win), and many players, too, of course.  Setting aside what took place five years ago or even three in terms of the Leafs falling short, is it possible that this particular group was too content to play river hockey?  In other words, there are some offensively gifted players on this Maple Leaf roster.  When the puck is going in and our goalie is stopping it at the other end, things no doubt felt pretty good. And the players likely believed that playing ‘their’ way was going to get them to the promised land.

But when things went south, there seemed to be no capacity to stop the bleeding and play the kind of button-down hockey teams pretty much have to play nowadays to have success. Playing gritty, hard-to-play-against hockey is something that has to be a part of a team’s identity, it seems, and can’t just be a deathbed repentance kind of thing.

It was interesting to hear the coach at his season ending press session.  He identified essentially all the issues we have long talked about here at VLM (and I’m sure elsewhere) as stumbling blocks for the team, including the lack of a real team  “identity”. Throw in not enough big-time playoff-proven experience, and an inability (unwillingness?) to grasp and play the system laid out in front of them and we all saw the result: a team that, on paper, should have made the playoffs yet didn’t.

This all brings us, I suppose, to the longstanding Leaf issue of leadership.  If we have the talent in the middlish Eastern Conference to compete with just about anyone (and I still think we did this past season), why did we not have the ability to close the deal and make the playoffs?  I have no idea but surely leadership in the dressing room and on the ice is a question mark.  And this is not to throw darts at the captain or Phil Kessel.  It would be hard to ask Dion Phaneuf to try to do more than he has for the Leafs since he came here.  Whether we view him as a true top-line defenseman or not, he has embraced that role here and by and large given everything he has.  He logs huge minutes and plays against the other team’s best forwards every night. He works in the community, tries to be accountable and take the high road when interacting with the media.

As for Kessel, when he is at his electrifying offensive best, he is a joy to watch and surely that must inspire his teammates, eh?  But here’s where things get murky: could it be that the real issue in Leafworld is not just a bit of a leadership vacuum, but a lack of willingness to follow?

Mark Messier was acknowledged throughout much of the ‘80s and ‘90s as one of hockey’s undisputed leaders.  But if his Oiler (and later Ranger, in that memorable ’94 season) teammates did not follow his lead, would we see him as a great leader?  You may say, but wait, Michael, that’s the reason he was such a tremendous leader—people did follow him.

But what about those Vancouver years? He was the captain and leader then, too, and those years were a mess. And that’s my point: same guy, same leadership skill set…but few were following his lead in Vancouver.

Jonathan Toews in Chicago is the modern era version of what is recognized as an outstanding hockey leader.  He has, at a young age, already led the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups. (He’ll need those leadership skills and more to get Chicago out of the hole they now find themselves in against St. Louis.) And I have no reason to dispute that Toews is not only an impressive player but someone who somehow makes those around him want to be better and play even harder.

So what’s the issue in Toronto?  I’m not suggesting we have the roster of the ‘80s Oilers or that of the current Blackhawks.  I’m simply wondering if our issue may be more than just ‘leadership’.  Could it be that the supporting cast, those who are there to play roles and support the stars and do their own jobs well, etc. just were not able, for whatever reason, to follow Phaneuf’s lead?

The bottom line, it seems to me, is that as good as your “leaders” might be, a successful team still needs the supporting cast to buy in and follow.  It’s not just coaching, though clearly that was an issue this past season when it came to the team not fully embracing what Carlyle was asking them to do.

We, at the end of the day, perhaps had a duel problem in Toronto:  the players did not follow the instructions of the coach, and did not follow the lead, it seems, of the team’s leadership group.

So maybe it’s not just about systems, coaching and leadership in the dressing room—maybe a lot of this franchise’s future success has to do with finding the players who will respond the right way to coaching and leadership in the room.

What say you?


Some recent VLM posts you might have missed:

  • Checking in on your favourite (or least favourite) NHL play-by-play broadcasters, along with colour commentators and studio analysts


  1. There's a telling typo in your post, Michael - a "duel" problem. And I think that's exactly it. Coaches vs players; players vs players; ownership vs coaches, etc. It appears no one is on the same page in this organization. The coach has a system the players don't buy into; the GM brings in players who cripple the team financially and don't deliver; the players don't seem to gel as a team; there isn't a team "will to win" that's so crucial to success in any team sport; etc etc.
    I think Leiweke nailed it - this team doesn't have an identity. Still. Players make bonehead mistakes game after game yet nothing changes. The coach deploys 3/4 of his lineup every night, and nothing changes even when it's clear that approach isn't working.
    There's no question we have some talented players, and some of them had good years. But I think it's safe to say the team never jelled - you never felt that everyone knew what the game plan was, or could be relied on to execute it.
    For me, that's on the GM and coach. It's unthinkable to me that Carlyle will return - ultimately, his job was to devise a plan his players could carry out, and he failed dramatically. With a different group of players he might have had success, but not with those Nonis has in place.
    Watching St Louis or Chicago or Boston or Detroit, say, you can see what we've failed to achieve over the past what, 7 years? It truly should be unacceptable to ownership, and fans. It appears that there has been a change in the culture of both the Raptors and TFC. I hope the Leafs are next, and I don't have any problem with Leiweke's determination that we should see results.

    1. As I've said here before, I thought the Leafs were beginning to develop an identity a season ago. I realize they still had issues a year ago (including shots against, etc.) but they weren't that same 'hard to play against' team this season that they were last year. Going forward, Gerund, they will need to become a team that knows what it is- and plays that way consistently.

  2. Awhile back, I recall reading some player comments indicating that Randy had a habit of taking the fun out of playing. And when you look at his constant 'befuddlement' over players not appropriating his message, it would appear that you have put your finger on a significant part of the problem when you mention the lack of followers, Michael.

    It takes both teachers and learners being good at their role, before any actual results can be accomplished. When in a teaching role, I was once given a perfect review by my class, yet in the same year another class 'mutinied' and decided to report my failings. In the latter case, the course work of the students was reviewed and it was clear that they had chosen NOT to do the work they had been assigned (and a few members of the class actually acknowledged they had refused to accept the teaching that had been responsibly offered and were not able to provide any evidence of laxity on my part). The other class was a joy, primarily because they took on the responsibility to actually learn the material.

    It was quite an eye-opener (when theory becomes reality) to realize that my personal motivation to teach might not be sufficient to overcome a student's desire to stagnate. Therein lies our concern for the Leafs... refusal to appropriate the message could well be the measure of a large contingent of players on this team. It would appear that they just want to do what they've always done (while expecting better results)... others then become enmeshed in such a culture (despite the house cleaning that occurred since just before Burke came on board).

    Perhaps the stage is too big in Toronto for some souls... Are too many feeling entitled to the attention they receive here and then losing the desire to grow better each day?

    We hear many of the right things being said by players to the media, but the DOING of those things seems absent. I wonder if media access to the players should be limited to match exposure in other markets... What do you think about this part of the puzzle, Michael?

    I have no certainty that the adulation/attention (good or bad) that players receive in Toronto is the key to this lackadaisical attitude we see toward addressing problems that are so evident, but I agree that it is not entirely for lack of leadership. Where is the following or 'buy-in' from the whole team on a consistent basis? On more than one occasion, I saw the buy-in from call-ups whom we lamented not seeing more of before demotion and I wondered if there is a conscious effort NOT to expose the Marlies future guys to a problem that management is about to 'excise' or 'root out'.

    I think your mention of Messier in Vancouver is an excellent example of a failure to mesh leadership with followership... I was there when Messier arrived and thought his presence would be a significant piece for that team, yet it failed to be realized, and he was soon on his way out of town.

    I would hate to see that desire to compete being drained out of the guys who play on the Marlies who actually have an identity that is hard to play against (despite their youth and inexperience).

    You might find it interesting to note that I wrote my comments as I was reading through your article... seems funny how much common ground we have found again. This should be an interesting summer as we watch the changes that will surely come...

    1. Thank you for sharing that, InTimeFor62. I believe there is something in the whole issue of (as in education and students, as you cite) players being willing to accept the lessons being taught.

      As to your question about media, I guess we can never turn back the clock. The expectations of "access" will always be there in this market. What role that plays in on-ice performance is very difficult to determine.

    2. There is another element to the teaching story that might be apropos... each teacher and student have their own styles of learning/teaching to which we gravitate, yet it is true that they may not be compatible with one another. It is possible that (despite my awareness of this fact and efforts to try different teaching styles) there would never be a meshing between either my students (players) or me (coach).

      In that instance, the opportunity arose for me to take on a different class and pass my class onto another (with a different teaching style). Though that class never 'thrived' (confirming some of my concerns), the changes provided them a different opportunity to move forward (beyond their previous experience with me).

      Respecting the Leafs, we may well see some surprises in the selection of players that will remain, though I sense the public perception of Carlyle will factor into his likely departure (since there's not another Leaf class for him to teach :)

      On the access comment, I'm just wondering if player availability to the media (in the heat of a post-game context) could be limited or rotated amongst fewer players. I'm sure they'll still be seen and available otherwise, but I just wonder if 'facing the media' at the game day skate before and then after a game are contributing to a lack of focus upon 'the message' they are failing to appropriate?

      In other words, is the media questioning, concerns and agenda dictating the outcome more than the words of the coach? Are they planting doubts before the game and seeds after the game that perpetuate the negativity of the media in general?

      Just musin...

  3. All this talk about character and giving everything to win and leadership and performing on the ice is ignoring what went wrong with the Leafs in the latest collapse. The Leafs were 3 points ahead of the Habs when Bernier was injured, if Bernier is not injured they make the playoffs and have home ice advantage. Then the talk is about making small improvements to a team on the rise like adding a big physical center and they may already have one 6'4 Gauthier. They also have to improve the defense and I have read that some NHL amateur scouts were saying Finn could be better than Rielly with both an offensive and defensive side to his game, Granberg could also be a good one - Rick Dudley was saying two years ago that Granberg was player the Leafs were high on. So I have my hopes up and I still think this team is a lot closer than most people realize.

    So I am not happy with the latest collapse but I don't want any big changes or trades until we know for sure what they have or they have a deal they can't refuse like a JVR for Schenn. I think they should have made the playoffs but at least an 8th overall pick should make a difference a few years from now and the end result is they are actually a little closer to winning it all.

    P.S. When I blame this latest Leaf collapse on the goaltending the first thing everyone says to me is the Leafs have such a bad defense and you can't blame the goalie and a lot of the no character and leadership stuff and then they trash Phaneuf. But the fact is you could say the same thing about Stamkos and the Bolts. The Bolts were cruising along with Bishop in net and no Stamkos - the best offensive player in the game but now the Bolts are starting to look like an 18 wheeler going over the cliff being down 3-0 to the Habs but if Bishop had not been injured it would still be a series. My advice to the Bolts would be to get a good backup goalie before you rebuild the team because everyone has seen what they can do when Bishop is in net. Same advice for the Leafs - if your backup goalie can't do the job then you are living dangerously.

    1. Your comments regarding the Lightning ring true, Alton. Bishop was a difference maker for them, even when Stamkos was absent. But they find themselves in a tough spot against Montreal, in part because they are missing his stellar play. The Leafs did struggle without Bernier, though I sense the overall team issues we have raised here at times this season were still present and part of the reason the team could not finish the job.

      It's true that teams rely on great goaltending a lot of the time to get them to a championship. I do think leadership matters, however, to help get a team through those difficult times. And as I mentioned in today's piece, you have to have guys who follow the leaders. Thanks Alton.

  4. I find it hard to judge this team. Last year we saw a good team with some glaring defense problems and depth. Holzer and Koska were the some of the choices to play with Phaneuf on the first pairing. That was never addressed in the off season. ( I don't necessarily blame Nonis for the Clarkson deal. Making a big splash, going for the top FA is more Luiweke's style.)

    If you've read the Pension Plan Puppets site, the possession stats for the team are horrendous and have continued in a downward spiral. Grabovski, Liles and MacArthur's stats have risen dramatically under three different coaches. The Leaf players have dropped to under 40% at the end of the season. They could win if they stuck closely to the system but it was a battle and hard to watch when they were tied up in their own zone. It seemed to me that they gave up on Randy's system at the end of this season and looked like they were playing without a coach at all.

    Bringing in Shanahan may be a very good thing. He'll have a fresh approach and an unbiased view. Nonis right through to the coaching staff all seem to have each other's back right now and that will change as tough questions are asked. If they identified the obvious problems, why wasn't something done during the season (roster, coaching change, whatever) --if they didn't see the problems that everyone else saw , WHY didn't they?

    I believe Shanahan is not going to stand with this group and look at problems with the same view. He's going to have a long walk around the other side and take a good look at everything. I don't think he's going to like what he sees. That's when the questions will come and I don't know how anyone in this organization will answer them. C.N.

    1. It will be interesting to see if Shanahan does indeed look at things with a fresh set of eyes, Colleen. It seems like he will- that's why he's here, I would imagine.

      You make a good point: it may be that Nonis and Carlyle and his staff (though everyone I'm sure has their own perspective on things) are in lock step. Everyone says that's a good thing when a team is winning, because you want everyone to be on the same page. But if that means missing things in terms of what's going on with a hockey club when the squad struggles, then that may be a problem if people are refusing to acknowledge what's right in front of them.

  5. Michael,

    It does look like it's going to be an interesting offseason for sure. I'm not a huge fan of the leadership debate in sports, never have been. It has been my experience that grown ups need to shoulder the responsibility, not wait for some magical leader to arrive. It's funny that all the great leaders in sports always seem to be the most talented, even generational, players. Toews, Messier, etcetera, where is the plugger in any of these arguments? How is there never a Colton Orr, that inspires his team to victory, with his grit, and determination. Funny that these leadership qualities only develop in the players with huge gobs of talent.

    It is my not so humble opinion that this organization needs an infusion of accountability. This season I watched 82 games where in the press conference after the game the coach said quite clearly that we can't continue to play like this and be successful. Again, after the next game, same blank stare at the ceiling and the same tired excuses. I do not care if it is the coaches fault or the players, we can get more of both. The culture does need to change, this is a twelfth place team in a crappy Eastern Conference, and everyone pretends we are a small piece away from being a Cup Contender. I really wonder if anyone actually watches the games, or just the highlights on TSN, including the management of this organization. It should be clear that this coach is not going to work out here, please lets get someone who might.

    The possibility that the coach might not be fired, scares me. I am also scared that if left to his own devices, our GM might sign another David Clarkson. The belief by some that if only Bernier, or Bolland hadn't been hurt, we'd be fine was in two words, B.S. Other teams manage to find lemonade when they are given lemons, we find excuses. Other organizations draft and develop players, we draft them, if they don't work out we will draft their replacement. It is no wonder this team hasn't developed a league best player since the games were in black and white. As soon as whomever it is that was drafted isn't a trophy candidate, we trade them. It never occurs to any of the management team, that learning to play in the minors, where mistakes aren't in the spotlight, is a good thing. Not here though, here we have Rielly up all season, burning a year of his contract, so we can finish twelfth. What a colossal waste this franchise is, it seems that they are institutionally incapable of making a good decision, no matter which executive is steering the ship.

    I am desperately close to not caring one iota about this franchise. The richest team in hockey, the most loyal fans in the world, no Cup appearances in 47 years, and they spend every penny they are allowed to under the cap. This kind of inept leadership is shocking. I'm not even mad, that's amazing.

    1. I'm not mad either, but very frustrated. It is indeed "amazing" and almost laughable except my sense of humour has grown thin and it's the same story with the same punch-line every year. C.

  6. Along the same line as 'good leaders need good followers', perhaps too, we have too many 'talented players' when a role player would suit the team more.

    Rudy Gay was a talented player, the most talented player on the Raptor's team. But when he left, the team functioned better as a team.

    I think it's up to management to know what chemistry is needed to win and to fill those needs. Not necessarily just to sign the most talented players available. And as we stated early in this hockey year, this team is now Nonis' team. He's the head chemist.

    1. You're right, drgreg, the mix has to be right for any team to be as good as it should be. (The Raptors example is a good one.) Finding talented players is not always the problem- it's finding the rest of the pieces that make it all work. On paper, the Leafs may be more skilled than some teams in the playoffs, but those teams found a way to win games.

  7. I fall in the 'systems' camp. Interesting that Randy hasn't mentioned the word 'Swarm' since the season ended. No willingness to discuss why he always keeps the strong side winger low in our defensive zone. I find his comments and criticisms 100% self-serving.

    Again, from a systems standpoint, if we really were playing river hockey (at least from a defensive standpoint), guys would be cheating high, looking for the quick breakout. That's not what happened.

    Definitely room for multiple issues with this team, but Randy's defensive approach is a huge liability. And it's something that can be fixed immediately.

    1. Thanks Anon- I realize my reference to "river hockey" does not really describe the Leafs. I was more making a point that (as in my youth, when I always played on local rivers and ponds) the fun part of hockey was making plays and scoring goals- not the hard work involved in back checking. Maybe the Leafs struggled with that.

      I'm not enough of a hockey analyst to understand systems, but whatever system the Leafs played, we apparently didn't stick to it!

    2. But the problem is, the players did stick to Randy's system...

      All season long, we played the 'Swarm' as our basic 5-on-5 defensive coverage. It requires the strong side winger to abandon the point to collapse (to swarm) the puck in the corner. The goal was forcing turnovers. But all season long we got burnt, either because the opposing team's strong side defenseman was ALWAYS open for a quick outlet pass, resulting in either a shot or cross ice pass -- which we then chased, 'swarming' our way to the other side -- or if we did manage a turnover, we had four guys standing within a 10x10 box. No flow, no space to create an effective breakout, which often resulted in an immediate turnover against the forecheck.

      This was due to Randy's "system," not some lack of effort. And we played this system all year long -- the wingers always drifted low. Every one of them. But it just didn't work. Randy could not make adjustments, only complain about effort. The 'Swarm' is the reason for the crazy shot differential, leads to high turnovers, and forces our complete reliance on hall of fame caliber goaltending...just to stay competitive in games.

      And the offseason? Exactly the same. Randy's still complaining about "effort" instead of being honest about the problem. Quite simply, NHL players are way too talented for this approach -- they will consistently beat a designed 'overload' they already know is coming.

      Carlyle needs to go.

  8. Michael,

    This is a very thoughtful question but it is bound to evoke strong emotions.

    Two images stand out in my mind for what should be two of the Leaf's leaders. One is of Dion Phaneuf being laughed at and backing away from another team's player who was challenging Dion to drop the gloves.
    The other is Phil doing a fly by of the puck because if he contested possession there was a chance he was going to take a hit.
    Neither instance was unique, but were in fact fairly regular occurrences during the season.
    My answer to your question is that if this is how the team's two key leaders behave then it is no surprise to see the lack of buy-in from much of the rest of the lineup.
    The coach has to share responsibility because not once do I recall either of these two players being held accountable in terms of missing a shift.
    Phil may not want to take a hit, and Dion might not want to drop the gloves. But I'm sorry, these behaviours are not tolerated on successful teams precisely because of the insidious effect it will have throughout the lineup.

    1. Strong words, Steve, but my guess is a lot of Leaf fans may well agree with your comment.

      Not all captains are fighters, of course, but Dion's lack of willingness to engage may be viewed, fair or not, as not "answering the bell".

      Regarding Phil, no one likes to get hit, but I always think back to players like Modano, Yzerman and Lecavalier. Once they were willing to do everything that it took to become complete players (and that included taking a hit to make a play) they reached their ceiling and were true leaders.

  9. Funny, I had quite a different reaction to Dion's non-engagement. I thought it was smart. Why should he take himself out of the game for 2 or 5 minutes because some opponent tries to lure him into it? It wouldn't help the team at all, and he was far and away our most punishing d-man - what could a fight prove? As for Phil - there's just no way he can please many Leaf fans. Lecavalier, Modano and Yzerman are all bigger than Phil, the first two particularly so. And Phil takes a pretty good pasting game in, game out.
    I think it's more of a concern, in both examples, that teammates don't come to the support of two of their more important players.

    1. As I've said here before, Gerund, Leaf fans can see the same picture very differently!

    2. Gerund, I would want to see Dion accept every time someone tried to engage him in a fight. But I believe there are times when it is necessary as a point of leadership to do so. If the Leaf's can't survive his being off the ice for 5 minutes then they're in worse shape than I thought.
      As for Kessel not wanting to take a hit, there are just times when you should take the hit to make the play and I don't see it happening. Again, I'm not saying he should become a bowling pin, but when he bails out rather than taking the hit to make the play then I believe everyone notices and it has a negative effect. Not to mention his unwillingness to throw a bodycheck to separate a player from the puck.

    3. Steve, I think you meant to say "I would not want..." above, in reference to Phaneuf and fighting.

    4. First of all, Gerund, Stevie Yzerman is smaller and lighter than Phil. Not much but a bit.

      To the fighting issue. He has to make a case. When other player's think your not tough and they can push you around, you're in trouble. It is a bit like on a school yard or a play ground out there. When Kids spot you are weak they can be very mean. And they will give it to you even harder, if you do not defend yourself. Hockey Players are the same. And you are in big trouble when you are the captain of the biggest Club in Hockey because your fellow team mates always will have an excuse. Dion only does things he likes why should we do the dirty work.
      And about Phil. I love him he is by far the greatest player on that team and for me he is besides Patrick Kane the best winger in the League. But you can not give up on a single puck. He is one of the guys in TO and he has to give a good example. The result of this behavior is an interview with Drew Doughty where he said, asked what he thinks about the Leafs, ''they are not hard to play against''. And of course they are when Phil gives up on pucks in a possible rough Situation. What do you think goes trough Kadri's mind when he sees that? Yes I am talking about blue colar, hard working Nazem Kadri.
      And what can Carlyle do to back up his words when calling out Kadri?

      And here we are in the middle of this particular article. They feed of each other, the veterans lead the way and the younger guys follow. But they follow Actions. Not words. And when they deceided they don't want to, get rid of them and bring other guys in because they will never bring it.

  10. I don't think the players believe they can win if they play the way Randy wants them to. There's no confidence. His D-system doesn't cover the points, backs off from the boards and has everyone down low, clustered around the net to the point where they are tripping over each other. Three quarters of the zone is left open, there's little chance of regaining the puck unless the goalie freezes it. It's very hard to break out of the zone if they do get the puck. Every team tries to keep the puck to the outside- it's not a system. The idea should be to gain possession, not to leave everything to the goalie. It doesn't work, it looks bad and every player on the ice knows it.

    We were all very happy with Gleason when he first came before he learned the D-system. He came out and challenged, he blocked shots. Now we can't wait to get rid of him (aside from the expensive contract). I don't think Gleason suddenly stopped playing hard, he needs the job and it was a big decision for him and his family to come to Toronto. There is no way he would stop trying within weeks of arriving but he certainly stopped playing the way he was. I don't believe he's the one to blame. CN

    1. CN makes a very insightful observation above... I had been musing (in a general kind of way) on some of my own observations and find that her comment makes a lot of sense. Given that we didn't have a lot of rotation on the back end as a result of injury, what I noticed most recently was Petter Granberg's first opportunity and how he was playing like they do on the Marlies. He was very noticeable and effective.

      Maybe it's just as well he only got one look... then there's a chance he can thrive next year without 'unlearning' the present system. It's also rather telling that Rielly and Gardiner decided to use their speed (huge strength for both of them) to 'get out of trouble'. Clearly that means they were previously trying to play the system. They both seemed to get better when they mutinied, whereas Gleason complied and got worse.

      I think we're gonna' see an overhaul on systems that will likely preclude Randy from his presence on the team, unless he shows a willingness to 'repent', win back his players and implement a new system. To me, that is his ONLY hope of staying into the next season... I guess we'll see if a short-term 'tryout' is in the offing. I've read that Nonis would like to keep him, but Leiweke wants him gone... probably just a rumour, but we'll have to see how Shanahan feels.

      I find it hard to believe that Brendan will like Carlyle's system, so something has to change...

  11. Very interesting post and comments as always Michael. I think I agree with your inclination to look for a problem beyond the coaching staff and leadership on the roster. Here's a long-winded explanation of how.

    It seems to me that one of the main characteristics of successful NHL teams is their consistency - they tend to have a very well developed system and 'identity' that permeates the entire organisation so that ‘pieces’ – whether it be goalies, skaters, veterans or rookies, coaches or GMs all seem to enter into the equation seamlessly. I think that is what Burke was going for when he came in with a bang and promised truculence and pugnacity. It looked to me like we were getting there when Ron Wilson (who clearly did not buy into that kind of philosophy) was replaced with Randy Carlyle and we made the playoffs last year. We finally started to look like that team that Burke envisioned but, mid-season, he got fired and replaced by his quiet assistant who is the opposite of a man with ‘identity’. The only plausible reason I remember hearing for firing Burke was because he was too loud and was becoming bigger than the team etc.

    But then, surprisingly, a new, no less rambunctious and flashy but a lot less hockey- knowledgeable Tim Leiwike gets hired and, as his first act, he goes out to get the goaltender that we don't need and the biggest free agent in the market who clearly can't play hockey. And now, it’s looking like we're gonna lose Carlyle who, for all his faults, had a system and had the team playing well and with the chip on their shoulders last season. And here we are today, talking about replacing our best two players because of their supposed incompetence as leaders – the captain is no good because he isn’t dropping gloves with the goons and the playmaker/scorer is no good because he avoids being injured and has never missed a game etc.

    We've all known forever that we need a stud defenseman and a stud centre but it looks like we’ll probably see more ‘stud” GMs, team presidents and coaches than candidates for those two top positions – anything to deflect responsibility for what needs to be done and anything to distract the fan-base from the fact that money (in the form of advertizing generated by constant media controversy and debate while the seats are sold out and games watched on TV no matter what) runs this club and that the business of winning is a way too hard, protracted and patient business that no one in the big corporate towers is really into.

  12. This season in particular went bad when Bolland fell early in the season (a crucial 3rd-line checking centre that Carlyle’s system revolves around) and when Parros almost died as a result of the bout with Orr (thus neutralizing the latter’s killer instinct as it seemed to generally take the whole league away from its fighting spirit that seemed to have made a comeback last season). Phaneuf breaking Lupul's hand with his shot last season and then ending Mike Sauer's career with a hit took a dent in his two biggest weapons and thus his 'leadership'. Our hidden ‘ace’ – the goaltending – didn’t work out either - 1a and 1b system didn’t work out for all the numerous reasons you spilled much ink explaining to us. The final chapter in that saga was Bernier getting hurt and Reimer losing the little confidence that he had left as, in addition to the management and the coaching staff, the whole city turned viscously on him and his wife just as we were entering the stretch run in a good position.

    What happened this season is a series of freak incidents and a bit of mismanagement but mostly bad luck and I can live with that - a bit of luck and we're again competing. As long as we keep the core intact and stay the course with Carlyle and the management team I think we'll be fine – stay put and next year we’re a little bigger, more experienced and have learned the system better.

    But that’s probably not what is going to happen. What is going to transpire over the summer, I’m afraid, is another reshuffling of the managerial/coaching deck instead of the acquisition of a big defensively-responsible centre and a solid veteran defenseman. Burke's probably gonna take Reims and we won't be getting what we need from him and will have to be looking for veteran backup. The young team is gonna have to deal with a new coach and learn a new system for the 3rd time in their career. Instead of continuing to learn the system and developing consistency they’ll know that if they slack off for another year the heads above them will fall and that they’ll get to ‘play games’ with another coach next year.

    Leiwike made some big mistakes by messing up our goalie situation and acquiring the falling Clarkson and thus handcuffing us capwise. I see the hiring of Shannahan as nothing but a publicity stunt (and a very successful one) the point of which is to get our mind off his short but already very unflattering record as the big boss of MLSE. He just bought himself a new beginning and made everyone think that, rather than having been here for more than a year and having presided over the last summer's moves, he's a fresh voice that is just beginning to make his mark felt.

    All in all, I’d take this exact team as it is into next year over what I think is coming. I’m afraid that what we’re about to get from Leiwike/Shanahan is a few years of mediocrity followed by another rebuild under new management etc. – a continuation of a cycle of inconsistency and incompetence. I really hope I’m wrong.

    1. There are too many good comments in your post for me to respond to, leafdreamer. I'll just say that I'd like to believe Shanahan will provide more than window dressing!

  13. Hi Michael,

    I think that is a big part of the problem. I think there are many indicators that show that a lot of the guys are not willing to follow.

    Especially some of the younger guys are absolutely lacking direction. The Young defenseman Carlyle mentioned at his season ending press conference (a lot of people think it was Gardiner). Kadri in his locker cleaning interview stated he had a good season. Bozak interviewed after the Leafs were finally eleminated from the playoffs by Winnipeg he had trouble to prevent himself from giggling.
    When Carlyle takes the fun out of playing, These guys are by far not serious enough.

    Babcock stated on 24/7 that Datsyuk approached him and said: I have to be better defensivly, I have to be better offensively, I have to score more I have to be better in any part of the game.
    That is willingness to do both. to lead and to follow.

    But I don't know what the problem is. Is it simply the character of some guys? Or are there to many guys who think they are leaders but would be better suited as followers?

    I think Shannahan can do a good job in helping the leaders to be better leaders and to make clear to the rest that there is a need to follow.