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Indecisive goaltending decisions; management defending the Kessel move and the Leafs down the stretch—winding up or winding down?

It’s hard to conclude anything other than that the Leafs are already winding down their season. The players will of course say they will play hard to the end, they are playing for jobs, etc. but the reality is this has been an awful season, in every way.

The promised improvements have not been in evidence, and while the team has worked hard many nights, the results simply have not been there.

This leaves Leaf fans with two believe one of two things: Either the team was not well put together, i.e. they aren’t good enough to win in the NHL, or the team is not well-coached.

Ron Wilson has been a top-tier NHL coach for many years, not to mention his international credentials. He has been coach now for two full seasons in Toronto. Brian Burke has been in charge for more than a year. He has a Cup on his resume.

Things can get better of course, and this summer will be about making even more moves to “change the culture” and develop a tough, talented team that plays with an edge and knows how to win.

But will it really happen? And how long will it actually take?

Brian Burke recently (again) defended his move to acquire Phil Kessel, delivering the message, as he has before, that he would make the same deal again, right now.

I’m sure that’s true, and as we’ve discussed here ourselves many times, only time will tell whether the deal will prove beneficial for the Leafs long-term. Burke wanted instant offense, and found it in an already-established 21 year-old who can score 30+ goals in the NHL. He didn’t want to wait three or four years down the road for a draft choice to maybe make an impact.

What Burke likely never have envisioned happening—though he says he was well aware of the possibility—is that the Leafs would finish, as they just might, with the second-worst point total in the entire league. A first or second overall pick could in fact make an impact instantly. You wouldn’t have to wait those three or four years.

A 15th overall pick, yes, you may have to wait a few years. And that’s likely where Burke saw the Leafs drafting this June, before he made the Kessel deal. He was already in the midst of re-building what he thought would be a much more competitive team.

It’s all fun discussion, anyway, but the thing that caught my ear about the recent interview Burke gave to Leafs TV is that he stressed, if I understood correctly, that he didn’t want to wait five years to rebuild the team—thus the move to obtain Kessel.

I’m among those who believe he made a brilliant move in obtaining Phaneuf and moving out players who were part of a stagnating team. But looking at the top twelve forwards currently on the roster—and how few elite draft choices they have in reserve- it’s tough to believe the team will be much better in 24 months—a full three years after Burke assumed command of the club.

I won’t go over all the points made in previous posts, but in short, the Leafs need grit on the front lines, combined with guys that can score. There’s talent there, but in terms of “impact” players, it’s thin, awfully thin just now, on the forward lines.

Burke hit a home run in one fell swoop with Phaneuf. Can he possibly hit a grand slam?


The Leafs announced yesterday that Giguere and Gustavsson would split the remaining games.

In and of itself, I couldn’t care less. The games now are essentially meaningless. (We can say players are playing for their job next year, but the fact is, if you’re on the bubble now, you’ll still, at best, be on the bubble come training camp, no matter what you do now.)

But to me, the team has been very inconsistent this season in how they have handled the goaltending situation.

I stand to be corrected, but here’s how I remember things unfolding:

Toskala was clearly the number one guy early on, then he stumbled and it looked as though Wilson was going to lean on Gustavsson.

Then he had the heart issue a second time and we were back to Vesa, which was understandable, of course, at the time.

But then it was Gustavsson again and people were talking as though Toskala may never see the ice again.

Then Gustavsson struggled, then Vesa played, then Giguere came in and he was announced as the guy who would play the most down the stretch.

Now we’re back to the “platoon” system. Is that because Giguere has struggled, or because they need to see more of Gustavsson?

The Leafs would deny it but they’ve mishandled the goaltending situation this year, in my view. And I’m not sure they are taking the right approach now. I find it hard to believe that anything Gustavsson does from here on this season will prove one way or another what he will be capable of two years from now.

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