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Wilson shuffles the deck, again; please say it's not desperation

I’m not among those who believe the Leafs are in a desperate situation.  The truth is that, barring a few games, they have been in close games most nights.  With some obvious exceptions, they have often carried the play in games they have lost.  Some nights they start well, but fade.  Fragile confidence, lack of depth, who knows?

Players have been taking turns to back Burke by supporting the coach in public.  MacArthur spoke out a couple of weeks ago, then again this week, by poking at his own line as lacking the effort needed to win.

Giguerre has laid it out as well, along with Beauchemin.  The public comments are like they come from the same book:  we have a great game plan; it’s that we, the players, aren’t executing it.

That is no doubt true.  Most, probably all, NHL coaches have a well-thought system, a good game plan for every team they face.  What coach doesn’t?

But if the players aren’t following it, what’s the reason?  They don’t like the plan?  They don’t fear consequences?  They aren’t capable of following it?

It’s one thing if it’s a star-studded team, like the Penguins a couple of years ago, who weren’t playing for their coach.  A new guy came in and they won a Cup, with the same basic group of players.

When it’s a mediocre NHL team, and the players aren’t responding, what’s the answer?  They can’t—or won’t—do what the game plan calls for.

In any event, the more puzzling thing for me is how forwards are being deployed.  Hey, it’s not as though Wilson has a lot to work with in terms of elite-level NHL talent.  We all understand that.  And he is trying everything in his repertoire to cajole, motivate, show patience—whatever he can do to get guys going.

He has benched guys.  He has shaken up lines.  That makes sense, too.  Scotty Bowman did it his whole career, and he had great teams to coach.  So you can’t criticize a guy for trying to find the best combinations possible.

I more wonder about certain specific things:

·     Early in the season, when one of the top-line guys was benched (and I had no problem with guys being benched), Zigomanis went from the fourth line to the first line.  That’s a big jump, from fourth-line duty to a first-line offensive role.  He played well that night.  But within days, he was down with the Marlies.  He was good enough one night to play on the top line, then he was gone.
·     Kadri has gone from (apparently) not ready to play in the NHL, to hope-he-can-score for-us call-up,  immediately inserted as a first-line winger.  The rationale?  He worked on his flaws in the minors, and was going to be called up soon, anyway.  No problem.  But the first line?  As a winger?  When he has been a center forever?
·     We have to assume they wanted to minimize the pressure, the public expectations.  Makes sense, I guess, though playing the position you are used to playing seems to make the most sense when you are called up to play in the best league in the world.  In any event, he made some nice plays early, probably should have had a few goals, and before you knew it, he  was the first-line center.  Yet that’s the very position the brass had been saying he wasn’t ready for, because of the serious defensive responsibilities involved and, we’ve been told, he still needs a lot of work on his defensive game.
·     So, after trying that, the latest move is that he is now the fourth-line center. Oh well. I see Kadri neither as a saviour or a guy who is not developing well.  He’s, what can I say, fine.  And he’ll be fine. But now he’s apparently on the fourth line, though I believe all he needs is a goal to go in to feel like a million bucks.  He might get it playing with Orr and Brown, or on the power play.  We’ll see.
·     For his part, Bozak has gone from first-line center (everyone knew that was a stretch, though I still think this guy can play and will also be fine) to third-liner, it seems.  Or maybe he’s back on the first line.  Or is the Grabbo trio the first line?  I don’t much care, as I’ve said before, who plays where or with who. Versteeg wasn’t really a first-line guy, so he got moved.  Armstrong and MacArthur were third-line guys, though MacArthur has certainly produced like a top-six forward.

The team has already played musical chairs on the backline, too, with Gunnarsson sitting, Lebda in and out, Aulie called up.  They’re not the only defensemen making mistakes, but they’re the only ones being bounced around.

So, I get it.  Wilson has to work with what he has, and he is trying to do everything he can to get individual players— and the team— going. 

I’d be a lousy coach.  If I were Wilson, I’d want to build my guys up so they felt as confident as the day is long.  (I’m sure he wants his guys to feel confident, too.)  The only way guys who are maybe a bit less talented will succeed is if they believe in themselves.  But it helps to have your coach believe in you, too.  And for me, that means giving guys more than a few games before you start shuffling the deck.  When the players get that good ‘feeling’ about themselves, and it can take time, they can over-achieve.

I know instilling confidence is not quite so simple.  But I still say, give these guys a bit more time.  Yes, it’s a tough stretch of games.  That may be exactly what this group needs—some success against good teams.  Then, they really will feel good about themselves.


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