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By now, the Leafs weren’t supposed to be in this position

The Senators are a team that may have even a longer road to recovery than the Maple Leafs.

The don’t have a dominant goaltender, though Elliot has played some good hockey.  Their ‘best’ forwards are either too often un-inspired (Kovalev), game but aging (Alfredsson) or currently out of the line-up (Spezza).  They have some solid young players but seem a long way from being what they were not that long ago—an elite team.

The Leafs have been guilty of far too many turnovers in a lot of games this season, but the Senators struggled big time in that regard against Toronto Saturday night as the Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead.

The Leafs had more jump than the Sens.  The Grabovski line made its requisite contribution.  A night where Leaf fans could sit back and enjoy a rare walk-away win, while flipping to see what was happening in the outdoor game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

A win over the struggling Senators, while much better than a loss, may not be a sign of anything in particular.  We’ll see.

I was happy to see Reimer get a game in.  Maybe now he’ll get more.  Gustavsson has now, on two separate occasions, had the opportunity (because of injuries) to seize the day and send a message to Leaf management.

The first time around he played well, I felt, but was pulled the first game that Giggy was healthy and back on the bench.

In the most recent situation, I don’t feel The Monster stepped up as much as the Leafs needed him to, to steal some winnable games.

So Reimer gets a chance, though Rynnas is the guy the Leafs seemingly have their eye on for next season and beyond to fight with Gustavsson for the top job.

It’s impossible to know if this is just a short-term energy boost, but it continues to be hard to miss the presence of Crabb and Boyce in the Leaf line-up.  Crabb had played 29 games in the NHL prior to this season; Boyce one.  But at 27 and 26 years of age respectively, they bring maturity, determination and a willingness to be hard to play against.  Making the offensive contribution that both have made doesn’t hurt. 

Both individuals have taken the long route to the NHL and credit to them.  They play like they appreciate the chance they’ve been given.

When Brian Burke took control of Maple Leaf hockey, fans were confident that after five years of being in the hockey wilderness, things would change for the better—maybe even in a hurry.

To date, despite a lot of tough-talking rhetoric (though a lot less lately, as the “plan” proves to be less palatable for fans), that simply hasn’t happened.

As I suggested in this space for many months now, Burke tried to convince fans and the media that a “five-year re-build” was not something that he had patience for, nor was it needed.

Now it is clear that he has little alternative but to continue with the plan he laid out, with precious few draft picks to play with going forward.

For their part, fans are reduced to hoping for a second half comeback just to sneak into the playoffs.  Alternatively, we can instead hope that Burke will successfully continue to makeover the roster that he has already virtually completely made-over.

Basically, we are reduced to hoping that trades will somehow be the answer—and they rarely are.

Teams give up players for all kinds of reason, whether in a cap system or not.  When the Leafs acquired Gilmour in 1991-’92, it turned out remarkably well.  But the Flames were moving a guy who was disgruntled and wasn’t going to play there any more.  That happened to work out for the Leafs.

With every trade there is a cost.  You give up something—youth, potential, experience, cap space, draft choices, something.  If the Leafs move Beauchemin, for example (and his name is the current hot "trade" name) they give up a guy who is eating up a lot of minutes on the back end.  Not a perfect player but a generally competent defenseman.

Kaberle?  Set aside the reality of his no-trade clause.  Some fans would love to deal him, others would like him to stay.  I’ve felt for ages that he was un-appreciated under Wilson and the Leafs would have been wise to move him when they could have.  (Personally, I would love to see him retire as a Leaf, because he’s been here a long time.)

But again, there is a cost if you do move him.  He is a rare species—a talented puck-moving defenseman.  We tend to focus on his less appealing traits but many teams would like to have him, especially if they don’t have to give up assets to get him.

In any event, the Leaf brass continues to send out messages through the local media (who are seemingly always willing to lap up any missive from Burke and company and put it out there as gospel in terms of his intent) that they are entertaining trade offers.  (Giguere, Beauchemin, Versteeg, MacArthur, Grabovski...a lot of names are supposedly being tossed around.)  This keeps Leaf fans hopeful about the future, so they don’t spend too much time focused on their current dissatisfaction.

The truth is we have been down this road many times already with this regime.  In fairness, the Phaneuf trade was different.  That was a huge surprise and the best kind of trade—no pre-talk, no leaks and getting someone who can play.

But too often we get a lot of management  talk and no action.  Sort of like a big budget movie with loud marketing behind it— and, unfortunately, a mediocre script with a really lousy ending.

The Kaberle thing is an obvious example.  As I posted a while back, we were confidently told by Leaf management  that the Kaberle “market” would heat up after the playoffs, then at the draft, then after July 1, then after all the big name defensemen were gone, then when the no-trade window was winding down…then…nothing.

Again, the best thing may well have been—and be—not to move him.  But don’t mislead the fans and make people think something is coming, only to be let down yet again.

I guess Leaf management believes it is necessary to keep priming the pump and keep Leaf fans ever abuzz, hopeful that things will be better just around what forever seems to be the world’s longest and never-ending corner.

I’ve posted in the past about Wilson’s peculiar relationship with the local media.  (Click to see one of the earlier posts.)  But it is disappointing to see how he responds some nights.

After the Thursday loss to Columbus, the second question in the post-game media session was a simple one, not intended to offend. It was simply a question about the difference in how the Leafs played in the first and second periods—a subject Ron had himself discussed in his first answer. 

He basically said, “I don’t think that’s a very smart question”…and went on to say something along the lines that no coach knows why a team stops playing well from one period to the next.

Here is a guy who is an accomplished coach, very well paid to do something he loves to do.  He’s coaching in the best hockey market in the world, with the best facilities, unbelievably supportive fans, everything you could possibly ask for.

Yet so many days he just seems irritated by simple little things.  Why?

The job description says this is part of his job.  Too often he doesn’t handle it very well at all.     

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