The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most historic franchises in North American sports, but the team has struggled for a long time, and this season it’s been a tire fire. The media is spewing bile over the captain, the team’s best player calls out the media and fans are throwing their jerseys onto the ice in disgust. It’s an understatement to say that not all things are well in Canada’s largest city.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 1, 2015
There’s no doubt that Toronto is the toughest market for players in the NHL. The media is ruthless when things are bad, and they will praise players like they are gods if things are going well. The fans are some of the most fanatic and demanding in the world, no matter the sport.
With 14 games remaining of the regular season, the Maple Leafs are second to last in the Atlantic Division with 60 points, and 26th in the whole league. That was a grave miscalculation for new team President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Dave Nonis. The team was supposed to bounce back after missing the playoffs last season. Instead it has been total chaos in Toronto and there’s no end in sight.
Many pundits called for the team to sack head coach Randy Carlyle after last year when the Leafs went 2-12 in the final stretch of the season, but the Maple Leafs stuck with him to start 2014-15. After 40 games and a 21-16-3 record he was fired. The sacking of Carlyle came after the team had lost seven out of the last 10 games, and on January 6 the announcement was made that Carlyle was no longer the head coach.
The Leafs were still in a playoff spot when Randy Carlyle was fired. Horachek has lost 22 of 27 games since taking over.
— Leafs Stats Guy (@LeafsStatsGuy) March 11, 2015
Now Peter Horacheck has taken over the reigns as interim head coach, but the team continues to struggle and who knows if he’ll be given the chance to coach the team on a permanent basis.
The current roster is obviously not good enough to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but what options are available for the Leafs moving forward?
There has been a lot of chatter that Shanahan and Nonis might look to trade captain Dion Phaneuf and star winger Phil Kessel. These two players have been blamed by Toronto media for the team’s shortcomings and that maybe it’s for the best if the Leafs try to trade them away.
What baffles me is that there was talk that the Leafs would have to retain salary or take bad contracts back in case they wanted to trade these players. Dion Phaneuf is a solid first-pairing defenseman who has done his best to lead this team. Sure, he might not be fit to be captain, but he didn’t give the C to himself. And he hasn’t really had a worthy partner to play with. Right now he’s playing alongside Jake Gardiner, and although Gardiner has potential, he’s not a top-paring defenseman.
Phil Kessel is one of the premier goal scorers in the league and has put up 30+ goals at five times during his career. Plus he’s just now entering his prime at 27. Any team would love to have Kessel or Phaneuf in the lineup and it’s just amazing how the media in Toronto make them out to be bums that aren’t worth a damn.
If the Maple Leafs decide that the best action is to do a rebuild, then I do think that they should trade both Kessel and Phaneuf as the return would be great in terms of landing future assets. But I’m not sure that the fan base in Toronto has the patience for a rebuild and if they try to just patch this team, then I’m pretty sure that the team will continue to struggle. This organization desperately needs a proper first-line center, as they have been missing that ever since Mats Sundin left town. Nazim Kadri is a skilled player and Tyler Bozak does a good job, but neither of them are capable to take this team on their shoulders and carry it like Sundin did.
To be honest, I don’t see why Kessel or Phaneuf would want to stay in Toronto after all the garbage they’ve had to endure from the media. Kessel finally said enough is enough and went on a rant defending Phanuef. I think that was the right move from Kessel, as Phaneuf isn’t the one who built this team and it’s strange that more criticism hasn’t been pointed at Shanahan and Nonis.
There is no easy fix for this team, but if Mike Babcock decides to leave the Detroit Red Wings in the summer, the Maple Leafs should give him a blank check and tell Babcock to name his prize. He’s one of few head coaches that could handle the pressure in Toronto. That along with trading Kessel and Phanuef or keeping them and upgrade the supporting cast could be the turnaround for this team.
In the meantime, let’s just keep watching the tire fire burn.