Maurice's future is now

Leafs coach Paul Maurice confers with Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala at yesterday's practice....

Leafs coach Paul Maurice confers with Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala at yesterday's practice. (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:28 PM ET

Crunch time is coming for Paul Maurice.

Andrew Raycroft has his best game as a Maple Leaf and still the Leafs lose. Still, he allows five goals.

Vesa Toskala has his best game as a Leaf on Saturday night and still the club doesn't win. Still, he allows five goals.

Maurice has a serious hockey problem on his hands: The Leafs, through seven games, are getting fine goaltending, killing penalties well -- two things they didn't have a year ago -- but are giving up goals against in mind-boggling numbers.

Numbers that indicate this roster may be ill-suited to compete at the NHL level.

Numbers that indicate this coaching staff may not be able to fix what is wrong.

Numbers that indicate this team, again, will be challenged to be in the top half of a 30-team league.

Begin with Maurice: His reputation was made in the NHL for being young, innovative, personable and defensively minded. Apparently he still is young, innovative and personable.

When he coached the Carolina Hurricanes, they were a grinding team that had to play defensive hockey just to get by. That's the story, anyhow.

But if you do a statistical search, you will determine this: Maurice's Hurricanes finished 26th, 20th, 19th, 16th, 14th twice and ninth once in goals against in his years in Carolina. He cracked the top 10 once, which belies his reputation.

Now you have to wonder, last season the Leafs were weak defensively as a team.

This year, with basically the same players, and some better players, they're pathetic without the puck.

Do the Leafs have a coaching problem -- or a coaching staff problem?

The answer to that may be yes and no.

It is yes if Maurice can't find a way for this team to tighten up.

The best coaches can impact how a team plays defence. Jacques Lemaire's teams, with whomever on defence and without stars in goal, always are among the leaders in goals against.

When Pat Burns came to Toronto in 1992, he immediately dropped 53 goals off the Leafs' goals against and the Leafs went up 32 points in the standings with a minimal number of player changes.

A coach can do that, assuming his players are capable.

If these players can't adjust, can't stop making mistakes, can't stop misreading the play, then the issue may not be coaching. Then it's player selection.

That brings us to John Ferguson, the forever challenged general manager.

The Leafs don't have a checking line or a designated checking centre. Whose fault is that?

The Leafs don't have a shutdown pair of defenceman --remember Dmitri Yushkevich and Danny Markov not that many moons ago?

Or an Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips type.

Whose fault is that?

The mistakes being made in Buffalo, against Pittsburgh, against Carolina, came from Pavel (will somebody please buy him out or send him to the minors) Kubina and Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill and Bryan McCabe and yes, Mats Sundin.

All of them veterans. The four highest-paid players on the team.

And it's not like the rest of the league isn't noticing. The Leafs have played seven times, five against backup goaltenders, including the past three games.

Even though they are scoring a crazy number of goals -- 15 more than the unbeaten Minnesota Wild -- teams aren't feeling insecure about playing their backups against the Leafs.

At no time last season did this team look as frail as it does right now.

Seven games gone, five at home, and only once have the Leafs allowed two goals or less.

The next two home games are against teams that haven't made the playoffs for years. The next two home games are paramount for Maurice and Ferguson.

The picture is by no means pretty and the season began with the general manager's future already in jeopardy.

As some Leafs people spent the summer trying to find a replacement for Ferguson, the general manager now is on the Babcock clock.

Question is: How long before Paul Maurice is right there with him?


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