|Sitting at the bottom of the league the Toronto Maple Leafs put on a serious, tough practice on Friday led by Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson. (SunMedia/Greg Henkenhaf)
They are losing games at a rapid rate and every way imaginable, but have the futile Maple Leafs also lost hope?
For now, what you see is what you get as management has no immediate fix for this frustrating and forlorn season.
For tonight anyway, the group that has bumbled through the first 20 games and is on pace to being one of the worst editions in franchise history will be left to rescue themselves against a league powerhouse.
There is little hope for the present, with management unable or unwilling to pull the trigger until it decides there is no alternative other than putting an underachieving veteran on waivers.
Worse still for hostile Leafs fans, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep faith in the future given the steep price in draft picks it cost to acquire Phil Kessel, who at least is one of the few bright spots on the last-place team.
“We seem to have hopefully hit bottom,” Leafs forward Jamal Mayers said after yesterday’s tense practice at the Mastercard Centre. “There’s a feeling of disgust that this could happen.
“It’s not acceptable. There’s no other way to paint it. There are no moral victories.”
There aren’t many of the other kind, either, as the playoffs are quickly skidding from pipe dream to statistical improbability.
With a current losing streak that hit five games on Thursday, the Leafs have won three times and are on pace for just 49 points. Mathematically, that would match the 48 points accumulated in 80 games by the 1984-85 team as the worst in club history.
While number crunching has become a blood sport for irate followers of the morose franchise, it carries some weight given the season will be more than a quarter done after tonight’s clash at the Air Canada Centre with the Eastern Conference leading Washington Capitals.
While few might expect the current pace to last, raise your hands if you would have guessed there would be just three wins at this point?
Not since the 1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers rang up 39 points (with just 14 wins) has an NHL team been so putrid. Nowhere close, in fact.
How low can it go? If the Leafs do indeed finish with 49 points, they would be 45 or so out of a playoff spot.
Meanwhile, by all accounts, the flight home Thursday night from Carolina was a miserable one, with “a fair number of expletives” as one player put it yesterday.
You can argue that the Leafs were robbed in the 6-5 shootout loss to the ‘Canes - allowing a goal with three seconds left to force overtime plus the phantom four-minute penalty to Ian White earlier in the third period. But the reality is the Leafs squandered three and two-goal leads.
“I don’t think it’s right to let it roll off your back,” Leafs forward Lee Stempniak said yesterday. “Losses matter and they’re hard to swallow. You’ve got to hate losing.”
No one finds it more revolting than Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who less than a year into his tenure is taking his lumps these days.
But until Burke is convinced someone on the Marlies would seriously help or that a veteran has no more hope and thus can be waived, what can he do?
“It would give us a boost, but because we are kind of limited, we can’t send anybody down,” Wilson said.
For now. If the losing lasts much longer there will be no choice, something both Burke and Wilson willingly acknowledge.
“We have three wins in 20 games,” Wilson said of one of the roughest extended periods of his coaching career. “It’s not fun, I can tell you that.”