TORONTO - “If you’re going to not have fun anymore playing the game just because you’re losing a couple of times, you should probably not even play.”
Leafs forward Kris Versteeg.
“If you’re in this right now and you’re having fun, you should be questioning where your head is at, where your heart is at.”
Leafs goaltender J.S. Giguere.
So that’s the problem.
The Leafs don’t know whether they should be having fun or not.
Once they figure that out, it’s onward and upward. Cue the dirge.
One thing for sure though, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson is not having fun — other than at his post-practice media scrums, when he can rag on some media guys. (Thursday, he compared his captain, Dion Phaneuf, and a pesky radio guy, to woodpeckers, which was good for a couple of guffaws).
But in the big scheme of things, you know Wilson is dying inside.
No coach likes to lose, but coaching a losing Leafs team in Toronto is like going to the dentist and finding out it’s the evil Dr. Szell from Marathon Man wearing the white mask.
“I don’t worry about stuff like that (but) I’m always being asked that, and does get irritating,” said Wilson, when asked if he is starting to wonder about his job. “I don’t even think about that stuff other than when I have to come here — because I know someone is going to ask that question.”
Wilson knows that when the Leafs lose, his job security is going to come up. Sure enough, as soon as Wednesday’s night game 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers was in the books, Twitter and the Blogosphere (sounds like a bad after school special) were jam-packed full of fans and media types speculating on whether Wilson should be fired.
Ridiculous? Who knows. But even if you don’t like Wilson (personally I like a guy who can take the p--- out of people), you can’t blame him for this seven-game losing slide.
Yes, Toronto’s special teams aren’t great. But by and large, the Leafs come out every night with energy and a plan. The goal-deficient Leafs are actually averaging more shots per game than their opponents (27.7-26.9), though their goals per game average (2.13) is the second worst in the NHL. If not for the fact that there’s only one natural goal scorer on the team, they’d probably be fairly high in the standings.
People seem to forget that Wilson has precious little to work with in terms of team offence, and that’s an understatement. The quick start was a mirage. The Leafs were playing over their heads.
How can anyone expect this team to win when it has probably the weakest top two lines in, as Harry Neale would say, the National League?
Their first line centre, Tyler Bozak, is an undrafted 24-year-old who had 37 NHL games on his resume coming into the season and whose best showing in two NCAA seasons was 34 points in 41 games. With all due respect to the kid, he might be the weakest first-line centre in the NHL, though he’s been recently bumped to the second line for Mikhail Grabovski.
Yet coming into the season, there seemed to be a sense, for some reason, that he was on the verge of being an NHL standout.
Phil Kessel is a first-line winger on any team. But fellow first-line winger (until recently), Kris Versteeg, is a second-line forward on a decent team and probably a third-line forward on a good team.
The second line, which is supposed to provide secondary scoring, is not much weaker than the first line. But that’s not very good.
Nikolai Kulemin is one of those players who might be good some day, but might never break out on a consistent basis. Clark MacArthur is a decent second- or third-line winger. If Toronto’s top two lines aren’t firing on all cylinders, the team can’t expect to score, or win. The players aren’t stupid, they realize that.
“That’s just silly to even talk about,” said Giguere, when asked about his coach. “Wils puts out a game plan ahead of us and it’s up to the players to execute and I don’t think we have. Can he be faulted for us not executing on the power play or giving up goals and stuff like that? I don’t think so.”
For some reason Wilson seems to land on the hot seat more than his GM, Brian Burke, probably because Burke has more allies in the Toronto media. But the man has virtually nothing to work with.