TORONTO - Forget about management and coaching — it’s the players’ fault the Maple Leafs didn’t make the playoffs this year.
General manager Brian Burke said as much on Tuesday when he fingered the Leafs’ deplorable special teams as the reason the Leafs have started scattering to various points in North America and Europe instead of gearing up for the post-season.
“The reason we are not in the playoffs was our special teams,” Burke said. “It’s not an overstatement, and it’s a legitimate concern.”
The Leafs were 22nd in the National Hockey League when they had a man-advantage, coming in at a 16% success clip, in 2010-11. They were 28th in penalty killing at 77.4%, better than only the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche.
Special teams have been a problem in each of Ron Wilson’s three years behind the bench.
But for Burke, it all comes down to execution, not whether the players have been given proper instruction and planning.
“I think it is too easy to blame special teams on the coaches,” Burke said. “When our power play was clicking, when our penalty killing was clicking, our percentages were just fine. When you see it work, it is not coaching, that is players executing a well-thought out plan. When it does not, the temptation is to blame the coaches and I don’t understand that.”
It was noted by a member of the media that despite roster turnover, special teams still have been poor.
“I felt the first time I have given Ron a competitive group to play with was the second half of this season,” Burke said. “We might have to address (bad special teams) with player personnel additions.”
Burke might try to add an experienced power-play quarterback during the off-season. Wilson has said he wants one.
This much is true — if the Leafs turn their special teams around under Wilson, it apparently won’t have anything do with coaching and everything to do with execution.