Culture Change Starts Where?

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (May 9) – To me, there can be only one explanation.

It was a fluke. A convergence of powerless ineptitude that snowballed out of control. A plunge thoroughly atypical of an otherwise resolute cadre of professional hockey players. One that couldn’t possibly repeat itself. I am referring, of course, to the Maple Leafs most recent death-spiral – the 2-12-0 cataclysm that destroyed a promising season and dissolved any chance of a playoff appearance. During that month-long misadventure, the Leafs were entirely devoid of leadership at ice level. Neither the coach nor the captain nor the leading scorer could do a single thing about it. Four weeks later, all apparently has been forgiven.

Fans of the Blue and White must somehow find solace in the club’s “leadership” nucleus returning intact for 2014-15; that Randy Carlyle, Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel are back for another try. There’s no point in confusing the freight-payers with evidence. They could see that Carlyle had a decent grip on the Leafs… until it mattered. That Phaneuf handled his abundance of ice time credibly… until it mattered. That Kessel tore up the league with his scoring and play-making skill… until it mattered. That all three grew completely impotent… when it mattered.

So, again, it must have been a fluke.

HAIL, HAIL, THE GANG’S ALL HERE. NOT MUCH CHANGES IN LEAF LAND.

Remember all that blather from Tim Leiweke about “culture change” during the news cluster to anoint Brendan Shanahan? If reporters were handed a subway token for every mention of the phrase by Leiweke, they wouldn’t have had to drive for a month. It could go down in Maple Leafs infamy alongside “draft shmaft,” “truculence” and “18-wheeler.”

“We lack an idenity and right now, we’re a team that lacks a direction,” said Leiweke on Apr. 11. It appears the CEO was spouting rhetoric.

Shanahan, we were assured, was going to lead a bold, new initiative that would alter the Maple Leafs’ pattern of never-ending incompetence. At the time, of course, none could have envisioned the gallantry required to pink-slip a trio of assistant coaches. No wonder the club needed an additional layer of executive-ship; how could it be expected of a mere general manager to accomplish such sweeping change? Now that Dave Farrish, Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin have been ushered out of town, the Maple Leafs can get on with the program. We should have known better than to question such indomitable authority.

Call me snide if you wish but, while doing so, please explain how the Maple Leafs will improve next season. How a collective void of influence, direction and character can overcome its well-heeled penchant for collapse. How such promising young players as Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson – all of whom stagnated for long periods under Carlyle – will take that next step in their careers.

And if it isn’t about next season; if – as Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk suggests – the Leafs are buying yet another year of patience from their bedeviled followers until God’s coach arrives, then Leiweke and Shanahan are without scruple. There isn’t a professional sports team on this planet that has less of a right to enact a holding pattern. Not even for a week. If that is in fact the plan; if Carlyle is no more than a stop-gap amid the whimsical notion that Mike Babcock yearns to board this annual train-wreck, shame on the Blue and White once again.

Somewhere, there’s an explanation.

Clearly, it must have been a fluke.

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