By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Oct. 26) — It was one game, still very early in the schedule, but it felt like a re-run of The Wizard of Oz. I never get tired, mind you, of watching Dorothy; the Scarecrow; the Wicked Witch et al; I’ve seen the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production often enough to recite the lines.
The modern-day hockey equivalent is the Boston Bruins schooling the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre and it happened again Saturday night. During this act, however, the main character was missing and the Leafs still could not convince anyone there’s no place like home.
If you weren’t clear during the summer why I suggested here the Maple Leafs at least partially dissolve the Randy Carlyle–Dion Phaneuf–Phil Kessel triumvirate — and you PVR’d Saturday’s game — spend a few moments reviewing the carnage. Granted a terrific opportunity to jump on a Boston team skating without the NHL’s most indispensable player, the Leafs laid an egg big enough to feed Munchkin Land for a year. And, the numerical optics were simply reviling.
During their complete no-show against the Bruins — sans Zdeno Chara — the Toronto “leadership” tandem of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel shared a tidy $180,926.83 (before taxes). Captain Dion pulled in $83,365.85. Not-so-fast Phil $97,560.98. Grab your mobile device in your left hand for a moment. Now, raise your right hand if you’d be content making either amount in the next 365 days.
I thought so.
THE LEAFS COULDN’T EVEN MEOW AGAINST BOSTON ON SATURDAY.
You may also be savvy enough to gauge the difference between a Tuesday night on Long Island and a big, emotional Saturday night televised from St. John’s to Victoria against your perennial division nemesis. Guess which game Dion, Phil and Co. were primed for? Perhaps you know the Leafs have now gone 10 games (dating to Apr. 1 of last season) without winning in regulation time at the ACC. Brendan Shanahan, David Nonis, Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas, Brandon Pridham, Cliff Fletcher, Cam Charron, Darryl Metcalfe, Rob Pettapiece and whomever else can cram into the Leafs executive lair are likely wondering how to unravel the carryover mess from a year ago. Analytics won’t do it. Nor will another tailored suit. Until the gaping leadership void at ice level is addressed, the Maple Leafs will continue to spin in one place and defraud the most loyal subjects in the NHL.
It is difficult to comprehend such a thoroughly lifeless performance as the one the Leafs turned in on Saturday. Unless, of course, you’ve witnessed it a hundred previous times. And, as much as I felt Carlyle should have been replaced in the summer, it doesn’t start behind the bench. Players earning $8 million and $7 million have to be able to smell blood once in awhile. There is no bigger loss in the NHL over a six-to-eight-week span than Zdeno Chara. Not to suggest the Bruins will wallow in the behemoth’s absence, but it should provide other clubs a bit of incentive. After the postponement in Ottawa on Wednesday night, the Leafs had five full days to rest and sharpen up for the Bruins. Phaneuf and Kessel had five days to envision another clash with the team that has foisted so much humiliation on the Maple Leafs during their years in the city.
Was either player in uniform Saturday night?
How many more times can the Leafs capitulate against character opposition before management attacks the root cause? It isn’t Corsi. It isn’t Fenwick. It isn’t a front office the size of I-B-M. It is simply and thoroughly a lack of big-game presence at ice level. Nothing — absolutely nothing — can compensate for such a deficit.
But, you’ve read that here before, haven’t you?
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