By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 7) — I can understand why the headline to this blog may seem like a cruel joke to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There is, however, a difference between playing out the string in another lost season and perpetuating an outright debacle. Given the complete absence of response to Peter Horachek since Jan. 6 — when Horachek took over from Randy Carlyle — the Leafs cannot continue without another change behind the bench. The club still bears obligation… if not to the current players, then certainly to those that have committed season–ticket money for the remaining 15 home games. Turning a blind eye to this fiasco would be a punch to the solar–plexus of any fan that has invested cash and/or emotion in the hockey club. There may be no person alive capable of generating accountability from this coach–killing complement, but we cannot say that for sure. What we can say — unequivocally — is that the 2014–15 Leafs will not play for Horachek.
If, then, you are Brendan Shanahan, you have two choices: Remain in paralysis for the next two months with a coach that has guided your club to a 1–11–1 record in 13 games and the longest losing streak in franchise history, or try something else… anything that proves you are not — as first–year president of the team — mailing in the final 29 games of the schedule. This goes beyond the resignation of another disastrous season and the prospect of a prime selection in the Connor McDavid draft. It speaks directly to the credibility and integrity of the Maple Leafs — neither of which Shanahan has augmented by lapsing into cruise control. Another change behind the bench may seem cosmetic on the surface, but not in the realm of responsibility. In business, when it becomes undeniable that a particular direction is pointless, you must go in a different direction. The Maple Leafs are there right now with Peter Horachek. It is a disservice to the club and to an otherwise honorable man to stay the course. Shanahan must make a second coaching move.
THE VERDICT IS IN ON PETER HORACHEK: HE CAN’T GET A THING OUT OF THE MAPLE LEAFS. PERHAPS NO ONE CAN. BUT, ANOTHER CHANGE HAS TO BE MADE.
Clearly, it would not be done to absolve anyone on this lifeless, contemptible team. We can all assume the Leafs will be dismantled — beginning, perhaps, with the Mar. 2 National Hockey League trade deadline. A move away from Horachek would establish that the franchise still has a pulse. That it continues to bear liability to the multitudes that fork over the NHL’s most expensive ticket and untold millions in team–sanctioned merchandise (jerseys, hats, jackets). Such loyalty and commitment from the fan–base is, of course, voluntary, yet clearly unconditional. It should neither be assumed nor invalidated.
As for what to do… well, there is no guaranteed solution. Nor does there have to be at this point. It could be as simple as putting Steve Spott in charge. Spott earned a promotion to the NHL with his work, last season, as coach of the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies. Maybe his voice would have some impact and preserve a smidgen of enjoyment for denizens of the Air Canada Centre. Once again, 15 home games is too many to throw away. Having the Leafs wallow in Horachek’s choking defensive “system” would be cruel and unusual punishment. There is no match whatsoever between current coach and roster. Perhaps Spott would garner more of a match. It would be nigh impossible to garner less than what Horachek has in 13 miserable games behind the bench.
This is not a call for remedy. The Maple Leafs are well beyond salvation. But, the games still have to be played. And the tickets are accounted for. Shanahan sitting idly through this mess would be criminal.
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