Leafs Right On Target

TORONTO (Nov. 1) — Here’s a sobering thought for a hockey fan in our city: The Maple Leafs need to go 7–60–3 in their next 70 games in order to pull alongside the worst team ever in the National Hockey League.

Yes, the expansion Washington Capitals of 1974–75 lurched through an 80–game debacle with eight wins, 67 losses and five draws for the grand total of 21 points. The 2015–16 Maple Leafs — 1–7–2 after ten matches — are squarely on target for eight victories and the percentage–odds of choosing San Francisco native Auston Matthews first overall in the NHL draft next June in nearby Buffalo. Call me an optimist, if you wish, but I think the Leafs truly have it in them to garner those seven additional triumphs. The club may have to erupt for two goals a game once in awhile, but, hey, anything is possible.

Dating to the second half of last season, the Leafs were crafted to be inept and impotent. And, wow, the club is coming through spectacularly. If given time and patience, this might be — as elaborately planned — the worst season in 99 years of hockey at the Mutual Street Arena, Maple Leaf Gardens and the Air Canada Centre. Points are more easily attainable in the overtime–shootout era, so the Leafs will presumably challenge the franchise low–mark of 48, established in 1984–85. But, it could be close. Give these players a pail of pucks at the edge of a cottage pier and it’s likely none would find the lake. There is more finish on the bark of a 90–year–old Redwood. When the Toronto St. Pats became the Maple Leafs under Conn Smythe in 1926–27, Irvin (Ace) Bailey led the club with 28 points. Can anyone break 30 this season?

Alright, it’s true: I’m piling on here.

The Leafs are frighteningly kick–able right now and I’ve donned my steel-toes. But, c’mon, this is hardly evolving by accident. The blueprint — as peddled favorably to ownership by Brendan Shanahan — was for the Leafs to stink as putridly as ever for a couple or three seasons; horde medium–to–high–level draft picks and properly develop their young players in junior, Europe, or the American Hockey League. By 2019, or so, the franchise would be in the midst of a long–term reversal. This is what you get for years and years of cutting corners; in trying for the elusive quick–fix by relinquishing first–rounders, and by missing widely with draft picks retained. As we used to call it around my house: Tsuris (Yiddish for “aggravation”).

RSCN0673edited-XTHE FINAL CARNAGE AT AIR CANADA CENTRE ON SATURDAY NIGHT.

I’ve previously written here (http://bit.ly/1LfsiuH) about my concern — financial stability aside — for Mike Babcock, who isn’t acquainted with losing. And, I maintain that regardless of intellect, he had no idea what he was getting into with the Leafs… in this city, at this time. You can see it and hear it after every loss. The stark reality that he is coaching — by leaps and bounds — the worst team of his professional career. As I mentioned in the above blog, anticipating failure is far different than experiencing failure. It was nice of Mike to take one for the boys after another somnolent performance on Saturday against Pittsburgh. Rarely is a 4–0, home–ice defeat so flattering; Babcock’s team was considerably more inept than the final count indicated. And, he put it on his shoulders afterward — as if a coach can teach players how to score.

Babcock needs to cultivate some form of resistance to losing, which is much easier said than done for a coach — particularly one with a pedigree in a hockey town that expresses anguish as openly as Toronto. With regard to his health and well–being, however, it is an absolute necessity. For such a proud, accomplished man as Babcock, no amount of income can cushion the agony of defeat.

And, it’s beginning to show — every night his players suit up.

I was at the Toronto–Pittsburgh game on Saturday in a rather unique location — six rows from ice level behind the goal defended by the Maple Leafs in the first and third periods. As such, I was able to capture some rather nifty close–ups with my trusty NIKON:

RSCN0621edited-XAN OLD FRIEND RETURNED AND FLOATED — INVISIBLY AS EVER — THROUGH 60 MINUTES.

RSCN0140edited-XTHIS LOOK ON JOFFREY LUPUL’S FACE IN THE WARM–UP SEEMED TO FORESHADOW A DIFFICULT NIGHT.

FSCN0194edited-XWE CAN MERELY WONDER WHAT JONATHAN BERNIER CONTEMPLATED DURING THE ANTHEMS?

FSCN0224edited-XTHE VIEW FROM SEC. 103, ROW 6, SEAT 1 AT AIR CANADA CENTRE.

RSCN0338edited-XIF NOTHING ELSE, NAZEM KADRI HAS BEEN A PEST TO SIDNEY CROSBY THROUGH THE YEARS.

RSCN0400edited-XMORGAN RIELLY MISSED GETTING A PIECE OF PATRIC HORNQVIST… AND SEEMED HAPPY ABOUT IT.

RSCN0677edited-XAS OF SUNDAY, CROSBY SAT 159th IN NHL SCORING WITH ONE GOAL AND FIVE POINTS IN 11 GAMES.

FSCN0265edited-XLONG FACES AT THE TORONTO BENCH DURING A TV TIME OUT.

RSCN0486edited-XTHE LEAFS APPEARED TO BE SKATING UPHILL ALL NIGHT AGAINST PITTSBURGH.

RSCN0597edited-XPENS’ VETERAN PASCAL DUPUIS GOES TO THE BOARDS AGAINST TYLER BOZAK. 

RSCN0556edited-X  RSCN0633edited-XTHESE EXPRESSIONS SUMMED UP THE NIGHT FOR MIKE BABCOCK.

FSCN0645edited-XJOFFREY LUPUL TURNED HIS BACK ON PHIL KESSEL LATE IN THE GAME.

FSCN0610edited-XMORE THAN 19,000 DISGRUNTLED SOULS FILLED THE ACC ON HALLOWEEN 2015.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

3 comments on “Leafs Right On Target

  1. Invisibly as ever? Seriously? Kessel was the team’s top scorer for six seasons. The fans who booed him should be ashamed although I doubt whether they have the intellectual capacity.
    When you look at the behaviour of idiots like them and the rubbish spewed by the Toronto media, it isn’t really too suprising that so few top players want to go there.
    How is the team doing without him?

    1. About as well as it did when Phil stole his $8 million last season from mid-December, on. In all of my years covering the Leafs, I’ve never seen a star player so blatantly pack it in. Absolutely shameful. Too bad you missed it.

Comments are closed.

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.