We’re now something like 29 days out from the start of the NHL season so I figure this is as good a time as any to start doing the season previews. This is mainly for two reasons: 1) I am lazy and there’s no way I’ll do one of these every day, and 2) This is early enough that if I just stop doing them entirely you’ll have forgotten by October anyway. Oh and I guess also to show off my near-infinite knowledge of the National Hockey League. I’ll be previewing the teams in reverse order of finish in the 2007-08 season. Please note, though, that this is the opinion of one man, however smart and handsome he may be.
Toronto Maple Leafs, you’re on the clock.
For the record, I’m still laughing about that Jeff Finger contract.
Jeff Finger. For $3.5 million dollars. Holy hell.
And the best part, it might not even be the worst contract on the team. Jason Blake at $4 million’s right up there. And yeah, the Leafs fans out there are going to argue that he had 52 points last year and that’s no so terrible, which is true enough. But here’s the problem, and it points to a problem we’ve seen with a lot of these bottom-of-the-barrel teams I’ve previewed so far: no offense at all.
Last year, the Maple Leafs were paced by a 78-point season from Mats Sundin. Pretty solid. After that, the next closest guys are Nik Antropov, Tomas Kaberle and the aforementioned Mr. Blake. Point totals for those three: 56, 53, 52. What do they all have in common? Sundin was the player with whom they combined to score the most points. He and Antropov combined on 25 goals (45 percent of Antropov’s scoring), 22 for Kaberle (42 percent) and 16 with Blake (31 percent).
Now the Leafs might have to live with the idea of not having Sundin around any more. That’s a scary thought.
More after the jump.
Last year’s Toronto offense scored 2.78 goals a game, of which Sundin created .39 per. Take away Sundin’s contribution and the Leafs are looking at 2.39 goals a night, and that’s third-worst total in the league ahead of only Columbus (2.32) and the Islanders (2.3). Couple that with a fourth-worst 3.12 goals a game, and hoo boy. That’s a hell of a bad hockey team.
The sad thing is, there’s no way the Leafs should be in this position. They’ve been so mismanaged over the last few years that it’s astounding. Perhaps mismanagement isn’t even a strong word for what MLSE has put Leafs fans through over the last several years. Whatever word you’d use to describe how Enron was run, or how FEMA handled natural disaster circa Labor Day 2005, seems a more appropriate description. The Leafs have been that much of an unmitigated disaster.
The Leafs, for all the money they spend and all the former superstar players they bring in, haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons, and have often finished with just enough points that those unbelievable first-round picks haven’t been too spectacular. In fact, they didn’t even have a first- or second-round pick at last year’s draft. Because they traded them for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell (MARK BELL!).
John Ferguson, Jr. was absolutely awful at his job and the Leafs, after keeping him as general manager for five years, eventually admitted as much. That type of lack of accountability is often reserved purely for the office of President of the United States, but just as it’s the American public’s fault for electing the latter in midterm elections, it’s MLSE’s fault for plugging in Doddering Old General Manager Cliff Fletcher (well, “interim”) in Ferguson’s stead.
Not that Ferguson has been especially bad or anything, he just hasn’t been what anyone would call good. He made no trades at the deadline (though his hands were admittedly tied thanks to the thousands of no-movement clauses Ferguson et al had handed out over the years), and his big free agent acquisitions were Jeff Finger, Nik Hagman, and Curtis Joseph. Oh yeah, and Jonas Frogren.. who isn’t allowed to play in the NHL juuuust yet. What is a Maple Leafs fan supposed to do with any that?
Credit where it’s due though, Fletcher at least unloaded Bryan McCabe’s nightmare contract — and a pick — and got not-so-terrible-if-oft-injured defenseman Mike Van Ryn to take his place. He also traded a fifth-round pick for Ryan Hollweg. Swell!
The other big change, of course, is behind the bench. Ron Wilson will replace Paul Maurice, which on paper seems like a pretty good move. Few coaches have better records over the last several years than Wilson, and he will kindly point that out if you don’t believe him. He has pie charts and everything. The funny part, though, is that Ron Wilson’s relationship with the press has always been, umm, contentious.
Last year, TSN asked him if he was disappointed in the play of Patrick Marleau, at which point he yelled, “Always negative! That’s TSN for you! That’s Canada for you!” and stormed off. Well Ron, have fun in the second-most scrutinized hockey market in the world, where everything is questioned all the time even if things are going well. Hint: Things WILL NOT be going well. How long before Wilson clocks someone from the Sun over their questioning where Alex Ponikarovski fits into the second line? Two weeks? A month? Can’t be more than a month.
Fact of the matter: This is going to be a long, ugly season in Toronto. Longer and uglier than last year, especially if Sundin doesn’t come back. We’re talking near the bottom of the barrel, top-three pick ugly.
Not that there won’t be bright spots. Alex Steen is going to break out thanks to additional power play time (my one bold Leafs prediction this year), and kids like Stralman and Tlusty will also continue to improve.
I would plead with Leafs fans to simply stop showing up at the ACC, but would be like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. They’ll keep showing up, lining MLSE’s pockets with millions of dollars, to watch one of their worst teams in decades. And why? Because they’re suckers. That’s why.
The Hero: Oof. I honestly have no idea. Tomas Kaberle maybe?
The Darkhorse: Jiri Tlusty, I’ll say. If not for those naked pictures, for the fact that he’s got a hell of a shot. Put him down for 20 goals or so.
The New Guy: Ron Wilson. The biggest impact he’ll have on the team is the day his head explodes at a press conference after another loss to Ottawa and puts Carlo Colaiacovo on the DL (again) with skull fragment schrapnel wounds.
The Big Question: With Bryan McCabe gone and if Mats Sundin doesn’t come back, who will Leafs fans bitch about for not waiving his no movement clause?
- Acquired RW Jamal Mayers
- Acquired C Mikhail Grabovski
- Acquired LW Ryan Hollweg
- Acquired D Mike Van Ryn
- G Curtis Joseph
- D Jeff Finger
- LW Niklas Hagman
- D Richard Petiot
- 2008 third-round pick (Mayers deal)
- D Greg Pateryn and a 2010 second-round pick (Grabovski deal)
- 2009 fifth-round pick (Hollweg deal)
- D Bryan McCabe and a 2010 fourth-round pick (Van Ryn deal)
- G Andrew Raycroft (to Colorado)
- C Darcy Tucker (to Colorado)
- D Andy Wosniewski (to St. Louis)
- C Mats Sundin? (who knows? lololol)
Apropos-of-nothing TLP predicted finish: Fifth in the division, 13th in the East, 28th in the NHL.