Maple Leafs’ Locker Room, What Was Going On?

Sometimes we learn more about a subject by what isn’t said. With every passing day, we are gaining insight into what was broken in the home team’s dressing room at the ACC by what we are hearing is new, as opposed to what was wrong.

To his credit, Cliff Fletcher hasn’t publicly criticized any ex- Maple Leaf, certainly not on the basis of character anyway.

Ron Wilson, without naming names has certainly alluded to a need for a change in leadership in the room. It doesn’t take rocket science to discern who he is pointing the finger at and for what. Even the media appropriately nicknamed those who wouldn’t waive their no-trade clauses as the Muskoka 5, a tongue in cheek swipe at the cozy, country club atmosphere of the dressing room at that time.

Today, we gain more insight. This time from a player who played above and beyond last year and who certainly doesn’t have the “political” label on him. That is, no one ever would accuse Vesa Toskla of having an axe to grind with any ex-maple leaf. Yet in articles circulating this evening, the number one goalie is providing ample light into what was by providing insight into what is.

“It’s not like big names or big superstars are here now,” he said Tuesday after practice. “We’re pretty much everybody on the same level and it seems to be good.Everyone is talking to everybody and we’re just getting used to (each other).”

It’s not what he is saying, it’s what he isn’t saying. Reading between the lines, the superstars or big names on the roster last year seemed to be problematic, and not everyone talked to each other in the locker room. The media made lots of chatter about the nature of the room when guys like Roberts, Green, Domi and Corson where on the team. We haven’t heard much about these issues since those guys left. Clearly, to Toskla anyway, it was a problem.

“I think it’s going to be a much more relaxed atmosphere here now,” he said. “Everybody might feel more relaxed to speak up and say something if they have something on their mind. I think that’s great. That’s how you build good team spirit.”

Who, or “whoms” was not creating this pressure in the past, not allowing players to speak their minds? You take this comment, couple it with the words of the new coach with respect to needing to change the leadership and perhaps the picture becomes very clear. Perhaps those running the room weren’t the great leaders we have all been led to believe they were. It would be interesting to hear the honest opinions of guys like Steen or Stajan as the majority of their pro mentoring has come from the recently departed. I am left wondering if the room was country clubesque as portrayed by the media, or was it toxic?

Perhaps one day we will hear a more definitive truth. The picture being painted from the peripheral aint pretty. It sounds to me like one the biggest problem the Leafs had in the last couple of years was in their psyche. McCabe, Raycroft, Tucker, Wellwood were jettisoned this summer after Belak, Kilger and Gill were dealt at the deadline. Throw in the coaching staff save for Acton and you start to get a pretty good idea of where Cliff saw things. The million dollar question is Sundin. I know, calling into question his leadership qualities isn’t going to make me very popular. I guess we have to start with the question of what is the definition of a true leader? There is no question from a playing standpoint, as Howie correctly points out, Sundin owes the Maple Leafs (or us fans) anything. We got every penny out of him, as a player. Does that also mean he was a good leader. In my opinion, a good leader not only leads by example one the ice, he sets the tone and runs the roost off of it. A good leader doesn’t sneak out a back door after a bad game. A good leader is there to take the lumps night in and night out. A good leader doesn’t let others do that either.

To be fair, I wasn’t there. None of us may ever know what kind of leader he was. None of us may know what the room was like. It certainly seems that as more comes out in the wash, things certainly weren’t as they appeared. I guess they never are.

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September 23, 2008 11:25 pm

Interesting….though I wonder if it was the players mentioned or the coaching staff? The primary guys noted (Tucker, McCabe, Sundin) also played on successful Quinn teams. I don’t recall there being any questions/issues about leadership or poor team atmosphere (aside from the corson/tucker/green mess).

As you said, none of us were in the room but….this piece of data points the finger elsewhere.

September 24, 2008 10:38 am

Well, the guys noted were the ones left over from the successful Quinn teams. They had (save for Mats) gone from secondary roles to primary roles which has coincided with the team’s lack of success.

The coaching staff definitely appear to have been targeted as well although Acton’s survival seems to mean that Fletcher actually trusts in him.

September 24, 2008 10:41 am

From this seat, Fletcher, like the guys behind him aren’t prepared to be the guy to fire Acton given his “health issue”….

Down Goes Brown
September 24, 2008 11:35 am

I still think you’re letting Sundin off too easy on this. Yes, we were all sick of McCabe and he was certainly more visible with all his whining. But Sundin was the undisputed leader of what sounds like a real mess of a dressing room.

It will be interesting to see what happens if/when he retires — are the media types holding off on anything because they don’t have the guts to write it now knowing he could still come back? Or do they really have no idea what’s happening on the team they’re supposed to cover?

“We got every penny out of him, as a player. ”

I still disagree with this. He was payed as a top 5 or 10 player and we never got that from him. But it’s water under the bridge now.

September 24, 2008 12:04 pm

Always love the banter. I don’t think I am letting Sundin off at all. I think time will tell us what type of leader Sundin was. I suspect that a lot of Sundin fans aren’t going to like what they hear. Again, the problem is that the players who where there aren’t going to say he was bad, instead they will say how much better things are now.

For the on ice stuff. I think we are going to disagree. The guy had (I hope, past tense) a very good career. He achieved very good statistics as a Maple Leaf. Did he deliver a cup? No he didn’t, but all in all I think we got value back from him.

Coach Dunbar
Coach Dunbar
September 24, 2008 2:59 pm

Nice post as usual… but I really don’t understand what’s up with Leaf fans and their ideas about Sundin. Like honestly, he will be known as one of, if not the greatest leaf in leaf history. As for his on ice performance he was amazing and could of been even greater if not for his lack of playing time and lack of support, either players on his line or behind him.
I too was never in the dressing room but once, the final game in MLG, and even though they lost that game, I did not see anything that could lead me to say that Sundin isn’t/wasn’t a team leader.
Be thankful that we had the privilege to see a hockey great play most of his career for our team.

September 24, 2008 11:23 pm

CD- I think you are in the majority when it comes to your take on the ‘the most recent captain of the Maple Leafs’

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