Bill Clement Good Perspective On The Leafs

Funny how a national writer (or in this case international) can have such good perspective when his local beat writer counterpart can be so out to lunch…

“Even with the noise Toronto has made in the early going, it would still shock me If the Leafs make the playoffs but I’m not ruling that out. A month into the season Toronto stood ahead of Washington, Ottawa and Philadelphia – all of whom I feel are playoff-caliber teams. But it’s a long season and who knows how the fortunes and the health of these teams and others in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt will run.”

That is right, none of us do know, especially those who like to wear argyle sweaters or take their kids to press boxes while on the road, that’s for sure!

“The aim for the Leafs should be to see if with how they’ve reloaded they can maintain a level of success that keeps them in the chase for a playoff spot going into the final few days of the season. I think they are capable of doing that. And if they can make a run like that at the postseason – where they are on the playoff bubble coming down the wire – then anything can happen.”

I happen to disagree with what the aim should be. I think the aim is a much bigger picture that has nothing to do with the playoffs, but it certainly isn’t an unreasonable opinion.

“This is the hardest working Toronto team since the lockout and that’s primarily because of a couple of reasons: Wilson is an iron-fisted taskmaster and early in the relationship with a new coach every player tries to impress him and earn his approval. So the Leafs are being pushed to bust it by their coach and by themselves since they want as much ice time as they can get from the new man behind the bench.”

Why can’t we get coverage like this again?

“Ice time is so very important to players as it should be. Whenever I visit a team’s locker room before I work the telecast of a game, I ask players how they are doing and how it’s going. Just by the nature of their answer I can tell how many minutes they are getting. If I get a tepid answer, it reveals to me the player is getting some playing time but he wants more. If I get it a sort of “things could be better” answer, I know the player is hurting for ice time. And if a player tells me things are great, well, that means he’s getting all the minutes he can handle. The Leafs are auditioning for their new coach. It’s an open audition that is far from over and it’s one that is designed to bring out the best in them. So far it has done that and it’s no wonder why. Ice time is the oxygen a player needs to breathe. It’s his lifeline to confidence.”

The beauty of this is that it really isn’t rocket science. Much like the game itself it’s simple….

“Also a positive is that without a star player on the team there is no “cast” system and Wilson can without issue go about treating his entire roster equally and that enhances team unity and team chemistry. That under Wilson all Toronto players are created equal is a message the new coach wasted little time in sending. In the team’s third game of the season, Matt Stajan, a young center who is one of the team’s leading scorers and whose play is on the rise, was a healthy scratch. That move caught the attention of the whole team and it conveyed without question that Wilson is not paying any favorites.”

That is why, at least so far, the results from an effort perspective are so much different then under previous regimes.

“Wilson also has his team understanding and getting the grasp of the counter-attack game so they look faster than they are. When Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg commented earlier this season that his team had trouble dealing with the Leafs’ speed, that revealed that Toronto’s style of play can be difficult to take on and succeed against even if the Leafs are not as fast as they seem.”

I agree with this entirely. I don’t think they are the speed demons everyone thinks, the truth is for the first time in probably a decade they actually have a transition game. With Quinn they always were run and gun. This team really makes a smooth transition from defense to offense.

“Whatever strides Toronto makes this season could be accelerated in the future if Cliff Fletcher, who is 73, steps down as general manager after this season. Brian Burke, who is in the final year of his deal as Anaheim’s GM, has been rumored to be first in line to succeed Fletcher. Burke is not just a guy who builds from youth; he goes after proven talent as well. And Burke is someone who certainly enjoys taking on challenges and can anyone imagine a greater challenge than that of bringing a Stanley Cup to Toronto, a franchise that hasn’t won one since 1967?

Isn’t that why Cliff was hired? Lay the foundation, do the dirty work so that the next guy doesn’t have to….

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