“I really think there’s lots to hope for, primarily a team that becomes much harder to play against and manages to be competitive through a new commitment to team defence. It might not be pretty, but if Leaf fans see a team that can be in the top 10 in the league in team defence, that’s concrete progress.”
That was Damien Cox on October 2, 2008. Seems like only yesterday…. Damien continued:
“Individually, I think it will be intriguing to watch players like Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Mark Bell and Jamal Mayers, who seems like a very classy guy. Fans can also watch Alex Steen, Matt Stajan and Carlo Colaiacovo closely for signs that they can truly be important pieces of the puzzle down the road. Finally, Leaf fans can hope team management sticks to an intelligent game plan of rebuilding. That should include moving some veterans for prospects and draft picks at the February trade deadline. Remember, Philly got Braydon Coburn at the trade deadline in ’07, and now he looks like a future Norris Trophy winner. So if the Fletcher regime is on its toes, there will be real opportunities out there.”
Those at the time where his measuring sticks. Another reporter/blogger predicted a dead last finish. So how can anybody be surprised by his blog this am?:
“It’s amazing how many have decided that this Maple Leaf season has been a season of overachievement because the team usually played hard. It’s as though the lousy Leaf record isn’t lousy at all. Most important, what seems to have been overlooked entirely in all the gushing over the “effort” Ron Wilson has been able to coax out of his team on a regular basis is the fact this club has deteriorated into the NHL’s worst defensive team.”
I don’t have an problem with Damien’s criticism. Wilson is the coach and this is his team. I am the first one to say that he has done more with this squad then anyone really expected despite failures in other areas. The one thing I think he got out of this group where others failed is hard work. Apparently that isn’t easy in the NHL these days as leaf clubs have been devoid of for what seems like eons. I think this years edition played hard, really hard almost every night. I can’t say that about last years club especially when you consider the difference in talent levels.
“Look, it was clear the Leafs would be bad. What’s surprising is how they’ve chosen to express their awfulness, specifically by being absolutely rotten at keeping the puck out of their own net. Teams limited by talent generally try to play conservatively.”
Again, I have no problem with that. He laid out in his mind what success would be and they failed miserably in that area. For a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is goaltending. It’s Wilson’s team and he will be judged based on the record.
“So maybe Wilson has done the best he could this year with a very limited roster. Breaking in Luke Schenn comes at a cost, and youngsters like Jaime Sifers and Phil Oreskovic have had to learn along the way. But for the first time in more than a quarter-century the Leafs will be the NHL’s worst defensive team, and some of that has to go on the coaching staff. That’s far more noteworthy than the fact they frequently tried hard, don’t you think?”
Actually no I don’t. I am not seeing the world through blue and white colored glasses either. I expected them to be brutal and they weren’t nearly as bad as I thought. The fact their defense and goaltending were porous was a surprise, but so too was their ability to score goals. Very few teams complete a season without surprises, good and bad. Am I surprised they are worst in goals against? Yeah, I am. realistically though the this type of team usually plays the trap to win. Wilson and then Burke refused to do that. Also, Wilson played his kids a lot, and didn’t hammer them for screwing up. So, to answer your question, the fact they are dead last in defense is worth nothing. However, irrespective of the fact that these guys are supposed to play hard, they haven’t in years fast and that Wilson was able to get them to do on a regular basis is certainly noteworthy too. I certainly wouldn’t say that one is “far more” noteworthy.