Darren Dreger sits back, trying not to look too jowly, in his faux European cafe. Darren Dreger wants to be someone important by casting aspersions, or stirring the shit, as he might say. He wonders aloud if there is a rift between Coach Mike Babcock and Auston Matthews. Babcock replies with civility because that is the business. But the truth is that Dreger’s methods – TSN’s desire for ratings – are nothing more than muck-racking. This tendency in sports journalism is nothing new – noted for its low bar – but why can’t it be hosted in a place where we will all get the point, loud and clear?
The Toronto Maple Leafs have sunk into a terrible morass from which there seems to be little escape. The players are adrift, the coach at a loss, while the media metes out blame and the fans cry in dismay. Rather than plunge into some sort of Robespierre frenzy, I suggest the following:
Problem #5: Vitriolic Toronto Sports Media. The Toronto sports media, as eager to deify as they are to condemn, is comprised of knee-jerk simpletons who make as many bad judgements as they do unintelligible puns. These clown are stupid enough to seriously suggest that Kessel be traded – Are they nuts?!? Solution: Change the channel and watch highlights of the 1993 Playoffs instead.
4. Ineffective Coaching. Ron Wilson (2008-12) and Randy Carlyle (2012-15) provided no direction for the players, beyond yelling and making snide remarks. While Horachek struggles to implement a system, it appears that his time will also be limited behind the bench. Solution: Mike Babcock needs to be hired, and Brendan Shanahan is the man to do that.
3. Infantile Fan Base. Sports fans are not known for a generosity of spirit nor intelligent analysis. For a market like the Leafs, where hockey is religion, it is all the worse. The symbolic throwing of team jerseys is emblematic of these childish reactions. Solution: Encourage your neighbor to give his jersey to a kid and maybe yell at the Flyers/Canadiens/Bruins/Rangers instead.
2. Lack of Team Leadership. Being captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a heavy burden to bear. It is not as much a matter of talent as it is of a confident, under-stated personality such as Dave Keon, Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin all had. Dion Phaneuf is not like these men. As skilled as he might be, he talks too much, often out of turn. Solution: Trade Dion Phaneuf and appoint a new captain in the off-season. James Van Reimsdyk is a good option to consider.
1. Team Management in Disarray. The ownership is weighed down by a bureaucratic board of governors, focused on making too much money, burdened by a history of poor management practice. This problem is the trickiest of the lot. Hopefully these suits can be swayed by Brian Burke’s wisdom: “They’ll name a street after whoever brings the Stanley Cup to Toronto.” Solution: Remind the board that they hired Brendan Shanahan to be president, and to let him do just that.
The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a stellar record over the last number of years. They qualified for the playoffs for only the first time in eight years this past season and have not been to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1967. (Yes, the picture is in black and white.) That said, they are a young and intense team on the rise. They have a proven offensive leader in Phil Kessel – just signed to an eight-year contract – and a solid supporting group of forwards, including Lupul, van Riemsdyk and Kadri, as well as surprising – and youthful – depth at defense and goal. They should be a playoff team for some years to come. The funny thing is that few, if any, of the pundits see any of this. NBC declared that GM Dave Nonis (has) likely weakened the franchise that was on the cusp of a deep playoff run last year. CBS stated that the only way the Leafs are back in the postseason is if Reimer and Bernier can provide better than average play. And TSN offered this lukewarm analysis: They’re not a lock for the playoffs. They’re still a bubble team. My prediction is quite different. They will go to the playoffs. They will win in the playoffs. They just might get into the finals and win. We’ll see who’s right.