The All-Star break is, obviously, a good time to reflect on the first half of the season and where your team is at. Unfortunately for Maple Leafs fans, it’s not been a great first half, and I’m not sure, without some major changes, that the second half will be much better. Here are 5 thoughts on the Maple Leafs at this point of the season.
Why did we think firing Randy Carlyle was a solution?
It may be a step in the right direction, or at least a different direction, but why would this solve a problem? Particularly when you simply promote one of his minions? Everyone in a decision-making capacity should be under scrutiny right now, even Brendan Shannahan. Sure he’s new but it seems that the Leafs aren’t suffering from action taken, but rather inaction. One of two things has to happen, the Leafs need a radical change in team strategy/tactics, or they need new players to try to make their current strategy work. Either way, something needs to change.
Everyone should be on the trading block.
This is more of a conceptual point because of the absurd contracts that many Leafs are on with high salaries and limited (or no) movement clauses. Would another team want Dion Phaneuf or David Clarkson assuming these clauses didn’t exist? Sure. Would anyone want them on the ridiculous salary they’re both on? Unlikely. The Leafs stand to lose a few players in the off-season (i.e. Kadri) due to a lack of salary cap space. Trading Phil Kessel isn’t the answer; Phil Kessel is a role player, and he plays his role just fine.
All that said, it might be the case that the Leafs just need to shake things up. Bring in some new blood to see how it changes the dynamic in the dressing room or on the ice. Maybe a new player could bump up their tempo or work rate. Or maybe not, I think it’s definitely something that should be explored.
Jerseys on the ice.
Arresting these people isn’t the answer. The fans are throwing their jerseys on the ice because they’re annoyed with the direction the team is heading. Shocking. Perhaps the correct response is to try to win the fans back, by doing something notable. Maybe even do something to say you’re sorry (ref). Do I agree with a throwing a jersey on the ice? Not a chance. But let’s look at the bigger picture and what it actually means. Maybe the Maple Leafs could learn from Sunderland FC.
The ‘C’ should be up for grabs.
There really isn’t any clear leadership so there should be no ‘C’. Demote Dion to an assistant and let a player, any player, rise into the captain’s role. Give it to a player that has the wherewithal to push the players, get the best out of them, deal with the media, and accept responsibility. It needs to be a player with a high work rate that can play in both ends of the rink. Phaneuf isn’t the guy, there is nothing about him that pushes players to work harder and play better.
The analytics guys.
Surely they must have some input into this whole fiasco. James Mirtle posted a good breakdown of the Leafs hot versus cold streaks a few days ago. We don’t need to look at CORSI, Fenwick, PDO or any other index, just look at the basics. For example, shots. A simple box score will tell you the Leafs allow too many shots, and don’t take enough. Their goaltending isn’t good enough to allow that many shots per game. Maybe they need to tighten up, block shots, keep the puck more, put more emphasis on winning face-offs in their own zone, whatever. If nothing else, these guys should be able to identify players of good value that Nonis could bring in that could potentially reinvigorate the team, without doing any more harm to their salary cap structure (and at the same time, getting rid of some dead weight!).
The ultimate take-away is this, fans are annoyed, and it’s not because the Leafs are losing, its largely because of how they’re playing. If every night was a well-played game and the end result was a loss, I (and I suspect others) would be fine with that. What we often see, night after night, is a level of complacency that you’d expect from a teenager in a junior high calculus class. The onus is now on those in the front office to make some changes, or perhaps they, themselves, need to be the change.
Thanks for reading. I love to hear others thoughts, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to respond.
Economist/epidemiologist interested in the intersection between sports analytics (advanced stats) and intuition.