Leafs Owe Fans a Defined Direction & a Plan

I recently wrote that the Leafs should fire their coach and that they should trade Phil Kessel. Today I’ll settle for anything.

The team is 3-7 in their last ten games, that’s over 10% of the season in which they are about equal to the intentionally tanking Buffalo Sabres. And if you look at the team’s current rosters, it’s clear which team is going to be better three seasons from now. (Hint: not the Leafs).

And that pretty much sums up what’s wrong with this team: Not good enough to win, not bad enough to get better. Their cap situation and the players they have built around are both completely screwed up. But what is worse, is that there is no plan or no direction. Just get 8th and hope for a miracle is not a plan, it’s a disaster.

But the question is, how do you fix it?

There is virtually no chance you can trade a contract like Kessel of Phanuef in the middle of the season. The chances of another team helping you out by taking Clarkson’s inflated joke of a contract are even worse. Robidas? Better chance of seeing an original line-up GNR release Use Your Illusion III.

Toronto is very loyal to the hometown team, the Maple Leafs (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)
(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

You could fire the coach, which they should, but to what end, really? Carlyle can’t make these losers play defense. Any new coach is still going to have Robidas, Polak and Hozler making up half their defense unit. And any new coach is still going to be missing the requite #1 centre and defenseman. (Although the emergence of Kadri and Rielly into these roles is possible, it cannot happen while Bozak and Phaneuf continue to be relied upon by the coaching staff to do the heavy lifting).

So, what exactly can be done? The team is prevented from doing anything by the salary cap, the current group sucks and yet, doesn’t appear to quite suck bad enough to get the team what it really needs: Connor McDavid.

 So What Can Be Done? 

Well, the first thing is easy. It is not acceptable that Shanahan took over the team, fired his GM’s assistants, hired his own and then left the old guy out there in the wind. No one  knows just what kind of power Dave Nonis has anymore.  Can he make trades on his own? Who even has the trade discussions? Does he have to run anything he agrees on by Shanahan? How much input does he take from the assistants who have usurped his old cronies and does he respect them?

The Leafs front office appears – from the outside, I will admit – to be a mess. Their doesn’t seem to be a tenable position for Nonis in the organization anymore – the man was clearly uncomfortable at the Shanahan introductory press-conference and even if they agreed to work together, I think the team’s followers deserve better than the current mystery of who does what and why.

Beyond that, Nonis has been a failure in his role as GM. The Bernier trade aside, nothing he has done has really worked out very well and signing Robidas, trading for Polak, the Clarkson and Bozak contracts all should be enough to get him fired.

Maple Leafs can improve
(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

The team needs, first and foremost, a face of the franchise general manager who has a clearly defined philosophy and set of goals.

The current set-up is confusing, stupid and whether or not it’s really true, it looks like it’s a set-up to buy Shanahan time and nothing more. The current goal of trying to make it to 8th place and get lucky in the playoffs is a joke. Every single person I know would rather the team add to Kadri, Nylander and Rielly with a high-end draft pick than flounder along as the NHL’s joke-team for another decade.

It’s not rocket science: You win in a cap system by having star players who are young enough to make an impact while on team friendly deals. As soon as you’re best players make a combined $16 million, if you aren’t already competing, you’re done.

So the first thing to do is fire Nonis and install someone permanently in charge.

That should happen simultaneously to the firing of Randy Carlyle, who’s ineptitude I will refrain from going on about again, but the link is at the top if you want a blow-by-blow of why he should be canned. If these moves don’t happen today, it’s a disgrace. How much more time do you possibly need? The team sucks. The team is screwed by it’s flawed construction and poorly allocated salary distribution. There isn’t a super-star blue-chipper in the system and the team’s best four players are horrible without the puck.

 

Ryan Kesler
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

So, maybe the new GM wants a new coach from outside the organization or maybe he’s content to go with one of the current assistants. Who really cares at this point?  The most important thing about this hire, outside of removing a man who knows he’s already fired and whatever untold detriments that adds to this mess, is that it will put to bed the ridiculous Mike Babcock rumours.

Look: Brendan Shanahan would not have gotten the job he did if he was such an idiot that he would waste an entire year of his team’s development and insult two solid professionals like Nonis and Carlyle by waiting an entire year in a holding pattern just to get a shot at a coach who’s probably overrated anyways. I mean, I am sure he’s a good coach and everything, but whatever utility he provides over the next best NHL coach is surely lost by wasting an entire year to wait for him. So, while I have no doubt it’s all just rumours and wishful thinking, hiring a new coach would at least make the Leafs not look like the most unprofessional team in pro-sports.

Once the team has new management in place and has a clearly defined strategy, let the exodus begin. Since the team already has Rielly, Gardiner, Franson, Bernier, JVR, Kadri and Nylander, a total rebuild won’t be necessary – just fix the cap and draft high this year and you’re right back on track.

In the meantime, if they act like they don’t care about the Playoffs this year, they are free to try all sorts of fun stuff. Things like giving a regular 15 minutes to Panik. Sitting Clarkson in the press-box. Skating Rielly as the top minute defenseman. Kadri as the teams ice-time leader among forwards and number one centre. Putting Gardiner and Franson back together.

There really are a lot of options, even with the cap being what it is.  Nothing, however, gets done under Nonis and Carlyle. The time to toss them out was the day Shanahan was hired. Good for him for giving them a chance, but the fans deserve better than this: The team doesn’t need to win, they just need a defined direction and a plan.