It’s hard to understand where exactly the Toronto Maple Leafs are heading these days.
In one sense, they’re still committed to former general manager Brian Burke’s blueprint for the team. The core of the current roster – captain Dion Phaneuf, sniper Phil Kessel, sleeper James van Riemsdyk, collegiate player Tyler Bozak, accident victim Joffrey Lupul and ice dancer Jake Gardiner – all stem from the Burke era. There are other names that can be added to the list, but the point should be obvious: in many respects, the Leafs you see today are Burke’s guys.
There’s also a continuation from the Burke era in both the general manager’s office and behind the bench. Dave Nonis, who could pass as Burke the Little, signed a five-year contract extension with the team last summer despite the fact he hasn’t really done anything significant for the team. His biggest acquisition to date is Jonathan Bernier, who’s important to the club’s future success, but that’s hardly deserving of such a lucrative contract extension on its own.
The Leafs have also decided to keep head coach Randy Carlyle – another Burke hire – around for two extra years, ignoring the fact he’s burned relationships with Gardiner and backup goaltender James Reimer. That didn’t stop the team from firing his assistant coaches, however. Overall, this sends a very awkward and confusing message to Carlyle: “We’ll keep you, but your general approach to coaching the team isn’t acceptable. We’ll make some changes for you. Please try again.”
By re-signing Reimer and extending Gardiner’s current contract for five years, the Leafs have now added another layer of confusion to everything. If both players fit into the team’s immediate plans and Gardiner fits into the team’s long-term plans as well, what does this mean for Carlyle? Is he actually on the out or is the team undecided on his ultimate his fate? Do they really believe in his extension? Can Carlyle’s relationships with Reimer and Gardiner be salvaged? (Here it’s important to recognize what both players say to the press may not represent their true feelings.)
Add the recent hiring of Kyle Dubas as assistant general manager to the mix and things get messier. He represents a statistics-driven approach to hockey that rubs against the character-drive approach of Burke and Nonis.
At one time, things were fairly simple in Leafs Nation. If something went wrong, you blamed Burke and Carlyle. Now its become more complicated. It’s not clear who actually heads the club these days. Is it Nonis or Dubas? What sway does team president Brendan Shanahan have over both of them? Between them, who has more sway on Shanahan? Is Carlyle still the mastermind behind the bench or are his new coaching assistants meant to keep him in check?
Does the team even have a clear direction right now?
The Leafs are a team that desperately need clarity and direction from the top, but the only clear thing here is the mess they’ve created for themselves.
What do you think? I can’t make sense of it. Let us know in the comments section below.