Can the Leafs avoid a fourth straight collapse?
Three collapses to end seasons in a row. That’s about as ugly as can be when it comes to sports. In case you forgot about them let’s take a little stroll down memory lane.
The 2011-12 Leafs looked really good until February, where they lost 10 of 11 games to end the month and Head coach Ron Wilson was fired. The Leafs went 6-9-3 under Carlyle to end the season and missed the playoffs by 12 points.
Despite that there was hope. Kessel and Lupul were unstoppable, Reimer’s poor performance was blamed on a brutal collision earlier in the season that gave him a concussion and with a new coach and young talent there was hope in Leaf land.
Nov 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) congratulates forward Phil Kessel (81) after a goal against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New Jersey 2-1 in an overtime shoot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
The following season, shortened by the lockout, Randy Carlyle was able to push the young Leafs up the standings and their first playoff games since 2003-04. Although the Leafs finished fifth and were prepared to take on the rival Boston Bruins, not many were expecting much of the Leafs. The Bruins were only two years removed from their Stanley Cup victory and looked poised to return to the dance, which they did albeit in a losing cause.
The Bruins jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and with the series heading back to Boston, and with Tuukka Rask who had 45 saves on 47 shots in game three, you just new the series was over. Except that the Leafs won 2-1. The series returned to Toronto with the Bruins getting a second chance to knock the young Leafs out of the playoffs, but they didn’t. Another 2-1 victory and it was back to Boston for game seven with the Bruins reeling.
That’s when the magic happened. The Leafs stepped on the gas pedal and pushed it to the floor, leading 4-1 with half a period to go. The game was over. Except it wasn’t, the team collapsed and gave up three goals in 10 minutes, including two with under two minutes to go.
The Leafs vowed that would never happen again and traded for Dave Bolland, who scored the Stanley Cup winner against those Bruins, to form a key piece of the teams identity. Well, we know how that ended.
This year the Leafs managed to fall from third in the conference to the number eight pick. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a game or over a season, the Leafs cannot hold a lead when it matters.
In an effort to stop the losing, Brendan Shanahan was brought in and promised to make some sweeping changes. While fans took that to mean the removal of Carlyle and Nonis, both survived, albeit with all their assistants fired.
While Nonis is still the GM it’s clear Shanahan is the one running the show. It’s been widely reported that Nonis has very limited decision making power. Carlyle likewise has seen his power removed, as his praise for Colton Orr and Korbinian Holzer all pre-season led to them both being cut from the team.
Shanahan’s finger prints are all over this team as it’s had a radical change in philosophy. Gone are the days of truculence to be replaced by skill. The best players made the team this year, not the toughest.
Since Shanahan has been in charge the Leafs have created an analytics department, completely overhauled their bottom six, bolstered their defensive core and resigned Reimer to shore up their strength in net. With all that being said, Carlyle and Nonis are still here.
These Maple Leafs need to prove to be mentally tougher than previous incarnations. Every team has losing streaks, even the champions, but the good teams are the ones that can stop them at two or three games before they become a trend. The Leafs have the talent, there’s no doubt about that. This is a roster filled with Olympians and all-stars who should be good enough to make the playoffs in the weaker Eastern Conference.
However if they can’t, or if they collapse, with all the changes already made to this team, there will be sweeping changes. Those are the kind of changes that see coaches and general managers fired and star players shipped out of town.
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