Finally back after an agonizingly long summer after what was one of the most disappointing seasons in Maple Leaf history. Just in time to hit the training blogs providing some assholes don’t lock me out of my computer for a second time in a decade.
For now let’s ignore the elephant in the room and act like Luongo fans, expecting the see great hockey on Oct. 11, while knowing full well that this isn’t going to happen.
So what went wrong last year?
Well, the obvious answer is goaltending. Reimer, even before concussing himself with Gomez’s elbow, was not showing his tremendous athleticism from the season before as he struggled the work with system handed to him be François Allaire. He became a target for the puck to hit instead of fighting for every save. This left him in awkward positions, making it near impossible to scramble across the net for rebounds or bad bounces. But it didn’t end there, while he was out The Monster damn near earned his nickname, while good enough to win with during December, he was among the best in the league to start the new year. Then he hit a wall, his confidence shattered and The Monster’s play declined to far to even play backup for Patrick Roy.
It wasn’t just goaltending though, the defense corps bare more than a little responsibility for that massive collapse. Captain Phaneuf started off the season looking like the kid who landed his massive contract, Komisarek seemed like less of a liability and Schenn wasn’t a huge disappointment anymore. But then late January came. Liles went out with an injury, Komisarek and Schenn couldn’t take the strain of the terrible system implemented by Wilson, and Phaneuf… vanished. By the end of the year the back end was in complete disarray and seemed incapable of adapting to the game plan of Randy Carlyle on the fly.
Will those holes be fixed by the time the puck drops to start the season? Hard to say, Reimer will be healthy with a young, hungry kid trying to do exactly what he did to Giggy the season earlier. As for the defense, there is little to suggest that there will be vast improvements while the roster remains pretty much the same. Sure with more experience Jake Gardiner should continue to flourish, but will he be able to take over the top spot should Liles go down again? That remains to be seen as does whether Liles even be able to return with the flare he showed to start last season.
As for the offense that may be the only strong point to start the season. Finishing 10th overall in both goals for and PP% was a major accomplishment for this young team. It may be hard to repeat with a more defensive minded Carlyle at the helm by the addition of JVR will certainly help make up the difference, especially is Kulemin is unable to bounce back after a terrible year.
All in all there is not much change of the team this year, the real change will come from behind the bench. Only once we see what these guys bring the ice will we know if the problem was indeed Wilson as so many believed or if the players, and by extension Burke, need to go.