Here me out.
Burke has adamantly defended both his coach and his goaltending tandem of Reimer and Gustavsson; therefore, we can assume that neither a coaching change, nor a goalie upgrade can be expected anytime soon. Now, I ask you, when was the last time a team that gives up 3-4 goals, game in and game out, been successful? The Oilers of the 80s you say, yes, you’re right – but there are a couple of small, tiny, microscopic differences between those great Edmonton teams and this Leafs group: Grant Fuhr and an offense that scored seemingly at will. While Fuhr might have given up 3 or 4 goals a game, he was always counted on to make those big saves to ensure Wayne and Co. could do their thing - and he always provided them.
As has been the case for the past six weeks, James Reimer and to a lesser extent, Jonas Gustavsson has rarely made those saves; case in point tonight in Vancouver and Reimer. While the Leafs were looking to get going, seven minutes into the game it was 2 zip on goals that could have been saved. Now the Leafs become a team that has lost confidence that they will get a save, and the snowball metaphor is in full effect.
Wilson says we can’t blame the goalie tonight? Well, if Reimer would have made a save or two when they needed it, perhaps the 4th, 5th and 6th goals don’t even happen – maybe, just maybe the Leafs stay in the game longer and compete to the end. Look at how Kiprusoff and Luongo made save after save to ensure the Leafs never had a chance to come back, and then look at how the Leafs’ tandem gave up goals on what seems like every decent chance.
Instead, Burke should focus on players such as: Grabovski, Kulemin, MacArthur, Armstrong, Crabb, Boyce, Steckel, Komisarek, Lombardi and Bozak; all players that should be available from the Leafs. I, like many fans, love Grabovski’s skills and speed, but can the Leafs afford to pay him 5+ million a season? If the price is right (see $4M over 4 years) then sure, sign him – if not, get something now. The rest of those names are players that are supposed to play a certain role, and are failing miserably, or can be replaced with similar guys from the Marlies.
Bozak is not a number one centre, and could return the spoils of a decent pick or prospect; he’s having a career year playing with Lupul and Kessel, but isn’t good enough for the future, so, trade him now when his value is sky high. I have left Schenn off this list, because I believe that with a different coach, he can be an effective stopper for years to come.
After Burke does this housecleaning, he can bring up: Kadri, Frattin, Colborne and Kolzer for the remainder of the season, and then he should fire his best buddy, Ron Wilson. I was a supporter of Ronnie until these past few months where his strategies, lineup choices and goalie go ‘round, has clearly demonstrated his incompetence.
What team, in any hockey league, would stop playing a goalie that was as hot as Gustavsson was in January? The tragic decision to get Reimer in the net at any cost after his concussion will certainly result in another non-playoff season, and the fourth in four years, for Wilson. Gustavsson took over two years to gain his form, gets it, and then sits while Reimer gives up an average of 3.55 goals against – and the corollary of that? A goalie who has lost his confidence; consequently, the Leafs have a struggling Reimer, who can’t make a single save when it matters most, and a back-up who should be a starter, but feels unwanted and probably confused.
At some point, Burke will start to hear his name on the acidic spittle that comes out of rabid Leafs fans’ mouths – his honeymoon ended long ago. He must recognize that this is not Anaheim; fans in Toronto don’t believe his continued attempts to curtail the criticisms of both his coach and his goalies.
Burke's strengths lie in his ability to make good to great trades; unfortunately what has hurt him is his remarkable futility where it comes to FA signings. All of Komisarek, Armstrong, Orr and Connolly (a combined $15M in salary) have been little more than major disappointments. Yes, injuries and such have contributed to all of there pourous play, but it cannot continue further. The Connolly situation is rather strange; Wilson is playing a $5.5M man on the 3rd line, while Bozak and the ever struggling Kulemin remain in the top 6? Weird.
The job Burke was given when he first started is akin to the Obama situation south of the boarder. Where President Bush left behind a legacy of nothing but a declining economy, two wars to pay for and unspeakable debt, JFJ did the same in terms of the hockey club. Burke appeared on the scene with extremely little, and over his three plus years has slowly accumulated some talent; but now he must finish the job by selling this week, and keeping his 1st round pick, which looks more and more like it will be a 10-14th pick.