November 28, 2007

Maurice Must Be Sacrificed

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a free-fall. They've lost seven of their last eight games, including last night's 4-3 decision to the Montreal Canadiens. It's time for a change. It's time to fire head coach Paul Maurice.

I've had enough. Something needs to give. The Maple Leafs have managed to win only eight of their first 25 games. Someone needs to be held accountable.

I like head coach Paul Maurice. I like his aggressive coaching style, his passion, his youth, and his witty demeanour with the overbearing Toronto media. But, in these eyes, what ever Maurice is preaching in the Maple Leafs dressing room just isn't registering with the players.

For some reason (I'm going to go with blind faith) I still believe this Leafs team is a playoff team. So far, 25 games in to the season, they've been anything but a playoff team. They're a nightmare on ice. Toronto has surrendered a league-high 90 goals against, in only 25 games. That is a frightening statistic. Only one other team - the Calgary Flames - have let in more than 75, and they reached the mark after getting shelled by Detroit last night. The defensive game, or lack thereof, should be reason enough for the Leafs to bring in a new coach.

It's no secret that general manager John Ferguson and Paul Maurice are on the hot seat right now. And they should be. The Leafs are a mess. They can't win on home ice, they're brutal in overtime and the shootout, they can't keep a lead a lead (another two were blown last night against Montreal), the special teams - especially the power play - are horrendous and, to put it mildly, they can't keep the puck out of their own net.

Not even during the free-wheeling, offensive days of the Pat Quinn era did the Leafs play such abysmal defensive hockey. It's shameful. The Leafs break down with shocking regularity. They play man-to-man in the defensive zone like chickens with their heads cut off - it's mayhem.

I don't even know where to begin about the power play. Not only can the Leafs not score on it, but they've also allowed the most shorthanded goals this season. It's just one thing after another. The Leafs need to be allowed to decline penalties, like in football.

"Montreal penalty to Saku Koivu, Two Minutes for tripping...The penalty is declined. Face-off!"

The power play, once again, killed the Leafs last night. The Leafs went zero-for-four while Montreal converted twice on five opportunities. That's the difference in the game right there, kids.

I'm fed up. What does it take to get some changes around here? It's nothing against Paul Maurice. I believe he's a good coach, but this team ain't buying what he's selling. At the end of the day, Maurice hasn't been able to get the job done. He's coached nine seasons in the NHL, and his teams have only made the playoffs three out of those nine seasons. Not a great track record. After last night's shootout loss to Montreal, the Leafs sit in second-last place in the Eastern Conference, and third-last in the NHL. The power play, which used to be the team's strength, is 28th best in the 30-team league.

A part of me feels like I'm totally hanging coach Maurice out to dry. I've been a strong supporter of Maurice since he came aboard, and God knows how hard his job must have been last year when he was given a "goalie" (and I use the term lightly...very lightly) like Andrew Raycroft to trot out there night after night. It's not Maurice's fault Raycroft couldn't, and still can't, stop a beach ball. It's not Maurice's fault Vesa Toskala really hasn't been much better. But some of the blame does have to fall on Maurice's shoulders, because he is, after all, the coach. He's the guy giving out instructions in practice and I don't think the Leafs should be this poor in their own end, and about as potent as an 80-year-old in bed (giggity!! giggity!!) on the power play.

I desperately need an answer to this question - why in God's name is Maurice still sending out Andy Wozniewski for a regular shift? Why hasn't he gotten on his knees and begged Ferguson to send the Woz back down to the farm? The Leafs have got Anton Stralman and Derek Walser running the defence of the Toronto Marlies and it blows my mind as to why the Woz is still up with the big club, because even my mom knows he clearly does not belong.

While a part of me does still support Maurice, the results aren't there - and it's a results-oriented business - so I feel like he needs to be sacrificed in order to salvage this season. Let us think of Maurice as a martyr.

There are 25 players, but only one general manager and only one coach. As much as I don't like some of the moves John Ferguson has made over the years, I feel like this is a good Leafs team, on paper. On paper, it's a playoff team ("on paper" being the key words). On the ice, not so much. Ferguson can't trade all 25 guys. He can't get out on the ice during practice and change things up. But he can relieve Maurice of his duties, and I think that's the change the players are, unfortunately, waiting for. It seems they are resigned to the fact that something, anything, has got to give, and that there will be casualties from their poor play.

Two seasons ago, an eight game losing streak, while Bryan McCabe was injured, cost the Leafs a playoff spot. November, which has seen the Leafs win only three games, will surely come back to bite the team in the ass. But the key point is that it's still only November. The Leafs have 57 games to go. There is time to still turn this ship around.

The Dallas Stars fired their general manager two weeks ago, and have been on a tear since then. The Atlanta Thrashers fired their coach last month after winning only two of their first 10 games. Since then, they've turned around their season and have won nine of 13 games. Even the pathetic Washington Capitals won two in a row after they fired their coach, Glen Hanlon.

If it does happen, I'm truly sorry to see Maurice go. But based on the fact the Leafs missed the playoffs last year (although I blame Raycroft for 85% of that) and have struggled immensely through the first 25 games this season, Maurice has to go for the sake of making a change. For the greater good. In order to save the season, because I still do believe in this Leafs team. And remember, as a martyr, Maurice goes straight to NHL coaching heaven where the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers dynasty and 80 Stanley Cup's are waiting for him.

As for his replacement, I haven't really given it much thought. There's the recently-fired Bob Hartley, who won a couple of Stanley Cup's in Colorado. The Leafs have always brought back players for second tour's of duty, so why not bring back Pat Quinn? I'd be open to it. What about Dougie Gilmour? Although he's never coached a day in his life, I love Dougie too much to not be intrigued by the idea. My fantasy? Pat Burns. I would kill to see Burnsy back behind the bench in Toronto. He'd bring some real passion. And some God damn accountability. There's no way any team coached by Pat Burns would play defense like the Leafs have this year. He'd send guys to the press box to sit and watch faster than you can spell Wozniewski (W-O-Z-N-I-E-W-S-U-C-K-S).

Alright, maybe I have given Maurice's replacement some thought.

I'm upset it has come to this. I was expecting a lot out of this year's Leafs squad. I still am. I haven't yet given up hope (yes, I am an idiot). There's still a lot of hockey to be played. Crazier things have happened. The Leafs are at the bottom of the standings but parity rules the NHL these days. Toronto, the 14th seed in the East with 22 points, trails 4th seed Montreal by only seven points.

And for all you Pavel Kubina haters out there, I hope you now realize how important he is to the Toronto Maple Leafs. As soon as he went down with a knee injury, this Leafs team hasn't been the same. It's been worse! And it was pretty bad to begin with. Kubina's a stud back there, and I hope you all realize it now. No Kubina means more Wozniewski, and we've all seen what that adds up to (losses, a lot of them; trust me, I've done the math).

Eight wins in 25 games. It simply isn't good enough. Sorry, Paul Maurice, but you've got to go.

John Ferguson, you're next...