January 10, 2008

How Much Longer?

Vesa Toskala returned to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, and it didn't change a damn thing. The Leafs were blown out of the water 5-0 by the Anaheim Ducks, and have now lost nine of their last 11 games. How much longer will the humiliation continue?

My initial reaction is, once again, to fire Paul Maurice. But I've been down that road before, and when things were just as bleak a month ago the Leafs were able to turn the ship around.

But a general manager without a contract after this season can only stay the course for so long, and the Leafs were frighteningly brutal last night. Again. Coupled with a Washington Capitals win, Toronto is now 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, and Tampa Bay is only three points back. Like Ace Ventura said, "assholes in mirror are closer than they appear."

For the life of me I can't comprehend the abysmal effort by the boys last night. It's not like they didn't have time to prepare for the defending Coupe Stanley champions - they Leafs arrived in the Golden State on Monday.

They welcomed back their goaltender Toskala - who admittedly wasn't too sharp - by hanging him out to dry. With Toskala coming off a groin injury and playing for the first time in almost three weeks, I figured the Buds would play a simple road game with tight defense and only one man deep. Well, clearly I'm an idiot. Todd Bertuzzi scored the first goal of the game on a breakaway only two minutes into the contest, while Tomas Kaberle was admiring the sights and sounds of the Honda Center and Pavel Kubina was blowing a tire.

Toronto's power play was once again impotent. The Leafs are in serious need of some power play Viagra, or Cialis, because while the mood is right, there's no power on this power play. With a man advantage the Leafs went zero-for-six, including a lengthy five-on-three opportunity near the end of the third period. They could have at least broken the shutout, for Christ's sake.

Let's keep it real for a second - a team with a 13.8% power play efficiency rating and a 79.5% penalty kill proficiency (those stats do not include last night's incompetence) doesn't deserve to make the playoffs.

As the Leafs nosedive towards the bottom of the NHL standings (only Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are worse), the media scrutiny around the team is growing. The sharks are circling, and hungry. The popular item of the week is the status of Mats Sundin - will he be traded? Would he waive his no-trade clause? What is he worth on the market right now?

Sundin is on pace for his best offensive season in a decade. He has certainly aged well. With the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs it's really a no-brainer - Sundin must be traded. He can command NHL-ready talent, and top draft picks, everyone knows it. He should be the most saught-after player on the market, and probably already is. An argument can be made that he should have been traded last year at the trade deadline, but the Leafs were in the race for a playoff spot at the time, and right up until game number 82. This season, although there is a ton of parity in the East, the Leafs may be DOA by game 55. It's certainly looking that way and if that's the case, Sundin has to be bid adieu. For the Leafs' sake, and for his sake. He deserves to win a Stanley Cup, even if it is as a rental player, and he can always return to Toronto in the summer.

On an emotional level, I haven't dealt with the prospect of Mats Sundin donning another team's jersey. I can't go there. Not right now. I'm not ready, and I'm not sure I ever will be. A sick part of me is hoping the Captain will go down with the sinking ship.

The Leafs continue their odyssey through California tonight in Los Angeles against those hapless Kings. If Toronto loses to LA, well, I won't be surprised. Andrew Raycroft will be between the pipes, after all.