January 13, 2008

Paul Maurice Needs A Hug

In the wake of another blown two-goal lead and another heartbreaking defeat, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice got emotional. His job is not an easy one. He is a man in desperate need of a hug.

When asked about the effort of his team in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, Maurice immediately choked up. The Leafs were, after all, a team that the media were reporting had quit on their head coach, but Maurice stood tall in praise of the men he commands.

"See, a big chunk of our problem is not lack of effort. It's wanting it so bad you're paralyzed by it," Maurice said.

Being paralyzed, especially in the defensive zone, and if your name is Andrew Raycroft, is certainly part of the Leafs' modus operandi, but I will agree that the Leafs played with much more determination, grit and heart in losing to the Sharks. As Damien Cox writes, the result was the same but there was actually some pride out there on the ice last night.

Now, I've watched many a post-game media scrum in my time as a Leafs fan, but never one quite like yesterday's. When asked whether the team's effort showed that the Leafs had in fact not quit on their coach, Maurice fought back tears, and I mean he really fought back tears. Losing 11 of the last 13 games has taken its toll on the coach, and it all came out last night. While the ship has slowly but surely been sinking, Maurice made it known that he was proud of each and every one of his men. His display showed me that he doesn't, not for even a split second, believe in his heart that the boys have quit on him.

Maurice's Hillary Clinton-esque moment also showed me how much of a competitor he is, how troubled he is by the Leafs' struggles, and how much he truly wants to win. Those bags under his eyes are real, and the plight of the Leafs is weighing heavily on his shoulders. While people all over this town, myself included, call for his dismissal, Maurice is at the end of the day just another working man, with a mortgage to pay and a family to feed. While his job of course pays more handsomely than most, it comes with the same amount of job security as losses this season for the New England Patriots: none. He could be unemployed by the time you read this, who knows? And that can't be a good feeling, especially when he is currently working what he calls "the job of his dreams."

As for the game, the Leafs blew a two-goal lead for the sixth time this season, this time a 2-0 margin in the third period. Toskala got the start in goal with Raycroft serving as his backup and Justin Pogge watching from the press box. Toskala, facing his former team, was brilliant. He did everything he could to try and get the Leafs a win, but it wasn't to be. My heart goes out to Vesa, who I know really wanted to win last night's tilt. He's been phenomenal for the Leafs this season. Along with Sundin, they have been about the only things that have gone right in a season gone so horribly wrong.

Going into the third period up 2-0, and down a man thanks to a Boyd Devereaux penalty, a Leafs collapse almost seemed inevitable, especially if San Jose was able to convert on their early power play. Convert they did, when Hal Gill was unable to clear the puck out of the Toronto zone. Gill then exacerbated the situation by inexplicably trying to play goal in front of Toskala. Patrick Marleau's point-shot went off Gill's stick, through Toskala's pads, and in. Cue the opening of the flood gates. The Sharks were then all over Toronto like Roger Clemens on a steroids syringe and the Leafs proceeded to take another couple of bonehead penalties (read: Jiri Tlusty is an idiot). With nine minutes left in the third period Toronto was suddenly down 3-2 and, like Vic Rauter always says, "you can make the final."

In the completely useless department, Dominic Moore made his Leafs debut last night and, well, debut is about all he did. He isn't going to be making much of an impact around here.

Ron MacLean, Don Cherry's whipping boy, pointed out that amidst all the turmoil and rumours surrounding the Leafs, it was fitting that they were finishing their hellish California road trip in the "Shark Tank." I couldn't agree more. It was a straight-up shark attack in the third period and the Leafs head home no longer an extremely fragile squad, but a broken one.

An interesting segment from last night's CBC broadcast was an interview with Scotty Bowman, who divulged that in August he did interview for a position with Toronto, even though he's denied it for months. Bowman said he had interviews and meetings with Larry Tanenbaum, Richard Peddie, and other members of the MLSE board, and that he was looking for a Bryan Colangelo type-deal with the Maple Leafs, at about the same price tag as the Raptors president and general manager ($3 million a year). Bowman wanted full control of all hockey operations. His track record, 10 freakin' Stanley Cups, speaks for itself.

So why the hell is John Ferguson still the general manager of our beloved hockey team? Because The Leafs passed, choosing instead to stick with JFJ and co. The Toronto Maple Leafs had a chance at Scotty Bowman, one of the greatest and most successful hockey minds of all-time, and they passed. Pardon my language, but that is un-fucking-believable. And deeply disappointing. Who knows when, or whether, the chance to bring in someone of the ilk of Bowman will come again. With decisions like these being made up at the top, it's no wonder the Leafs find themselves in the predicament they are in today - 16 wins, the fewest in the NHL, and 40 points, four away from being the worst team in the league. And lets not forget - nary a Stanley Cup sighting 'round these parts since 1967.

The Leafs, however, must soldier on. The team is off until Tuesday, and who knows if Ferguson and/or Maurice will still be with the team by then. If Maurice is let go, and I doubt he will be before Ferguson, he leaves not as a coach but as a fighter. I'll never forget the way he stood up for his team. He is a man of great integrity. I've said a lot of bad things about him in the past few months, but he gained a ton of my respect last night. It is when a man struggles that you learn the most about him.

The countdown until the axe falls continues. Will today be the day? We'll soon find out. It could very well be Sunday bloody Sunday. All in all, Paul Maurice isn't the only one that needs a hug. I think I do, too.

Tough times...