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  • Does change give Leafs hope? Print
    Written by Denis Gorman   
    Monday, 05 March 2012 01:00

    Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke spent Saturday morning explaining a coaching change to the media. Then he spent prime time engaging in a debate about the state of his team in front of a national television audience. And the current state leads to one question: where exactly are the Maple Leafs headed?

    Denis GormanBrian Burke publicly welcomed Randy Carlyle at the same time he was saying goodbye to Ron Wilson.

    The setting was Montreal’s Bell Centre. It was 10 a.m., Saturday morning, and the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was sitting at the dais inside explaining to the assembled media why he fired Wilson as coach 14 hours prior and replaced him with Randy Carlyle, who was seated to Burke's right.

    As part of the purge, one of Wilson’s assistant coaches, Rob Zettler, was reassigned within the organization in order to make room for longtime Carlyle acolyte Dave Farrish.

    “It became obvious to me in the last week we needed a coaching change in order to salvage this season,” Burke said to open the press conference. “This change is something our team needed. It was required.”

    Nearly 7 1/2 hours later, Burke was once again detailing his decision. This time, he was engaged in a somewhat contentious discussion with CBC’s Ron MacLean regarding the State of the Leafs.

    One of the themes of the conversation was the lack of Ontarians on the team. Not one Maple Leaf who dressed Saturday night was from Ontario.

    “We don’t care where players are born," Burke told MacLean. "We try and identify good hockey players. I think fans in Toronto are a lot more interested in seeing a winning team than seeing the passports and where guys are born. I don’t tell the scouts that we need to find players born in a particular area. I don’t think people would mind if our team was competitive.”

    Burke’s words were an unintentional precursor to Don Cherry’s bizarrely personal rant during his Coach’s Corner segment during the first intermission. Cherry mocked Burke’s penchant for acquiring athletes who played college hockey in the United States while segueing into a charge that the Leafs GM attempted to have the analyst fired.

    Burke believes that the Leafs will compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring despite a recent nosedive that has seen them lose 10 of 13. The Leafs are 12th in the East but trail eighth-seeded Winnipeg by three points and have a game in hand.

    Whether or not the Leafs possess the requisite amount of Ontarians in order to be successful is an argument so inane that it defies logic. Whether the Leafs have the personnel in place to be successful is a topic worth examining.

    Burke believes that the Leafs will compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring despite a recent nosedive that has seen them lose 10 of 13. The Leafs are 12th in the East but trail eighth-seeded Winnipeg by three points and have a game in hand.

    So, yes, Burke is right when he suggests that the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2004 is not out of the realm of possibility.

    Under Wilson, who preferred an uptempo and skilled attack, the Leafs were among the league’s most potent offensive squads, averaging 2.94 goals per game. That was the positive. The negative was that the Leafs allowed 3.08 goals against per game which is third worst in the NHL.

    Burke wondered aloud if he had equipped Wilson with the tools in order to win in the league’s most demanding market.

    “I told the players this [Friday] night. When a coach gets fired there’s plenty of blame to go around,” Burke said. “When a coach is fired, there’s blame to be spread and attributed to everybody. Did I give him the right players quick enough? Do we have the right goaltenders? You ask all those questions. Yes, I accept a share of the blame for this and the players have to, too.”

    Burke suggested that the Leafs stopped listening to Wilson while noting Carlyle is “demanding on players.”

    Already, there is concern about how the Leafs players will respond to the notoriously prickly Carlyle. In particular, Joffrey Lupul.

    The 28-year old left wing played for Carlyle in Anaheim before being traded to Toronto along with defenseman Jake Gardiner last February. Lupul has 84 points (34 goals and 50 assists) in the 93 games since becoming a Leaf and became an All-Star for the first time this season.

    Lupul told the Orange County Register in November that Carlyle, then the Anaheim coach, had informed him that he did not envision the winger filling a role on the Ducks.

    “In my conversation with Randy, he said he didn't think I had the skill to play left in wing in this league being on my off side,” Lupul said. “So he wasn't going to give me that opportunity here. And I'm not going to knock Corey Perry or Teemu Selanne off their right wing spot. So pretty much after that conversation, I realized that I probably wasn't in their plans here.”

    Citing sources, A Toronto Sun columnist described Lupul as “unenthused” and “distraught,” after learning of the coaching change in Saturday’s edition of the newspaper. Lupul was composed when speaking with a CBC reporter after the Leafs’ 2-1 win over the Canadiens, saying that he is “familiar with [Carlyle]. He’s implementing [a] new system and we’re going to have to catch up fast [because] we’re in a race right now.”

    To where is the question.

    You can follow us on Twitter @HockeyPrimeTime and @DenisGorman 

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    Last Updated on Monday, 05 March 2012 12:37