The Maple Leafs aren’t a laughingstock any more, regardless of how they looked Saturday night while losing 5-0 to Montreal.
But they aren’t very good either, so all eyes are on high-profile general manager Brian Burke as his team stumbles into the stretch run.
Let us count all their problems:
- When Burke arrived in Toronto, he vowed to assemble a hard-nosed team that would bloody noses while climbing back into NHL contention. Oddly, he poured big bucks into notoriously soft players like oft-injured forward Tim Connolly. This former Sabres center has no goals and just three assists in his last 16 games. He is raking in $5.5 million this season and just got moved to the wing.
- Although Phil Kessel is piling up goals for the Leafs, he is not Mark Messier or Wayne Gretzky. He skates and he shoots. He also earns $6 million this season and cost Toronto plenty: First- and second-round picks at the 2010 NHL entry draft (Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight) and a first-round pick in 2011 (Dougie Hamilton). What if Burke had hung onto those picks and used them wisely?
- Toronto has failed to establish a true No. 1 goaltender on Burke’s watch. Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson and James Reimer are currently fighting for the starting job. The Monster played in relief Saturday after Reimer allowed four goals on seven shots during that loss to the Canadiens. “It’s not fun, that’s for sure,” Reimer told reporters. “It’s not what we work for. But sometimes those games happen. … There’s not much you can do except put it behind you and work harder. That’s what I’ve tried to do.” Reimer seemed ready to earn the job until a concussion derailed him earlier this season. Meanwhile former Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere is starring in Colorado.
- Would-be team leaders Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek have been sitting out games as healthy scratches. “Our guys understand it's a meritocracy,” Wilson told reporters. “Whoever's playing best is going to be in the lineup.”
- After losing 5-0 to the Canadiens, the Leafs must head West to face Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Toronto has been notoriously inept during their excursions to Western Canada. “I don’t care about the last year or 10 years or whatever,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson told reporters Saturday. “We’ve got to rebound, but it’s one game at a time. You don’t look at the whole road trip. It’s prepare for the next game and learn what we need to learn from this game.”
Good luck with that. Toronto is failing to meet expectations. It’s no wonder that experts figure Burke is the GM most likely to make big moves by the Feb. 27th trade deadline.