March 28 2012 01:21PM
The guys aren't playing hard enough, and the Toronto Maple Leafs' recent struggles can be attributed to a lack of atmosphere, both in the dressing room and at the Air Canada Centre, attests a chest-pounding Tie Domi.
It's no secret that the first half of Toronto's season was a bit of an illusion thanks to an elevated shooting percentage, and while the team has showed the signs of being awful in the latter half of the year, it doesn't mean that the team's play is indicative of a lack of heart or grit or what have you. There are two problems facing the Toronto Maple Leafs: a lack of good players, and some very, very bad luck.
I don't necessarily need to relay to you that Toronto have gone x-y-z since Smarch eleventeenth, because there's nothing that happened Smarch eleventeenth that could be indicative of a potential trigger for why the Leafs suddenly went from a team on a 95-point pace to one on a 49-point pace. The team was shooting 9.4% at that point and getting a .923 even strength save percentage from their goalies, and both numbers were probably above the true talent level of the team.
Is a 6% fall in PDO (3.4% from the goaltending, 2.6% from the shooting) indicative of a team that has lost its passion? No, it's a team that was never really all that good in the first place, despite how much we may have wanted it to be true, regressing in a hard way. The casualty list includes ex-Coach Ron Wilson, who is probably cackling with glee that it's pretty apparent the coaching wasn't the problem in Toronto.
And that's the thing. There's this mindset that the players need to perform to the best of their abilities. Domi said this about the Leafs: "Stop saying it's the GM. Stop saying it's the coach. Step up, core guys. Figure it out."
Of course, when Domi played with Toronto in the last good years the Leafs had, he wasn't a 12-minute guy expected to step in every night, but a fourth liner, who had the intangible ability of playing behind an excellent contingent of players: Mats Sundin, Alexander Mogilny, Tomas Kaberle, Steve Thomas, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Who are the Leafs' core guys who are supposed to step it up? Phil Kessel has 36 goals on the season, 5th in the NHL, with Tyler Bozak (who?) as his primary centreman. Mikhail Grabovski leads the team in Corsi, has one of the highest Relative Corsi rates in the league, and plays a tough .758 Corsi Rel QoC. Dion Phaneuf plays against the toughest competition the opposition has to offer and still manages a positive Relative possession rate.
There aren't many positives, here, but what on earth else are the core guys (again, who are these core guys? I sourced Twitter and got many different responses) that are supposed to step it up? Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles and Luke Schenn all make upwards of $3M without the team ever having any reason to dish out that money. Is that the fault of Phaneuf and Kessel that the team has managed its finances so inefficiently? (Clark MacArthur and Joffrey Lupul also make upwards of $3M, but they've performed decent enough this season, so we'll let that slide).
The Leafs' close Fenwick score before Smarch eleventeenth was 49.2%. Not bad, but not enough to make the playoffs without above average percentages. The team wasn't built to sustain high percentages, since an un-tested James Reimer was given perennial underachiever Jonas Gustavsson as insurance in case he ever faltered, and not picking up a veteran backup appears to be hurting the Leafs right about now.
"Lack of atmosphere"? "[Making] guys accountable"? "I don't see every guy playing hard every shift"? I recognize that Domi was a fan favourite in Toronto during his time, here, but he had a much better roster to play behind as a core guy. The problem with the Leafs isn't that the core guys aren't playing hard enough, the problem with the Leafs is they don't have enough players that you could legitimately call "core guys".
As reference, here's a table of the Leafs' players' Fenwick close scores from before and after Smarch eleventeenth (which is actually February 7th) and the change. Phaneuf and Kessel have seen bigger dips than the team on average, and somehow, Joffrey Lupul and Mike Komisarek have been the least affected by the coaching and systems change that has killed the team's possession scores.
|Player||Fenwick Before||Fenwick After||Change|
I bolded the players that I see as being in the teams' long-term plans, to show that the core guys really end up on both sides of the equation, probably due to short-term variance more than anything else.