Almost thirty years ago, the Chicago Black Hawks (two words in those days) were ready to face-off against the about-to-explode Edmonton Oilers in the Campbell Conference Championship Series. The Hawks finished the season with 104 points. The Oilers had 106. Yappy Glen Sather behind the Oilers’ bench. Portly Orval Tessier guiding the Hawks. After the first two games of that series, played in Edmonton, the Hawks were down two games-to-none and had been outscored 16-6. And that’s when Orval Tessier said it.
To the media, Tessier announced that his Hawks – led by the line of Denis Savard, Steve Larmer and Al Secord – needed “heart transplants.” That is harsh. And I’m not suggesting that’s what Ron Wilson’s Toronto Maple Leafs need. But they need something similar. Do “desire transplants” exist?
Saturday night, in Vancouver, there were two very specific plays that brought this notion into focus. At one point, the puck was behind the Canucks’ net. Leafs’ forward Kris Versteeg was “digging” for it against two Vancouver defenders. When Versteeg, predictably, lost the puck battle, he looked over toward the referee and kind of held up his hand as if to say, “What was that?” Was he hoping for a penalty? What the hell was he hoping for? Hockey Night in Canada analyst Craig Simpson (in a rare critical moment) wondered what Versteeg was gesturing about. Simpson essentially said that if Versteeg wanted the puck, he’d better work for it. No one was coming to help. In other words, show some desire, Kris. Any desire. Don’t want the puck. NEED the puck. It’s almost as if the forwards think that because they play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, they deserve special treatment from other teams in the league. Let me know how that works out, boys.
The second moment that drove home the point came seconds before Jannik Hansen’s late second-period, game-winning goal. On the developing play, Canucks’ forward Jeff Tambellini blew past Luke Schenn in open ice and got the puck in front. It was a significant play because A) Jeff Tambellini is NOT an NHL superstar – yet he made a great play by simply working his a** off and B) Luke Schenn, perhaps the Leafs’ best D-man this season, looked inadequate as Tambellini showed, graphically, how hard work creates success. Period.
Frankly, the perpetual grump, Ron Wilson is not getting the most out of his players. He is not motivating them. He is not helping them be their best. Wilson’s must be an extremely frustrating position to be in. Ditto Brian Burke.
There is a tremendous amount of pressure on any player wearing a blue and white jersey in the NHL. More than you or I will ever understand. But these men are professionals and they make their living dealing with that pressure. The Leafs have one game remaining before the Christmas break – Monday v. Atlanta at ACC. Then it’s six days off.
Is it possible to schedule about 15 “desire transplants” before December 26th? Probably not. And, better than anyone, Orval Tessier understands what happens if those transplants don’t happen. His Hawks were steamrolled in four by the Oilers. And the Leafs have fifty games to avoid being steamrolled (yet again) by the rest of the National Hockey League.