Leafs postgame – I hate sports now, and the Maple Leafs are to blame


The good thing is that we’ve just passed one more mile marker on the long highway to Randy Carlyle’s eventual firing. If an absurd and ineffective breakout strategy slash defensive zone strategy doesn’t do it, the unreasonable double standard placed on skilled players should. I’m trying to quit Twitter, so I was able to miss those glorious five minutes of peace when everybody waltzed home, getting ready for a hockey game, and then realizing that Jake Gardiner would be a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

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In this economy, I hate to advocate for people losing their jobs. Believe me, I know how rough it is when you’re out there and unqualified to do little more than complain about the Toronto Maple Leafs. I don’t see how Carlyle has any qualification to do any more than that. It’s not the breakout or the marginalization of skill players, but Carlyle is directly responsible for the misery afforded my three favourite (at one point) Leafs: Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski, and James Reimer. The result is a boring team that loses often, and, even if they were to get past this atrociously weak Eastern Conference and climb back into a playoff spot (by the way, the Leafs no longer have a playoff spot), does anybody doubt that they don’t have the horses to compete against Boston, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay?

The final score against Carolina was 6-1. The last time I watched a Leafs game and wrote a recap, the score against the Leafs was 7-1. No, I didn’t grow up a Leafs fan, but I empathize will all of you that want the Leafs to lose as big and often as possible just to speed the process up and get some housecleaning done. I hate hockey now. Over the last couple of months I have been re-thinking my curious devotion to sports, and bullshit product put on the ice by Dave Nonis and Carlyle is directly responsible. 


I commented in the pre-game that it would have been poetic justice for the Leafs to lose their playoff spot thanks to a two-point night by Clarke MacArthur. John-Michael Liles scoring against the Leafs is just another of those things that happened.

Again, I’m not going to blame the players. Even Jay McClement. I’m not convinced that Jay McClement is even able to play to the best of his abilities under this coaching staff. How did one of the better defensive forwards in hockey suddenly become a beacon for shots against and a free pass for struggling opposition forwards? 

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At any rate, Zach Boychuk opened the scoring early. Jeff Skinner scored on the powerplay after a long sequence with the puck in the Leafs end, controlled by Elias Lindholm and Alexander Semin. Joffrey Lupul briefly made it 2-1 with his 14th, but Patrick Dwyer shot a puck that squeezed through James Reimer’s underarm to restore a Carolina lead by the end of the first.

More of the same in the second: constant pressure by the Hurricanes, and the Leafs unable to convert the relatively few chances they had. Down 3-1, with a lineup full of players specifically dressed to not score goals, you could tell the writing was on the wall. But then Liles scored on his two-on-one, and Carolina took their only penalty at the end of the second. Small window? Maybe. But then Jordan Staal scored shorthanded, and just for good measure, a couple of stupid penalties late gave the Hurricanes a 5-on-3 with two minutes to go and they scored their sixth on the night, all against James Reimer. 


The Leafs out-hit Carolina 40-13.

Okay, read that sentence again, and now ask yourself why there are still analysts and writers that place such a premium on the hits statistic, without really understanding what the hits statistic measures. It basically is a record of the player in the league with the puck the least.

But “hits” isn’t the only real-time scoring statistic (RTSS) that the Leafs overvalue. After a shift by McClement’s line at the end of the first led to an icing, the Leafs brought out their top line for a short, ten-second stay in the offensive zone. Then for no reason whatsoever, McClement comes back out for the offensive zone draw (again, Bozak’s line has been out for just 13 seconds, and Nazem Kadri’s line has been on the bench for shifts by both the third and first lines) and you won’t BELIEVE what happens next:

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Won faceoff. Lost puck battle. Gives up near-goal against. Opposition establishes possession in attacking end. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I talk often about how marginal faceoff wins are. Being good at faceoffs is pointless if you can’t do anything between the faceoffs, and that’s the unfortunate reality of Jay McClement’s line.


Jake Gardiner, Paul Ranger and Frazer McLaren. They were the healthy scratches, and are exempt from this mess.

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  • Jeremy Ian

    Well, Cam, that’s quite a piece. Very well put. There was real disgust as my son and I clicked off at the end of the game. I’ve been angry before — but never quite disgusted.

    But it was shameful enough, you would think, to be the beginning of the end of Carlyle’s time. That the players he got rid of have been doing well on other teams is index alone. The question should be how long it takes Nonis to come up with a Plan B.

    I don’t often agree with Stan above, but I think he got it — the players don’t understand this “system” — and what is comprehensible is stupid.

    In the meantime, there are some human costs. Franson’s by no means a perfect defenseman, but I don’t recall seeing such playerly deterioration in a long time. Schenn’s took longer to unwind; Franson’s has taken half a season. I hope he can recover; Schenn’s still struggling. Sad to see potential ruined.

    Here’s an upside. The campaign for more “grit” can now finally be laid to rest. Grit is the stuff you wash off after work; plural, it’s a breakfast made out of corn. It comes from the old English word “grytt” — as in coarse. Let it be porridge, not a description of hockey.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Hey Cam, just a minor thought. A consolation for you: feel free to say I told you so. To those who rubbished data analysis in favor of “watching the game” or extolling the virtues of Carlyle’s “shot quality” opportunism, you can fairly say they didn’t understand your prophecies.

    But who I feel really bad about? The father and 8-year old daughter waving the “This is my First Leaf Game” sign for the camera. The poor guy. Probably some schmo like me who grew up loving this comedic-tragic team, relocated by the job market to some exurban American space, finally able to take his kid to a game he’d waited years for — what’s he going to tell her?

  • LonnyBohonos

    Disgust at the leaf’s performance aside, I was pretty happy for J-M Liles in this game. Usually, its pretty easy to hate when a former leaf comes back to spoil the party. But I think that J-M had been mistreated so badly by our organization, that I honestly felt very happy for him scoring that goal. The big smile on his face said it all. All accounts indicate that he was nothing but the ‘consummate professional’ when he was sent down to play for the Marlies. I saw him play a few games there, and he did look like an NHL calibre talent playing in the AHL. When the leafs finally called him back up, I thought he fit in very well – certainly he looked worthy of being in the 6-man rotation. But I guess the organization saw it differently, and they sent him down and traded him. Now, J-M has a regular role, the Canes are 5-0 since the trade, and he’s got a solid +/-. His postgame comment – “There’s a reason I’m an 11th-year pro and I’m in the NHL.” Way to go bud.

    Also, Jake gets scratched?! I think this game is pretty emblematic of the organization’s mishandling of our defence corps.

  • STAN

    This is the first anniversary of Dave Nonis being handed this team because a one of the new owners hated Burke. He probably looked at Nonis and all those other assistants with contempt, but i9n a moment or weakness just said, “What the heck, give it a shot.”

    Bad move.

    So I figure it will be the perfect Burke tribute to the Burkian Management Style to extend Carlyle a few weeks before sacking him. Y’know, a nice going away gift for being a good guy. Incompetent, but a good guys. An ‘old boy’.

    It looks to me that the players have no idea what Carlyle wants them to do, although even if they do they probably think his advice sucks.

    Nice to see Liles do what he does – heads up, slick passes, a fitting goal and plus 7 since he joined these Canes.


  • Leafs2014

    My steps for success:

    1. Fire Carlyle
    2. Make Lupul Captain
    3. Trade a goalie
    4. Trade Orr and McLaren for a bucket of paint
    5. Assemble a fourth line that can play more than 5 mins and get a few goals per season.
    6. Never sit Gardiner for Fraser or Gleason
    7. Don’t put wingers at center when Holland is available

  • STAN

    Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much agree with everything you wrote here, but I can’t help thinking of the Annakin to Vader transition. Maybe this is how Howard Berger started out.

  • Leafs2014

    Carlyle will last longer as coach then many think. Carlyle has had past success with his system and not just with the stacked cup team but other years as well.

    Whether we like it or not, Carlyle has credibility and it is the team that has something to prove. The team has not proven anything to demand respect. The team has delivered an 18th wheeler collapse and eventually fired their coach. Much of the same team and core also overachieved last season and then again delivered an epic rival collapse. And now this same core and team is in the midst of delivering 2 regulations wins in the 24 games after a hot start.

    Carlyle and his system may be problem, but for now the onus is on the players. They are not executing because of poor players or lack of compete or just being plain dumb on the ice. That is for Nonis to figure which regarding the players or assign the blame to Carlyle for poor player selection and ineffective system.

    But what we need to remember is that this roster is not good, they over achieved last year and firing the coach for playing to their true talent doesn’t make sense. The team is struggling exactly as we expected but this downtrend is not a logical reason to let him go.

    • “Carlyle will last longer as coach then many think. Carlyle has had past success with his system and not just with the stacked cup team but other years as well.”

      The last full season Carlyle had with the Ducks, they had a +4 goal differential, giving up 235 goals while placing 4th. Detroit and Tampa were the only teams to give up more and make the playoffs; does that scream “tight defensive system” to you? Hiller posted a .924 that year (with an awesome 2.56 GAA; sound familiar?) as did Emery, while Tampa had Mike Smith (.899), and Roloson (.914). Detroit had Howard (.908), Osgood (.903), and Joey McDonald (.917, started 9 games).

      You know what that sounds like? They got lit up by giving up a ton of shots, and were saved from being destroyed by pretty solid offensive production, and some great goaltending. Do you know what team had .924 goaltending last year, and finished middle of their conference despite giving up more goals against than almost every other team?

      You’re on a page dedicated to them.

  • Jeremy Ian

    I’m with you, Cam, and couldn’t have put it more succinctly than you did with the title of your article. My current resolution is to watch Western Conference games only and to watch the Leafs only after they have a five game win streak. That should get me to the playoffs, no Leaf games there and, with the Olympics coming soon, being a fan might become fun again.

  • Great article Cam!
    As mentioned MacArthur, Grabovski, John Michael-Lisles, all VERY mis-handled. Now it appears Holland maybe the next in this line of “Carlyle’s I’m in Charge Here Charade”.

    In line with what Cam is saying, the lack of any breakout strategy from the defensive zone, continues to be a real problem. If Carlyle was the be all, end all coach, this problem should have at least improved (even just a little) after 40 plus games?
    It appears to be getting worse, instead of better, which tells me they’re not listening anymore.

    So with that said, is it coach, or players when night after night, 2 D are stuck in their zone, while 3 Forwards STAND at their offensive blue line. A good coach should be able to make some improvement on this, but the beat just keeps going on.