The 2008-09 season was pretty much a year in limbo for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Cliff Fletcher at the helm, the organization had pretty much been on autopilot until Brian Burke, our truculent saviour, arrived from the California shores and fixed this God awful mess in November. Still, it was too late for Burke and new head coach Ron Wilson to avoid Toronto’s worst win-loss record in over a decade.
Click past the jump to relive all the gory details…
Fifth in the Division, 12th in the East, 24th Overall
Truth be told, this team wasn’t terrible from top-to-bottom. The team’s 250 goals for was actually good for 11th in the NHL, but their horrific goaltending lead to a league-worst 293 goals against. There isn’t a team in the league that could compensate for the terrible goaltending tandem of Vesa Toskala and a 41-year old Curtis Joseph.
The Leafs made a number of significant moves in the 2008 offseason, first on the draft floor, then on the trade market and in free agency.
At the 2008 Draft in Ottawa, Toronto would trade a package of picks to the New York Islanders, moving up two spots in the top ten and selecting Luke Schenn with the fifth overall pick. This normally wouldn’t be a ‘notable transaction’, but the fact that Schenn cracked the Leafs’ roster as an 18-year old just a few months later makes this worthy of mention.
During free agency, the Leafs would bring back fan favourite goaltender Curtis Joseph on a one year deal, along with defenceman Jeff Finger and Niklas Hagman on four-year deals. In retrospect, not the greatest decisions ever made.
Another piece of Toronto’s core would come via a rare trade with the rival Montreal Canadiens, with the Leafs acquiring a 25-year old Mikhail Grabovski for prospect Greg Pateryn and a second round pick. This would turn out to be a pretty great move, with Grabovski putting in a number of solid season in Toronto before being unceremoniously bought-out.
Also leading up to the regular season, the Leafs would ship longtime blueliner Bryan McCabe to the Florida Panthers for Mike van Ryn. Meant purely as a salary dump, Toronto needed to add a fourth-round pick to sweeten the deal.
During the season, Toronto would make a number of tinker-type moves, both acquiring and moving out veteran players for minor draft picks. The biggest deal by far had the Leafs landing Lee Stempniak for Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo. How bad was that deal? Stempniak scored 61 points in two season in Toronto before being flipped again, while Steen scored 64 points just last season with the Blues.
On the ice, Toronto was consistently up-and-down and hovering around the .500 mark for the entire season. If there was any chance of them making the playoffs, they likely put themselves too far out of position in January with a 4-7-2 record. That said, Toronto wasn’t officially out of the playoff picture until late March.
Can I be honest? This season was pretty damn boring. Here’s the most interesting thing that happened in 2008-09. Grab some tissues…
Does that table above look strange? It should, because it’s missing Mats Sundin’s name at the top. So we were left with… leading scorer Jason Blake? Dear God…
Rethinking The Team
The 2008-09 season was all about a changing of the guard for Toronto, with longtime Leafs Sundin and Darcy Tucker gone, and Burke taking over as GM. That said, there really was no one left to build the team around besides a teenage Schenn. The team sorely lacked an identity, with no real star talent and no one wearing the ‘C’ following Sundin’s departure.
A capable offensive team in which goal scoring was spread out evenly, Toronto was sunk by poor goaltending. Nothing was done to try and fix the situation, having moved on from Andrew Raycroft and trusting Toskala to become a legitimate starter. It was clear the Leafs had no interest in actually doing anything of significance this year.
The concept must have simply been to stand pat until Burke arrived in Toronto, and all the Leafs got out of it really was a bottom ten finish and a seventh overall pick. When Sundin left in the 2008 offseason, it truly was the end of an era. It wasn’t until the 2009 offseason – following a wasted regular season – when Burke drafted Nazem Kadri and traded for Phil Kessel, that the new era truly began.
(Spoiler Alert: The new era wasn’t particularly good, either.)