This is a season dear to my heart in a weird sort of way. The team, as we will come to remember, was really bad. But the 09-10 season was the first time I indulged in a full season of hockey since before the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. And before that time, I had always flip-flopped around to different teams. The one constant though was that I hated the Toronto Maple Leafs. Something changed when I gave hockey another chance though – for whatever reason, this team just called my name. And for better or for worse, I’ve been cheering them on ever since. So let’s take a trip down memory lane, and see how this season turned out for us blue and white faithful.
5th in the Northeast, 15th in the Eastern Conference, 29th Overall
It was the worst season for the team (in the standings) since the 1997-1998 season when they finished with just 69 points. Marred by awful goaltending from Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson for the better part of the season, the team also rode a general lack of talent in the scoring department to 2nd last in the league. If you’re going to have a year that bad, you better hope that you at least own your own first round pick – which the Leafs didn’t. Yeah, it was a pretty ugly season.
They were an infuriating team to watch for much of the season, but off the ice the team at least managed to make some headlines. This is really the season where the Leafs transitioned to the core of players that they’ve held up until very, very recently:
- In September, after a long summer of negotiating with then-Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, Brian Burke and Dave Nonis were finally able to pull off the trade that had been rumored since the draft. Toronto acquired Phil Kessel for 1st round picks in 2010 and 2011 as well as a 2nd-round pick in 2010. Those picks turned into Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton, and Jared Knight. Kessel was a great player, but given the state of the team at the time and the quality players that these picks turned into, it ended up being a regrettable trade for the Leafs.
- On January 31st the team shocked the hockey world, making two blockbuster deals out of nowhere in an attempt to really shake the core of a team that was as of then in serious running for dead last in the league. First was the trade with the Calgary Flames, where the team acquired its soon-to-be captain Dion Phaneuf as well as prospect Keith Aulie and depth forward Fredrik Sjostrom in exchange for Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers. Say what you want about Phaneuf, but that was a great trade for the team.
- Later that day, the team sent two players who were all but unmitigated disasters – goalie Vesa Toskala and forward Jason Blake – to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Do the words “0-7-1” mean anything to you?
That’s the record the team started the season with after a summer full of hype surrounding the new-look Leafs – the team had signed the likes of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, and Colton Orr in the summer in an effort to become tougher to play against. Phil Kessel and defenseman Garnet Exelby were acquired via trade, and top prospect Luke Schenn was entering his second year in the league, coming off what many considered to be a strong rookie campaign.
But yeah, 0-7-1. The season was lost before it even began.
The team picked up the pace a little bit from then on – after all, you can’t lose every game – but all things considered the team was still, well, really bad. The core players of the team at that point included declining players like Jason Blake, Tomas Kaberle, and Mike Komisarek, players getting too much ice-time like John Mitchell, and then of course there was the aforementioned Vesa Toskala. Before he was traded, Toskala boasted an unfathomably bad .874 save percenteage through 26 games played.
The team “picked it up” in a sense after acquiring the likes of Phaneuf and Giguere – they hovered around .500 for the rest of the season – but alas, the season was lost. Still, Phaneuf quickly emerged as a leader for the team and Giguere played well since coming over via trade. Couple that with an improvement in their record to finish the season (although really that improvement was all relative), there was hope heading into the off-season and beyond into the following year.
In hindsight, probably my favorite moment from this season:
TEAM SCORING LEADERS
It’s usually not a good thing when 5 of the 10 players that lead your team in scoring ended their season on a different team. It’s also not usually a good thing when you only have two players who crack 20 goals. Or when you have one player that hits 30 assists. Or one player that reaches 50 points. Or no players that reach 60 points. Especially when your goaltending sucks.
RETHINKING THE TEAM
As bad as this team was in every way, you can legitimately make a case that they weren’t as bad as they appeared. The team had a 52.9% Corsi, good for 4th in the league. Usually a team with puck possession numbers that good are, well, good, and usually those sorts of numbers are enough to get you into the playoffs. Granted, puck possession only means so much when you have low percentages. You can say those low percentages are unsustainable, sure, but at the end of the day players like Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala were leading the charge for this team. When that’s the case you’re setting yourself up to fail.
But if nothing else, those puck possession numbers serve as a solid defense of the team’s head coach at the time, the up until now unmentioned Ron Wilson. Plenty of people were calling for his head when the team started the season 0-7-1 and the hot seat didn’t cool off much during the course of the year. But maybe the reality is that Wilson was better than some people give him credit for, and, as is almost always the case, the players on the ice and the people who put them there are the real ones to blame for what ended up being a catastrophe of a year for a team that was hoping to turn a new leaf.