Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2011/12 Toronto Maple Leafs R.I.P

Twas a season of great disappointment for Leaf Nation, as the team missed the playoffs yet again with their post-season drought slowly closing in on a decade. It was a season that saw fans sarcastically cheering easy saves by their goaltenders, at times chanting "fire Wilson"; then a few weeks after he was fired chanting "re-hire Wilson". The season started out great, with many (myself included) predicting a playoff spot. The team however, had a weakness larger than Allan Bester's five hole, and that was their goaltending. Did the goaltending collapse because the team in front of them collapsed, or did the team collapse because the goaltending collapsed? Leaf fans could drive themselves crazy trying to solve this chicken and egg puzzle.

Phil Kessel is an exciting offensive player, but he might very well be the biggest defensive liability in the game at the forward position. Dion Phaneuf might be entirely over-rated. That Grabovski extension, 5 more years at $5.5M is certainly no bargain, arguably a substantial overpayment for a team already jammed against the cap with $55M in contracts signed for next season and a new CBA coming this fall. Mike Komisarek looks like dead money at $4.5M, Connolly ain't cheap at $4.75, Lombardi and Armstrong also make more money than they are worth. Rest assured that Brian Burke will push for a one time buyout in the next CBA, like teams had at the start of the last CBA.

While Leaf fans spread speculation that they will add a Parise, Nash, or Getzlaf this summer; the inconvenient truth of the matter is that Brian Burke's #1 priority will be acquiring a #1 goaltender. That's the bottom line. It could be Roberto Luongo, it could be Tim Thomas, maybe even Kiprusoff if Calgary decides to move him. There are some more long shot options like Lindback, Josh Harding, Bernier, Greiss, Theodore, or perhaps Tomas Vokoun. The better the player, the more he's going to cost. Make no mistake, if the Leafs miss the playoffs next season, Burke's job will be in serious jeopardy. Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul were the big positive stories of the season for this team, as Burke has assembled a decent collection of prospects. He has pieces of value to move in the trade market, but he must shed salary to take on salary. Resigning Kulemin is another problem.

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