TORONTO – The amateur general managers were ready to pull the trigger on all kinds of theoretical trades when the horn sounded after 40 minutes of a game that became the Toronto Maple Leafs third loss to Columbus this season.
The chorus of boos coming down from an otherwise quiet Air Canada Centre crowd on Monday suggested as much anyway.
Dave Nonis couldn’t have liked what he was watching either, but it is the job of the Leafs GM to rid himself of emotion when deciding how to move forward with his hockey team. We have heard Nonis say that he will approach Wednesday’s trade deadline patiently and after 63 games of this up-and-down season it’s clear that there really can be no other way.
On the off-chance the Leafs are presented with a chance to make a true hockey trade – perhaps acquiring a young NHLer for one of their own – then they will have something worth considering in the hours ahead. History tells us, however, that those moves aren’t often made during March madness.
This period is instead about adding rental contracts or stocking up on assets and it’s difficult to see any reason why the Leafs would declare themselves a member of either camp. Not at this stage in their development.
Through more than three-quarters of a season we have learned that being one of the league’s youngest teams can be both good and bad. They have been more of the former than the latter since a swoon in early January that left some calling for coach Randy Carlyle’s job and prompted Nonis to hold a closed-door meeting with his players.
Of course, that good stretch seemed a little distant after a third straight one-goal loss coming out of the Olympic break. That was tough to ignore.
“The three losses hurt because we felt that we had points available to us on the road,” Carlyle said after the Blue Jackets skipped town with a 2-1 win. “That’s the hard part, when you lose two overtime games on the road and we had a one-goal lead in both games. That kicks you kind of.
“That doesn’t feel very good.”
On this night you couldn’t help but feel for James Reimer, who had waited more than five weeks for another chance to play. The embattled goaltender – the former holder of the Leafs No. 1 tag who is now anchored with the No. 2 – wants to view this as the start of a new season.
The dawn of a brighter day.
He did his best by turning aside a Nick Foligno breakaway in the early minutes and continued to fight after falling behind 2-0. A series of three successive stops off a scramble in the third period gave his teammates an opportunity, especially after Mason Raymond ended Sergei Bobrovsky’s shutout bid.
“I don’t think you can point to the goaltending as a deficiency, that’s for sure,” said Carlyle. “He did his part to give us a chance.”
Had Tyler Bozak converted one of the two glorious looks he had from in-close or Nazem Kadri not shot wide on a dangerous-looking deke, the tone of the evening might have been different. There isn’t often much difference between a winning performance and losing one.
“Typically we’re a team that will score on those chances when we get (them),” said Lupul.
“We’re certainly not losing perspective, but we’re not happy about losing two points to a team below us in the standings.”
When you play in the NHL, it doesn’t take too long for your view on the world to change. Not so long ago the Leafs were the hottest team heading into the break and now they are facing questions from reporters about the need for perspective with the deadline at hand.
In that short amount of time, the team’s grip on a playoff spot has weakened slightly and with six of the next seven games to be played on the road – including a tough swing through California – another berth in the post-season seems less assured than it once did.
Against that backdrop, Nonis and his lieutenants will be working the phones and considering all kinds of possibilities to shake things up. The temptation will certainly be there. To some extent, it is for every team executive in the league right about now.
However, if there is one thing we’ve learned in the NHL’s salary cap era it’s that you can’t survive too many mistakes. The rules contained in the collective bargaining agreement have been tightened so much that bad contracts hurt more than ever, especially since they can’t easily be discarded.
There is no reason to force the issue at the deadline if you’re not in a position to buy or sell. That’s where Toronto is right now.