There are a lot of things people understand about this Toronto Maple Leafs season.
Losing sucks. We get that.
The sheer volume of media in this town, and the competition for eyeballs that it creates. We get that.
Idiocy on social media. We get that.
The organization’s choice to tear down, not build up doesn’t inspire confidence in the room. We get that. (Even though, with 20/20 hindsight, that decision was 100 per cent correct.)
The desire, after last week, to temper their public comments, talk about rallying around your teammates and avoid putting more gasoline on the fire? We get that.
But the porous effort in a 6-1 Saturday defeat to St. Louis, followed by Nazem Kadri showing up late for a meeting on Sunday? Sorry, we don’t get that. It’s unacceptable. And, for their own good, their own reputations, the players in that locker room have to man-up and say, “Enough.”
You can point at any external force you want. The media, the fans, the opponents, whoever. At the end of the day, however, you control only one thing. That’s yourself. There is zero doubt whatsoever there are disappointed players in Toronto, disappointed because they weren’t freed from this tire fire of a season to go and try for the playoffs somewhere else.
But that doesn’t mean other teams aren’t watching. It doesn’t mean other teams aren’t aware that on the day Randy Carlyle — the supposed problem — was fired on Jan. 6, the Maple Leafs were a playoff team, one point up on Boston for the second wild card position.
Since then, they have 12 points in 26 games. Twelve. They had a 16-game road losing streak broken when Florida couldn’t dress a 41-year-old goalie mid-game. Every game, you think it can’t get worse, and, every game, it somehow does.
These players, they want out. But, do you think the Los Angeles Kings are looking at whoever they may be interested in, and saying, “I’m really impressed by the way he’s handling this?” Do you think the New York Rangers are watching this and saying, “You know what, he’s really competing in a brutal situation?”
You can count those players on a few fingers. Instead, other teams are calling and laughing. “What on Earth is going on there?”
The management team wants to make hockey trades. They didn’t want to give guys away. But, with every game it is getting harder and harder. When you’re drowning, other GMs don’t throw you a lifejacket. They throw you a box of rocks, especially in a cap-tight world.
Except for the four years I left my brain cells at the University of Western Ontario, I’ve lived in Toronto. Sources say: this city’s seen some bad teams. But it’s never been this toxic, never seemed so ugly. A lot of it is the social media age, and it would be insane to see the Ballard Era re-lived with Twitter.
People were sympathetic to what happened last week. As much as you may dislike a player’s performance, no one wants to see their families dragged into it. That’s way, way offside. But, in less than 24 hours, the team managed to destroy whatever goodwill came from that episode. Peter Horachek ripped his players, then Kadri showed up late on Sunday morning.
I mean, what’s next? All we’re missing is George Costanza dragging the Stanley Cup in the parking garage.
There is not a person reading this blog who hasn’t had a period of time where they didn’t despise their work environment. Maybe it’s a boss who blames everyone else, a customer who changes their mind, a supplier who screws up an order, a keener of an intern, a family problem or someone driving 80 km/h in the passing lane. Maybe it’s all of that for weeks at a time.
But, deep down, we know the truth. Only we can change the situation. Only we can step up and say, “I’m going to do something different to try and make this better. Allowing this to stay the same every day is crazy.”
It’s the same standard I’d expect from myself.
That’s where the Toronto Maple Leafs’ players are. Yeah, they’re not the only ones to blame. But it’s hard to look at them and say they’re doing enough to change it. If they want out of this situation, they’ve got to do much better job of convincing other teams they’re worth the investment.