Ron Wilson and Brian Burke won't 'dumb down' games by resorting to a neutral zone trap

wilsonphaneufburke.jpgIf there are three constants of the Ron Wilson-Brian Burke Era, they would be chaos, defeat and a mind numbing amount of goals allowed. Some might lay all the blame at the feet of beleaguered former goalie Vesa Toskala, but chances are that we’ll look back at the Finnish netminder as a scapegoat who received far too much blame over the years. (Not to say that he wasn’t a big part of the failure, though … it doesn’t take an “expert” to recognize that he allowed plenty of awful goals in his time in net.)

Hockey people can debate the importance of high-end defense vs. elite offense or goaltending, but few would doubt that an abysmal defense will make otherwise talented teams come apart at the seams. I’m not sure if I would describe the Toronto Maple Leafs as “otherwise talented” – they aren’t exactly pretty in any area on the ice – but there seems to be a lack of commitment to defense despite the many salary cap dollars invested in the position.

Some Maple Leafs fans may yearn for the ugly wins that often come from playing the neutral zone trap, but both Wilson and Burke will not resort to that entertainment-destroying strategy. Here’s what they told Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun.

“Philosophically, it goes against us,” Wilson said.

“We’re not going to do that. We just have to play better defensively … I don’t know if (trapping) is going to get us where we need to go. Playing the neutral-zone trap and squeezing the life out of every game, that goes against what Brian and I believe in.”

And that goes against what Neilson and Burns believed in.

“It’s not entertaining,” harumphed Burke, a trap hater.

“You can dumb this game down and make it successful. We could have five guys stand in front of our net. But we’re in the entertainment business. I believe that our goals against can come down with improved goaltending and better defensive play.

“And yes, I care deeply about our (Leafs) history. But those two, Burns and Neilson, were defensive-oriented coaches. Both of those guys, I admire. Both guys I have or have had good relationships with. It’s just not my cup of tea (trapping).

So, take heart Leafs fans. Your team may or may not be a contender anytime soon, but as long as Burke and Wilson are running the show in Toronto, they shouldn’t be yawn-inducing. They’re aware of their place as entertainers, even if the team might resemble a circus act rather than an ensemble of gifted actors.

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”

Sutter: Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks

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Lost in the various controversies (see here and here) of last night’s game in Los Angeles was a pretty dismal performance by the Kings, a team that should’ve been especially motivated to start the season after missing the playoffs last year.

The Kings were hammered, 5-1, by the visiting Sharks. They were outshot, 32-20.

“If you don’t check, you don’t have the puck enough,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “If you don’t have the puck enough, you can’t score.”

“We were pretty sloppy. Sloppy on our rushes, sloppy in our D-zone,” said forward Dustin Brown. “That’s probably most of it, but the other part is compete – in the corners and making hard plays coming out of our zone, going in. We didn’t play very well.”

Obviously, much credit has to go to the Sharks. Like the Kings, they missed the playoffs last year and came into 2015-16 looking for redemption. But the Sharks haven’t won two Stanley Cups in the last four years, and they weren’t the home team.

“Gotta check,” said Sutter. “You don’t check, you can’t score. We had a lot of guys, especially top guys that weren’t interested in that part of the game.”

The Kings get a visit from the Arizona Coyotes on Friday. If they don’t dominate that team…