If 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.