Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 3/1/12


The chants “Fire Wilson” can still be heard resonating from the rafters at the ACC, but the lame duck Coach of the Maple Leafs isn’t necessarily the one at fault for the futility in Toronto over the past three weeks.

Upon further review, that accountability lies squarely on the shoulders of Leafs’ GM Brian Burke.

The Leafs are currently mired in a slump of epic proportions, one which surely could cost Wilson his job if his squad can’t snap out of their 1-9-1 slump over their past 11 games.

Amazingly, just one month ago, it seemed that everything was setting up beautifully for Toronto’s first playoff appearance since prior to the NHL lockout.

But reality kicked in.

The Leafs goaltending is nowhere near good enough to backstop this team to the postseason. What began as a big question mark – or perhaps even false hope - at the start of the season has turned into a major problem in recent weeks in the so-called “Centre of the Hockey Universe.”

The Leafs have the third-worst team GAA in the league, allowing 3.08 goals per game. The only teams’ worse? The Columbus Blue Jackets (3.33) and Tampa Bay Lightning (3.29) - two non-playoff teams with major goaltending issues of their own.

James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson, both relatively unproven goalies at the NHL level entering this year, fell flat on their faces in February. The team, in turn, followed suit.

Reimer, you might remember, was rewarded with a 3-year, $5.4 million extension in June of last year, after he posted 20 wins down the stretch for a team that was never seriously in playoff contention. At $1.8 million per season, Burke figured he was getting a bargain in locking up the 23-year-old for the next three years.

As it turns out, he got what he paid for.

Burke’s decision to hitch his wagon – and the team’s fortunes – to Reimer was in retrospect an egregious error. Despite the odd flash of steady play, Reimer (11-11-4, 3.07, .899) has regressed to the point where he can no longer be counted on by his teammates to make key saves or bail them out if there’s a breakdown in their own zone. His confidence is crushed, as are his defencemen when skating in front of him. In each of his last two starts alone, Reimer has allowed two goals within the first four minutes of play. Early chants of, “In Reimer we trust” have been replaced by “this guy’s a bust.”

Gustavsson, while showing some consistency in goal in January, faltered in February. His defining moment came just over a week ago vs. New Jersey, when he allowed three suspect goals, including a wrister from the blueline heading wide that he misplayed for a stinker of a game-winner in overtime. An unrestricted free agent at season’s end, it’s become abundantly clear that Burke has no intention of re-signing the 27-year-old Swede, brought in three years ago as a blue-chip prospect.


Hey Burke, how about making a move at the trade deadline to shore up this glaring weakness and give the team a chance at competing for the 7th or 8th seed?

Silence.

As a result, the team’s uninspired play has continued post-deadline. After two more losses this week, Toronto finds themselves in 10th spot in the East, dangling precariously from playoff contender to mere afterthought. Naturally, you can’t fire the players, so the focus has shifted to Wilson, who has become the convenient scapegoat for the Leafs’ latest slide.

Granted, Wilson has not produced results in his four years behind the bench in Toronto, complete with a sub-.500 record (130-135-45) and zero playoff appearances during his tenure. Not good enough by most fans and experts standards. Except for Burke. He actually rewarded his ol’ college roomie for his years of mediocrity with a one-year contract extension back on Christmas Day. For a coach who has never even sniffed the postseason in four years, the extension wasn’t deserved then, and it certainly can’t be justified now.

There’s been other bad signings too. Tim Connolly, Burke’s big free-agent splash this past summer to help boost the offense and become the team’s first-line center, has been a big-time bust with the Leafs this year. Connolly, who signed an outrageous 2-year, $9 million deal on July 1st, has been invisible most nights, recording an underwhelming 28 points in 52 games while toiling on the team’s third line. And Burke still hasn’t been successful in addressing the team’s glaring need for a top-line center to play alongside Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel.

And then there’s defenceman John-Michael Liles who, following a decent first-half to the season after coming over in the offseason from Colorado, was inked to a 4-year, $15.5 million extension by Burke in late January - while sitting on injured reserve with a concussion. Strange timing, to say the very least. While Liles did return to the Leafs lineup on February 1st after a five-week absence, the 31-year-old has struggled to regain his form, managing just one assist in 14 games while providing a team-worst minus-10 rating over that span.

If the Leafs continue this unsightly fall from grace, there’s no question that Wilson will be the first to go. That’s the way it works in today’s NHL. Coaches are hired to be fired. In the case of Brian Burke, maybe GM’s should be too.

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