2011, Hockey, Sports, The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke

The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke: Media Complicity in Maintaining Fan Delusions

On Blue and White Tonight this evening Gord Stellick said something to the effect of “We can’t figure out how many games the Leafs have to win, they just have to win games. Whether it’s 11-2, or 9-4, or whatever, they have to win a lot of games.”

This may indeed be true for a player. It’s hard to see how being realistic in a situation like this could help a player’s confidence, but how is this reasonable for fans? We can actually figure out how many games the Leafs need to win, it’s quite easy. And there is a point. At least for us fans.

Before tonight’s game, the Leafs were 30-30-10 with 70 points. That’s right: 70 points in 70 games. They are actually .500, even though the NHL system renders that term meaningless. We can know with more than a fair degree of certainly what they need to make the playoffs this year by two methods, the first relatively simple the second a little more complicated.

Method 1:

  • 2010 8th Seed: 88 points
  • 2009 8th Seed: 93 points
  • 2008 8th Seed: 94 points
  • 2007 8th Seed: 92 points
  • 2006 8th Seed: 92 points

Before that, there were ties and overtime losses, so it was a little different. There is a theme here, though: The average 8th Seed needed 92 points to make the playoffs post-lockout. It stands to reason that this trend will continue this year, whether it is 88 or 94, it will be around 90.

Method 2:

It’s not like the schedules are private. They are public knowledge. All the upcoming games are known. A person, so inclined, could calculate what teams’ records are likely to be at the end of the season, using their record to date, and their upcoming schedule. A person could predict what the 8th team would need to make the playoffs. Someone at The Globe did that. He estimated the Eastern Conference 8th place seed would need 89-90 points.

So, let’s assume it’s 90 points that a team in the East needs to make the playoffs. That means that as of this afternoon the Leafs had to go 10-2 to make the playoffs. With a win tonight – and it looks like they may pull it off – they have to go 9-2 to make the playoffs. It’s not impossible of course, but it is implausible. If they succeeded, the Leafs would pull off the greatest turn around in NHL history. (Just as if the Devils make the playoffs, they will have pulled off the greatest turn around in NHL history.) The odds of that happening, especially with a team as talent-poor as the 2010-2011 Maple Leafs, are small, to say the least.

So why tell us different, Gord? Well, Stellick and certain other Toronto sports media personalities work jobs which require the the existence of the crazed ever-hopeful Leafs fan. When the Leafs actually are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (this week or next) the ratings for Blue and White Tonight, and similar shows, will drop significantly. Until that time, the hosts must pretend that the Leafs have a hope in hell. My hope is that they have convinced themselves of this because if they know better then they are lying…and that’s not very nice.

Though the players obviously have to tell themselves anything is possible the rest of us can and should move on. We need to think about the next move. We look at this team and we can see a lot of things wrong. The Leafs are 24th in Goals For and 25th in Goals Against, playing (according to hockey-reference.com) the 18th hardest schedule in the league. That is not good enough. For those of us who want a Cup in our lifetime it is obviously more than that. It is more of the same we were used to. Something has to change.

I indicated the right course of action a few weeks ago in this space. Pull the long-term contract guys aside. Apologize. Explain the new plan. Ask for acceptance. Then let all RFAs go who won’t resign for low raises, sign only reclamation projects. (Like MacArthur…who said that was Burke’s best signing of the summer? That’s right, I did.) Let all the prospects play on the big club next year. If they tank, good. If they don’t, trade away assets. Until the NHL changes its method of determining draft positions so teams don’t have to tank for picks, this is the only way to get a franchise player (without giving up a chunk of your team). Phil Kessel is not a franchise player (more on that after the season is over). Kadri really doesn’t look like a franchise player (though I could always be wrong).

The quick rebuild hasn’t worked. A more traditional rebuild is necessary and should start now. However, it is not only unlikely the GM will pursue this policy, it is unlikely fans will push for it, partially because people like Stellick continually insist, in public, that this team is maybe sorta a playoff calibre team.

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