Luke Schenn and the Toronto Maple Leafs played some inspiring hockey in the second half of 2010-11, but the franchise has traditionally squandered that type of momentum heading into another season. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
To say the Toronto Maple Leafs need a strong showing in the first four months of the 2011-12 season is to state the obvious.
Among the many ills that have infected the Maple Leafs game in their futile string of six straight seasons of missing the playoffs, a disappointing record going into either the Olympic or all-star break has been troublesome.
Even last year, when Maple Leafs fanatics were planning the parade route in downtown Toronto after a 4-0-0 start, the Maple Leafs could not build on the win streak. By the time the calendar had flipped to December, they had lost all but five of their next 18 games and a spot in the playoffs started to fade from view.
What has frustrated the Maple Leafs faithful has been the discrepancy of their team's record pre-and-post all-star breaks (and where applicable, Olympic breaks). Toronto has gone a rather dismal 124-147-43 (.463 win percentage) before the breaks in the past six seasons and 94-59-25 (.598) afterwards. But the good late season good vibrations always arrived when they have been out of the playoff picture and the pressure has been alleviated.
The pre-break records have been even more pathetic under Ron Wilson in his three seasons behind the Maple Leafs bench with a .427 win percentage. Wilson is on the hot seat this season. He enters the final year of his four-season contract with new assistant coaches in Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin in tow and without an extension.
We think that as safe as it is to state given that the Maple Leafs have had their difficulties in winning games in the first four months of a season, if they can't crack that playoff barrier this year under Wilson, the conceited coach will be gone.
Coach: Wilson is entering his 18th season as an NHL coach and fourth and the final year of his contract behind the Maple Leafs bench. He steered the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup final in 1997-98, but has made the playoffs only eight times. He also coached the United States to the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship and the 2010 U.S. Olympic team to a surprise silver medal.
GM: Brian Burke, 56, won a Stanley Cup with the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, landing key pieces Scott Niedermayer as a free agent in the summer of 2005 and Chris Pronger via a trade the following summer. He has been at the helm of the Maple Leafs since late November 2008. With the exception of defenceman Luke Schenn and forwards Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, Burke has reworked the entire roster in his 34 months in Toronto.
Last year: 37-34-11--85 points, 10th in the East (8 points out of the playoffs).
Who's in: D John-Michael Liles, D Cody Franson, C Matthew Lombardi, C Tim Connolly.
Who's out: G Jean-Sebastien Giguere, D Brett Lebda, C Tim Brent, LW Fredrik Sjostrom.
Payroll: $62.1-million (5th in the NHL).
Key stat: The Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers are the only two teams that have not played a playoff game since the 2004-05 NHL lockout. The six consecutive playoff-less seasons make up the longest drought in Maple Leafs history.
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