TORONTO – Media critics are all over the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs, with some saying the NHL team should be blown up, and after a no-smiles practice Monday head coach Paul Maurice agreed that there should be a change.
No, he’s not stepping down.
“The only change that needs to happen is that we have to start playing better hockey as a group and winning more games,” said Maurice. “That solves everything.
“All problems get fixed with winning. All problems are created by losing. We’ve done a lot of that lately, hence the problems.”
The Leafs, 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference, hope to dispel the cloud of doom surrounding them when they play the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
Maurice was barking more than usual during practice. The seriousness of the situation is apparent to everyone.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “Some people get a little more juice from that and some people get a little less.
“I think that to get to pro sports you’ve got to be the kind of person that gets up and maybe going harder every day isn’t the answer but that’s how you have to get out of bed.”
Toronto has lost five in a row and is 2-9-2 in its last 13 games, so there have been some restless sleeps of late.
“You do it long enough you know there are not going to be nice dreams every night,” said Maurice. “There is going to be an occasional nightmare thrown in and every once in a while that’ll be between 7:30 and 10.
“It’s a challenge to all of us here when things aren’t going well. For our staff and for the players, we accept this challenge equally and, as men, handle it and be examples to each other on how to handle it.” The hardest part, he added, was knowing things could be so much better.
“It’s not easy to have your team underperform,” he said. “In my opinion, we’re a better team than we’re playing. That’s tough (to cope with).”
He won’t abandon his pre-season statement that the Leafs would be a playoff team competing for the Stanley Cup.
“I still believe in this team,” said Maurice. “I still believe it’s that good, so those are the standards I’m holding myself to.”
A few minutes earlier, captain Mats Sundin was surrounded by reporters in the dressing room. He’s heard the demands for general manager John Ferguson’s scalp and for the dismissal of Maurice, and he’s not surprised.
“We’re in the winning business, obviously, in professional sports and if a team doesn’t win there’s going to be changes made,” said Sundin. “That’s just the history and the nature of what we’re doing.
“Saying that though, as players we’re not the ones making changes . . . we can only make changes in what we’re doing on the ice and try to improve our team – that’s our job, trying to be as good as we can . . . and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“Up to this point, we haven’t been good enough and that’s when changes are made. That’s the risk you’re facing when you’re not performing up to what people expect of you.”
Management, players, fans, the media – everybody is frustrated. All the players can do is work as hard as they can, Sundin added.
“It is a cliche,” he said. “It’s something you say every day and I’m sure people are sick of hearing it.
“We have to try and improve as professionals, try to be as good as we can. We don’t have control of anything else.”
The players have not lost confidence, he said.
“I always try to be honest and I don’t think so,” he said.
Lose faith and the season is lost, he added.
“In a city like Toronto where the team is a big part of the city and the fans are very much involved in what’s going on with the team and following us very closely, it’s tougher sometimes to keep your focus on trying to be as good as you can be on the ice,” he said. “But I really think we have that (faith) still and I think that’s going to be the key for us if we want to have the chance to turn it around.”
It’s not up to him to tell others how to do their jobs, he said.
“I just don’t feel it’s on my plate to be that guy.”
Sundin was asked what his response would be if management approached him to waive his no-trade clause.
“I don’t want to go anywhere,” he replied. “That’s going to be my response to start and we’ll see what happens.”
He then was quizzed on why he would want to stay if the team goes into a rebuilding mode.
“I signed here a year ago not so I’d put myself in a position where I would want to be traded in case the team was not where we wanted it to be or for any other reason,” he replied. “I signed because I wanted to finish my career as a Toronto Maple Leaf.
“I decided that last summer and that hasn’t changed. Toronto has been my home for 13 years. I love the fact that I play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and I love the fact that I’m part of this city and this team. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
A standard comment about management or coaching changes being out of the players’ control echoed around the room.
“We’re not focused on what everybody’s saying or what people are saying in the media,” said Matt Stajan. “We’re focused on winning (the Tuesday) game.
“We’ve had some tough games lately and we want to get a good feeling back in this dressing room with some wins. What happens above us is out of our control. We’re just here to play hard and try to win hockey games.”
The players know the axe could drop on Ferguson or Maurice, or both, if the losing continues.
“It could,” said Stajan. “That’s the way this business is, but we’re trying to win hockey games and we’re doing everything we can.”
The Leafs can still make the playoffs, said Jason Blake.
“There’s a lot of hockey to be played yet,” he said. “It’s nice to be back home and we’ve got a big test (against Carolina) and we go from there.”