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Dissecting yet another lost season for Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson skates back to his net after allowing a goal to the Carolina Hurricanes in Toronto, March 27, 2012.

Mike Cassese/Reuters/Mike Cassese/Reuters

The body is still warm, and yet the postmortems are already rolling in.

And with only 10 days remaining in the 2011-12 NHL campaign, every single aspect of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization is likely to be picked apart as the franchise limps to the finish line in a seventh consecutive season out of the playoffs.

What caused the team's dramatic drop in the standings?

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Was it simply a lack of skill? A lack of leadership, from captain Dion Phaneuf on down? Or are the Leafs, as some members of their beleaguered fan base will argue, simply a cursed lot?

With only five meaningless games left to play, and the team on pace to finish 26th overall, here's a look back at what went right, what went wrong and what, ultimately, did Toronto in this season:

The good

Even amidst the turmoil, there were positives.

Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul both hit career-highs and were among the NHL's scoring leaders until Lupul went down with an injury earlier this month.

Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner surprised in training camp and went on to not only make the team, but play a top-four role the rest of the way.

And the Toronto Marlies took a big step forward, becoming one of the better teams in the AHL while getting key contributions from some of the youth Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has added the past few years.

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The Leafs brass has also made it clear it's not about to mortgage that future in a desperate attempt to improve the team in the short term.

"Trading a lot of good young assets for older players is something we have very little interest in doing," vice-president Dave Nonis told TSN Radio on Wednesday. "We want to try and build this for the long-term success of the team."

The bad

For the fourth season in a row under Burke, goaltending continued to be a killer.

Sophomore James Reimer suffered a concussion in the seventh game and was never able to recover, posting a .900 save percentage that ranks second-last among goalies who have started 30 games this season.

Jonas Gustavsson hasn't fared much better, giving Toronto the third-worst tandem in the league, statistically speaking.

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The Leafs' $22-million (U.S.) defence has also been an issue, with Luke Schenn, Cody Franson and Mike Komisarek all struggling from the get-go and Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles regressing about midseason.

"We have not performed the way that we have to," Phaneuf said of the team as a whole. "And we're all disappointed about that."

The ugly

The past 24 games certainly qualify here.

Toronto was cruising along in sixth in the Eastern Conference, on pace for a 96-point season, as recently as seven weeks ago, when a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets started a 5-16-3 freefall they've yet to climb out of.

The Maple Leafs have been outscored 85-49 over that span, had their head coach fired and gone on a franchise-record 10-game losing skid at home.

It all adds up to one of the worst finishes to a season by any team since the 2004-05 lockout and has led to Toronto routinely being booed off the ice at the Air Canada Centre.

"It's embarrassing what we're doing here," Kessel said.

Also in the ugly category is the Leafs' 29th-ranked penalty kill, Burke's countless wars with the media and the more than one-quarter of the team's payroll (nearly $17-million) dedicated to the not-so-fab-five of Tim Connolly, Komisarek, Matt Lombardi, Colby Armstrong and Colton Orr.

Nikolai Kulemin's inexplicable drop from 30 goals last season to just seven this year deserves a prominent mention, too.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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