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Siegel: Leafs clean out lockers amid frustration

Jonas Siegel
4/9/2012 10:01:55 PM
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TORONTO – They stepped out of an emptying dressing room with one common message.

"We didn't get anything done here," Phil Kessel said with some emphasis. "We didn't make the playoffs and that's what we were trying to do. We're all disappointed in here."

The stinging wounds of a two-month long collapse were still rather fresh for the Leafs - 13th in the East with 80 points - the befuddlement of another season gone wrong evident on locker clean-out day at the Air Canada Centre.

"To be sitting here talking about where everything went wrong and how it all failed, it's hard to comprehend right now," Luke Schenn stated quietly. "It's not a good feeling because we were in such a good spot. I think like everyone's talked about - whether it's media, fans or ourselves - no one's ever seen a freefall like this. It's frustrating for everyone. It's not a good feeling."

The ground slipped out in stunning fashion. Seemingly in good position in early February, the Leafs tumbled swiftly down the Eastern Conference standings, unable to regain control of a season brimming with early optimism.

"Have you seen a stretch like this?" Kessel asked rhetorically. "I don't know if anyone really has. It's been a tough go. I can't really pinpoint what happened and where it went wrong, but it went wrong and we've got things to work on.

"Hopefully we can improve and be better next year."

"I think that's the biggest thing we've got to take out of this year is if we have that kind of curveball thrown at us again, we've got to do a better job of handling it initially rather letting it snowball on us," Cody Franson noted.

Ron Wilson paid the early price for the meltdown - replaced by Randy Carlyle in late February - with other changes surely on the docket in a critical offseason ahead. Goaltending instability stands atop the list of summer priorities for Brian Burke, with upgrades in the forward and blue-line ranks likely to be made as well.

"When you don't have success and when you do not make the playoffs and give yourself an opportunity to have success, things are going to be re-evaluated," Dion Phaneuf said.

"It's a bad feeling for everyone in this city," Clarke MacArthur concluded. "We're obviously pretty frustrated with how it ended."

Five Points

1. Kessel revealed a left wrist injury which had been plaguing him for the final weeks of the season. He required a cortisone shot at one point, but will not require surgery. The issue will keep him out of the World Hockey Championship next month.

2. Sidelined for the final two weeks of the regular season with a suspected flare-up of past concussion issues, James Reimer indicated that the issue was actually neck-related. The 24-year-old visited with a neck specialist this past weekend in Montreal. "It was actually outstanding news for me," he said. "I have absolutely no problems going forward for next year, for the rest of my career, it kind of almost wiped the slate clean really." Reimer missed 23 games earlier in the year with a suspected concussion, unsure if that injury was also neck-related. "Unfortunately you don't know," Reimer said. "But having gotten the news I got from this last guy, there's obviously reason to believe that that wasn't a concussion as well. It was a pretty freeing weekend for me, that's for sure." 

3. Struggling to rediscover his game after the injury, Reimer tried to find value in a straining second season. "Obviously it was one of the toughest years of my career you could say, but it'll probably be the most valuable," he said. "I learned so many things about myself, so many things about my character and my faith, my ability to play different situations on the ice, how to respond to different types of adversity, criticism, expectations, you name it, the list is huge of all the things I learned this year. You never want to have a tough season because you always want to win, but hopefully in 15 years when I look back on my career, I'll see this as one of the most valuable years of my life."

4. Phaneuf's leadership became a hot-button issue over the course of the final two months, a reality the 26-year-old accepts. "It's part of being captain of the team," he said. "I definitely accept responsibility for the way that this season has ended. I take that upon myself that I'm not happy with the way things have gone, but we've got to move forward. It's a new year next year and that's the way that we're going to handle it because what's done is done. We have to learn from it. We're definitely disappointed, but we have to move forward."
 
5. MacArthur took at least one lesson from the remains of the 2011-2012 season. "It just shows you that this is a tough league and you can't let your foot off the gas," he said. "And if you have a leak, you've got to fix it right away because one thing can lead to the next. That happened here. You look at what you need for points to get in the playoffs; you've got to be 10-15 games above. 500 and for that to happen, you've got to be a consistent hockey team."

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