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The Toronto Maple Leafs, compete level, and accountability

There are a lot of buzzwords when it comes to assessing the Maple Leafs, but the accountability doesn't lie with the players.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the hockey world's favourite tire fire. It feels like whenever they string a few wins together, everyone waits for it to all go off the rails again so we can talk about what a mess the team is. We never seem to get bored. It's partly because the team dominates the airwaves and conversation in Canada even though there is a much better and much more fun and interesting team not that far away ahem, and it's partly because the circus surrounding the team often hits ridiculous proportions.

Last night, as the Penguins shut the Canadiens out 4-0, a lot of comments of the "when the Habs lose, they REALLY lose" variety went around.

The Leafs thought that was cute. After losing 6-2 to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, they went on to lose 9-2 to the Nashville Predators last night.

After the Buffalo loss, Phil Kessel was quoted as telling TSN's Jonas Siegel to "get away from me" when the reporter tried to talk to him after the loss to Buffalo. The reaction to this naturally became overblown over the next few days. Kessel's behaviour was rude and entitled and Siegel was right to call him out, but the firestorm was unnecessary.

There was a lot of talk about "accountability after a loss" when Kessel did that, as if his stopping for a few minutes to say "we were terrible" would suddenly have made media and fans happy. "Look! The players are being accountable for the loss!" we would have said. No, we would not have said that. If Kessel had stopped and said "we were very bad and have a lot of things to improve in our game," we would have said he was just telling fans and media what they wanted to hear. If he had said "it was just one bad game, these things happen," we would have said he was recycling quotes from the Big Book Of Hockey Player Cliches. Also, acknowledging that the Leafs lost badly is not accountability, it's stating facts.

After last night's loss, one member of the Toronto media took a lot of heat for asking Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson if they were trying to get their coach fired. People were obviously upset about that, although I do think the reporter would have gotten more of a pass on that one if he were anyone other than Steve Simmons. I don't think the question was that bad-it's really just another way of asking why the players are playing like crap. I don't know if they had been spoken to or not but this time, none of the players told anyone to get away from them, and instead they and the coach all talked about compete level and work ethic and having to work harder and having to outwork the other team and more of the same things you always hear. And, of course, there was talk among fans and media about "accountability."

‘Compete level' isn't a term that bothers me as much as it bothers most hockey fans and media these days, except that it really isn't a thing. Nine times out of ten, when people say a team didn't have enough compete level, they're really saying it didn't have enough talent. The tenth time they are saying they didn't have decent coaching. It's not a thing.

Accountability is a thing, though. The accountability for the state of the team doesn't just lie with Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel and their work ethic. It lies with the management mindset that mismanaged their talent and assets in previous years, it lies with a stubborn refusal to grow and evolve with the changing NHL (although that has changed with Shanahan in place and his hirings over the summer), and it lies with a coach who doesn't seem to be able to get the best out of his players. Not because they are not motivated, but because he isn't putting systems in place to make the best use of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

Back when Guy Carbonneau was coaching the Habs and the team was in a tailspin, I remember a lot of media members remarking that he didn't seem to know what was wrong with the team, even saying so after some games. He kept saying the players were not working hard enough and he didn't seem to have many answers beyond that. Randy Carlyle has been reminding me a lot of that lately. Actually, pretty much since he got hired as the Leafs coach.

If the coach can't figure out what is going wrong with his team enough to fix it, or at least improve it, the accountability lies with him and the people who hired him, not with a player who doesn't like talking to the media but is one of the most productive forwards in the league, with the second-best centre available to him at that.