TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs are apologizing after yet another lost season.
A letter posted on the team’s website asks fans for forgiveness following a seventh straight season in which Toronto failed to make the playoffs.
The letter Monday was signed by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum. He said “the way this year ended was unacceptable.”
The Leafs were in sixth place in the Eastern Conference in February, but won just two of their next 17 games. Toronto has gone longer than any team in the league without making the playoffs.
General manager Brian Burke replaced coach Ron Wilson with Randy Carlyle in March, but the damage was done and the Leafs finished 13th in the East.
Tanenbaum’s letter makes no mention of Burke’s future, saying only that “ownership believes in the plan for the Maple Leafs.”
Burke said Tuesday he didn’t plan to change the style of play he feels wins games. He wants the Leafs to dictate the pace, and that means more size and strength. It also means finding a center to play on the top line.
“My view on how hockey teams are built and how hockey games are won has not changed,” Burke said. “I still believe that big physical teams win hockey games and if you have two evenly matched teams from a skill perspective, the bigger team’s going to win. We need to get bigger. That’s my top priority.”
The GM echoed the team’s mea culpa on the website. The club also sent a similar letter to season ticket-holders. Tom Anselmi, the team’s chief operating officer, has pledged to speak with every single ticket holder that has concerns.
“This is about winning, this is about doing right by your fans, this is what we’re all into this for,” Anselmi said. “Sports is a business, yeah, but it’s a business based on emotion and passion and caring. These fans, they care.”
Carlyle spoke before Burke, and challenged his players. He says his parting message to them is to improve their conditioning and toughen their work ethic.
“It’s our job as a coaching staff,” he said, “to force, coddle, kick — whatever word you want to use — to get them to believe that they can do it.”