So the Leafs practiced going hard to the front of the net at practice on Monday. Now, as a coach, you can preach that all you want, but not many guys like the job description enough to continue doing it over a long, punishing NHL season.
It’s one of those hockey clichés we hear all the time when a tream is struggling. Along with “we just need to keep giving a hundred per cent” (among others) we often hear, “we need to start getting bodies to the front of the net”.
Most teams go through this, when forwards start playing around the perimeter, while also avoiding the contact that comes with a presence near the opposition crease.
But good on the Leafs for focusing on this aspect of the game. There’s no question that creating traffic is important in the game, and in fact, it always has been.
I remember back in the spring of 1962. I was only 8 going on 9, but I was following the Stanley Cup final series between
Toronto and very closely. The Leafs won the first two games at home but were taken to the woodshed in the two games at the raucus old Chicago Stadium, with 20,000+ screaming, intimidating Hawk fans yelling at them. Chicago
After the fourth game, the Leafs who were interviewed told reporters that they had to start getting traffic in front of
goalie Glenn Hall. They had been too passive, they felt, in Chicago Chicago, and as a result, let back into the series. Chicago
Now, the Hawks were probably the most talented team in hockey at the time, with Bobby
, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, "Moose" Vasko, “Red” Hay and many others. But the Leafs buckled down, and were much grittier at the Gardens in Game 5, and won going away by a score of something like 8-4. Hull accomplished. And in Game 6, they came from behind in Chicago with two late third period goals to win the game 2-1 and the Stanley Cup, as well. Mission
So yes, going to the front of the net can make a difference. We saw it with guys like Gary Roberts a few years back. The question is: who, if anyone can and will play that role consistently for the Leafs in the weeks to come?
This site is a blend of talk and memories about the olden days as well as some current observations about what’s happening with the Maple Leafs right now.
But we can’t just assess and break down every single Leaf game. That’s part of the fun in being a fan but it can get tedious, too. It’s a long season, and something that seems really important in October can mean precious little come playoff time—if a team even gets that far.
A guy gets hurt (Armstrong now, for example) and suddenly the picture changes. The Leafs have actually been very fortunate so far this year. Many clubs have already been hammered by injuries, but until this,
has been as healthy as you can possibly be. Toronto
This will be an early indication as to how deep they really are.
Yes, the Maple Leafs have shown a lot of positives in the early going, and who can argue with a 5-4-1 start. But before the headiness of that start wears off, I was thinking about the different traits that players on this roster have. It’s a young team, likely the ‘best’ overall group in terms of talent that the Leafs have had since probably 2004.
They are far from a great team, and Burke still has plenty of work to do to get where he wants to go. But there’s some quality here.
So, though it’s early, my thought was to be positive, seize the day, and have fun building the near-‘perfect’ Maple Leaf, based on the individual skills of players on the current roster.
This is obvious, I guess. Giguerre’s big-game experience, ability to play the angles and calmness under pressure mixed with The Monster’s size, athleticism, agility and obvious youthful zest for playing the position.
If you could combine the two, you may well have a great goalie.
I would take Beauchemin’s savvy with Kaberle’s ability to skate the puck out of danger when being fore checked—and making that great outlet pass. Mix in Phaneuf’s “truculence” and enthusiasm on the ice and ability to make hits and mix in a bit of offense. Let's not forget Schenn’s overall potential and his still-developing physical presence. Add Gunnarsson’s skating ability from the back end and all together, that makes a pretty fine “D” man.
Bozak’s hockey brain; Kessel’s quick release; Kulemin’s play in both ends of the ice; Versteeg’s instincts; Armstrong’s pluck; Grabovski’s quickness; Zigomanis’ (now with the Marlies) ability to win draws. Throw in Mitchell’s size, Sjostrom’s penalty-killing skill, Brent’s shot blocking, Brown’s toughness and Orr’s ability to fight and you’d have a heck of a forward.
Of course, no one has all those traits. But who do you think is the closest thing the Leafs have to a perfect player on the current roster? More realistically, who is their most “complete” player?
Back in the 1970s, I thought
’s Bob Gainey was about as complete a player as you could find. He could check, score a few goals, was so fast, tough, but played clean and between the whistles. In the 1960s, for me it was Dave Keon with the Leafs, because he did so many of the things needed to be a really good hockey player so well. Montreal
So today, on this Leaf roster, who fits the bill for you?