It's funny. As the game in Boston was nearing the final minutes, my intention, regardless of how things turned out, was to talk not so much about Kessel finally scoring (twice!) against his old team, but Grabovski not only surviving a big hit from Chara, but scoring a goal earlier in the contest.
But then (just in case I was about to change my mind about the focus of my comments) after yet another hit from Chara, Grabbo responded with the winning goal, a beauty, with only a minute to go. (Whether he should have been on the ice, after apparently suffering an injury on the second Chara hit, is a separate debate.)
It's too early to nominate a player of the year for the Leafs, but, if the season ended right now, is there any doubt who that player would be?
And as I've long acknowledged, I'm among those who would never have forecast this about Grabovski.
Kudos as well to Reimer, who just keeps playing well in these close contests, especially when the game is on the line.
The regular-season is moving along so quickly that we're already at a point where the Leafs have to decide what their objectives are at the forthcoming trade deadline and beyond. They have already made some significant moves (Beauchemin and Versteeg) with more to come, it seems.
From where I sit, here are the key story lines that blue and white fans will be following:
1) The future of Ron Wilson. Burke can play this down as much as he feels necessary, but in this market, unless there is a dramtic turnaround, suggestions will persist that
should be replaced after three (non-playoff?) seasons. The media is already harping on the supposed possibility of Lindy Ruff coming to Toronto, based on….nothing, really, other than Ruff not yet signing a contract extension in Buffalo (where he is happy, well thought of and well paid already). Wilson
2) Do the Leafs finally move Tomas Karbele? The long-time Leaf is what he is—a puck-moving defenseman who doesn’t take useless penalties and will still make mistakes, but generally a calming presence with the puck.
3) Do the Leafs sign/extend Giguere before the trade deadline? If not, what can they get in return for the veteran netminder? Injuries to Gustavsson and Rynnas could scuttle those plans, but shouldn't. Years ago, Fletcher managed to get Andreychuk for an aging former Cup winner (Fuhr). Who knows what can happen if a contender loses a goalie this month?
4) Now that Burke has found a way (Versteeg) to get a first-round pick in the June draft, will he keep it or try to move up further in the draft, or flip the pick for another forward?
5) Is Grabovski trade-bait or a long-term fixture? Will the team move him when his “market” is at its peak and before he commands an expensive long-term contract?
6) Will Phaneuf become the player Leaf fans thought they were getting? Much has been made about his more physical play in recent games, but beyond injuries and the occasional “big hit”, where is his career going? Does he still have an offensive game? Will he become a smart, reliable defensive-defenseman? Maybe as importantly, will he become a leader that others with follow?
7) Is that elusive “top-six” forward an emerging guy on the current roster, or is he coming in a deadline deal? In free agency July 1?
8) Does Lupul become what he was not that long ago, a grinding winger who can score and contribute all over the ice? Or have injuries dulled his career curve?
9) What about Kessel? Is the organization satisfied with what he appears to be—a skilled perimeter guy but a streaky scorer? Can this coach get him to the next level, a guy who competes all over the ice every night? Can Wilson and Phil live in harmony?
10) Of the three major off-season acquisitions—Versteeg, Armstrong and MacArthur—only MacArthur has surpassed expectations. Versteeg is now gone. Will Armstrong and MacArthur be major contributors next season?
Clearly, Leaf fans will be following these and other story lines. Which are the most important, from your perspective?