Yesterday (see story below), I looked at the Leafs with an optimistic eye in terms of what they are building and what the future may hold.
Today, a less flattering analysis.
How do you look at what they are building? Which of the two perspectives do you “buy”?
Send your comments along.
Management and coaching
Burke is a sharp guy, but his reputation was highly overblown when the Leafs hired him (and obviously had their eye on him long before he arrived). He won a Cup, yes, in
. But just as he and Nonis receive credit for what Anaheim Vancouver has now built, the Cup-winner was largely built by Bryan Murray. Burke added some important pieces, for sure. Anaheim
, he never dealt with the goaltending issue, which is supposed to be the key element of his building from the back-end formula. Vancouver
He enjoys his celebrity and rarely misses an opportunity to be quoted. He tries to use the local media to get messages out to other GM’s (how often do we hear him forecast where the trade market is going, and when teams will start making better offers for Leaf players…). While a good hockey guy, for sure, in a team-oriented sport there seems to be a lot of focus on him as in his way, his method, "my" teams, as he often says, etc. (Click here to read my earlier story, Brian Burke and the "I" in team...)
He remains acerbic with the media in too many of his daily encounters, and may not be the right fit for this market and its demands.
The Leafs have one “proven” goalie (Giguere) and he is obviously a health risk and past his prime. In addition, he is not signed beyond this spring, and may not draw much of value in a trade, given his recent injury history. A third-round draft choice? That won’t be a first or second-line player in the next two years.
Otherwise, there is not a proven goalie in the fold. Many “prospects”, but that’s it. The Monster looks unsteady despite many attempts to give him valuable time in the Leaf net.
Reimer has been really good, but many young goalies have shown well early, but didn’t stick.
Many fans would prefer one Luongo to five guys who provide “depth” but not all-star quality netminding.
The Leaf defense is part of why the goal differential is as bad as it is again this season. Gunnarsson has had a rough second season, taking a step back most of the year. Schenn is improving but Phaneuf, despite recent glimpses of the physical play, has not been a dominant, “all-star” type of performer.
We also don’t know if, even though he wears the “C”, Phaneuf will ever be a tur leader, someone that others will follow.
The veterans—Kaberle, Komisarek and now Lebda, with Beauchemin gone— make rookie mistakes too often, and haven’t often enough been at their best this season.
The Grabovski line has been a revelation, but it begs a question: with Grabbo and MacArthur having career years, what happens if they slide back into what had been “normal” for them? Will they get better, or worse?
Kessel is a work in progress, a supremely talented forward who is still a one-way player. He is a gunner who often misfires. Will he ever become a complete player? He isn’t one yet.
The rest of the Leaf line up, while we can always find positive attributes for every player, scares no one. Too often offensively unproductive, and not gritty enough to shut down other team’s big players on a consistent basis, or when it matters most, in a tough playoff series.
The Leafs still have too many holes, and promise doesn’t always equal results. For all the talk of significant strides being made, they remain, in the current NHL standings, three points behind the Florida Panthers. That's the Florida Panthers. And Florida has one game in hand. The Buffalo Sabres havre had a very medicore season and they are ahead of the Leafs, too. And their goal differential is a whopping 29 goals better.
Look at Montreal's roster. Throw in all the serious injuries they have dealt with, to top players. The Leafs have been relatively healthy. But there was no comparison between the two teams on Saturday night (or in the standings). It's just one game, but...
Until and unless they develop a true number-one goalie who can carry the team like a Miller, Price, Thomas, Luongo, Lundqvist or Fleury, it will be tough to win a lot of close games consistently.
The defense corps is better on paper than it is on the ice, it seems, and the forward corps need more snipers and more grit.
When you take into consideration that other teams are working to get better, too, this less-than-hopeful perspective can feel discouraging.