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Checking in on our Maple Leafs at the World Championships: just one concern

Apologies for any statistical inconsistencies below.  Issues with Blogger have led to my now re-posting, temporarily, a previous column from earlier this week!

How important are the World hockey Championships? 

Well, for Canadian hockey fans—and players—it’s a significant but nonetheless second-tier tournament.

Now, we’ve heard for years that for European players, it’s a huge event—maybe as important as the Stanley Cup.  Winning an Olympic or World Championship medal is a major honor for European players.

Now, we all recognize that rosters on the various teams are not what they could be because the NHL playoffs are still ongoing.  But the timing throughout World Championship history has always been that the games are scheduled at this time of year, geared as it is to those playing in Europe.  So this will always be the reality.  The tournament has to take a back seat to the Stanley Cup playoffs.  There’s no way around it.

(As an aside, probably my most vivid memory of the World Championships was when I was almost 15.  Czechoslovakia upset the Russians in the spring of 1968—weeks after the Olympics in Grenoble, France. If I’m not mistaken, Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia shortly thereafter…)

In terms of what it means to a player’s career, it’s more difficult to pinpoint what the event means.  We could certainly argue that a good performance here could help catapult a year player into broader prominence at the NHL level.  But I’m not sure a poor individual performance has much of an impact one way or the other for most players.

Yet it can be a confidence-builder, especially for the younger players who miss out on the playoffs but get the opportunity to go over to Europe and play in a great hockey environment.

As for the Leafs, one guy who as selected to play last season but did not go back this spring is Christian Hanson.  I like Hanson, but he did not have a big tournament last year, as I recall, and was not, to my knowledge, invited back this year by Team U.S.A.

That same side did bring aboard Komisarek and Mike Brown from the Leafs this time around.  (I believe young Jake Gardiner is training with the U.S. team, but I don’t know that he played in any games.)

Komisarek had a couple of points the 7 games the U.S. played and finished a  minus 3. (That latter statistic, in fairness, is not surprising given that the USA did not have consistently stellar goaltending.)

Brown was pointless but ended the tournament “even”, about what we would expect from the gritty winger.

The German team is utilizing two young Marlies—Holzer and Muller.  Holzer finished the event a plus 2 through 7 games and played almost 20 minutes a night, (though less in the elimination game).  That’s pretty impressive.

Muller had 5 points in 7 games, playing about 15 minutes a game.

Gunnarsson has played a lot—and by all accounts well—for Sweden in the tournament.  He is tracking exactly the way I would have hoped heading into the event—a bit of offense (4 points), a good plus/minus (plus 6) while averaging more than 22 minutes of ice team, less in the quarter-final game.  That’s a lot of time in an event like this.  I like the way Gunnarsson played in 2009-’10 for the Maple Leafs and particularly like that he seemed to step up his game as this past season wore on.  For what it’s worth, his performance at this year’s Worlds should bode well for his future with the blue and white next season and hopefully beyond.  He can be a solid “top-four” NHL defenseman, a legitimate one in my view, if he continues to progress.

Leaf fans have likely seen a lot of James Reimer in the tournament, too.  The stats reflect what we have seen with our eyes—generally solid play, with a couple of tough goals allowed.  He has a .920 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average in 4 games.

Phaneuf has apparently opened some eyes over there, being counted upon by Hitchcock for almost 23 minutes a night.  For his part, Schenn is playing less, (between 16 and 17 minutes a game) while coming in at plus 3 so far.

Again, good news for Leaf fans, given how young those guys are.

Grabovski’s tournament with the under-manned Belarussian team is over.  He played with some jump and his stat line (even, 4 points, 21+ minutes a game) doesn’t really tell how important he was to his national team.  I just wanted him to escape injury-free.

The one thing that has concerned me a bit so far is where Kulemin has fit on the Russian team.  A lot of the big names (Ovechkin and Kovalchuk) are now over there, and that maybe impacts Kulemin’s time, but he has only 1 goal in 6 games, and is a minus 1 on a pretty talented team.  More concerning, perhaps, is that he is playing under 10 minutes a game.

I’m not sure if he is playing reduced minutes because of his “role”, or because he simply hasn’t produced or played very well.

With the quarter-final match-up Thursday against Russia, it will be interesting to see if Hitchcock goes (as has been reported) with Bernier) or goes back to Reimer.

Should be a good one to watch, regardless.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't watched Russia at all, but if I was their coach, I'd utilize Kulemin as a defensive forward and forechecker, which he excels at.