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Who are the Maple Leafs, right now, who are ready to play this type of hockey?



One thing that playoff hockey reminds us every year at this time is this:  if you want to compete for the Stanley Cup, you need to be operating at an awfully high level.

Goaltending matters a lot, of course.  But way beyond that, teams often need to be 8 to 10-deep on defense, with not just bodies but quality depth, because injuries will take guys out.  You need probably 15 guys up front who you can count on to play at the required level of skill and grit, along with toughness (physical and mental, for sure) and intensity on your forward lines.

Bottom line:  teams need to be prepared to play at the highest possible level of quickness, intensity and physicality for up to 28 games—sometimes when you are playing way beyond hurt, when it’s hot outside and the ice is lousy, when you’re facing elimination, when your goalie just let in an awful goal…etc..

In life terms, no big deal, but in sporting terms, it’s not easy stuff.

Skill is always huge, but you really need guys who will flat-out compete way beyond the norm.

We all see it.  It’s so clear.  Playoff hockey is so much more demanding than say, a regular-season game in October of January.  It just is.

It’s always been this way.  I remember, even as a kid, the playoffs were special to watch and follow but you could tell players were fatigued and worn - and that was after only two rounds of playoffs.

As a youngster and leaf fans back in the late '50s and early '60s, seeing or listening to them win a playoff game was huge.  Scoring a goal in the playoffs was a big achievement for players, especially guys who didn't score a lot during the regular-season- again, not much has changed.  If the Leafs won a round, you were in heaven for a few days.

It’s the time of year when guys, to this day, despite the big money, play with broken bones, cracked ribs, with serious pain, because they want to be out there playing when it counts.  Bobby Baun (click here to read my earlier story on Bobby's heroic efforts...) scoring in overtime on a broken ankle in the ’64 playoffs?  That’s the stuff of legend, yes.  But it’s almost routine when it comes to NHL playoff hockey.  Always has been and always will be. (As an aside, "hiding" hockey injuries at this time of year has always been the norm, as far back as I can remember.  Coaches never wanted to let the other team know where a guy was vulnerable.  They just didn't bother with the public  "upper-body" and "lower-body" stuff...)

Sure, teams have to play those game throughout the season (and win enough) to earn the right to get to the playoff tournament, but most of us would agree the playoffs are simply a different level of hockey once teams get there.

In sports, is there anything more difficult than winning four best-of-seven playoff rounds in the NHL?

Which brings me to my question: Who on the Maple Leaf roster, right now, do you feel could handle this kind of hockey?

I won’t go through the roster, as it is right now.  (We know there will be adjustments between now and training camp, for sure…)

But having seen this spring's playoffs, the "best of the best" these last few weeks, who are the guys on the current Leaf team that, in your estimation, could raise their level of play and become high-end playoff performers for the blue and white- either next season or soon thereafter?

A personal point of view:

I think Reimer, for sure (based on a small sample size, I realize).

On the blueline, Phaneuf, Shenn, Gunnar and Aulie all seem to me as though they have what it takes to be in for the long haul in the spring.  Komisarek has done it in the past. Can he do it again?

Up front is where things get perhaps a tad uncertain.

What do you think?  Who really and truly makes the grade, based on what you've seen of the Leafs- and the "best of the best"?

Send your thoughts and names along...

5 comments:

  1. Schenn is built for the playoffs for sure. Phaneuf has been there before, so he should be fine. Not sure if Komisarek ever recovers from whatever his deal is, but he seems like the type of guy you could be confident to at least make life difficult for the opposition.

    Upfront, I think Grabbo is feisty and plucky enough to be a big player in the playoffs. I would say that Kessel could disappear at any moment, except he does have 15 pts in 15 career playoff games. I'm a little unsure about anyone else. Maybe Mike Brown has some Gary Valk in him.

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  2. I see some playoff size and skill in Lupul

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  3. As for the defense, I agree with the names you posted, and though just a feeling, I expect Komi to have come back year. You can see there is the effort and the drive to succeed.

    As for the forwards, I think Kuli, Grabbo, Kessel, Brent, Arms all have enough heart and drive to make it through the playoffs. I was a little disheartened with the Russian coach's lack of trust in Kuli's ability (shown through TOI)and I hope that was not a representation of Kuli's conditioning at that time...

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  4. Michael LangloisMay 31, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    At the end of the day, as Matt and Bester30 seem to indicate (their rather short list of capable forwards), Leafs will still need more up front, it seems.

    Bester30, I, too, wondered what happened with Kulemin's ince time at the Worlds...

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  5. Unfortunately I made my assumption from the stats I would see after the game, did anyone watch Russia play? Cannot imagine if Kuli was playing the way he did in TO, that the coach would not reward him with more time...

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