At this time of year, people are busy, stressed and moving about visiting family and friends. So you may well have missed some recent stories here that might be of interest. Here are some links:
-Bozak’s ongoing maturation
-Jake Gardiner’s progress
-Thoughts on the Wilson extension
-The language issue in Montreal
-Todd Bertuzzi and hockey hypocrisy
-The only “Christmas” Leaf in history
-Who are the Leafs really fighting with for a playoff spot?
After the OT loss in Carolina, we’re soon going to reach the half-way mark in the NHL schedule. That is usually a reasonable time to make an assessment as to how any given NHL team is doing—and what they might need to consider to get a bit better (or a lot better) down the stretch.
But we’re not at the 41-game mark just yet, so my thought today is not about a full-scale assessment of the Leaf squad. It is simply this: if we accept the reality that a) the team needs to get better to ensure itself a playoff spot and b) getting better will necessitate adding players from outside the Leaf system (i.e. the “answer” is not right in front of us already)—then, who do we actually move, when push comes to shove?
And here’s my point. Leaf fans—while often harshly critical and impatient during actual Leaf games—also love their players. No one (including Burke) would consider dealing the obvious “stars”, like Lupul, Kessel, Phaneuf and Reimer, of course. They are Leaf cornerstones and not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
After stealing him from Anaheim, Burke would never move the young phenom in the making, Jake Gardiner. And on a team that is still very young and struggles at the back end at times, I think it would be foolhardy to move Gunnarsson, who remains one of their smartest and steadiest overall performers despite his occasional miscues.
People love Grabovski (who was so good last season and seems to be playing well of late) and the heart that a player like Boyce shows when he gets a chance.
Are you going to move Bozak, who is not even in his prime yet?
My point simply is, in most cases, you have to give something to get something. You’re not going to move a third or fourth-line guy that Leaf fans don’t like to get a second-line pivot, eh? It doesn’t work that way.
So what is your thought—is there a piece (Schenn?) that Burke has to deal to make the overall team puzzle even better?
Or does the improvement come from within, with an infusion of skill from someone like Kadri, who is showing the brass something these days?
We all understand that the Leafs have depth on the blueline, though they are being stretched right now with the injuries to Komisarek and Liles. But I’m one of those old-timers who hates to give up defensemen—especially promising young defenseman.
No one thinks Burke will sell the future just to, as he has put it in the past, squeak into the playoffs only to get swept. But he’s a competitive guy, as is Wilson, and they absolutely want—and I would argue really need—to make the playoffs this coming spring.
I’ve said here before, in this weak Eastern Conference, I think they should—and can. But for me, that is as much a function of how middlish the opposition is in the East (outside of three or four teams) than how outstanding the Leafs are just yet. They are better than they were, for sure. And they are entertaining most nights and downright exciting at times.
But like most teams nowadays, they aren’t perfect. And like most Leaf fans, while I like the guys on this squad, is this team, as they are presently constituted, good enough to not just squeak into the playoffs, but have an impact once they get there?
If not, what’s your solution? Improvement from within, or do we need to make moves? And if so, who goes?
Send your thoughts along.