It’s always easier to talk hopefully after a win, and the Leafs have to be feeling better on the heels of their offensive outburst against the Lightning at the ACC Tuesday night.
The Eastern Conference standings are tight and will likely remain so until the middle of April, so every two-point night is huge for the blue and white.
Tampa Bay has struggled this season, though they had been performing better in recent times. That, though, was not in evidence against the Leafs, who took advantage of some sloppy play by the Lightning (much like the last time the Leafs took on Tampa earlier in the season.) Without Ohlund and Hedman, Tampa Bay is not very good along the blueline. I’m not sure they would be great even with those guys, but those are big losses.
And after the “Big 3” up front, they lack much forward depth. (So much for putting most of your cap money into three—albeit very talented—guys…) Nonetheless, Tampa had been putting up some points before the Toronto encounter.
Nonetheless, Grabovski has now put together successive impressive outings, which may be telling us he is ready to spring from a near season-long semi-slumber. With Kulemin also finding his legs (if not always the net) these last few weeks, we may finally be able to expect some semblance of consistent production from more than one line going forward.
It was nice to see Kadri and Frattin on the scoreboard, as well, and a penalty kill that allowed no goals. Blocked passing lanes, blocked shots and the presence of Boyce and Lombardi seemed to help, at least against the Lightning.
One thing I will put out there: as much as I’ve never been a Downie guy (at all), and as annoying an opponent as he can be, I wonder if Leaf fans would like to have a guy like that? He’s a minus player, though he brings energy and physicality, I’ll say that.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting it. He’s not a player I like. But is there something in the way he plays that could make a player like him fit?
It’s entirely possible the Leafs will decide that they can be good enough with their present roster as it is to not only make the playoffs but do some damage once there.
Yet I can’t help but continue to believe something of substance will transpire between now and the trade deadline, something beyond the exchange of AHL players. I’m not in the business of forecasting specifics, so I have no idea “who” the Leafs might be after, but an impact forward, for lack of a better term, keeps springing to mind. (A true ‘shutdown’ defenseman, too, though we have loads of defenders already and Phaneuf or Schenn, in theory, could fill that role…) And to acquire a player who will score goals and play a tough, grinding style would require the Leafs to give up something of value in return.
Who could that be?
In the past, I’ve opined that Kadri has been on the table, and I believe that has been true—though I’m not certain he still is. But if not the promising young forward—who has showed some spark in his return to the big club—who could be made available? They wouldn’t likely trade a forward to get a forward, and while they have a number of young forwards who may be stellar NHL’ers some day, they don’t exactly have a ton of fully proven high-end guys up front just yet.
Given that their goalies are all young and also “unproven” by traditional NHL standards, I can’t see that’s the move, either. So it has to be someone from the 10-deep defense corps, someone who doesn’t have a ridiculous contract and who would provide instant short-term (and longer-term) results for their new team.
I can only see one guy on the Leaf blueline who fits that description. And that’s Carl Gunnarsson.
I’ve posted previously that for me, Gunnarsson (who logged more than 25 minutes Tuesday night, leading the team) should stay right here. But if I can appreciate the guy’s value, I’m quite certain NHL GM’s much more perceptive than I are noticing the same thing. That is, that this Leaf defenseman plays an under-the-radar game and makes often difficult plays very simple. He takes very few penalties and is actually a smart offensive defenseman though he doesn’t pile up points.
In short, he is s solid, smart, nice-skating defenseman. Not overly physical, but pretty darn good.
All things being equal, he should be a keeper in Toronto— at least in the foreseeable future. I never like the idea of trading a young defenseman with a high ceiling. But I go back to my earlier thought: if the Leafs do make a move, someone of quality has to go. And I say again, if not Gunner, then who?
It’s a bit of a dilemma for me—and a much bigger one for the Leafs.