With Dion Phaneuf out of action for what will likely be several weeks (when a team talks week-to-week as opposed to day-to-day, we have to assume it will be a while before he returns), there may be an opportunity for some young Leaf defensemen to step forward.
Of course, the names Gardiner and Rielly jump to mind. At a minus 19 on the season so far, it’s hard to argue Gardiner has shown the kind of improvement most would have expected. As for Rielly, while he certainly hasn’t disappointed, he has perhaps not quite taken the jump that we might have anticipated, either. (That said, he turns all of 21 in March, so he clearly is on a positive career trajectory, and playing in a difficult environment.)
But with the Leafs looking up at a playoff spot, mired in a lengthy slump coming out of the All-Star break, the coaching situation in obvious flux and the captain out of action, Leaf fans are looking for evidence on the current roster that this team has a pulse.
I think the effort has been there of late, despite the record—though there is effort and then there is the kind of hard-to-find desire that propels athletes to fight through sports-related adversity with even greater effort. The Leafs don’t quite seem to have found that kind of gumption.
That said, it’s always worth finding reasons for optimism.
Every team has slumps. Every team is facing injuries. The Leafs are no different. Whether the playoffs are a possibility or not realistic, it’s important that the guys on this roster demonstrate they still have a will to win. Maybe a late season surge will be seen as too little too late by the team’s supporters, but determination and a strong work ethic are preferable to walking aimlessly through the last 34 games of the season—draft choice dreaming aside.
So who are the guys you are looking to take advantage of this opportunity to impress the brass while Phaneuf is convalescing? Goalies, forwards, defensemen, Marlie call-ups—everyone has a shot.
There should not be a lot of roster spots guaranteed for next season (a recent post here asked which Leafs really deserved to be Maple Leafs), so plenty of individuals should be looking to step forward and fill the captain’s void.
Who’s on your list?