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Another back-up in goal as Leaf fans ride the wave of emotion: that never seems to change

One of the first things that jumped out at me about Saturday’s home game against the Habs was that Auld was in goal.  An obvious observation, but my point is a bit broader.  I’m not as adept as many others at keeping running stats year-to-year on obscure things (or even on important things), but I wonder how many times over the past five years–Paul Maurice’s two years behind the bench, and the three seasons Wilson has been in charge— the Leafs have faced the “back-up” goaltender on the other team?

It may not seem important, but to me it just sends a message that opposing teams don’t feel they have to play their best against the Leafs.  I guess this is not a revelation, but while in theory it gives the Leafs a better chance to win many nights, it’s a disturbing trend.

Regardless, it was a better start for the Leafs against Montreal.  The game was not a classic, but right now, the Leafs need wins more than they need to create instant memories.

We’ll see if Kessel’s goal opens the proverbial floodgates—for him and the team.  Schenn was tough all night.  MacArthur and Armstrong were involved and it is no secret the Leafs are better when they play with an edge. Most teams are.

It will be interesting to see if Gunnarsson, Lebda and/or Aulie can take advantage of their opportunity to make it difficult for Wilson once Komisarek is ready to return.


The easiest thing to do (and the truth is, I’ve seen this Leaf movie over and over again for the past forty-some years) as a fan is:  when the team wins a big game, you see the best in your team’s players, and project accordingly.

Conversely, when your team struggles, everyone is, if not a bum, someone who is an expendable asset, to be used in a trade to fool another team into giving away some of their better players.

It’s always been this way for Leaf fans, at least as far back as I can remember.  It’s probably like this with every team, in every sport.

So, are things as good as they sometimes feel when the Leafs play well and win?


Is just about everyone a “bum” on this Leaf team when they often struggle?

No, they’re not.  But there really is no mystery to the current roster reality.  It’s been discussed in this space for months.  The Leaf roster is filled with NHL-caliber players. Every single guy, including the healthy scratches.  I absolutely believe that.  The problem, if we can call it that, is that the vast majority of them fall into what is nowadays called the “bottom-six” type of NHL forward.

How many truly elite, proven, first or second-line forwards does this team have? Well, Kessel (and I’m sure many are questioning that of late).  I mean, he is a skill guy who, despite his recent misfiring, is a high-end goal scoring talent—if obviously flawed in other aspects of his game.

Kulemin?  I like the guy for his all-around play most nights.  And when he plays like he can, and in the current (very weak) Eastern Conference construct, sure.  He’s a top-six player, with upside for more.

Grabovski?  I’ve been reluctant to acknowledge him, but the guy is the most consistent threat on the team, at least right now.  He has skills and while not a complete player, perhaps, yes, he makes the grade, too.

That’s three guys, and not a full ringing endorsement for any of them, at least from me.

Beyond that, we have MacArthur, who is having a very nice season, but in reality is not yet a proven top-six player.  Same with Versteeg, who, at minus 13, cannot be said to be having a season like MacArthur, at least not so far.

Kadri?  Some day, yes.

I don’t think I need to go through the rest of the list.

So be frustrated if we must, but this roster is what it is.  On the nights when everyone works harder than usual, and the other team is off (and Montreal was not at their best Saturday night), they will get results—sometimes.

When Giguere or Gustavsson have a particularly good night, that may sway the outcome of a given game, too.  But while we can point to nice arcs in the play of certain guys (Schenn, Aulie, MacArthur—from there, well, fill in the blanks—I don’t think it’s a very long list) it would be hard to argue many guys are building “career years” at this juncture.

It’s not likely ‘help’ is on the way.  The reality is that there aren’t many Doug Gilmour-type trades in the current era.  Even back then, Flame GM Doug Risebrough was getting rid of an unhappy player (Gilmour) and hoping he would catch lightning in a bottle with one of the many young Leafs he got in return.

And as much as some Leaf enthusiasts, myself included, applauded the Phaneuf trade, he is a high-energy, talented but flawed player.  We all can see it.  There is almost always, beyond economics, a reason why a team trades a guy.  That includes Phaneuf.

Kessel isn’t having the Gilmour “turn-around” effect and so far, neither is Phaneuf.  No discredit to them.  Who else could do what Gilmour did in pulling an OK team up by its bootstraps (together with a demanding coach in Pat Burns) and make a team a true contender by sheer force of will?

No, a win here and a win there is nice, and as I mentioned, on those occasions when things line up nicely, we will point at guys and say, “hey, I like the way so and so and/or so and so is/are playing…I can see him/them as part of this puzzle going forward…”

But while it’s far from too late (only 30 games or so into the season in the weak Eastern Conference) we kind of already know what we have.

I know it’s an over-used expression but here it is again: this team is what it is.


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