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10 things I like about the Leafs so far this season…and 10 things I don’t

I always enjoy mid-season evaluations and giving out “grades” based on a given observer’s take on the Maple Leafs, or any other team for that matter.  I get a kick out of reading what others have to say and since mid-season "grades" approach is being done very well elsewhere, I won’t quite go that route myself.

Since the west coast trip, some nice wins and the weekend home game, I’ve tried to step back, though, and assess what I’ve liked—and haven’t quite liked—about the blue and white so far this season.

10 things I like (so far):
  • Overall, I can’t fault the team’s effort.  Oh, sure, there have been nights that the team fell apart somewhere along the way, and a few too many games earlier on when they gave up goals early, but by and large these guys work to a pretty high standard in terms of effort.  To a certain extent that is a credit to the coaching staff, though for a young team with not a lot of high-end skill, I would expect them to be at the very least hard-working.
  • Grabovski seems to be a different player than he ever was before.  Of course, the key will be if he can maintain this not only for the rest of this season, but beyond.  Still, he deserves credit (which he is receiving from many corners) for his contributions so far.
  • Schenn still struggles from time to time, but as a 21 year-old in his third NHL season, I think he is taking strides to become a solid, if primarily defensive, defenseman.  He can punish people and play a simple, effective game most nights. I’m not suggesting he will necessarily become Scott Stevens, but he can play and should only get better.
  • I like the fact that Beauchemin is out there, logging significant minutes most nights.  He is rugged and likes challenges.  He may turn out to be trade-bait, but I believe he gives his all just about every night.
  • I don’t have any stats in front of me, but it feels as though this team has had to come from behind many nights, and have fought to do just that.  Now, we can criticize them for giving up goals early in games, and falling behind too often, but they have at least demonstrated the resolve to not get blown out very often.
  • Who would have thought Clarke MacArthur would be leading the team in scoring at this point in the season?
  • I posted last season that I felt Kulemin was capable of doubling his point total (he had 36 points last season).  He won’t get there this year, but I just think that he is a steady player who will only get better.
  • It’s nice that the Leafs have been able to dip into the farm system and bring up guys who have actually contributed.  Reimer, Crabb, Boyce, Aulie are among those who have had an impact.
  • I like the fact that the Leafs have sent Reimer down.  I know some won’t like the move and I can see why.  But I just feel that he got a taste of the NHL game, did well, and is now very much on the team’s radar screen.  Despite the Phoenix game, he should go back filled with confidence, but grounded.  If he is as good as everyone now hopes, then he will get his chance.  Having Giggy, The Monster, Rynnas and Reimer around is a pleasant “problem” to have.
  • Kaberle leads the team with 28 assists, and is only minus 2 on a team that gives up way more goals than it gets.  That’s pretty good for a guy who the brass has wanted to move for years.  And the guy has one minor penalty all season.  That’s astounding.  No, he’s not “tough”, but he never puts his team in a jam with a dumb penalty.
Things I don’t like:
  • Perhaps unfairly, Dion Phaneuf leaves me wanting a bit more in just about every aspect of his game most nights.
  • I love his skill and a lot of what he brings, but I just feel minus 16 is too big a number for Kessel.
  • The Kadri “situation” has been mishandled from the get-go.  This is not one management can blame on the fans or the media.  There have been too many expectations from day one.  Management will say they have never built him up, but if you read the quotes over time, it’s clear they were expecting him to be a top-six guy by now.  And he may well be some day.  I think he is exactly where he belongs, getting, hopefully, better in the AHL.  As I posted long ago, I wanted it to be the case that, when they called Kadri up, he would be “over-ready” and the call-up would be for good.  It wasn't.  Just poorly handled, I feel.
  • It’s hard to understand why Wilson still struggles in his daily interactions with the media.  I mean, we don’t need to know him on some deep personal level.  He doesn’t need to "open up", though when he has done some print one-on-ones he presents as an engaging guy.  But most of his daily and post-game media scrums are painful to watch.
  • I remain a fan of Bozak, and am not a big fan of being unduly critical of young players with a good attitude.  But I was probably hoping for more than 11 assists at this point in the season for this good young playmaker.
  • I wanted Gustavsson to take the ball and run when Giguere was hurt.  He handled the opportunity well the first time Giggy went down, but not as well the second time around.  I still like his “potential” and realize he is still very young in the pro game on this side of the Atlantic.  Hopefully he keeps improving and becomes the goalie everyone here hopes he can be.
  • It’s disappointing that management has, again this season, seemingly over-rated the team.  I mean, the recent win-streak was nice and showed the team can play some solid hockey against good opposition, but 41 points in 44 games is not good enough this far into the re-building, re-modeling or whatever we’re calling it.  Given the reality of regular-season overtime and shootout, that’s not enough to say they’re on the right track in a weak Eastern Conference.
  • It's not that I'm disappointed with Komisarek, more that I feel as though he has rarely been able to play like he can in Toronto. Whether he can ever reach the level that he once showed, and that Burke expected, we'll see.
  • Penalthy-killing has been an issue for years.  Now, if the team could handle this part of their game as they did in San Jose, when they were quick and aggressive, that would tun a negative into a positive very quickly.
  • I don't like the fact that, a year after fans were complaining about last season's goaltending, we're still feeling like this is an un-resolved issue.  Yes, Reimer has had some nice games, but while we have lots of depth at the position, are we certain that the Leafs have a bonafide, long-term number-one guy in net under lock and key?

Every one has their own "list", I'm sure.  I could throw in, on the plus side, that the Leafs are indeed young, very young.  They brought up young Mueller, still have D'Amigo and Kadri waiting in the wings.  They have talented young defensemen in Phaneuf, Gunnarsson (playing more like he can lately) and Schenn who could all be here a long time. There are good things on the horizon, one would think.

But again, as I've said before, I've seen similar movies here many times over the past forty+ years.  The team struggles, but then wins a few games, and as fans, we look at all the young talent and figure, this will be a really good team some day.  It hasn't always happened.

Fortunately, there is no WHA around the corner to grab those good young players; no Harold Ballard-type owner to mess things up (though Peddie's involvement has not helped in the last decade or so).  There is a solid management team in place and while they have not been mistake-free, it is an organization with a plan.

Where this team is in two years will tell the tale:  will they be a true contender or will they still just be talking about how they are getting better?


  1. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 17, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Pleasantly please to see Grabovski and Schenn turn a corner. Grabovski reminds me a lot of Mike Walton whereas Schenn has a little Ricky Ley in him. Kulemin seems to have a better understanding of the NHL game. I too like Bozak, but I believe he felt the pressure of being a number one center. It looked at first like Gunnarsson was taking a step backwards, but recently he has improved. Komisarek, Beauchemin, and Phaneuf have been major disappointments. In OT on Saturday Dion once again put the Leafs in a difficult position when he follow up on his shot. If it wasn't for Kulemin strong back check (that lead to his penalty) the Flames could have easily ended the game there. Phaneuf to me has other lost his confidence or he lacks good hockey sense to be a top two D-man. Watching him taking shots from the point is painful to watch. His body language is all wrong. Dion needs to position himself in better shooting lanes and distribute more of his weight on his forward leg and not the hind leg. Maybe he needs to watch old films of Ian Turnbull taking his patent hard low shot from the point where a forward can tip them in or score of the rebound. And also learn how to be a strong defender in his own end like Kevin Stevens did by doing little! Maybe like Stevens, he needs to spend some time alone this summer with Jacques Laperrier.

  2. Interesting observation Long suffering, about Phaneuf. Maybe he will come on strong in the next while, maybe next season when healthy, relaxed?

    There was a time, for sure, when Stevens was one of the most dominant two-way forwards in hockey.

    And yes, many young defensemen could learn from Laperriere, the old Calder Trophy winner and Hab great, one of the best defensive defensemen of his era, maybe all-time!

  3. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 17, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    Sorry Mike meant to say, Scott Stevens. When he went to NJ, he contributed to being a strong defensive d-man to Laperrier, who taught him that "by doing little meant much". As for Greg Polis, he was drafted by Pittsburgh, 7th overall just before Sittler. He was traded to St Louis in 74 with Bryn Watson for Durbono DeMarco Jr. and former Leafs 1st pick in 66 Bob “Battleship” Kelly. And then in the same year was flip for Rangers 1st pick in 77.