Are Changes looming In Toronto?

December 30th, 2011 2 Comments

With his club marred in a 3-4-3 slide, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke must be ready to pull the trigger on a deal or two. Burke is known for making impact deals well before the trade deadline, so as to allow his acquisitions to adjust to his new surroundings in time for the playoffs.

A quick look at the Maple Leafs roster reveals a talented trio of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak (on most nights) and Joffrey Lupul on the first line, followed by a struggling second unit which often includes Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Tim Connolly or Clarke MacArthur.

As much as the second unit has struggled, there are greater concerns on the third and fourth lines where the Maple Leafs are getting little scoring and questionable efforts in the defensive and physical departments.

Injuries, inconsistent lineups and the absence of a tenacious agitator have conspired to hamper the Maple Leafs bottom six forwards, as has a defense corps that has come up small in the physical department on more nights than not.

Complicating matters is an NHL-worst penalty kill that looks out of sync and out of answers on more nights than not, further emphasising the Maple Leafs need for more grit and a more defensive oriented lineup.

When you add it all up it is easy to see why Burke should be working the phones in hopes of bringing in some depth players.

When Burke joined the Maple Leafs back in November of 2008 he promised to ice a team that would greet it’s opponents with an equal measure of “pugnacity, testosterone and truculence”.

Burke has brought a lot of quality players to Toronto, where he has failed is in the Truculence department, which must be all too obvious.

Sure, Dion Phaneuf can bring a physical edge, but with head coach Ron Wilson asking Phaneuf to assume a more offensive-focused and disciplined style of play as well as a leadership role, Phaneuf is not the “Dion” of season’s past.

Also contributing to the Maple Leafs lack of snarl has been the disappearance of Luke Schenn from the lineup. Don’t get me wrong, Schenn is still in the lineup, abeit it in a much more limited role than last season. That said, Schenn’s physical play is sorely lacking and that snarl he had in 2010-11 has been all but absent this season.

Fellow defensemen Carl Gunnarsson, John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson have never been known as physically dominating D-men, while Mike Komisarek (who is out with an injury) only seemed to bring his physical game when he felt like it.

To me, bringing in a physical defenseman that can clear the paint and put the fear of God in opposing forwards is of the utmost importance for Burke, whether or not he can find a team willing to part with one is an entirely different story.

When you consider just how close both the Eastern and Western Conference standings are few teams will be looking to make deals anytime soon.

That said, teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes (the bottom feeders of the Eastern and Western Conferences) could benefit from making a few changes— but are any of them willing to part with a physical defenseman? or a physical forward?

Could a veteran defenseman like Steve Staios help the Blue and White? Could a bigger trade be put together with Columbus to bring in high priced rearguard James Wisniewski and a physical forward like RJ Umberger with some high priced talent going the other way?

Perhaps the Carolina Hurricanes would be willing to ship former Maple Leaf Tim Brent (who blocked a lot of shots last season) back to the Blue and White? And what of Jusi Jokinen, might he be available for the right price? Is Anthony Stewart available? Bryan Allen?

We could speculate all day long. Whether or not Burke pulls the trigger on any of these players is quite another story.

Another area of concern has to be in net where starter James Reimer is looking like a shadow of his former self. Since returning from concussion-like symptoms Reimer has posted just three wins in ten games and has a save percentage under .900 in seven of those outings.

With the inconsistent Jonas Gustavsson waiting to fill the void the need for a veteran goaltender is very real, especially if Reimer continues to struggle.

The Maple Leafs are one of the youngest teams in the entire NHL. Additional veteran presence would be ideal for this team, either up front or on the backend. A veteran player could help this team stay focused, teach them how to win the tight games and add some experience to the lineup.

With just under 40 games in the books one thing is clear—the current crop is not getting it done on the defensive side of the puck. There is no denying the fact that Burke’s current crop is not going to evolve into a defensively responsible unit, thus change will have to come in the form of a trade and the sooner, the better.

Until next time,

Peace!

2 Comments

  1. juice says:

    think it through before you post something. gawd. not one of those players would workout for the leafs. seriously tim brent? there is a reason burke didnt sign him, he is only good as a replacement player and he has a 1 way contract. if the leafs want a banger and want to make the playoffs he needs to be a difference maker like a chris niel (boo sens, lol) a guy like chad larose or tim gleason are the bangers the leafs would want, they will cost more but thats what they want so you pay the asking price. luke schenn is not playing well anyone can see but that does not mean its his fault, he has been beat up bad a couple times by niel and he has lost his confidence as a tough guy. wilson should never let a gguy like niel on the ice without putting a tough guy of there own on the ice. luke shenn is a young banger not a tough guy. the biggest thing the leafs need is a leader they will follow. ron wilson and new dion are not those players. sorry but dion has changed big time and the leafs have had the worst pk in the league since ron wilson took over… 2 things the leafs need is a good coach and a good goalie. reimer is not a good goalie!!! he might be one be he has gotten worse and not better but wilson and burke are too arrogant to admitt a mistake… btw frattin is not a top 6 forward but leafs dont have any good bangers… GLG

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Speaking of thinking it through- Chad Larose is a whopping minus -19 on the season. He’s not the answer! Brent was decent last season, he blocked some shots, was steady in the neutral zone, he has an affordable contract and the Leafs know what they are getting with him. Will Burke go out and get him? —probably not. Ideally Burke could go out and pick up a guy like Steve Downie or Steven Ott. Is this likely? no! Like I said, we can speculate about players all day long, just throwing some names out that could help. Peace!

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