Four Questions Facing The Toronto Maple Leafs Heading Into The 2012-13 Season
When the 2012-13 NHL regular season schedule ended the Toronto Maple Leafs were once again left on the outside looking in when it came to the playoffs. While the downside of that is pretty obvious, the upside can be a little more difficult to see.
One of the advantages to missing the playoffs (if there are any) is that your general manager gets an extended period of time with which to evaluate his roster. Theoretically, this should have given Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke plenty of time to plan for change, which should have included making some key roster changes.
Thus far Burke has added veteran forward Jay McClement to his bottom six forwards, bought out the injury-prone Colby Armstrong, added veteran forward Keith Aucoin as a depth move and traded defenseman Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers for forward James van Riemsdyk to help out his top-six forwards.
While the McClement move should help the Maple Leafs penalty kill and the addition of JVR should bring another offensive threat to the lineup, Burke still has several areas that need to be tweaked.
With that in mind, here is a look at four questions facing Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the 2012-13 season.
While many fans of the Blue and White seem content to head into the 2012-13 season with James Reimer and Ben Scrivens between the pipes, one only has to look back to last season’s results (or lack thereof) to see how dangerous entering the season with two goaltenders with limited NHL experience can be.
Sure, Reimer had an excellent run in 2010-11, but injuries and sub-par play all but erased whatever he accomplished in his rookie season. Reimer’s struggles, combined with an injury that could reoccur at any time must give Burke nightmares at night; this despite his unwavering loyalty and love for the one they call Optimus Reim.
In Scrivens Burke has a goaltender that, while impressive during his Calder Cup run with Toronto’s AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, has very limited NHL experience. Let’s face it folks, when Scrivens has been up with the big club he has been less than impressive, so what makes any of us think he is NHL ready?
Simply put, despite Burke announcing that he is confident that Reimer and Scrivens could be Toronto’s 1-2 punch between the pipes he also said that he would like to start the season with more experience in net, which leads me to believe Burke will look to upgrade his goaltending before the season begins.
Try as he might to land a top-flight centre Burke has failed miserably. As good as Tyler Bozak was on the first line last season nobody has ever mistaken him for a first line centre and I doubt that will change this season.
Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, David Steckel and the newly acquired James van Riemsdyk will compete for icetime at centre this season. With Grabovski penciled in as Toronto’s second line centre, Bozak, Connolly, Lombardi and JVR (who is more comfortable on the wing) are the only real options Burke has to fill his number one centre role.
Connolly was a disaster last season and, while somewhat excused by his injuries, Lombardi was a flop as well. As good as Bozak was last season he is not good enough to lead the Maple Leafs to a playoff birth and with JVR’s inexperience at centre it is doubtful he will get the job done either.
The uncertainty at centre has been a constant for the Maple Leafs since former captain Mats Sundin left so unceremoniously midway through the 2008 season after refusing to waive his no-trade clause at the trade deadline.
With Burke’s goaltending already a question mark and the middle looking weak, it is hard to take the Maple Leafs seriously when it comes to being a playoff contender. Too many questions down the middle spells big trouble for the Blue and white. It is about time Burke did something about it.
I keep hearing about Toronto’s tremendous depth on the blueline…and then I keep reading that Toronto finished the 2011-12 season with the 29th ranked defense, which was actually a step back from the 2010-11 season when they finished 25th overall.
On paper Toronto’s defense looks decent enough with veteran John-Michael Liles, captain Dion Phaneuf, sophomore sensation Jake Gardiner, the always steady Carl “Uzi” Gunnarsson and the up and coming Korbinian Holzer expected to receive the lion’s share of the workload.
At the end of the day looking good on paper is simply not good enough. This group needs to step up its game in a huge way this season, but with no real stud defenseman (with apologies to Phaneuf) and plenty of holes down the middle, the Maple Leafs will be hard-pressed to improve on last season.
Former Montreal Canadien Mike Komisarek was supposed to be a pillar of strength on Toronto’s blueline when Burke signed him as a free agent in 2009. Thus far throughout his tenure as a Maple Leaf he has been about as useless as tits on a bull and a complete and utter waste of $4.5 million in cap space every season.
When Burke cleaned house by buying out Colby Armstrong the fans applauded loud and clear. The only move that would garner a bigger reaction would be if Burke somehow found a way to buy Komisarek out of his bloated contract so he could find a capable defenseman to take Komisarek’s place.
Given Komisarek’s lack of icetime you cannot blame all of Toronto’s defensive struggles on him. On the other hand, if Komisarek were to somehow find a way to reignite his game next season it would go a long way in helping this team on the defensive side of the puck.
As it stands, Burke has a ton of question marks on the blueline. Don’t believe me? Check the stats again, they do not lie.
When Burke fired former Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson and brought in current head coach Randy Carlyle in his place he made several comments that both he and Carlyle shared the same philosophy of icing a team that puts a premium on physical play.
Thus far, through Carlyle’s short stay in Toronto, his team has been severely lacking in physical play, causing Burke to state that Carlyle simply didn’t have the right mix of players.
While the acquisition of Jay McClement will help out in the physical department his presence alone will not be enough to allow Carlyle to ice a physical team. As it stands now Burke is setting Carlyle up for failure by failing to add more truculence and testosterone to his roster.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the forwards where Carlyle will need some help. Liles, Gardiner, Gunnarsson and Holzer will have to up their physical play, as will captain Dion Phaneuf, who has gone from one of the most feared hitters in the NHL to a shadow of that player since his arrival in Toronto.
Simply put, Burke looks to be sending Carlyle into a gunfight with a knife and we all know how that typically ends, right?
Every time I see a Maple Leafs player lose another physical battle I have visions of the movie The Slap Shot when, with his team getting pummeled by the opposition, Joe McGrath (the general manager of the Charlestown Chiefs), runs down to the locker room and let’s his team have it:
“Every scout in the NHL is out there tonight, with contracts in their pockets, and they’re looking for talent, for winners, Said McGrath. All my years of publicity, of the fashion shows and radio-thons for nothing… They come here tonight… to scout the Chiefs…the toughest team in the Federal League. Not this. Buncha… pussies.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we caught Burke running down to the Maple Leafs locker room and let the likes of Komisarek and the rest of the slackers have it? I digress…
The bottom line is Burke promised the fans and now has promised Carlyle a physically tough team and I simply do not see a roster that looks anything like that heading into next season.
I don’t know about you, but unless there are some major moves from Burke coming this summer I simply do not share the Leafs Nation’s optimism that the Blue and White are going to be playoff bound in 2012-13. Many of the Eastern Conference top teams have made improvements that far outweigh what Burke has done, while the rest of the East has also made improvements.
Ask yourself this: is the addition of JVR and a healthy Reimer enough of a difference for the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs when you take into account all the question marks AND the fact that Burke has weakened his 29th ranked defense by dealing Luke Schenn away?
If that’s enough for Burke and Company to make the playoffs this season I will buy a Montreal Canadiens jersey and take my picture in it. In other words, it’s just not happening, not at this point anyways.
Until next time,