Is Brian Burke’s Lineup Tough Enough?
When Brian Burke joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as general manager he promised a team that would provide fans with, as Burke said in November of 2008, “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”
For many fans of the Blue and White, Burke’s words were music to their ears as the Leafs had, over time, become a team that was soft in the minds of many fans and opponents alike.
Burke has often spoken about wanting to employ a roster of players that embraced a North American game—a team that is capable of being physical and tough while also carrying a reputation for dropping the gloves with the best of them.
Throughout Burke’s re-tooling, we have seen him acquire a number of players that fit the mold he has boasted about, the question is, has Burke acquired enough toughness— is his roster tough enough?
Pugilists Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill are widely believed to be the Maple Leafs two toughest players, while fellow forward Mike Brown and defensemen Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek and Luke Schenn are also capable (however slim) of making a Monster hit or throwing a few jabs.
Due to concussion symptoms Orr was limited to just 46 games last season averaging 5:04 in ice time per game, while Rosehill played in just 26 games, averaging 5:12 of ice time per game. Given their lack of ice time it’s hard to believe either player will play a major role for the Blue and White this season, which means their “expertise” will only be on display on occasion.
As a team, the Maple Leafs combined for a total of 53 major penalties, while boasting a total of 50 fighting majors (an average of 0.61 per game), which ranked them 10th overall in the League.
Of those 50 fighting majors, Orr led the way with 13, while Rosehill dropped the gloves a total of seven times. Mike Brown chucked the knuckles a total of nine times, while Mike Komisarek threw down a total of seven times.
Rounding out the top seven, Captain Dion Phaneuf dropped the gloves a total of four times, with Keith Aulie and Luke Schenn scrapping it out two times apiece.
Of course, fighting is not the only indicator for toughness. Schenn led the Leafs in hits with 251, with Phaneuf (186) and Komisarek (146) also contributing big numbers.
Schenn’s 251 hits ranked him first amongst NHL defenseman, which ranked him a very respectful eighth overall. Where Schenn fell short was dishing out hits of the bone-crushing variety—an area that Phaneuf and Komisarek also fell short in the minds of many Maple Leaf fans.
While there is little doubt that the Maple Leafs are a much tougher team to play against since Burke took over the helm, there are still some concerns that they lack a player that can consistently dish out the big hits.
Burke recently stated that he felt Komisarek’s game was coming along.
A big part of Komisarek’s game prior to signing with the Leafs was his ability to keep opposing forwards honest by dishing out a barrage of bone-jarring hits. Should Komisarek find his way back to his big-hitting days it will go a long way in quieting the critics who feel this team still needs an element of toughness in order to compete in the always tough Eastern Conference.
Of course, the continued evolution of Schenn and a resurgence of Phaneuf’s hard-hitting style would also help, but with both Schenn and Phaneuf being asked to be multi-tool players by the coaching staff and management, the Buds would like to see both players use an element of caution—especially when it comes to fighting.
Simply put, Phaneuf and Schenn are far too valuable to be dropping the gloves. Every minute they spend in the penalty box weakens their teams chances of winning, a fact that cannot be lost on the Leafs’ brass.
Sophomore defenseman Keith Aulie has the potential to be a force on the Blueline, but he too has a ways to go before anyone will be comparing him to Scott Stevens. That said, Aulie could be this seasons most improved player, and if that is the case, look for him to up his physical presence in a big way.
Where the Maple Leafs lack the most toughness is within their top-six forwards. Phil Kessel, Tim Connolly and Joffrey Lupul represent one of the NHL’s most fragile first lines, while the second unit of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur is adequate at best.
That said, the trio of Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur got it’s fair share of props for coming to the rink with a high compete level, which often made up for any shortcomings in the toughness department.
Puck pursuit and compete level should not be an issue for the Maple Leafs second unit, but there are still a lot of skeptics where the Maple Leafs top unit is concerned.
The Leafs third unit will likely consist of Colby Armstrong, Tyler Bozak (or perhaps Nazem Kadri) and Mike Brown, a trio that should exhibit a good mix of toughness and skill night-in, night-out.
Bite, snarl, grit, testosterone, pugnacity, truculence and belligerence are key ingredients to the Maple Leafs’ success in 2011-12. On the surface, it appears as if the Maple Leafs will be adequate in all areas, whether or not they have enough to meet Burke’s and the fans expectations remains to be seen.
*****This article appeared on Foxsports.com on Sunday, August 7th.*****
Until next time,