Toronto Maple Leafs: Report Card At The Quarter Mark
Over the summer Maple Leafs general manager Brain Burke made a number of acquisitions that, when combined with last seasons late moves, were supposed to turn last seasons 29th ranked team into a playoff contender.
Injuries and a sub-par offensive attack have combined to thwart the Maple Leafs playoff aspirations thus far, but there have been a number of positives that point to the Blue and White having an improved season.
Up front free agent signee Clarke MacArthur leads the team in points with 18, ranks second in goals (seven), assists (11), power play goals (two) and third in plus/minus at plus three.
To put MacArthur’s numbers into perspective he currently has more points than high-priced free agent acquisitions Alex Tanguay (17 points), Kris Versteeg (12), Alex Frolov (11), Ilya Kovalchuk (10) and many others.
While no one is suggesting MacArthur is as dynamic as Kovalchuk he has put up some tremendous numbers early on, and that is what counts, isn’t it?
For all the criticism thrust upon both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin each has stepped up their games putting up point totals of 16 and 13, respectively.
The Russian duo (yes I know Grabovski was actually born in Germany) has been an integral part of the Maple Leafs early success, contributing solid minutes on the second line and on special teams.
Phil Kessel leads the team offensively with nine goals on the season, tying him for 21st in the league.
Kessel continues to struggle defensively and his overall compete level has been questioned at times, leading to a couple of benching thus far. While it is hard to point the finger at your teams highest scorer I think we’d all agree he can do more.
For all of Kessel’s shortcomings, I cannot imagine where this team would be without him—needless to say the offense would be horrific.
Unable to light the lamp even when presented with countless chances Versteeg is slowly turning things around, netting four goals in as many games.
While I would agree that Versteeg’s early season woes have been cause for concern his recent results have me once again believing that he will reach the 20 goals plateau (as was expected of him), maybe more.
Tyler Bozak continues to dominate in faceoff circle (55.9 percent—20th overall) but his overall game looks to have taken a step backwards, especially in the points department where he has registered a paltry six points through 20 games.
For Bozak, permanent demotion to the second unit is fast approaching, something few Leafs fans would have a problem with.
Tim Brent and Mike Brown continue to do a great job in the trenches, hitting opposing forwards, generating some offense and dropping the gloves when necessary.
While it is still early, Kadri looks to be a keeper, at least in the short term.
Fredrik Sjostrom has been a bit of a letdown, guiding the teams penalty kill to 28th overall. When he came to the Maple Leafs it was thought that Sjostrom would solidify the PK, to date that simply has not happened and his offense is non-existant.
Christian Hanson, John Mitchell and Luca Caputi, continue to play limited roles for the Maple Leafs, all of whom need to be better if they want to stay with the big club.
And of course Colton Orr has been “Colton Orr”, let’s just leave it at that!
Defensively the Maple Leafs have seen considerable improvement. The team currently ranks 11th overall averaging 2.65 goals against per game, down from 3.21 goals per game last season (29th overall).
Much of the improvement can be attributed to the hard work of Luke Schenn (who is having a career year), Tomas Kaberle (who continues to be steady) and Francois Beauchemin, who, despite some early season gaffs, looks to have turned the corner, continually playing in critical situations and getting results.
Phaneuf is expected to be back in the lineup in two to three weeks time, at which point he will have to be better before the Leaf fans will let him back in their good graces.
Keith Aulie has been a nice surprise, playing sound hockey, laying out some key hits and adding an element of grit to a team that, despite some key off-season signings that were supposed to bring that tenacity and truculence, have failed to deliver.
Carl Gunnarsson has yet to really find his “A” game, but he is slowly rounding into form and shows a lot of promise. I’d like to see him used a little more on the power play where his thunderous shot could be utilised, but hey, what do I know?
Mike Komisarek has been decent, but his overall game leaves you yearning for more, especially in the physical department where he should be dominating opposing forwards.
Brett Lebda has been a disaster, racking up a minus-9 rating through nine games…not much more to say there.
Between the pipes both J.S. Giguere (5-5-2, 2.78 GAA, .895 save percentage) and Jonas Gustavsson (3-4-1, 2.30 GAA, .922 save percentage) have been solid, especially Gustavsson, whose GAA and save percentage ranks tenth in the league, respectively.
As for the management team, Leafs general manager Brian Burke continues to look to address his teams lack of scoring by looking for a first line centre and/or legitimate scoring threat not named Phil Kessel.
To date he has been unsuccessful in acquiring said player, but like all good things, this will take time and I have faith that Burke will pull something off before long.
Head coach Ron Wilson continues to get criticized in the media and by the fans for what is perceived to be a poor relationship with his players and a penchant for changing lines.
Through all the criticism Burke has continually had Wilson’s back. While I do not agree with all of Wilson’s moves you have to agree that he has done an “ok” job considering the talent he has available to him.
I mean really, what did you expect, .700 hockey???
The defense is much improved, the special teams are coming along (or at least the power play is) and the players seem to be giving it an honest effort, night-in, night-out, which is all you can ask for.
Overall the Leafs have played pretty much as expected—a team that will struggle offensively, needs it’s key players to step up on a nightly basis and must get good goaltending to be successful.
The forwards overall grade would be a “C-” —averaging less goals for (2.35), than last season, (2.56)— with the defense getting a “B-” (consider where they came from folks) and the goalies earning a “B-” as well.
Coaching and management get a “C+” from me and, if the team finds itself in a playoff position once the next quarter pole has ended, they could earn a “B”.
There is plenty of room for improvement and I suspect once this roster is fully healthy and has another 20 games to gel that we will see better results in all areas of the game.
The Leafs have been average at best, but despite a lot of talk about the playoffs this summer, that is all we really expected, isn’t it?
Until next time,