Dear Toronto Maple Leaf fans, although I wear a Chicago Blackhawks hat, I am truly a Toronto Maple leaf fan. I am 52 and I vaguely remember a parade or two in my time…I have been watching this year and for many reasons I was sceptical of this teams ability to win this season. The press has been railing on and on about the shots against and the would be right to some extent but that isn’t really the reason to be worried. Had I written this two weeks ago, I would be prescient yet I have only gotten around to it right now. So here are my reasons:
Last years team had a different 4th line that included Grabowski and Komarov, with Kulemin. They were fast, Grabovski can fly and Komarov had close to the most hits in the NHL last year. Did you see Komarov playing for finland at the Olympics? He was their best player. So, we didn’t resign him?Kulemin peaked the year before that. He would have been the one to trade but someone must know something. We replace them with Raymond, and Clarkson. Raymond too small but granted he is fast and Clarkson is always overzealous and out of the play. He is chasing the game. I am not sure of his upside except that he is a local boy…Happy for him, just not for us. I want it to work out with him but I just don’t see it. Kadri, Lupul are both great players but you can tell that Kadri needs something more. His hands are incredible but that doesn’t matter if you aren’t getting the puck in the right areas of the ice. Kadri needs speed and strength…and endurance, and probably less night life. watching the 24/7 series was very telling as we saw Kadri talking to his dad everyday…as much as parents are a bonus in life I would think that some weaning would be healthy for him. Lupul to me is the natural leader of this team but because Dion Phaneuf is at the helm, it isn’t likely to change.
Phaneuf is a scapegoat for this team, unfortunately, because we would be even further behind without him. Eating up 27 to 33 minutes a game is huge. So I can’t fault him too much. He doesn’t really have the finesse of a top two defenceman. I find him hammering the puck when the situation calls for a more gentle approach. The other thing I notice with him is that he stands up straight when he plays. As much as that might work for him I can’t help but to think that it means he isn’t going to start fast…get to the puck…off rebounds and other little quick movements…He is stranded a lot out there with his straight legs.
I have loved the development of Phil Kessel and JVR and the fact that Kessel passes more this year makes him way harder to defend. predictably he shoots every time he goes down the ice but defence men and more importantly goalies can read him like a book. He still scores but he has to shore up his defensive play. I truly would prefer if Kessel were a second line player. against weaker defence he would score a lot more. he plays all those minutes against top lines and he isn’t the biggest of guys. Ovechkin and Kessel are close in the plus minus…it sells tickets…but…
So what is the problem? Last year the leafs played a strike shortened schedule. They had a fast team and they were “heavy” on the puck. Even though there is a compressed schedule this year, it just wasn’t as dense as last year. This year they lost speed and then they have a less compressed schedule. They can rest…but more importantly, so can the other teams. The other teams can study film and they can prepare. So the leafs have played all their cards and the other teams know that Kessel is going to wrist it from his off wing. Or JVR is going to do his move at the side of the net…Sometimes it is important to keep something in the bag…It is our time to adjust. Surprise us!
But maybe I haven’t isolated the issue, so try this…Randy Carlyle has ridden five guys all year. He has played, overplayed, Phaneuf, Kessel, JVR and perhaps even Bernier. It shows. Bernier got injured, and Phaneuf looks gassed. When you play all your best players you may win games but at the end of the season they may have nothing left…It is why guys don’t lift or care about the presidents trophy. The other night he was beginning to limit JVR/Kessel’s time on the ice. That is fine but it might have been too little too late. In Retrospect I would have sat them out when they got back from the Olympics for at least a week. They do it in soccer all the time. The wear and tear add up. That is why Stephen Strassburg is benched near the end of the season even though the Nationals have a chance at the post season. it seems counter intuitive but they will get twenty years out of a great pitcher versus the one or two games extra he might pitch in a given year. Patience is a virtue.
The other thing Carlyle is guilty of is his handling of the young players. What he has done to Reimer is reprehensible. Perhaps it wasn’t his idea to cast Reimer aside but the problem is that Reimer couldn’t have been fresh for some of those games and you have him “thinking” out there instead of just reacting. He was one of the top two or three goalies for awhile and Carlyle fucked him over…why? He did it to Lupul in Anaheim and he is doing it to some degree to Kadri. He micro manages the games so much that I don’t believe any inspiration on behalf of the players is even left for them. What is their input? Where are the personalities? He is suffocating the team and it is now starting to show…It takes ten dogs to pull a sled not just 5.
I was never fooled by their start, and not surprised by their finish. I do , sincerely believe they have chance and not because I am dyed in the wool blue but rather because someone will emerge as a leader in this situation. I think it will Lupul, but also, look for Bolland to step up and maybe we can right this ship. But remember too that they have very little remaining in the tank…
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