Georgian Bay Sports Fan

commentary & opinions on the sports and political scene

MAPLE LEAFS 2011: THE REST OF THE STORY

The Toronto Maple Leafs enter this NHL season like every other, a ton of optimism and uncertainty. After a strong initial start to last season, 4-0-1 the wheels fell off winning just 15 over there next 44 games for an embarrassing winning percentage of 34%. Sent packing was Beauchemin, Versteeg and Kaberble. Entering the room were Lupul, along with call ups Keith Aulie and James Reimer. No one sparked the Leafs like James Reimer who led the Leafs to an impressive finish winning 18 of their final 33 games, a 54% winning percentage. So which team shows up in 2011? Will it be the solid team over the final 1/3rd of the season, or the brutal team in the first 2/3rd’s?……..

Up front they went out and addressed the need for help down the middle, Adding both Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi. Tyler Bozak can now be what he should have been all along, a third line center. Phil Kessel is what he is, a talented player that will produce moments of brilliance for periods of time only to leave fans hoping for more during other times. Grabovski, is rounding into a nice offensive player and clutch scorer, Kulemin who in my opinion is the Leafs best forward continues to grow his game at both ends of the ice. The third line can contribute offensively and isn’t bad defensively. The Fourth line may be as good as any fourth line in the league. Offensive conclusion: Two 2nd lines, a decent 3rd line, a good 4th line.

On the blue line the big off season acquisition was J-M Liles, who adds offensive from the blue line, but who is a bit of a defensive liability with his turnovers. Cody Fransson was also brought in and will add a good mix of stability to the back end. Leafs Captain Dion Phaneuf was returning to form at the end of the season and should continue such play. Luke Schenn had an up and down season and will need to provide consistency. Komisarek was simply brutal and will have a month to prove his worth or his ice time will decrease greatly. Gunnarson and Aulie are both youngest that will need to progress and will battle each other for ice time. Jake Gardiner has been outstanding in pre-season and could push a veteran out of a job and perhaps out of Toronto. Defensive conclusion: Strength of this team, an off night on the backend will result in a loss.

The biggest question mark seems to be the position most fans have most confidence in, James Reimer needs a repeat performance of last season’s heroics for this team to truly compete for a playoff spot. Last season for Reimer was completely pressure less, as he walked into team that sat 29th in the league, having only to exceed the expectation created by the likes of JS Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson, Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft in recent years. How will he fair with the expectations of Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph like goaltending placed on his shoulders? Toronto better hope he plays well as he has little to no help behind him. Gustavsson has proved to be all hype, he will be fighting for his NHL career this season. A veteran goaltender should have been brought in to insulate Reimer both on and off the ice. Goaltending conclusion: will be inconsistent all season long.

The final area to explore is the coaching and management staff. Brian Burke is a good National Hockey League general manager but he is highly overrated. He is an incredible stubborn and loyal man, his word is a good as gold. This is a great quality to have in your personal life, but in hockey world what’s best for the team, needs to come first regardless. He over paid for Phil Kessel when you could have forced Boston’s hand with an offer sheet on him instead. July 1st this season, Burke was over in Afghanistan, which is great to go over and show your support for the troops, but shouldn’t his focus have been on free agency? How many coaches survive 3 years having the performance that Ron Wilson has had? Speaking of Ron, I can’t see him lasting past this season if he turns in another subpar season. He is a brutally honest coach, who will give you a pat on the back one night, then shove you under the bus the following night. Gone are assistant coaches Acton and Hunter who took the bullets for poor special teams, the power play ranked 22nd while the penalty kill was 28th in the league. Gordon and Cronin have been brought in to right the specialty teams. I see the power play improving based on adding Liles, the PK however I see much of the same, especially since losing their 2 best penalty killing forwards in Brent and Sjostrom, combined with the goaltending I forecasted.

Summary, the Leafs are a team moving in the right direction, however they aren’t moving quickly enough. They will be a more consistent team this year, but come April I see them a few points short and will finish 9th in the Eastern Conference.

Mr. Pierre “the flower” Labatt the 2nd 

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