Thursday, October 08, 2009

Why the Maple Leafs have had a slow start

It seems many Leaf fans have been shocked by what they’ve seen from the Leafs over the first 3 games of the season. My Leaf poll on the side bar reflects much of that optimism. High expectations were created by team’s preseason record, the free agent signings, and management’s declaration that this was a playoff bound team. Truculence has been an overused description over the summer in Toronto so it must come as a surprise that the Leafs have been out hit in each of their first three games of the regular season. Against Ottawa it wasn’t even close – 45 hits for the Senators and only 26 hits for the Leafs.

Now you can’t read too much into three games. You would rather want to see a strong start as opposed to a bad start. Still, there are some realities that fans need to keep in mind:

· This was a soft team last season. However, most of the toughness added this season is coming from marginal players like Exelby, Rosehill and Orr. If they only average 5 minutes per game, then last year’s soft players are eating up the other 55 minutes. It’s not like Burke added a forward like Milan Lucic who is getting close to 20 minutes of ice time per game.

· During the preseason, many regulars did not see much ice time. Their contract situation more or less guaranteed them a spot (at least in the short term). Management used those games to evaluate younger players – Stulberg, Bozak, Kadri, Hanson, Rosehill, Gunnarsson, Tlusty, Deveaux. Reimer and Macdonald were in net for many of those games. Now most of these players are with the Marlies and we are seeing a lineup that is more similar to last season’s – which wasn’t very good.

· The defense has 3 new players who are not familiar with their partners and the team’s defensive approach (assuming they have one). They are going to get better but it’s going to take time.

· Goaltending is about the same as last year – bad! I thought at the end of the preseason Joey Macdonald would be the starter by Christmas and nothing has made me change my mind. Toskala has about month to straighten out his game. In mid-November Phil Kessel comes off the injury list which will create a cap problem for Burke. He could dump some underachieving forwards to create cap space or just waive Toskala. The way he is playing, he won’t be missed.

· Every GM has to announce to their fans that their objective is to make the playoffs. Doesn’t mean they actually believe it.