Thursday, January 07, 2010

Toronto Maple Leafs: Is the glass half full or half empty?

When it comes to Toronto Maple Leaf fans, many view their team through blue tinted glasses. In every loss they see a silver lining - the team worked hard, they were able to comeback from a 2-goal deficit, Matt Stajan had a strong game, the referees were bad, it was a moral victory. Many fans think they have a strong core and with a few additions, a lot of those losses will turn into wins. The same fans think that you can trade Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala for Jeff Carter.

So are the Leafs on their way to being competitive or are they headed in the opposite direction? Truthfully you can't always tell. This team has shown a lot of resiliency despite falling behind at least 2-0 in 22 games this season. But in addition to being fairly resilient, they have played some pretty bad hockey. Why else have they fallen behind by 2 goals so many times? They are awful on special teams. For example they have had the 9th fewest penalties to kill off in the NHL this season but have given up the most goals killing penalties. Almost one out of three Leaf penalties leads to a goal. Their penalty killing is third worst in NHL history, only slightly better than the 79-80 Kings and the 82-83 Kings.

The goaltending is the worst in the league. Their #1 goalie (Vesa Toskala) has the worst goals against average and save percentage in the league which has forced the team to sit him on the bench. The backup goalie (Jonas Gustavsson) is a rookie who has been forced into the starting role because of the inept play of Toskala. The problem is Gustavsson is just not ready to be a #1 goalie. The result has been a disaster and part of the explanation why the Leafs keep falling behind in games. Teams with strong goaltending can get away with an off night but the Leafs can never afford to have an off night.

As was the case last season, a weak forward corpse means players are assigned roles they are not suited for. For example, Matt Stajan has neither the size or skill to be a first line centre. Stajan is this year's Dominic Moore who last season had inflated numbers and unrealistic salary demands. We know how that turned out. Fans can't understand why the Leafs aren't bringing up that terrific young talent on the Marlies roster. Well that's because no one is ready for prime time. The Marlies top scorer is 62nd in scoring in the AHL. And that player is none other than Andre Deveaux. Yes, a fighter is their leading scorer. Folks, the cupboard is bare.

As we are all well aware, Brian Burke's eagerness to acquire a top end talent led him to trade two first round draft picks for Phil Kessell so there will be no hot prospects to look forward to next spring. To compensate, Burke will be looking to trade veterans with any value in March for draft picks so that he has some reason to show up at the draft before round 3. No that doesn't mean Toskala or Blake. You would need to give away draft picks to convince another GM to take them off your hands. The players most likely to be traded are Hagman, Kaberle and Stajan. But if someone is willing to send a low draft pick for a Mayers or a Stempniak, they will be gone too.

So back to my question - is the glass half full or half empty?