Random thoughts, 23 games in:
Matt Stajan is the leading scorer on the Leafs. Let me repeat that: Matt Stajan is the leading scorer on the Leafs, and is on pace for close to 70 points this season. One of the great unheralded results of a rebuilding project is the chance to see former role players excel in new roles, and Stajan has certainly proved that he is more than simply an effective checker and penalty-killer.
What planet has Tomas Kaberle been on this season? His play in his own end has left much to be desired … dare I suggest he’s made more than a few fans pine for Bryan McCabe back there? Seriously, he’s an own goal away from claiming the honour of Fan Scapegoat from McCabe, an honour previously held by Larry Murphy and Mathieu Schneider … who were both very good defenders in their own right, and more than just a little unfairly run out of town.
I like Jeff Finger’s game, to date. Cliff Fletcher got it right when he insisted this guy was a top-4 defender. Unfortunately, Cliff got it wrong when he insisted this guy was worth 3.5 million dollars. Here’s what I don’t get: the Leafs went into the season with too many defensemen, and not many physical players up front (outside of Hollweg and Mayers). Yet, somehow, an extra defender is worth 3.5 million, but Darcy Tucker isn’t worth 3 million? Now, if Tucker had been at the end of his contract, I’d be fine with it. But the buyout + Finger’s contract equals $4.5 million per. Sorry, but that is far too much for a defenseman not named Chara or Pronger (insert Bryan McCabe joke here).
Mikhail Grabovski. The trade resulted in a simultaneous, resounding “WHO?” from the city of Toronto, and endless replays of Fletcher’s infamous “draft, schmaft” commentary. Sensible folk who called in to remind certain talk radio hosts that they should look up the recent history of 2nd round draft picks to see that many more of those picks miss than hit were laughed at. Meanwhile Grabovski puts up 9 goals and 15 points in his first 23 games, while providing spark, excitement, and offensive chances on nearly every shift. Those radio hosts, and the bevy of callers decrying the loss of a future second round pick, had better keep a close eye on the development of this year’s 2nd rounder, Jimmy Hayes. Better hope he’s the second coming, fellas, lest be forced to admit that you were wrong.
Vesa Toskala. Hey, if I had nine defenders on my roster and only two (Frogren and Schenn) were consistently giving a consistent physical effort in front of the goal, then yeah, I’d probably be backing into the net, too. He’ll come around, if Kaberle and Kubina ever come around to playing defense, you know, that position they’re listed as on the roster.
Curtis Joseph. Why, good fellow, why? This is not how anyone wants to see you go out.
Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo. I was a fan of both these guys, but neither fit Ron Wilson’s style or scheme. That’s the bottom line. Both are good players, but the chance to develop a decent career simply was not going to happen playing in a system that did not fit their strengths. Good on Fletch to move these guys and give them a chance elsewhere.
Lee Stempniak. Don’t know much about him, but he’s played with heart thus far, and seems to fit Wilson’s system a bit better than the aforementioned pair. Let’s hope that leads to good things.
Ron Wilson. I am developing a serious man-crush on this guy. It’s about time this team got a coach who will challenge, and condescend, the often-ridiculous media coverage of the team. This guy will be tough on players, and if they can’t shape up, he will have them shipped out. Like I said, it’s about time.
Brian Burke. If anyone can get the two remaining members of the Muskoka Five to waive their NTCs, it is this guy. Essentially, Kaberle is the only challenge (Kubina can be dealt freely over the summer if Burke so chooses). That said, given the way Kaberle has been playing thus far, dealing him for anything close to the deal that Philadelphia (supposedly) offered last season may be an even greater challenge.
Mats Sundin. Enjoy the Big Apple, big fella.