Four for Friday

Four for Friday

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With the boats now foolishly burnt and the season 31 games old, the Toronto Maple Leafs sure look like they’re reeling into form.  Since starting the season with a record of 15 – 9 – 0, the Leafs have gone 1 – 3 – 3 in the past seven games, collecting only five points in the standings and now sitting precariously in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

Through the good graces of the Hockey gods and the incompetence of their direct competition (the Jets, Hurricanes and Rangers all lost in regulation last night), the Leafs are just barely keeping their head above water.

“We’re perfectly prepared to keep them”

Those were Dave Nonis’ words to Bob McCown regarding the potential availability of pending UFAs Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur on Tuesday.  Consider it a sign of the times, but with the Leafs hoping to hold fast to 6th in the East and the deadline just around the corner, I don’t blame him.  Unless the Leafs go winless before April 3, they’ll still be in the playoff race.

The forward ranks have lost a fair amount of depth, and while neither player is integral to the Leafs success, they’re warm bodies who can help contribute enough offense to offset a defense that has given up 24 goals in the past 6 games.  You don’t want to lose assets for nothing, but if the Leafs are close, they just can’t be a seller.

Longer term is a different story though as Nonis has indicated that he’s in no rush to sign either forward.  A ton of arguments can and have been made for both players to bid adieu to the white and blue at the close of this season.

If I had to keep one, I’d prefer Clarke MacArthur.  He’s been able to play throughout the lineup, and has a better offensive pedigree than most wingers that’ll be on the market in July.  He, like everyone else, has found chemistry with Kadri and represents a terrific top-9/top-6 option for a team that could use scoring depth.

And while it’s from long in the past, this comment from Brian Burke in April 2011 illustrates what Bozak is as a player.

“If we have Tyler Bozak in the one-hole (first line center) and he can’t play in the one-hole, that is my fault, not Tyler’s fault. If he is not at the same level as his wingers, that means they are not getting the puck and scoring chances, and that is not his fault.”

Ultimately, Tyler Bozak’s agents will argue against this comment, but it’s probably true.  Since arriving in 2009-10 season, Bozak has been Phil Kessel’s de facto center and it’s been apparent to the brass for at least 2 seasons that he’s miscast in that role.  With Bozak now 27 years old, there’s not much more he’s going to develop and that’s not his fault either.  But in the business of hockey, fault’s got nothing to do with it.

Randy Carlyle finds new ways to be an awful shootout strategist. 

The Leafs are 0-3 in the shootout this season, and I gotta think a lot of this falls to Carlyle’s chronically poor deployment of his forwards in any and all situations.  Despite having the league’s sixth-best offense, averaging 3.03 goals a game, the Leafs can’t put ‘em past the goalie after 65 minutes, scoring on only 2 of 18 shootout attempts.

That Clarke MacArthur, he of 11 attempts and now zero goals, is even allowed to go out there once, let alone twice, is baffling to me.  If a player has scored even one goal before, he’s gotta go in there before Clarke at this point.  He might be due for a goal, but won’t soon earn any chances.

Semi tangentially, I need to say that damn, Bozak is a frustrating player.  He’s scored three goals in his last three games, with an unsustainably high shooting percentage of 18.00% on the season.  And he’s sole owner of both Leaf SO goals.

The cook never cleans, Nonis would know.

Brian Burke delivered a somewhat warranted, somewhat petty comment earlier this month, remarking, “sometimes you do the hard work and set the table and somebody else eats the meal.” But I fear his jest shall savour but of shallow wit, when thousands of Leafs fans weep more than do laugh at it.

For starters, Dave Nonis hardly appears to be feasting on such a fine spread on March 22nd, a mere two weeks after Burke’s barb.  Secondly, for as much as Burke should be lauded for this team’s triumphs in 2013, he saddled Nonis with quite the mess in the kitchen.

But to Nonis’ credit, he cleans up nicely.  He kept cash and cap to exile Matthew Lombardi back into the dessert and help free up space for Nazem Kadri.  He’s also waived Tim Connolly and Mike Komisarek, all but forcing Randy Carlyle to insert college boys Matt Frattin and Jake Gardiner.  He traded Mike Brown because Carlyle would use him, and he traded David Steckel because Carlyle wouldn’t.

Those were five guys (two UFA signings, three  trades) that ultimately weren’t helping this team’s development and they were all brought in under Burke.  This team might not be Nonis’ yet, but as he cuts down the Burke-built glut of underachieving veterans, he’s quickly putting his stamp on it.

Shootout losses eerily similar, ultimately depressing.

Worth noting in the Leafs recent slide is the similarity of all three 5 – 4 shootout losses.  The Leafs goalies saw a ton of rubber facing 41, 33 and 36 shots against Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and Buffalo, with James Reimer allowing two goals in all three shootouts.  In all three games, the Leafs scored the fourth and tying goal in third to sneak a point from the cupboard.

It’s not a perfect fit, though.  They only coughed up the lead with horrible second period performances in Winnipeg and Buffao.  In this case, I’d say two outta three is still pretty damn bad.

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