Monday, May 25, 2015
Authors Posts by Matt Bracken

Matt Bracken

32 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

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The big question that will need to be answered by Ron Wilson and company over the next couple of games is who sits?  With the return of captain Dion Phaneuf the Maple Leafs officially have a logjam on the backend and not only will one of Keith Aullie, Carl Gunnarsson or Mike Komisarek have to sit but a guy like Francois Beauchemin might also be forced into a less meaningful role.

Will this finally force the hand of Brian Burke and the need to move some of the excess bodies and salary on our backend?

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The Maple Leafs express fresh off a huge 3-2 comeback victory over their division rivals from Beantown hit the road hoping to find the rarest of rare for them this season, a victory on foreign ice in Washington, D.C.  The Leafs are 0-7-1 in their past eight games away from the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre and are hoping to avoid their first 8-game losing streak since Nov 7 – Dec 6 / 1996.

That might be easier said than done as standing in their way are the explosive Washington Capitals and their impressive 12-2-1 record at home, tops in the Eastern Conference.  Staying out of the penalty box will be of the utmost importance as the Leafs porous penalty kill is downright sieve like on the road with a 64.7% success fail rate.

Toronto is 0-2-1 in its last three visits to the Verizon Center, allowing 17 goals. After a beastly return to the lineup on Saturday, Armstrong has been promoted to line one with Kessel (who is back at center ice ) and Versteeg. Lines after the jump courtesy of TuckerThomas:

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To quote the legendary Jim Mora, “You kidding me?  Playoffs?  I just hope we win another game!”  As the Leafs struggle to find ongoing consistency in the goal scoring department I thought I would have a look at their scoring output compared to the post-lockout playoff teams to see if there is any hope at actually making the big dance at season’s end.  First, some key Leafs stats through 22 games this year:

Record G/G GA/G 5-5 F/A PP% PK%
8-11-3 2.18 2.68 0.89 15.2 (22nd) 73.1 (29th)

 

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Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

During the doom and gloom of a lengthy losing streak it can be easy to focus only on the negative aspects of a hockey team and I have noticed my last few pieces have done just that.  Today I thought I would take a look at some of the positive and promising assets the Toronto Maple Leafs currently possess as opposed to what they ultimately lack.

Although they are much maligned and even despised by some the ownership of the Toronto Maple Leafs has never been a serious impediment to the success of the team, contrary to popular belief.  Sure MLSE values a profit as most corporations do and yes they charge an arm and a leg for even a lousy ticket, but the fact is the market for all things Leafs is extremely strong.  With the current supply and demand the way it is the pricing issue will not go away or change, ever.

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Claus Andersen/Getty Images

It is a popular war cry teams will make when in the midst of an unlikely or unexpected championship run.  But what exactly is needed to make a championship contending hockey club and just how far are the Maple Leafs from truly becoming one?  I thought I would attempt to answer that very question while trying to look at how a successful championship contending hockey team is currently composed and then comparing it to the Leafs situation and roster makeup.

I recall our old colour commentator Harry Neale being asked what he thought made a great coach and he shrewdly remarked “great players”.  Now I know the topic of firing Ron Wilson has been beat to death but I wanted to further comment after reading a story from our friends over at Pension Plan Puppets who feel he should absolutely be fired now.

It was an entertaining piece “Why Ron Wilson Should Get Fired ASAP” asking a tough question and answering unequivocally:

“The question isn’t whether Ron Wilson is or isn’t a good coach. The question is will replacing Ron Wilson improve our record? If the answer is “yes”, obviously, we should do it as soon as possible. But how can we know? This got me to thinking, maybe there’s some historical evidence to shed some light on this issue.”

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With the typical (and expected) “Fire Ron Wilson” sentiment being thrown around after another tough loss (now five in a row) I thought I would enter the fray and share my opinion on the matter.  It is often easy to blame the coach and the old adage “it’s easier to fire one coach than 20 players” has certainly been applied in the NHL over the past 25 years but in the case of the Maple Leafs, is the coach really to blame?

I had written a story in the preseason that one of the potential problems I saw going into this year was the chance that Brian Burke’s general strategy really wouldn’t mesh well with the roster given to Ron Wilson.  The whole top-six and bottom-six forward approach is fine in theory when you have Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Marcus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and a prime Todd Bertuzzi at your disposal – or Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne etc.

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Relief, that’s the feeling I get when watching our young and improving defenseman Luke Schenn night in and night out this season.  Oh admit it you were a touch worried as I was that Schenn might not ever reach this day but I think we can all just say it and say it with pride, Luke Schenn is a stud.  Although he was never really that bad for most of last season the fact is Schenn was unfairly judged (as a 20 year old defenseman in his second season) by most Leafs fans. 

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    In what was nearly an improbable comeback victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the high powered Washington Capitals, the Leafs did manage to gain a valuable point while showing a ton of intestinal fortitude.  Possibly more importantly they got key contributions from three or four forwards that have been missing in action for most of the season thus far.  Scoring big, timely goals on the night were some prominent members of the 2010/11 “where have you been” class as Nik Kulemin, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak all had big tallies on the night.

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    The one area of weakness that was continually mentioned in the offseason centred around the Toronto Maple Leafs lack of scoring depth and the relatively lacklustre top six forward unit overall.  We heard it time and again as the team’s brain trust attempted to move our best defenseman over the past decade for any forward who could be added to one of the top two scoring lines.  At the same time we heard that the defence core we possessed was solid from one through seven and our goaltending should be hugely improved.

    So should it really come as any surprise early into the season that our scoring depth is starting to be a bit of a concern? 

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    As the chant of ‘Thank you Kessel’ rang through my ears while watching the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Boston Bruins last night I could not help but feel the need to comment on how ridiculous that cheer actually was.  Ok, I know they were just attempting to be clever but are they really all that thankful that a guy with 37 goals in his past 78 games is not on their team anymore?

    For those curious Kessel’s goal pace since joining Toronto is actually the best mark of his career, without Marc Savard.  Imagine he still had a legitimate playmaking centre or a stronger winger riding shotgun?  That is not meant to offend Matt Stajan, Mikael Grabovski, John Mitchell, Tyler Bozak etc but none of them have the proven track record or playmaking ability a guy like Marc Savard has.

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    Nothing gets Leafs Nation into a frenzy quicker than some good old fashioned trade rumours and with the recent news breaking that Brian Burke is “open for business” it was obviously going to make headlines.  Bob McKenzie was told by his sources that the Leafs had an offer on the table involving two bottom six forwards coming to Toronto for one of our current NHL bottom six forwards and an AHL player.  Burke basically inferred the offer was half way decent so it likely would have solidified our bottom six forward lines slightly, but nothing to really get worked up about.