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.Â We heard it time and again as the teamâ€™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.Â At the same time we heard that the defence core we possessed wasÂ 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?Â
Just imagine how much worse it would look if Clarke MacArthur (or â€˜MaGarthurâ€™ as Joe Bowen pronounces!) hadnâ€™t started the season with an Alex Ovechkin like impersonation (6 goals already). Â Itâ€™s time to stop dreaming we have a team that is capable of playing any sort of run and gun style and act surprised when we canâ€™t simply outscore another team.Â That is just not how we are built, not at the present moment anyway.
The reality is this Leafs team possesses only a couple legitimate scoring threats, a fairly deep blue line, an experienced and proven (though aging) goaltender along with a healthy dose of quality checkers, agitators and muscle.Â With that, I propose it might not necessarily be a roster issue as much as it is a problem with strategy.Â I donâ€™t want to use the â€˜Tâ€™ word but given the composition of this current Maple Leafs team, with the overall strength clearlyÂ on the backend would it not make sense to play a more defensive style of hockey, perhaps even…the trap?
Iâ€™ll allow you time first to cringe and then possibly make a snide comment, but now give me a chance to explain.Â I know watching the Mid-90s Doug MacLean led Florida Panthers , or the Jacques Lemaire led New Jersey Devils is like watching paint dry as they attempt to squeeze every last ounce of life from the game (and neutral zone) but this was also done by design as the team attempted to played to its strengths.Â And perhapsÂ just as important it played away from its weaknesses.Â It wasÂ not only the best style for their defensive games but it also essentially was the best style for their offensiveÂ attack.
The Devils for example played a patient, trapping style with a quick (and at times explosive) counter attack when the few legitimate scoring threats they possessed were on the ice.Â At the same time the teams deep, strong defence stayed at home while the forwards worked hard to shutdown the neutral zone and thwarted the opposing teamâ€™s futile attempts to gain the zone.Â I am aware that they also had Martin Brodeur as the last line of defence but the argument has been made several times that Brodeur was also made better by the Devils style of play and penchant for sound defensive accountability.
With a half decent power play, improved penalty kill and some timely goaltending it sounds like a pretty sound plan of attack – it also sounds like the ideal strategy for the current Maple Leafs line-up.Â We can still pressure the puck in two of the three zones and play with a physical edge and weâ€™ll even allow for the occasional â€˜punch faceâ€™ session as long as it doesnâ€™t negatively affect the team (i.e. a dumb penalty).
But we also need to face the harsh reality that if winning is truly the number one priority than in my opinion the style of play should be reflective of the current makeup of our roster.Â The most successful style based solely on the current Leafs personnel likely involves a more patient, defensive game.Â The Leafs are going to be involved in tight, close games as it is now so why not be proactive, plan accordingly and try to play to your own teamâ€™s strengths in the hope it will also help negate our own scoring deficiencies.
Ok, so we werenâ€™t dead last in scoring Â in 2009/10 you say (we were third last) but it took basically a guns blazing offensive style to score a measly 214 total goals mostly at the expense of anything that resembled an organized defensive unit.Â We ranked second last in goals against (267) and sure Vesa Toskala goaltending can be blamed for a good share of some of those goals but fact is we really had no business attempting such a fruitless style of play when considering what we were working with and I contend we have no business attempting it again this year.
Have you seen enough progress this season to have reason to believe the current strategy/philosophy is viable going forward or do you feel a team with a Pat Burns/Jacques Lemaire philosophy would have more success?Â Would you accept the consequences of a less exciting team night in and night out if it meant a better chance to win consistently?Â Or do you share Brian Burkeâ€™s feeling that a team should not only win but also produce an exciting, entertaining product?