Tuesday night the Leafs‘ losing streak reached four games, and despite not falling out of the playoff picture yet, the trend of recent play is startling. After a fairly disturbing 5-0 loss to Montreal this past Saturday, the Leafs had a few days to regroup and come into Calgary hungry and ready to work. Instead, fans were presented with an effort that was simply unacceptable, even though the Leafs fired 42 shots at Mikka Kiprusoff. Naturally, with so much on the line and pressure building for this team to finally qualify for the postseason for the first time since the lockout, tension is building among the ranks of Leafs Nation.
With the news breaking that Rick Nash may in fact be available for trade, the remaining two weeks leading up to the trade deadline will undoubtedly be filled with wild speculation about what the eventual package Columbus receives for him. So far, the LA Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be the most popular teams mentioned as possible destinations, but the asking price sounds like it will be absurdly high.
In the meantime, however, the Leafs have dropped four straight and despite a few good stretches of play within those losses, the team has looked pretty flat most of the time. Among the most concerning aspects of this streak, along with the usual defensive woes and questionable goaltending, the issue of consistency in the forward ranks is maybe the most troubling. It seems like only one forward line can be going on any given night. Sadly, one forward line going at a time isn’t good enough to win games in the NHL, especially against other teams fighting for their own playoff lives. Something feels like it has to give, and depending on how the remaining two games of the current western road trip go, something might give before the NHL’s trade deadline of February 27.
After consecutive efforts like the ones against Montreal and Calgary, a move like shifting an underperforming Tim Connolly to second line right wing doesn’t send quite the right message. The Leafs this season have been successful when they attack with speed, and this has been mostly absent in the past few games. Despite spreading the ice time fairly evenly against Calgary, the Leafs could benefit from an injection of speed and size to the third line to help in wearing down the opposing defencemen.
Although it seems unlikely that something will happen before the end of this current road trip, help is available in the system in the form of Matt Frattin. A victim of the numbers game, Frattin went down to the Marlies as the Leafs got some healthy bodies back from injury and Darryl Boyce cemented his role on the fourth line. The trio of Lombardi-Connolly-Crabb was painfully ineffective, leading Wilson to shift Connolly to the wing with Grabovski and MacArthur while Kulemin skated on the wing with Lombardi sliding into the middle. The challenge for Burke is to provide Wilson with the kind of lineup that gives him the best possible team to play the kind of game that makes the Leafs successful.
One need look no further than the New York Rangers to see an example of a team who knows exactly what they are and how to win playing their game. Having a Vezina calibre goaltender helps the Rangers’ case, but coach John Tortorella knows how to use the players he has and he has them playing a style which allows them to win. If the Leafs’ style is speedy attack and transition game, then Wilson needs as much speed as he can fit onto the bench.
With the Leafs’ needs starting to pile up in the eyes of frustrated fans, is paying a premium to acquire Rick Nash the first thing Burke should be worried about? Probably not, but a player like Rick Nash would give the Leafs some size in the top six forwards that has been missing since Burke took over the team. While many look at his contract and get a little dizzy trying to justify $7.8 million per season until 2018, it is hard to argue that Nash wouldn’t be an attractive asset to many teams. The only person in control of Rick Nash’s destiny at this point is Rick Nash, as his no-movement clause gives him the right to specify where he wants to play.
Whether or not Nash dons the blue and white, it seems like this Leafs team needs a kick to resume its push towards making the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Driving the Bus: A Look at the Leafs’ new lines
Cam Charron makes a case for trying out Grabovski between Lupul and Kessel, and reveals some disconcerting advanced stats on Lupul.
Matt Frattin interview
Get to know him a little better, transcript over at The Leafs Nation.
Somehow Still in 8th
Tonight’s back to back affords the Leafs the chance to keep a playoff spot, but they’ve got to start gathering points again stat.
Sports Illustrated poll hates on another Leaf
Not really worth linking, it’s just another funny case of Leaf-hate where two Leafs top 10 in points at their respective positions have been called easily intimidated and most overrated, respectively.
Nash to Leafs? Dream on
Mike Zeisberger emphasizes the expensive pricetag on Rick Nash.
Leafs enter Edmonton in vulnerable state
With the high flying Canucks looming on Saturday, it certainly feels like a must win in Edmonton tonight.
There’s a hundred questions – the price Burke will pay in a bidding war, how he’d make it work under the cap, etc. – but for what it’s worth (i.e. not much), here’s what Nash had to say on the prospect of playing in Toronto one day (interesting to watch the whole thing, but 3:20 is the mention):