The Future: Defending the Defense
The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to end their playoff drought this season, and after their successful off-season, it no longer seems to be a long shot. The strongest part of this club is their defence, and I will take a trip into the Maple Leafs back-end core which welcomes three new faces in Matt Lashoff, Danny Richmond and Brett Lebda.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are arguably in the top 5 for defence in all of the NHL. Lead by Captain Dion Phaneuf, outcast Tomas Kaberle and 3rd year player Luke Schenn, not to mention potential bounce-back hopefuls Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, and young potential star named Carl Gunnarson. It's a top six you cannot balk at, but the additions of three players on one way contracts (Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda and Matt Lashoff) are where the question marks come in.
Burke has said that Lashoff will begin with the Marlies, and if we had to choose to keep Jeff Finger or Brett Lebda on the big club, we would all choose Brett Lebda. It's likely Jeff Finger will be waived to the Marlies and help them develop their youth as no team would claim him as a seventh defenceman.
Brett Lebda is a very good player to have as our seventh d-man. If we are hit with injuries, Lebda is able to step in and fill the void on the third pairing. Lebda played 63 games last year with the Red Wings, scoring just one goal and 8 points with a -2 rating. It was just his second - rating in his 5 seasons as a NHL hockey player.
Mike Komisarek is hoping to show Toronto why he is making 4.5 million a season. Although we saw flashes last season, there was not enough time for Komisarek to play his game and get used to his role in Toronto. The one-time all-star got off to a rough start, and as he started to improve he got shut down for the season. Mike Komisarek has said via Twitter:
"man I can't wait for this season to begin.. I haven't been this excited for a Leafs season in almost 10 years. GO #LEAFS GO!"
This shows that the spirit in the locker room this season will be "off the hook", something that isn't a bad thing. Komi will be a big part of the Leafs core in the future, and a bounce back season would only ensure Komisarek's status as "fan-favorite".
Luke Schenn battled the sophmore slump last season, and seemed to get past it in mid March where he looked to be a promising shut down player. The arrival of Dion Phaneuf seemed to rejuvenate his passion, and if paired with the newly appointed captain, big things could be expected from Schenn this season.
Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf will once again be the face of the Maple Leafs defence. Tomas Kaberle will look to prove to the fans that keeping him was the right decision, while Dion Phaneuf will be busy bruising up the Sens and Habs. Dion Phaneuf, who was named Captain this past season will be the new heart and soul of this Leafs team, I feel will set career highs this season.
Francois Beauchemin is a bubble player who still hasn't really figured out what his game is. He seemed to have taken on the role of the Alpha on defence, despite not playing an Alpha's game. He needs to just focus on his defensive game, and his shot (mind you only on the powerplay). He will likely team up with Sophomore Carl Gunnarsson this season, as Gunnarsson's strong defensive play could off-set Beauchemin's, uh, not strong defensive play.
Clearly the defence is not the problem for the Leafs, and will not prevent the Leafs from getting a playoff spot. Chances are the defense will be the reason the Leafs make the playoffs, if they succeed in doing so.
NEXT BLOG: The Future: The Front Lines
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