Leafs Continue To Lag Behind The Habs

No the icon attached to this blog isn't a mistake and the title isn't a joke, you've come to the right place. Yes it's true that I lost a bet to Prax and as punishment I owe him a blog for the Montreal Canadiens. The bet started at the beginning of last season when I was fooled enough by Brian Burke and company to believe that the Leafs would finish ahead of the Habs in the regular season standings. Prax quickly took the bet, and here we are. 

The Leafs got off to a quick start and I too was quick to rub it in. Unfortunately the next part of the season was pretty rough for the Leafs with Giguere and Gustavsson in between the pipes. That's not really a fair statement either as the Leafs defense during that stretch was abysmal at best and the offense looked like a magic show at times with their disappearing act. Knowing that I would soon have to write this blog, I thought about all the different sarcastic ways to do it and it really wasn't until now that I realized it would actually be genuine.

So what really made me make that bet with Prax? Did I really believe that the Leafs would finish ahead of the Habs in the regular season standings last season? Well it's tricky. There is no denying that part of it had to do with my blue goggles, the eternal hope that success can be achieved rather quickly. Some of it was the false hope presented by the 09-10 Leafs squad that showed up late in the season after Phaneuf and Giguere had been acquired. Yes I was one of those people that ate up what the Leafs did down the stretch during the 09-10 season and assumed that it would translate into exactly what they would be able to do the following season. This was not the case and I encourage you not to eat up the bullshit that Brian Burke is serving once again when he says that the Leafs were the 4th best team in the last whatever it was of the season. The season is 82 games and you can't pick and choose which small sample of last season you want and decide that it will be representative of next season. Yes that group was successful down the stretch and Giguere looked like his old self. Unfortunately another part of the old Giguere showed up during the 10-11 season and that was the injury plagued one. Giguere and Phaneuf's injury problems early last season were no doubt an integral part of last season's downfall. Yes every team has injuries, but it just so happened that the two guys that were injected into the 09-10 team and found immediate success were also the two guys taken out of the 10-11 season right before the proverbial shit hit the fan. Finally part of me, in fact most of me knew that this wasn't going to happen, but I put my support behind the Leafs anyways for the sake of this rivalry and the sake of my loyalty.

Now the above isn't meant to discount what the Canadiens have been able to do. I know I discussed the injuries and the different reasons why the Leafs fell out of playoff contention last season, but that doesn't mean had those players been healthy that Leafs would have surpassed the Habs. Would the Leafs have been a better team and finished higher in the standings, possibly in one of the last playoff spots? Yes, I believe so, but that doesn't mean that I think now at least that the Leafs would have finished ahead of those Habs. The Canadiens had more significant injuries than the Leafs last year, which really puts an end to that argument. Now when I say more significant I mean in numbers because I believe that Phaneuf was THE most significant injury of the two teams. But enough about injuries.

The difference is that the Habs had the depth to get through it. That will change this year as the Leafs have a really deep defense core with the addition of Liles and Franson. Unfortunately, that's where the depth ends for the Leafs, as they don't have it on offense unless we're talking depth of third line players and they certainly don't have it in goal. The Habs do have depth on offense, but not necessarily in goal.  However, you can't compare the Leafs goaltending to the Habs. Price is entering his fifth season with the Habs and if he improves on last season he should be stellar, so excluding injury they'll be more than fine in goal. The Leafs on the other hand are going into the season with Reimer and Gustavsson. Reimer is entering his sophomore season, which historically has been a rollercoaster ride for goaltenders coming off of impressive rookie seasons, just take a look at Price. Gustavsson is another complete unknown who has been plagued by injuries and inconsistencies during his time in the NHL so far. Needless to say, the Leafs goaltending is a complete unknown entering the 11-12 season, while the rival Habs have solidified the position. In my opinion, the Leafs should have re-signed Giguere and let Gustavsson go to help Reimer through another season. But that's not what happened and so this is the situation the Leafs are in.

The other crucial edge that the Habs have on the Leafs is the veteran presence. The Leafs are the youngest team in the league with their oldest player being John-Michael Liles at the grand old age of 30. Being young has been a recipe of success for the post-lockout NHL, but there still needs to be a veteran presence to win and the Leafs have none. 

Two other areas to briefly mention are coaching and youth. I'm not really going to touch on coaching other than to say that it's a wash and that's definitely not a compliment to the Habs. Finally, there is youth and I think the Leafs have the edge in that department. The Leafs have the better core of youth, but unfortunately that is not a factor for the 11-12 season. That's not to discount the Habs youth with guys like PK Subban who is gaining valuable playoff experience while guys like Schenn and Kadri are golfing in April.

The depth, goaltending and veteran presence still favours the Habs and as a result, the Habs will still have the edge on the Leafs. That doesn't mean that the Leafs won't be closer to them than last season because I definitely think that will be the case. If all of the Leafs "what ifs" like injuries and goaltending land in their favour then they'll be neck and neck competing with the Habs.  Unfortunately though, the Leafs have way more "what ifs" than the Habs.

My knowledge of the game says that the Habs will finish ahead of the Leafs, but my heart of course still says the Leafs will come out on top.

Patrick Storto

Follow me on Twitter!


George Prax's picture

Takes a big man to write all that up. Actually a really good blog Pat. Honestly, I don't think I was ever really worried about the bet as the season went on, but that's not to discount your team. We joke about how much they suck, but the truth is that Burke is doing a decent job of rebuilding them. Leafs fans (and Burke too) just have to accept that they're in a rebuild. The team would be much better served if they actually admitted to it and rebuilt the right way -- through the draft, something which I'm not sure Burke gets.

That said, there's a lot of youth and a lot of good players coming up in Toronto and you never know what they might do if they stay healthy and the stars align for them. if Reimer stays on his game, Phaneuf plays his role, Kadri gets his opportunity, etc, could be a good year for the Leafs.

I just want to see both these teams stay healthy, to see what they're actually capable of.

Thanks for being a good sport. Same bet next season?


Patrick Storto's picture

fine, same bet. But I'm a Caps fan this year...

u mad?

Spokestick's picture

Not a bad article, but one point of contention... Phaneuf missing 16 games is a more significant injury than Markov missing 75? And I don't even just mean amount of games here (though that is a factor), when Markov is healthy, he's generally recognized as a top 10 d-man in the league, or close. Blue goggles maybe?

George Prax's picture

The guy wrote a relatively sincere blog about how his favorite team isn't as good as his most hated team. Let's give him that one Tongue

Patrick Storto's picture

I would say that Markov was considered a top 10 d-man a couple of years ago, but then again so was Phaneuf. But my point has nothing to do with who is the better player, but rather who means more to their team. The Canadiens faired a lot better without Markov than the Leafs did without Phaneuf. With Phaneuf in the lineup the Leafs were 32-26-8 and without him in the lineup they were 5-8-3. 16 games is about a 5th of the season, but that doesn't take into consideration that Phaneuf returned from injury early and less than 100 percent. It took him a dozen or so games to get back to what he was. My point is simply that Phaneuf means more the Leafs than Markov does to the Habs.

George Prax's picture

While I think he means now less, i'm not sure that was the case at the beginning of the year. Subban was still a rookie with only two regular season games played, Spacek, Gill, and Hamrlik were still all over 35, Gorges was great but no Markov, and we didn't have Wisniewski yet. We are all really afraid of going into the season without Markov. Obviously it turned out better than expected, but I don't think that means that Markov is less valuable to the Habs, more that the Canadiens better compensated with the defensive system than the Leafs did.

What I'm trying to say is that not only is Markov better than Phaneuf, but Martin better than Wilson too Wink

But seriously, I'm not ready to concede that Phaneuf is more valuable than Markov. Before all these injuries Markov was consistently the Habs best player, and we're not sure how Phaneuf will be for a full season with a leaf yet. I'm willing to say let's wait til this season comes and goes to make that decision...

Patrick Storto's picture

Like I said it wasn't a knock on Markov. Phaneuf fills more than just his defensive role. He's the captain, he's the leader on the ice and he's willing to go to battle for his teammates. Phaneuf is the captain of the youngest team in the league. When Markov goes down with an injury there plenty of players on the Habs that can step up and fill his shoes in terms of leadership and presence. When Phaneuf got injured there was really no one. Beauchemin and Komisarek were to busy trying to find their own game to worry about leading the rest of the team and Kaberle wasn't really a leader, which is why I think Phaneuf's injury was more significant to the Leafs than Markov's was to the Habs.

George Prax's picture

When healthy Markov is a force both defensively and offensively, and he's arguably just as much of a leader as Phaneuf. In fact I'd argue the only reason he didn't get the C last year was the language barrier. There were lots of people making a case for him. I don't buy the depth excuse here, and this isn't me trying to slander Phaneuf because I do get that he's really important to the Leafs. But regardless of the fact that the Habs were able to manage without Markov, he's still incredibly important to the team.