A New Attitude
Believe it or not, but it's been 43 days since the trades that rocked this city. 43 days ago, the face of this franchise underwent a big face lift, and in my opinion, they're better for it. I'll always remember jumping out of bed as my brain desperately tried to comprehend the text message I had received from TSN notifying me that Dion Phaneuf had been traded to the Maple Leafs. I was very excited and I still am. I've never seen a Leafs team this young, it's a nice change. A lot of things have changed with this team this season, but the most important change has been the attitude.
One thing that this team has lacked since the departure of Mats Sundin is passion. Most of the players that have been disposed of over the last couple of seasons have been content. No they didn't like to lose, but night in and night out they accepted it and made it excuses for it. Players like Ponikarovsky and Stajan were hard workers, but at the end of the day, what I remember most about those two were the excuses. I was tired of listening to their excuses. Plus I didn't want the younger players on our team to learn how to make excuses, and I'm sure Brian Burke felt the same way.
But those days and those players are behind us now, well for the most part at least. Over the last 13 games, since the trade, this team has played with confidence and determination. They have been more energetic than ever before. No they still aren't winning a whole lot, but that's to be expected from a team as young as the Leafs.
In fact, if you combined all of the Leafs' players game logs, it still comes up shorter than Bruce Boudreau's take out order on Friday night.
These guys may lack experience, but they don't lack fight and they don't lack heart. Looking at the season as a whole has been a disappointment, and really all that's left now is to try to analyze certain pieces and try to find the positives. I think the best part of the season to analyze right now is everything after the Phaneuf trade as it really is a better representation of this team moving forward. Looking at the stats, quite a few of these young players have been rather impressive since the trade was made.
Looking at this table, quite a few things and quite a few players stand out. Three Leafs have been incredible offensively since the trade and it starts with Kessel. Kessel has 8 goals and 15 points over the thirteen game stretch, which is approximately 1.15 points per game. Bozak and Kulemin are the other two that have really flourished, with Bozak putting up 12 points and Kulemin putting up 9. But as you've seen, Kulemin has been on an absolute tear over the last five games with 7 points.
Defensively, a couple of players have really stepped up and improved their games with the acquisition of Phaneuf. I really think that Phaneuf's presence on the ice has made Schenn a much better player and the criticisms that Schenn faced earlier this season have pretty much vanished. Schenn has even managed to score 6 points over that thirteen game stretch, but more importantly in my opinion is that he has a +3 rating since the trade. Another defender that has really impressed me is Carl Gunnarsson. His offensive game is improving, but that +8 since the trade is very impressive.
Not everything has been great though, I will be the first to admit that. One player that has really struggled this season has been John Mitchell. To me he doesn't look like he fits in with this group, he looks like one of those content players that I discussed earlier. I hardly ever notice him on the ice and that's pretty much been the case all season. I honestly don't see him back with this team next season.
It looks like to me at least that Dion Phaneuf has had a huge impact on the attitude of this team. This team has been tougher to play against and more exciting to watch. In fact, one player I haven't mentioned that deserves a ton of credit is Colton Orr. Since the trade, Orr has amassed 80 penalty minutes in thirteen games. He is there to defend his teammates and another thing that impresses me is that while his job is to protect his teammates, he has managed to keep an even rating through it all since the trade.
A lot of credit can also be given to Giguere. The Leafs haven't had a solid goaltender since 2006 and when you don't have confidence in your goaltender, there's no way the players can perform to the best of their abilities. Giguere, while he has struggled this season, is a huge upgrade over Toskala and really allows the skaters to breathe much easier.
I really look forward to next season with most of these players and I hope they bring the same fire they are playing with right now. Hopefully Kadri will be ready to join this team and from what I've seen from him thus far, he should fit right in. Kadri is a player that plays with his heart on his sleeve, he's hard working and most of all he has a desire to not only compete, but to win.
Finally, one player that really needs to go this summer is Tomas Kaberle. He's a hard worker, a really good defender, one of the best puck movers in the game, but he doesn't fit in with this team anymore. Kaberle is pretty much the epitome of the content players that I referred to. It is beyond me why a player would want to stay on a losing team as opposed to playing for a Stanley Cup. Now I can understand when Sundin and McCabe were here, not wanting to leave, but when you're the only one left, I just can't understand it. He'll say it's loyalty, but I'll say it's comfort.
I don't know when this team will compete in the playoffs again, but from what I've seen from this group, the Leafs won't be as easy to beat next season.
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