Phaneuf Injury Limits Options
The Toronto Maple Leafs continue its downward spiral to the National Hockey League basement after a frustrating loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight---not to mention increasing the likelihood that they may relinquish another top-five draft pick to the Boston Bruins.
No, I'm not heading to the nearest bunker yelling that the sky is falling (although I may just welcome the idea) but after losing six-straight games, it's time to at least be concerned. And I don't care about the four-game winning streak because clearly the Leafs were playing above its capabilities. To be fair, the goaltending and defense have upgraded considerably compared to previous seasons, but the offense has been downright abysmal.
It's quite scary observing the ineptitude of the Leafs' forward ranks with Phil Kessel on a scoring drought. I mean, how many times do we have to listen to Joe Bowen and Greg Millen discuss how the Leafs "have had their chances, but can't find any luck"? It has nothing to do with luck. The fact of the matter is that the Leafs lack the skill required to be a consistent threat on the scoresheet. And it is, in fact, killing their chances at reaching the post-season for the first time since the lockout.
The real conundrum is that general manager Brian Burke has little options to bolster the offense. With captain Dion Phaneuf out for at least another three weeks, the Leafs simply can't afford to relinquish one of its top-four defensemen in a trade. Moreover, the only defenseman that may garner a decent return is Francois Beauchemin (Mike Komisarek's $4.5 million contract is too much for a defensive defenseman and Luke Schenn is surely an untouchable) and considering he leads the Leafs with a TOI/G of 24:31, it's unlikely he's used as trade bait.
It's been suggested that Nazem Kadri should be thrown into the mix, but considering he struggled with the expectations bestowed upon him in training camp, it's unfair to place that kind of pressure on his shoulders. If the Leafs want another legitimate top-six forward, perhaps it's best to let Kadri develop in the American Hockey League instead of exposing him to such mediocrity.
Unless Burke is willing to change his stance and acquire some outside help through free agency (which wouldn't solve the scoring issue), the Leafs will likely stand pat and hope its squad can rekindle the magic from the beginning of the season. But, with the Leafs now under the .500 mark, the team isn't exactly underwhelming analysts.
On the bright side, at least the team is not in utter shambles with a competent defense and goaltending tandem. While it is premature to criticize Burke while he is clearly in the early stages of fast-tracking the Leafs to respectability (especially in the early-going of the season), it's hard not to get frustrated considering mediocrity is familiar territory for Leafs fans.
Unless Burke is willing to do something drastic, as in relinquishing more draft picks (for the love of God, no), Leafs fans will have to sit tight. And that could mean another season counting the days until July 1.