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.

Stay classy.

ronguillet@gmail.com

8 Comments

Phil T's picture

Rebuild through the draft... you'll get another good first round draft pick this year if you keep this up so you should... Oh wait, nevermind

Seriously though, who didn't see this coming? Kessel has always been streaky and it was only a matter of time before the scoring became a problem (much like with Montreal; except Montreal has better talent up front). This is clearly Burke's fault for not assembling a proper offense in the off-season. I thought Versteeg would blossom out of the shadows of Chicago's stars but it seems he was more a product of their talent than we thought. The Leafs are in real trouble as the only reliable offensive threat seems to come from Kessel who can't do it all himself.

George Prax's picture

You'd be surprised what a centerman could do Mike. Their job is to make the players around them better, even average ones.

But ya, this is hilarious Smile

George Prax's picture

I've seen enough Leafs games:

1. I think you're overrating him a bit but he's great.

2. I've seen enough of Grabovski to know I don't want him on my team. Sure, he has talent, but he's selfish and a cancer in the locker room. If he's not getting top minutes he's useless, and on most teams he wouldn't be a top center.

3. You don't have to be super talented to score. It's about hard work, going to the right places, and getting lucky at the right times. Maybe that's the issue and not talent?

4. It doesn't seem like John Mitchell is the source of your problems.

5. Again, a little overstated probably but generally you're right, the Leafs goaltending is good.

6. I hate that, but it's actually a problem with a lot of teams. I don't understand why players on a 5 on 3 look for the perfect shot and they don't just shoot the puck. It goes back to #3 and working hard.

7. I totally agree with this. But that's th ething. You need to blame management and not only what they've done the team (which really isn't that bad), but how they've set expectations WAY too high. Just like last year when everyone was predicting the leafs to somehow make the playoffs, this is not a playoff team and they're still rebuilding. It's impatience and high expectations that are the cause for your anger.

George Prax's picture

lol well that's what I'm saying, it's management's faults for not managing expectations properly. Pierre McGuire says it about the Habs every year and about how we overrate this player or that player... but in the end we know we're constantly going to be a fringe playoff team. Yet Burke comes out and says his coach is fine and the players are the problem and that they're going to make the playoffs when they clearly aren't better than 90% of the teams in the league if not more.

But that's what you get with a loudmouth GM.

Ron Guillet's picture

I think you're exaggerating a bit, Mike.

Phil Kessel is a first-line player. The problem is that without competent linemates he can't do everything by himself (basically, he's not Mats Sundin). Is Kessel an elite player? No. But he's a game-breaker who is streaky. But you have to remember he's only 23 years old and hasn't even reached his peak yet.

I like Bozak, but he's not even a GREAT 2nd line center... he's a solid one. If you ask me, this is by far the worst forward corps in the league, and that means your defensemen will struggle to put up points (Kaberle and Phaneuf) and your star player (how I wish I could put an 's') will struggle without a cast of supporting offense.

In previous seasons the Leafs didn't have hope in ANY position.. now at least they have a strong defense and goaltending tandem. If Burke can build even a decent offence upfront the Leafs can be a good team.

The problem, though, is how he's going to do that. But he's done a good job up to now so let's see what he has in store this season and through the summer.