Random Thoughts: Goaltending and Defense

Attention Leafs fans: Frantically waving your arms up and down and yelling at the television screen while writing Ron Wilson hate mail will not help the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Considering the Leafs have an all-time record of 25-56-6-2 in Buffalo, it's not exactly earth-shattering that the club struggled to contain its Northeast rivals on the scoresheet.

Instead of going through the same old routine and blaming Wilson for each loss and acting as if inconsistency is abnormal for the youngest team in the NHL, let's analyze the Leafs' current condition with some objectivity:

Similar to James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson began his NHL career with overwhelming support from the Toronto fan base after a stellar pre-season and respectable rookie campaign. And until about a month ago, he was touted as the possible goaltender of the future (sound familiar?). From the onset, Gustavsson initially appeared to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and performed admirably when Jean-Sebastien Giguere succumbed to injury. From that point on any Leafs fan can tell you the rest of the story. Gustavsson struggled and descended the goaltending depth chart, making way for the Leafs' new protege, Reimer. So now Gustavsson is a sieve and Reimer is the answer, right? Wrong. I'm not suggesting Gustavsson is better or worse than Reimer, because that's not the point. How many goaltenders must the Leafs rotate, and statistically obliterate, before the club realizes that, despite dishing out nearly $25 million, its defense is an issue that must be rectified.

On the surface, the addition of Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin to the Leafs defense sounded promising. Besides Beauchemin, who is an underrated rearguard for the Buds, the Leafs are commiting over $10 million to two defensemen that are nowhere near where they should be. Komisarek, who was supposed to be one of the league's top shutdown defenseman, is a liability in his own end and averages a massive 14:43 of ice-time per game to go along with his -8 rating, which is the worst of all active Leafs defensmen (that doesn't include Brett Lebda). Phaneuf, who once notched 20 goals in a season, has an underwhelming one goal in 36 games. But I can forgive the offensive shortcomings. It's the defensive blunders, lack of vision and lack of speed that is inexcusable and has crippled the defense's once solid reputation (that is, on paper). And I put a lot of emphasis on lack of speed. The "new NHL" ain't so new anymore, so it's no secret that speed is a crucial component to a successful franchise. To the Leafs' credit, the forward units have been surprising successful and have shown its offensive pedigree at times. It's the defense, however, that have been burned countless times from the opposition. Whether it's an odd-man rush or quality shots from the slot, it's not exactly an abnormality to see a defenseman in blue and white trailing the opposition. As mentioned, this is only one of the many issues plaguing the defense.

That's not to say Toronto is in dire state and need to blow up the team again. In fact, I do not recall the last time the Leafs had the youngest team in the NHL with at least two players on pace for 30 goals (and both no older than 26 years old). The Leafs have some solid pieces in place to build on and some adjustments to the back-end, not the coaching staff, could go a long way in restoring respectability to Toronto.

Until the defensive issues of this team are rectified, however, goaltenders will come and go and the facade will continue. Even if Beauchemin is shipped at the trade deadline for valuable assets, it will be a step sideways for the franchise unless some mobile defensemen are brought into the fold---preferably those who can score goals.

But for the love of God, stop blaming every goaltender that dons the Blue and White. Is it really a coincidence that obtaining a .900 save-percentage is near impossible in Toronto since the lock-out?\

An umpteenth amount of goaltenders later say no.

ronguillet@gmail.com

2 Comments

Patrick Storto's picture

I think that neither Reimer or Gustavsson are ready to be NHL starters, but having them both battle for the job next season with Giguere out of the picture could be an intriguing option. It's also high risk in that neither may be good enough and you've set yourself back another season if you don't have someone that can stop the puck.

I think the main difference with Reimer and Gustavsson right now is that Reimer has been brought up through the system where as Gustavsson was brought over from Sweden, never having played in North America, never drafted, and was inserted into the NHL. I think Gustavsson needs some tuning in the AHL, more than two weeks. If he could somehow spend the rest of the season down there, I think it would do him wonders in preparation for next season.