Thursday, October 07, 2010

New Season, Old Questions for Leafs

Gorshin is the RiddlerAs the Leafs get ready to start their 2010-11 season at home against the dreaded Montreal Canadiens, the team has more question marks than Frank Gorshin’s Riddler suit.

Have the Leafs finally fixed their goaltending situation?
The team has suffered from horrific goaltending since the lockout, but Burke may have finally found a tandem in Gustavsson and Giguere that can provide some stability between the pipes. I'd be delighted if this club could aim so high as getting league average goaltending.

Will the special teams finally be special?
Rob Zettler talked about minor fixes for the Leafs PK and the team was trying new PP systems in the pre-season. The coaching staff has to do something as being in last place in both the PK and PP is like being fat, drunk, and stupid – it’s no way to go through life.

Will the Leafs D actually play D?
The defence corps reminds me of every hockey pool team I have ever drafted. Looks great on paper, the games begin and I find myself wondering - how can so many big names be so bad?

If the Leafs fix the defensive side of the game, what about offence?
Last season, the Leafs gave up 263 goals, 37 more than the NHL average of 226. If they shave-off nearly 0.5 goals a game they’ll be in great defensive shape; however, based on goal differential, they’ll need to score about 220 goals in order have a shot at a 90 point season and the post-season. Can the current line-up generate that much offense?

Is Tyler Bozak a legit option as the number one centre?
Bozak looked tremendous in the final half of last season, but how plausible is it that an undrafted kid with 37 NHL games experience will succeed as a #1 Centre in the NHL? I sure hope he pulls it off...

Has Burke misread the tea leaves again?
Last season, Burke and his management team looked at the state of the Leafs and thought they had assembled a team that could challenge for a playoff spot. The team came in 29th.
This past off-season, they looked at the team and thought a scoring winger, preferably with size, was the team’s most pressing need. Yet, out of the four centres on the club, none seem prepared to handle the tough minutes. Grabovski is a serviceable #2, but there a plenty of questions of size, strength stamina (and sanity) surrounding Grabbo. In the #3 and #4 slots, the Leafs are going with John Mitchell and two AHL cast-offs. This does not seem like a recipe for success.

How will the kids develop on the Marlies?
Luca Caputi and Christian Hanson earned a spot with the big club, but find themselves starting with the Marlies because of waiver status/ contracts/ spinning a giant wheel left over from JFJ's tenure. For the first time in a long time, the Leafs look like they've got some kids in the system, but are there enough minutes for all of them on the Marlies? Something to keep an eye on until Brent/Zigomanis/Mitchell's cup of coffee is over and the Leafs bring up the more deserving kids.

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  1. Hey, look at you, posting a graphic on your blog!

    True Canadian story: I met Frank Gorshin in a bar in Windsor, Ontario. I think he was in town doing some horrid dinner theatre thing. Anyway, I recognized him from across the room (I don't think anybody else there knew who he was), no doubt in my mind, and bought him a cocktail of his choice (can't swear to it, but think it was a vodka/soda) because he was my favourite Batman villain of all time.

    As for your post, I think these are largely the questions that pertain to this season on a general level. I think there are specific questions about certain individuals (Phaneuf, for example, will he be able to return to his early career form with the additional captaincy pressures here in Toronto), but the questions you've identified are the major issues facing the team.

    Regarding the goals against question, I'm curious whether you read my post about the Leafs' post-Jan. 31 performance last year, (they shaved .8 GA per game off following the trade, and actually would've been in the upper third of the league had they kept 'em out at that rate all year), whether you think those numbers were illusory and where this year's club might come in relative to the 216 GA pace they were playing at in the latter part of last year. I have a suspicion that the improvement at the tail end of last season is somewhat over-emphasized because it occurred against weak opposition.

  2. Sanity is highly over-rated, trust me on this. I'm of the belief that the Leafs always need a certain quotient of bug-eyed-ness, particularly from Russian territory.

  3. I'd be delighted if this club could aim so high as getting league average goaltending.

    This is what it's come to. And I'm with you, man! Average!!!1

  4. Paul Steckley5:08 pm

    Ah, Frank Gorshin! I think my favourite Batman villain was Burgess Meredith's Penguin (with Julie Newmar's Catwoman a very close second for entirely different reasons) but Gorshin's Riddler was great. Let's hope Nolan's Riddler (whoever ends up playing him) is as good.

    The answer to your first questions is a resounding YES for reasons that can be summed up in three simple words: No Vesa Toskala.

    As for the rest, only time will tell the entire story but the early returns are good.