Sunday, July 11, 2010

Five Leafs That Need to Play Better

I am so sick of missing the playoffs. Burke thought that this year's edition of the Leafs would compete for a playoff spot. Didn't exactly work out that way as the team started very slowly without Phil Kessel in the lineup (and with Vesa Toskala in net) and could never recover.

So with the playoffs being the most realistic goal we could hope for next season the question becomes, 'what's it going to take to get there?'. I don't think that the additions of Colby Armstrong or Kris Versteeg are going to be what puts us over the top (as in over the top of the 7 teams we'd have to overtake to get into the 8th spot).

With that in mind, improvement will have to come from within. Here are the top five Leafs that have to have a better season next year if we're going to get into the playoffs.

Dion Phaneuf - After seasons of 50, 60 and 47 points, Phaneuf tallied a mere 32 last season. 60 is probably out of the question with this Leafs' offense but the team will need a big uptick from last year's 32 to get in. Equally important will be limiting his turnovers. The Leafs will need their captain to regain his Norris nominee form.

Mikhail Grabovski - Big things were expected from the Pineapple Slayer this year after he signed his extension but his season was de-railed by a fractured wrist. He showed some promise in his return but often looked to be a step behind. An improved Grabbo would mean either reduced responsibility for Kadri or if Grabbo is moved to the wing, that Colby Armstrong wont be pressed into the top 6.

Jonas Gustavsson - He wasn't supposed to be a full time number one last year but Toskala's ineptitude forced him into service early. He had some obvious bumps in the road and finished the year with a .902 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. Giguere should reduce his workload and the year under Allaire should have spurred his development. Better numbers from the Monster in his probable 30ish starts this season would go a long way towards securing a playoff spot.

Tyler Bozak - He didn't have a bad year last year. 27 points in 37 games, with many of them coming late in the season, is nothing to be ashamed of. That said, Bozak is likely going to be leading our top unit and as such will be centering Phil Kessel. It probably isn't likely, but we're going to need 65-75 points from Bozak to get a sniff of the second season.

Mike Komisarek - No doubt about it. Perhaps the poster boy for what went wrong with the Leafs last year, Komisarek -9 in 34 games, took some stupid and costly penalties, and was hurt for a significant part of the season. While many believe that Komisarek's lingering injury was the cause of his bad play my feeling is that it has to be. If what we saw from him last year was the real Mike Komisarek then this team is doomed. I like his presence on the ice and like that smaller forwards will struggle to develop any kind of prolonged offensive zone pressure with him on the ice but his defense when the opponent is counter-attacking was highly suspect last year. If one player needs a bounce back year, it's him.

Those are my picks. Anyone else have some thoughts on who could stand to improve next season?


Leaf.Fan.Gordo said...

Luke Schenn. He has to be better then last season or he has to get outta dodge. I hope Burke trades him out instead of Kaberle.

Anonymous said...

I actually believe the leafs are alot better than they were when they started the season last year. As burke says there record after the trade would have earned them a playoff position. I think the leafs are a more rugged team now, and especially if guys can stay in the line up.

With additions to the roster like Kadri, and Versteeg should help, and some extra sandpaper in Brown and Armstrong.

Then the card up the sleeve... the Kaberle trade will surely reap a nice offensive reward.

Our backend should be used to each other now, and compete with the best of em.

I think we are in for a fun season.

Curt S said...

@ anonymous

I agree that the Leafs are better this year than they were last season (a full year of Phil Kessel all but guarantees that). But we have to be a lot better than we were last year to make the playoffs.

A lot of players on the Leafs had career-worst years last year. Add that all up and you have a team that finishes at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. But that's also a cause for hope - if those guys can bounce back to their form of earlier years, then your team can be greatly improved without adding the Kovalchuks or the Gonchars of this world.

I certainly expect a better season from our boys this year.

Anonymous said...

My reading of your article is that we are assuming Kaberle is not traded. You make no assumption that a scoring forward is included in the roster as a return for Kaberle. In that case I would say we need Kaberle to be better, I'd replace Grabovski with Kaberle on your list. I think Grabovski was an important piece of the Leafs last year, and they were much better with him than without him.

Read this old General Borschevsy piece, and see of you agree.

Curt S said...

@ anonymous

I intentionally avoided any mention of Kaberle because there's just too uncertainty with his situation at the moment -- I just have no idea what's going to happen with him anymore.

There's definitely an argument to be made for Grabbo. He was really bad in the early part of the season and much better later on. I wouldn't call him a bust or anything but we need him to sustain his post-injury form for the whole season.

under taker said...

I read a lot about how the leafs have to "OVERTAKE" teams next season. But I think this is a cynical way of looking at next season as all teams start out tied for first.
Did Phoenix over take a 100 pts season last year? Did Colorado overtake teams or just play good hockey and maintain a playoff position by keeping losing streaks to a minimum?

this OVER TAKE stuff is bunk.

Destroyko said...

@under taker

Season-over-season improvement on the order of magnitude seen by Phoenix or Colorado is relatively unprecedented. The last team to go from last in the East to a playoff spot was Philly, and they had some real impact rookies coming in (Richards and Carter I believe). Even if Kadri is as good as one of them (no), who's the other?

There are usually 2 or so teams who drop from the playoffs and 2 who get in in each conference. The Leafs have done nothing this off-season to make me believe they'll be one of those teams. Choose not to call it "overtake" if it makes you feel better, but not all teams start as equals. Maybe you'd prefer to picture the Leafs "overcoming" their roster deficiencies relative to the playoff favourites?

Curt S said...

@ undertaker / destroyko

There are a finite number of points in a season (max three per game) and each of the league's 30 teams are fighting over their share of those points. Last season's performance is a good starting point for analysis. You look at where they were and where they want to be. They need to be 12 - 18 points better next year to make the playoffs which, ultimately, will lead to overtaking teams.

I don't think all of that improvement needs to come from what has been, thus far, a lackluster offseason. That's the point of this post. The goaltending and defense will be better this year -- I'm confident in this. I think the offense will be better too but the question is, will the improvements in these three units makeup those 12 - 18 points?