Saturday, January 8, 2011

Toronto Maple Leafs at the mid point

So here are my player report cards for the mid point of the season. Players like Mikhail Grabovski and Kris Versteeg and improved over the past 20 games while others have dropped off.


Luke Schenn A B
Tomas Kaberle A B
Jonas Gustavsson A C
Clarke MacArthur B B
Mikhail Grabovski B A
Phil Kessel B B
Nik Kulemin B B
Mike Brown B -
Fredrik Sjostrom B B
Kris Versteeg C A
Francois Beauchemin C B
Dion Phaneuf C B
Colton Orr C B
Carl Gunarsson C D
J-S Giguere C C
Tyler Bozak D C
Mike Komisarek D D
Tim Brent D D
John Mitchell D D
Brett Lebda D D
Keith Aulie - B
Nazem Kadri - C
Colby Armstrong - C
James Reimer - -

The way that Leaf Nation operates is that following a big win like the one against Atlanta last night, much of the fan base switches from angst to blind optimism. Suddenly a playoff spot is again possible. After all, the Leafs are only 11 points back of Montreal.

The reality is that the amount of points that the team trails the eighth place team isn't that relevant. What matters is how many points you will likely need to finish in the top 8. Most people settle on 90 points. That means the Leafs will need 54 points in the remaining 42 games which is a winning percentage of 64.3%. Over the first half of the season, the only teams to win at that rate were Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Tampa Bay. To suggest that the Leafs are capable of playing at that level is somewhere between unrealistic and delusional.

What we've known for some time is that Leaf fans cannot look forward to some playoff action or speculate on which high end prospect the Leafs will be able to draft this June. So what is left for the team and their fans this season?

Well I'm not interested in watching a bunch of minor league players struggle to keep up with NHL competition. Let's bring up the kids and get a jump start in getting them ready for the NHL. Call ups for guys Mike Zigomanis and Joey Crabbe are a nice way to reward good performance but as a fan I'm not interested in watching them in a Leaf uniform. I would rather be watching Nazem Kadri, Keith Aulie, Luca Caputi and Marcel Mueller even if at this point in time they aren't as good. To me there is no discernible difference between a 10th or 14th place finish.

Speaking of prospects, we don't have enough of them. Management needs to begin assessing which players have enough potential to be part of a winning team. I'm happy with moving the rest for what ever you can get. I'm not suggesting a rush to make judgment on the roster. This Nik Kulemin's third season and his final goal total may equal his first two season. I was never a big Grabovski fan. I thought he was a creative player that was too small, undisciplined, a defensive liability and emotionally immature. However, he has become an offensive dynamo of late. That second pick we gave up for him seems to be turned out to be a good deal. So you need to decide when players need more time and when to cut bait.

In making trades you have to be open minded and creative which I think applies to Brian Burke. There are no untouchable franchise players on this team although some players like Luke Schenn or Kadri could come close. So anyone on the roster should be available for the right deal. Even players like Grabovski, Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur. What's wrong with selling high? The Leafs may be shopping the usual suspects (Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Tomas Kaberle) but maybe Burke can pull off another surprise blockbuster and move a guy like Grabovski to a contender? The Leafs are 2 or 3 years from being a contender and his value may never be higher. The Leafs don't need to dump salary. They need building blocks for the future.

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