On this edition of The Leafs Report, we talk about the pains of the pre-season for the Maple Leafs so far as the team looks to be just going through the motions trying to get to the start of the season.
Over the years, it’s been hard to be a Leaf fan. Toronto has never seemed to have any sort of consistency in their game, whether it was 2002 or now. There are just some games where they’ll get blown out by a bottom-dweller only to destroy the Stanley Cup Champions the next night. That trend hasn’t seemed to change in this pre-season where the veterans on this team are just not showing enough effort night in and night out to be successful. 3 losses in a row, even in the pre-season is cause for concern. The Leafs have 2 pre-season games left against a tough Red Wings team on the weekend before the games start to count and Mike Babcock is going to want this team in top form for the first encounter against his former team. Keep in mind, the Leafs face the Red Wings in regular season action as well next Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
You can look at a lot of different reasons as to why Toronto isn’t performing well, but the main cause usually comes down to puck management. During the Buffalo game the other night, all of the Sabres goals came after giveaways by the Maple Leafs. It’s the same old story for this team and one that needs to change drastically this season if they hope to be even a little competitive. That game could have easily been 8-0 if it weren’t for Jonathan Bernier bailing them out in the first period.
Joffrey Lupul really seems to have lost a step in the past couple of years with all of the injuries he’s had to endure and now might be the time to let him go for some younger pieces. Toronto will likely entertain deals for the winger if he stays healthy and shows he can still play at a high-level early in the season. I’ve always liked Lupul, but the constant injuries have diminished his value to the Leafs and his motivation is questionable at times. If he could stay healthy and be a top-line winger on this team, he might be a good trade chip at the deadline for a contending team and he could net Toronto some significant young assets considering his deal is getting shorter by the day.
Dion Phaneuf continues to do just a little too much. When Phaneuf is playing a rough game, he tends to get caught out of position or lose his footing and tumble. Less is more with Dion and if he can play a more positionally sound game, everyone will benefit. I would love to see him paired with a guy like Polak for a considerable amount of time. I think Polak could have a great influence on Phaneuf and is one of the team’s most consistent performers.
Mark Fraser got a new two-way deal for this year from his hometown Ottawa Senators. Great deal for Mark, he was one of our bright spots on the playoff team from a few years ago and I was sad to see him go again. I had hoped that Toronto would sign him to a deal similar to what he signed in Ottawa, but it wasn’t to be.
Devin Setoguchi couldn’t make the cut with the Leafs and he was released from his PTO. It was a tough break for him and you have to wonder if that’s it for the young winger in the NHL.
In other PTO news, Brad Boyes is a Leaf again, 15 years after being drafted in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, signing a 1 year/$700,000 deal with the Leafs. This deal will be the steal of the season, Brad has a ton left to give and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is one of the scoring leaders on the team by season’s end (if he isn’t traded by the deadline).
Curtis Glencross is getting an opportunity in Colorado after the Leafs released him from his PTO. He was a -1 in last night’s game.
Mitch Marner was sent back to London (OHL) this week. You’ll see Marner a few years down the road in a Leafs uniform, but right now it’s his time to take the OHL by storm and mature physically. He will be a cornerstone for this franchise for years to come, just not right now.
Connor Brown and William Nylander are developing some great chemistry out there and have been the couple of bright spots the Leafs have had in the last week or so. Brown is nearly ready for the NHL and I could see him being the first call-up this year for injury, but I still expect him to start with the Marlies. William Nylander is similar, but I still think he needs more time in the AHL as well. It’s hard not to want to rush these kids when you see how much drive they have and how consistent they are, but the team has been doing the right thing with them in letting them develop slowly. Toronto has a brighter future than they ever have and sticking with the plan will result in some good things down the road.
Toronto finishes off the Pre-Season schedule with a home and home series against the Detroit Red Wings this weekend. We should see a lineup close to what we will see on opening night in the final game at least. The regular season begins Wednesday at 7pm at the Air Canada Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.