In one of many moments of frustration with JFJ last season I remember likening his 'plan' to a unicorn: a lot of people talk about it like it existed but no one had any proof.
Well, today JFJ articulated it. Finally. It is nice to see that after three years as GM JFJ was finally able to see the Leafs weaknesses and address them. Beyond just the subtraction of players and the addition of this year's incoming free agent class JFJ has provided Maurice with a glut of players which can be used (Newbury, Bell, Carlo, Pohl, Westrum, Bates) to step in for struggling players. One of my greatest gripes with Quinn was that he NEVER sat players that were struggling (Reichel, Renberg, Berg). Of course that was partly because of his loyalty to veterans and partly due to his lack of trusted replacements (although the Leafs have a recent history of doing very well with AHL call-ups Quinn was still very reticent to employ them). Maurice will not bring either of those two handicaps to the team. He is also looking forward to building a team more suited to the quicker pace of the league:
"We want to play a very aggressive puck-pursuit game when we don't have it," Maurice said, "which means you have to have people who want to work and you have to be in good shape to play that way. We want to make sure when we're attacking that we can do some things off the rush that we don't have to dump the puck because we're moving so slowly. We want our forwards to make some plays at the offensive blue line, but they have to do it with speed or you'll get awful turnovers."
Maurice also mentioned that he had been in close and frequent contact with his former charge Jeff O'Neill. I have heard rumours of a bit of a rift between the two of them from their Carolina days but Maurice's comments do not seem to indicate any problems:
"I have high expectations from how hard he is working and I've made him aware of what those expectations will be," Maurice said. "I've got a lot of faith in his talents and his abilities. I also know that he needs to get to a certain quickness level to be able to use them."
This makes me think that maybe the solution to the Sundin Question might be O'Neill. He struggled last year, like so many veterans, after the year-long layoff and carried the further burden of the tragic death of his brother before the beginning of the season. After a summer of healing (he had shoulder surgery) both physically and mentally he could be poised to return to the form that saw him score 102 goals in 3 seasons from 2000-2003. Training camp opens September 11. I cannot wait.