In order to propel themselves past their current spell of mediocrity, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to improve, again. No one claims to have a magic wand or a quick fix, but with a perfect storm brewing and new ownership led by Larry Tannenbaum breathing down his neck, general manager Dave Nonis is surely seeking solutions other than a win streak.
Facing the New York Rangers will be no walk in the park for the second-youngest team in the league.
In the short term, Matt Frattin will be asked to fill in for the injured Joffrey Lupul and there are other Marlies—Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne—eager to answer the bell, joining those still enjoying their chance this year in Nazem Kadri, Mike Kostka, Leo Komarov and Mark Fraser.
If the Leafs go into an early-season tailspin, then the net effect might enable Jerry D'Amigo and Brad Ross to get a shot in The Bigs this year.
Where the goaltending issues and Roberto Luongo's status are concerned, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun says Nonis apparently hasn’t been as aggressive as many had thought, knowing that it would take Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and a second-round pick. Wow.
A few years ago, former assistant GM Bill Watters swung into the local pub I was visiting for a quick lunch, and when asked about the club's prospects, he could sing no higher praises than for Ben Scrivens. He said the kid was exceptional.
So if Scrivens will indeed come back to statistically imposing form, sooner than later, while his goaltending partner James Reimer can remain steady between the pipes, then Nonis will feel less pressure to make any rash moves like going after Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov, assuming Leafs forwards can put more pucks past opposing goalies this season.
As a whole, the team must win faceoffs, recover loose pucks, block shots, finish checks, complete passes, etc. and strive to improve shift after shift. But the linchpin in this operating system lies in the effectiveness and efficiency of its amply stocked defensive core.
In the locker room as well as on the ice—not to mention in the face of cameras and microphones—captain Dion Phaneuf and his alternates must step up to the plate and continually provide inspired leadership.
In the wake of Keith Aucoin recently joining the New York Islanders, it might be interesting to see if a deal might be swung for the disgruntled Nino Niederreiter and Evgeni Nabokov in exchange for a package maybe including one of the Marlies' competent goalies in Jussi Rynnas or Mark Owuya.
Of the current Leafs players that come to mind who haven't been enjoying admirable seasons, Nikolai Kulemin and Phil Kessel would draw interest. I'll go out on a limb and say Kessel is untouchable, but it might be time to move Kulemin. Kessel must continue to shoot the puck aplenty in order to score. He seems healthy and seems to be having fun, and he is shooting. Kulemin does not seem happy.
Speaking of shooting and missing, it's rather uncanny how many times, courtesy of the broadcasters these days, the words "high and wide" accompany a Phaneuf shot during recent games. My advice, and I'm sure Lupul would concur: keep those shots low and aim for the net.
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