Toronto Maple Leafs Bottom Six is Extremely Underrated

 

Fredrik Sjostrom has been silent but good this season

So much focus has gone towards the top-six forwards on the Toronto Maple Leafs. So much, in fact, that lost in all of the commotion has been the impressive play of the third and fourth lines.

Consisting of Colby Armstrong, Fredrik Sjostrom, Mike Zigomanis, John Mitchell, Colton Orr, Mike Brown and Tim Brent, there is always an extra specialty forward to stick into the lineup.

Armstrong, 27, is used as an energy player who can put the puck in the net. In six games this season, Armstrong has one goal and is a minus-1. However, in 366-career NHL regular season games, he has scored 79 goals and 100 assists, while going plus-31. The native of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan was known as an impact player during his time in Atlanta, and was even one of the team’s assistant captains.

Sjostrom, meanwhile, is not only a good third/fourth line player, but is also a penalty killing specialist. The 27-year-old is just one point shy of 100 for his career. He is pointless in five games so far this season.

Zigomanis, who has also appeared in all six games this season, has recorded one assist so far and has won 55.9 percent of the faceoffs he’s taken. In seven NHL seasons, the 29-year-old has played for the Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and, of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mitchell just made the team out of training camp, with the coaching staff choosing him over Luca Caputi, who was more than impressive during training camp. The decision now seems to be the right one based on team success, but he has yet to play this season. Although most fans didn’t see it or think much of it, Mitchell was one of the hardest workers on the Maple Leafs last season.

Orr and Brown can be thrown into the same category as enforcers.

Orr was one of just three players to play in all 82 games for the Leafs last season, scoring a career high four goals, while going minus-4 and accumulating a total of 239 penalty minutes. The 28-year-old was nothing but valuable to the men in blue during the 2009-2010 season.

Brown was acquired from Anaheim during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and was expected to be used as an extra who would be thrown in the lineup when facing division rivals and other threats. However, the 5’11”, 205 pound veteran hasn’t missed a game so far this season and has a plus/minus rating of plus-2. In six games, Brown also has a total of 17 penalty minutes. He’s been using his speed and toughness to impress the Maple Leafs coaching staff and fans.

Finally, Brent, 26, scored two goals in his first two games but has not scored in his last four. Brent isn’t a fighter and has managed to keep his penalty minutes low, with just two through the first six games. Brent has been used in both a shut down and energy roles and has excelled in both areas.

In six games this season, the Maple Leafs are allowing just 2.17 goals against on average. Although goalies Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, as well as every defenceman deserve credit, the third and fourth lines deserve a large part as well.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Why The 2010-2011 Season Won’t Be Like Any Other

2010-2011 will be an exciting season for the Leafs and it's fans

Never before has anyone ever seen a season that may be about to go down for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With hundreds of questions, multiple rookies and new players, the potential to make the playoffs is finally there and an offence that could either be good or horrific, the coming season will be nothing short of interesting and exciting.

If the Leafs plan on making the playoffs in 2011, the team’s goaltending duo of Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere will need to be absolutely outstanding. Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin will also need to turn in good seasons on the back-end, something that they didn’t do in 2009-2010, granted Komisarek on played in 34 games.

Entering the 2010-2011 season, there is more than just a few questions surrounding the Maple Leafs. Here are just some of them:

Will the Leafs finally make the playoffs?

Will Tyler Bozak be able to score 50 points?

Will Kris Versteeg flourish with more ice time in Toronto?

Will Phil Kessel score 40 goals?

Will the penalty kill be better?

Will the power play be better?

Will Nazem Kadri make the team? How well will he play if he does?

Fans and writers alike will look for those questions to be answered during the season. Although a case could be made that some of them have already been answered, we’ll have to wait.

The Leafs finally have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in years. It has been five seasons since the team has last made the playoffs in 2004, the year before the extremely infamous lockout.

However, if the Leafs want to make the playoffs they’re going to need the young and new players to live up to expectations.

This means 60+ points from Kris Versteeg, 35-40 points and an intimidating presence from Colby Armstrong and 40 points from Nazem Kadri (if he plays a full season). Luca Caputi, who has had a great pre-season, will be expected to score at least 15 goals this season, while Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will all be looked at to put up at least 50, 55 and 45 points respectively.

Perhaps the biggest star in the Leafs lineup, Phil Kessel, will be expected to score 40 goals. Kessel has twice scored 30 or more goals, once with the Bruins (36) and once with the Maple Leafs (30). With a play maker like Bozak, who scored 27 points in 37 games last season, 40 goals from the 6’0″, 202 lbs sniper finally seems like a reality in Toronto.

Versteeg, Armstrong, Kadri, Caputi, Bozak, Grabovski, Kulemin and Kessel will all play a huge role in proving everyone wrong about the Leafs offence. As of now, almost everyone is writing off the Leafs offensive skill, saying that the team’s top two lines are either too weak in size and strength, too weak in skill or not experienced enough.

Although it’s obvious the Leafs still need another top-six forward, preferably a winger, the offence could still prove to be good, not great.

Ron Wilson and company will also look for improved seasons from plenty defencemen, including Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn.

Komisarek, who didn’t score a goal but did score four assists in 2009-2010, played in just 34 games due to a shoulder injury. In those 34 games, he also posted a +/- rating of -9. If Komisarek can return to form this season, he will be looked at as a huge part of how the Leafs played.

Francois Beauchemin, meanwhile, played in all 82 games, but also struggled to play the way he was known for in Anaheim. Scoring five goals and 21 assists for a total of 26 points, the 30-year-old’s offensive statistics were right around where they normally are. His plus/minus, however, was not. With a rating of -13, Beauchemin was often picked on by fans and the media when the Leafs were in the midst of a bad skid.

As for Gunnarsson, and Schenn, the raised expectations having to do with nothing but development. Even though they all went through rough patches last season, all three were impressive.

Gunnarsson began playing for the big club midway through the season. He appeared in 43 games, scoring three goals and 12 assists while going +8. Schenn, a fellow defenceman, scored 17 of his 31-career points last season, playing in all but two games.

Goalie Jonas Gustavsson is also expected to improve upon a strong rookie campaign.

Gustavsson was known for big time saves and keeping the Leafs in games last season, but he was also very inconsistent. The Monster is definitely capable of improving upon his 2009-2010 goals against average of 2.87 and save percentage of .902. He also has a great veteran goalie to learn from in JS Giguere.

Giguere, who will be entering his 13th NHL season, is likely to see split time, sharing the duties with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old native of Montreal, Quebec played in 35 games last season for the Ducks and Maple Leafs, with against average of 2.85 and a save percentage of .907.

As you can see, the Maple Leafs are set when it comes to goaltending and defence this season. If the offence can significantly improve upon the 210 goals they scored last season and a league-worst %14 power play conversion rate, this young team is destined to make the playoffs.

If the offence is just as good as or worse than last season, however, then don’t expect the Leafs to be any higher than 12th in the Eastern Conference standings after all 82 games.

Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl.

lukas@gacksports.com