Toronto Maple Leafs Still Searching For Consistency

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season so far has been nothing but a rollercoaster ride.

Through their first 23 games, the Maple Leafs have had three major stretches: a four-game winning streak that came in the first four games, an eight-game losing streak and a stretch in which they won three out of four games. As you can see, the Maple Leafs haven’t exactly been the most consistent team in the National Hockey League this season.

A lot of that blame can be placed on Phil Kessel. Kessel, a potential 30-40 goal scorer, has just ten goals and four assists in 24 games this season. Kessel started the season with seven goals in his first eight games, but has since tailed off.

The 23-year-old’s poor play certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed, as his lack of effort has forced him into head coach Ron Wilson’s “dog house” multiple times this season.

Kris Versteeg meanwhile, also has 14 points, but in one less game. Those statistics put him on pace for 58 points, which would be the second most total in his NHL career.

Although 48 points seems like a good season, it would be deemed a poor one for Versteeg, who is being expected to thrive off of top-six minutes, something he didn’t get in Chicago. He started slowly, but with eight points in his last 11 games, Versteeg has been playing extremely well. He too will need to become consistently good for the Maple Leafs to make any charge at the post-season.

Many would be quick to point out that the acquisition of a top-line centre to play with Kessel and Versteeg would help the two, but that cannot be used as an excuse.

But of course, not all the blame can be placed on just two players.

Dion Phaneuf, although currently injured, is off to a very slow start this season. The 6’3″, 214 pound defenseman has played in 11 games this season and has a minus-6 rating. This lack of effort and what looks like a lack of passion has been put into question by almost everyone this season.

Phaneuf, the team captain, is expected to lead the team. If he isn’t able to lead the team on the ice, he certainly can’t having an easy time leading them in the dressing room.

Despite his poor play, Phaneuf’s return to the lineup definitely won’t hurt, as he is still a very useful asset.

The 25-year-old has scored 77 goals in his NHL career, 48 of which were scored on the power play. His big shot and offensive ability should help the Maple Leafs.

Other Maple Leafs defencemen still looking to find their way this season include Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, both of whom have felt the pressure from the Toronto fans and media to do better.

Someone who has not struggled all that much, however, is Luke Schenn. The third-year defenceman is plus-1 in 24 games this season and has been one of the most stellar and consistent Maple Leafs all season long. With six points so far, Schenn is on pace to score a career-high 20 points this season.

Despite the importance of offence and defence, goaltending is one of the most important aspects of hockey, and the Maple Leafs have it. With Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere splitting time in net, the Leafs always have an above-average goalie as their last line of defence.

In 13 appearances this season, Giguere, who just returned from a groin injury, has a goals against average of 2.90 and a save percentage of .890.

Gustavsson, meanwhile, was more than impressive during Giguere’s time away. The sophomore goalie has a record of just 3-7-2, but has a goals against average of 2.66 and a save percentage of .910. Unfortunately for Gustavsson, the Leafs haven’t been giving him very much offensive support, something that he and Giguere need in order to win games.

If the Maple Leafs can get going offensively, they should be able to find some consistency and possibly even climb into the playoff picture. However, that is easier said than done. The Leafs sit in the bottom five in the entire league when it comes to finding the back of the net and there are no signs of that changing any time soon.

**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.hardonk@gmail.com.

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Burke Still Looking to Trade, Could Use Goalies as Bait

Despite the recent success the Toronto Maple Leafs have been experiencing (winning three of their last four and three straight at home), general manager Brian Burke is still looking to make a trade, according to TheFourthPeriod.com (via the Toronto Sun).

The report suggests Burke still wants to add an “offensive-minded” forward, be it a centre or a winger.

The speculation has led many to wonder what Burke might use as potential trade bait, naming Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and, of course, Tomas Kaberle as options. However, with sophomore Jonas Gustavsson, the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere and surprisingly impressive minor leaguer Jussi Rynnas all under contract, the goaltending position could be a focal point.

Gustavsson has been getting plenty of playing time during Giguere’s absence. In nine games this season, Gustavsson is 3-4-1 and has a save percentage of .922 to go along with a goals against average of 2.30. With a career record of 19-19-10, save percentage of .906 and goals against average of 2.77, Gustavsson could be in line for a much bigger role with the Maple Leafs.

Giguere, meanwhile, has also been impressive. The 35-year-old is 5-5-2, has a save percentage of .895 and has a goals against average of 2.78 in 12 games this season. Unfortunately, however, he earns $6 million this season and could be feeling the pressure from Rynnas, who has a GAA of 1.79 and a save percentage of .941 in 12 games with the Toronto Marlies this season.

The problem with trading Giguere is that he has a no-trade clause, meaning he gets to block any trade he is involved in. Any deal would be hard for the Maple Leafs to complete before Christmas, however, as Burke’s self-imposed holiday trade freeze goes into effect on December 9th.

**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.hardonk@gmail.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

Three Reasons Why Luke Schenn Will Earn A Big Raise

Luke Schenn is in line for a big raise

He has been tagged as the franchise player by many, and it may be just about time to give him the contract that fits that label.

With two full National Hockey League seasons under his belt, 20-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn is no longer short on experience, and with the way he has been playing, it may be about time that he earns a hefty raise, whether it’s with the Maple Leafs or not.

Here are three reasons why Luke Schenn has a good shot at receiving a lucrative contract come July 1, 2011:

Development

Both of those years, he has been learning from a coach with a great reputation in Ron Wilson. Not to mention the likes of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf.

When Phaneuf came to Toronto, he made everyone around him better. Now that he is captain, he will be expected to continue doing exactly what he was, which means great things for the development of Schenn.

Supporting cast

The Maple Leafs log jam on defence has been well documented by the media, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, especially for Schenn. As long as he makes the team, which seems more than likely to happen, he will have a great supporting cast to work with, only helping him to play better and become a better defenceman, both on the defensive side of things and the offensive side.

Leafs forwards, meanwhile, should help the normally stay-at-home defenceman rack up the points and assists. Now, that doesn’t mean that you should expect Schenn to put up 30+ points, but with the likes of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Kris Versteeg and possibly Nazem Kadri up front, the 6-foot-2, 215 pound Schenn shouldn’t lack offensive numbers this season.

Contract season

The native of Saskatoon will be entering his contract year in 2010-2011, which could mean either great or bad news. Sometimes players thrive when they are in the final year of their contract, knowing that a big season could earn them a hefty raise come July 1. Some, however, are the exact opposite, as they try to do too much, ultimately forcing them to make poor decisions on and off the ice.

Schenn has had two good seasons in the league, one of them was outstanding considering that he was a rookie in a hockey mad Toronto market. In 2009-10, his statistics improved drastically. Scoring five goals, three more than his previous total of two, and 12 assists for a total of 17 points, three more points than his previous total of 14, his second season was nothing short of impressive.

Schenn’s gritty and tough style of play has made players all over the league aware of when he’s on the ice, something that every team wants from every single one of its players.

With the way he has played in his first two seasons, all signs point towards a good, if not great, contract season for Schenn.

So just how much money and how many years should he receive? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see how this season goes for the young NHLer.

**You can contact Lukas by e-mail at lukas@gacksports.com and follow him on Twitter @lukas_nhl.