Lots Of Questions Remain For Leafs
Monday, 03.1.2010 / 2:40 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
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And now for something totally different.
The Maple Leafs return to action Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes at Air Canada Centre second last overall and six points behind the Hurricanes who sit way up in 28th place.
The Olympic break has given the Leafs a reprieve from what has been brutal season, but the final stretch of 21 games over 40 nights will in large part determine what Maple Leaf fans see this fall.
There are 10 questions to be answered over those 40 days and 40 nights.
1. What about Mikhaill Grabovski? Grabovski was involved in something in Vancouver but the exact nature of what happened is still in the ether. Doesn’t matter. Grabovski’s story isn’t about Vancouver so much as it is about seven goals in 42 games before he fractured his left wrist. I know, the Leafs aren’t chock full of talent up front, but it’s hard to see where Grabovski fits. He has plenty of try and speed but the team game seems to elude him. His natural gifts may return just in time to attract some interest at Wednesday’s deadline.
2. Is Phil Kessel a top 20 player? Kessel scored four goals in his last five Maple Leaf games. With 21 goals in 41 games, he has put any lingering fears of a bad shoulder to rest, but he was rarely noticed in Vancouver with just one goal in six games.
3. Is J.S. Giguere as good as his numbers? If he is, the Leafs stole a front-line goalie from Anaheim. Giguere has a 1.76 goals against average and a .941 save percentage, albeit in a piddling four-game sample. What gives? How can a player struggle as much as Giguere did in Anaheim, find himself traded to a team with a spottier defence, and thrive.
4. What to do with Alexei Ponikarovsky? Ponikarovsky’s 19 goals is second on the club. If he is in play, and there has been nothing to suggest that he isn’t, who do the Leafs turn to for offence.
5. Dion Phaneuf has been fine since arriving from Calgary but if he is to lead shouldn’t a nice jump in the standings be the result?
6. Will Tomas Kaberle value negotiating his destination over forty final nights in Blue and White? If so, he becomes the number one player available at the trade deadline. If he stays, the Leafs leading scorer is probably traded at the draft.
7. What is happening with Nazem Kadri? Glad you asked. Thirty goals, 81 points in 51 games. Kadri sits eighth in OHL scoring. Take a look towards Beantown, where six-foot-five sophomore Jimmy Hayes has tallied 22 points in 31 games for Boston College.
8. What kind of capital does the Americans’ strong finish give Ron Wilson? Plenty. Leafs fans will be aghast if, as expected, the team fails to make the post season for the fifth straight season. But Wilson re-asserted his coaching bona fides by leading a team few picked to make the finals to a finish one goal shy of a Gold medal. The U.S. team was an entertaining unit shrewdly built around the strengths of goalie Ryan Miller. Handling a team who might have only placed four or five players on the Canadian side, Wilson was the best coach of the tournament. Likewise, GM Brian Burke assembled a team by his traditional blueprint, from the crease out, big and mean. That combination, and Burke’s ability to assemble it, was spectacularly showcased in Vancouver.
9. How successful will Burke be at the deadline in creating cap room by finding a home for Jeff Finger, whose $3.5 million deal acts as a lower-case millstone?
10. What happens to Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson and all those to follow? The Leafs regrettable record, the trade of forwards Matt Stajan and Jason Blake as well as imminent free agency for Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak means there is room aplenty for college free agents. But no single name has yet emerged from this year’s class. Burke looked at last year’s splurge as a one-time deal. He may have the means to do it again, but are there worthy catches out there?