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Questions Still Remain For Leafs

Wednesday, 24.03.2010 / 11:39 AM / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Questions Still Remain For Leafs
First, please read this article. We are keeping track.

Second, do join the chat to talk with me about it at 3 p.m. We chart that too and my future here is tenuous at best.

Now on to the show.

A little while ago I was reading about one of those goofy studies that found husbands who kiss their wives on their way to work live an average of three years longer than husbands who do not.

I mentioned this to my wife.

“Great,” she said, “but what’s in it for me?”

Ouch.

The Maple Leafs have nine games left on their schedule and my wife’s question also applies to a certain hockey club: what’s in it for them?

With the playoffs a distant dream, the Leafs situation is by most measures pretty grim.

There is no arguing with the standings which put the 64-point Leafs in 29th place. That would not be so bad were it not a 30-team league.

Still, the question won’t go away until the season finale. A few will be posed right up to the draft.  Let’s have a look.

1. The draft choice issue. The New York Islanders are next up the line with 68 points, then the Carolina Hurricanes with 69. Columbus and Tampa check in with 70 points but the Leafs might have to run the table to catch them and that’s hard to envision especially with two games remaining against the Atlanta Thrashers who are battling with Boston for eighth in the East.  The Leafs are a long, long shot to dodge the lottery but a spirited run would at least make it interesting.

2. The positioning of the goaltenders. I think the slight statistical advantage Jonas Gustavsson has enjoyed over J.S. Giguere has been mostly circumstantial. Giguere has gone 4-6 with a .915 save percentage and 2.51 goals against. Since Giguere’s arrival,  The Monster has five wins and one loss with a .910 save percentage and a 2.41 GAA.

That said, a strong finish would signal noticeable improvement in Gustavsson. It would validate the decision by GM Brian Burke to import Giguere as both a mentor and an advocate of Francois Allaire’s teachings.

3. The future of Mikhail Grabovski. Some goals and assists would go a long way for Grabovski who has struggled to recapture the same eye-catching ability he displayed in his rookie year. Either to boost trade value or fortify his place on the team, Grabovski has to produce more offence. Grabovski has but nine goals in 50 games.

4. Tomas Kaberle’s play. Since the Olympics Kaberle has one assist in a dozen games. He is minus eight. If the Leafs are serious about re-signing him, these numbers should give them pause. If they are hopeful of trading him at the draft, the numbers should give somebody else pause.

5. The continued development of Tyler Bozak. Bozak’s acquisition via free agency looks like one of Burke’s shrewdest moves. Bozak has produced at a point a game pace of late and his work in the face-off circle has improved dramatically. He has eight games in which to provide himself a springboard toward a summer of nutrition and weight work that will make him a bigger, stronger player.

6. Luke’s Schenn’s rebound. Although plus/minus is far from science, it can be revealing. Schenn is plus five in his last 10 games and the stronger his play, the more distance he puts between himself and his dreadful start of the season.

7. The speed show. The Leafs have become not only one of the youngest teams in the league but one of the fastest ones. Watching Nikolai Kulemin, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, Viktor Stalberg and Fredrik Sjostrom rocket up ice is just plain fun.

8.  Free agent fun. The Leafs have already inked six-foot-four Lake Superior State defenceman Simon Gysbers to a contract. Published reports have the team interested in five-foot-seven Norweigan Mats Zuccarello-Aansen. A thinner pool of undrafted collegians will make a coup such as the signing of Bozak far more difficult.

9.  Who goes? The contracts of Wayne Primeau, Rickard Wallin, John Mitchell, Jamie Lundmark, Mike Van Ryn and Garnet Exelby are up this season. New players obtained via free agency or trade need to be incorporated into the roster.  So does Nazem Kadri. Who is going? You figure it out.

10. Who is coming? Forget Ilya Kovalchuk or Patrick Marleau. There are some second-tier free agents who could make a difference: New Jersey defenceman Paul Martin, Ottawa’s hardrock blueliner Anton Volchenkov and agitating leftwinger Raffi Torres could make a difference. And never overlook the ability of Burke to make a draft day deal.
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