Issues surrounding the Leafs midway through the summer.
We are at the mid-point of this hockey off-season and many Leaf fans are making note of the roster, re-arranging it and coming up with line combinations, projected stats and doing all sorts of stuff to try and keep the boredom to a minimum. As well as projected line-ups, there are a few other questions that will continue to pop-up throughout the summer.
Here are a few of those questions and my thoughts:
Will Kaberle be moved for some top 6 forward help?
Brian Burke has maintained since before the trade deadline that he prefers to hold onto Kaberle who is a top puck moving defenseman in this league. If Kaberle was to be traded, who could then run the powerplay? Van Ryn has not yet proven he can play a full healthy season, Beauchemin is known more for a great point shot and making solid defensive plays but not necessarily for quarterbacking a powerplay and people are not ready to say just yet that Ian White is more than a second pairing defenseman.
Unless there is a move the Leafs simply cannot refuse, Kaberle will be a Leaf next year and could perhaps have a career year after the confidence that Burke has shown in him. Playing top minutes with better defenseman around him and an elevated team toughness could be just what this guy needs to add jump to his game. I for one remember how great Kaberle played when the Leafs used to be a contending team; I am excited to see him return to form.
What can solid goaltending mean for the Leafs?
Last season, poor goaltending plagued this team on a semi-nightly basis. After the revelation that Toskala required surgery and was done for the year, many Leaf fans were willing to give him a pass and write off the season.
This year, there is no excuse for the Leafs to have a better season than the past two in terms of goaltending. In 2007-2008, Raycroft played in 19 games, and had a record of 2 wins, 9 losses and 5 OT losses and a 0.876 SV%. In that same year, Toskala posted a record of 33-25-6 with a .904 SV%. Last season, Toskala had a record of 22-17-11 and CUJO had a record of 5-9-1. What is the point? The point of all this is that even with Toskala having a bad season last year, one cannot disregard the fact that the Leafs primary backup goalies from the past 2 season have only combined for 7 wins. Now
THAT stat is staggering.
With newcomer Jonas Gustavsson on board, the Leafs only require him to be good enough to be near .500 in wins. Say what you want about Toskala but he has posted two straight season well above .500 hockey. With this all of the time he has been given to rest and prepare for this season and the added defensive help, I look to Toskala to rebound nicely.
The Key this year for goaltending: Get solid backup games from Gustavsson.
What youngsters to look out for in training camp?
As stated in many articles, the Leafs are prepared to give a few new guys a look for next year. Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg are all staying in town to prepare for this season and hopefully one of these guys can crack the lineup. Most are predicting Bozak to have a great chance as he has great wheels, good hands and playmaking abilities. Also, Hanson played fairly well last season in his few games but showed the definite need to improve on skating and strength against NHL players.
The player I believe may have the best upside of the three is Viktor Stalberg. He was good in two playoff games with the Marlies and has all the tools to be a great hockey player. All you need to do is peruse through a few Youtube videos to see that this guy has great speed, smooth strides, awesome hands and a great shot; he is no dwarf at 6’3 either.
Many fans are also waiting to see Jiri Tlusty show at the NHL level what he was showing at the AHL level last season. I for one think Tlusty made great strides last year and would love to see this 1st rounder round out the top 2 lines on the Leafs next season. He has taken past controversies and tribulations on Canadian soil and continued his development, become a leader at the AHL level and has not shown any quit to his game. I like his attitude and believe he deserves a shot to showcase his game this year.
Unfortunately, Didomenico is still recovering from his devastating crash into the boards during the QMJHL playoffs and may not be on skates until November. This guy has a lot of jam and perseverance; he will factor into the Leafs plans down the road and has the type of personality to make a good recovery from this injury. Other notables are this year’s first rounder Nazem Kadri and Dale Mitchell; Kadri should return to junior this year and Mitchell will most likely be on the Marlies with an outside chance of crossing over to the big club. Both players are small but with tenacity, toughness and good skating abilities.
About the Author
Written by Mike Crupi