December 9, 2007

Man Disadvantage

In a game where special teams could have meant everything, the Leafs had a power outage rather than a power play.

Quite often when the Leafs play a team like the Senators, you'll hear from the announcers, or the staff and players in between periods speak of how the buds simply can not trade chance for chance, or play 'run and gun' with an offensive force. But last night against the Boston Bruins it was more of a 'crawl and trap' game the Leafs could ill afford to take part in. Alas, when the opposition is set on clogging up the neutral zone, there isn't a whole lot left to do other than playing a dump and chase game.

Clearly a dump and chase game is about as foreign to the Leafs as a defensive system. For when you've spent half of your cap on transition generating defencemen, dumping a puck is like asking a fish to fly. So the best thing to do, would be to continue preaching a puck possession game with some speed behind it in order to draw a penalty or two between the bluelines. And of course this plan can only work when you have a powerplay worth playing in hopes to acquire more than 2 shots every 4 man advantages.

Perhaps the biggest fault of Maurice's to date, is that he does not grasp the 'what have you done for me lately?' method. There has been little reason to put faith in last season's crew as Wellwood has yet to successfully deliver a puck cross crease to Tucker. And the duo of McCabe and Kaberle fail to utilize the positioning which game them much success in the past. Jason Blake continues to get PP assignments as well as extra attacker duties in the final minutes, but more often than not his shots result in easy whistles rather than scoring chances. True he did manage the only Leaf goal of the night, but let's face it. Auld should have stopped that and earned himself a rather easy shutout.

The Leafs should really try and shake things up with it's man advantage. Say goodbye to Blake, Tucker and Wellwood and maybe add a 3rd D man like White into the mix.

Picture the umbrella formation with Kaberle on the blueline midway across the rink. McCabe with his shot on one side with White on the other. This way you force two of the opposition's penalty killers to stay up past the hash marks to keep with in the defensive passing lanes while leaving the other two killers on their own down low to handle guys like Sundin and Antropov.

Now I am not guaranteeing that this rather unorthodox PP unit would pay off. But what it would do, is force the opposition to think a little. Something the Bruins didn't have to do much of last night.

Feel free to give me your own PP saving methods.

November 22, 2007

What Are They Waiting For?

Now that the Leafs have officially succumbed to possibly the greatest prospect they had and gave away, exactly what is keeping the inevitable pink slip from reaching JFJ's office door?

I suppose the camouflaging of 5 overtime losses has helped somewhat, but let's not be fooled here. The Leafs aren't 1 game under .500 (which is already unacceptable in his 4th season), but they happen to be 6 games below .500.

In a perfect world, the Teachers either through Peddie or Tanenbaum, should have given the Leafs an ultimatum on Tuesday night. Beat the rookie Rask and allow the franchise to save face, or else clean out your lockers. And two days later, not a sound other than the wringing of Sundin's voice questioning the identity of this club.

When JFJ took over for Pat Quinn, his apparent goal was to restore the farm team and stockpile the youth system by not giving up on his prospects and picks. Which is why facing and losing to Rask should have been the catalyst to Ferguson's tenure as Leaf boss.

Having given up the most goals against in the entire league after spending so much on defensemen and making two separate panic moves to acquire their two supposed best goaltenders, only the Marlies seem to be going according to plan this season. In short, every move Ferguson has made thus far has ended up with egg on his face.

Perhaps the failed attempt to acquire a senior executive, or a co-general manager to JFJ this past offseason is keeping the brass from making the one move every radio analyst and every phone-in caller in the southern Ontario region has been asking for in agreement 2 years straight. If a senior consultant is that hard to find, how hard would it be to successfully land a successor? And when you consider that in all the entire Leaf media structure, the only name to be mentioned lately is Glen Healy, there is a serious problem here. But what of Neil Smith?

What the Leafs can ill afford to do, is hire a second straight rookie GM. Especially in the wake of the MLSE's decision to put in veteran GM Colangelo to front it's basketball team. And there is no telling how well the former goaltender can perform under these dire circumstances. All you have to do is listen for a few minutes on TSN or CBC to hear him glow in admiration of Captain Mats Sundin. And although I do not disagree with his sentiments in this specific player, I cannot fathom him being able to trade Sundin away to regain some futures. Even despite his no trade clause.

Beyond having traded for two enigmatic goaltenders and locking up a team of underachievers for far too much money, the Leafs biggest problem is not having the ability to maximize theis assets while they still have them. When the team chose to give up on players such as Roberts, Niewendyk, Belfour, and even Allison and O'Neill, they did not give them up at the deadline to teams wishing to make a post season push. They were merely given away for nothing with nothing to show for them other than some cap space that was later filled with someone elses cast offs.

What MLSE must do, is give up on their few bright lights. Trade away the Kaberles, Antropovs and Sundins while they can get a return for them. And it doesn't really take 10 years to successfully rebuild a team as the Flyers demonstrated last season. Perhaps all it would take is the rest of this season.

Right now, only Smith seems capable of pushing this reality pill down the throats of our owners.

November 20, 2007

The Wrath Of Rask?

Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will meet the kid they gave up on to acquire Andrew Raycroft for the first time. And unfortunately for the Bruins, they won't be facing the same guy they annihilated just a week ago.

Although the head to head matchup of traded goaltenders would have been a great story for a quiet game in late November, this is the next best thing. With the memory of of Raycroft being beat just 19 seconds into the previous matchup between these two clubs fresh on Leaf fans minds, we provide the measuring stick. For wouldn't the Leafs need to score well more than 5 goals tonight to save face in it's latest evaluation mishap controversy?

Quietly, MLSE can push back the other notable goaltender they valued more than the young Fin in Justin Pogge. Who in his second stint in the AHL is still struggling to get his save percentage over .900. Not to mention that he currently sits 4th in the much maligned Leaf goaltender depth rating. However, the comparing between Rask and Raycroft himself is something that will be talked about for much of the rest of this week. That much is confirmed.

Tuuka Rask has played in just 9 games on North American soil. All being with the Providence Bruins in the AHL. He sports a 7 and 2 record while putting up a 2.10 GAA. While North American born goaltenders Pogge and Raycroft acheived 3.03 and 3.37 GAAs respectively in their first professional years in the 'A'.

If there was one thing that could quickly take over the good feelings that a 3 to nothing win over the rival Senators gave Toronto, it would be a defeat to the one bright goaltending prospect they once had and gave away for practically nothing.

Stay tuned...

November 19, 2007

Blake Misses Practice

Apparently in the one game where Leaf forwards spend 60 complete minutes in an unorthodox two-way style that still has the Leaf faithful' jaws dropped, a sign appeared from the diligent backchecking as Jason Blake was noticeably missing from this morning's practice. We've been told that he is resting some wear and tear due to a Volchenkov-like shot block on Saturday night.

Leaf media was after it's obligatory interview with the plain-clothed Blake, but instead received a blank stare before he stormed past them briefly mentioning that he had to pick up his son.

Back in the offseason, we probably expected this to be big time news. Even the possibility of missing Blake for a regular season game due to injury would have us wondering how the Leafs would get around this huge lack of offensive power. Especially on the powerplay. But in reality, Blake's 2 goals (neither on the PP) at the quarter point of the season is hardly something to lose sleep over.

Quite frankly, I do not recall this game saving shot block that the Leaf's free agent forward supposedly displayed in the big win against Ottawa. What I do remember from that game was his two lap skate around the Ottawa zone which inevitably ended in not having a scoring chance. It wasn't the first time I asked myself what the hell was he doing this season.

Despite having zero chemistry on the top line with Sundin and Ponikarovsky, Blake continues to get Jonas Hoglund-like minutes without putting up Jonas Hoglund-like points. And before the bleeding hearts out there quickly point out his recent bout with Leukemia, lets keep in mind that his form of cancer is currently being treated with just one pill a day.

Last Saturday night, Blake continued giving away powerplay minutes to the disappointing Darcy Tucker who managed to record his first goal of the year while on the man advantage. And as Bryan McCabe skated out onto the ice earning a first star of the game, it reminded me just how harshly he was booed for not playing up to his contract.

If there was a player deserving of these boo birds, it would be the Dmitri Khristich reincarnate... Jason Blake.

November 18, 2007

Prolonging The Inevitable

As proud as Leaf fans must have felt last night in the wake of a 3 to 0 shutout win against the powerhouse Senators, it happened to be exactly what LeafNation did not need. Providing us with mere window dressing that will allow incompetent GM JFJ another day, week, or even month of breathing space.

With images of coach Maurice and 'Handlebars' McCabe having a little one on one meeting at center ice during that morning's practice, flashing on the screen over and over during Hockey Night In Canada, the consensus today was predictable. "Maurice has finally grabbed the reigns of this team and they have bought into his defensive system once and for all!" Now, I've been accused of looking at the glass half empty many times in the past, but it isn't the amount that remains in the cup that has my interest. It is the amount that is leaking out from the bottom.

A win like last night's might have been suitable for Maurice's 2001-02 Carolina Hurricanes, but does not fit in with the current Leafs' philosophy. Clogging up the neutral zone doesn't exactly exemplify the league's most expensive defensive core, theoretically built for a transition game. And especially considering that defender's #5 and #6 were used so sparingly.

Nor does utilizing just one forechecker. The Leafs 6'4"+ crew of Neanderthals aren't terribly known for their two way games, nor their open ice wizardry. The opposing boards is their bread and butter. Or at least, that was the original plan.

About the only thing on paper that does seem to be going somewhat to plan, is the dynamic duo between the pipes each notching a shutout in the past 8 games. However, this does not fool many while they continue to allow almost 4 goals against each game.

Now, it is not my intention to suggest that the Leafs should choose a game plan better suited to their initial philosophies over the one they ultimately chose last night. For obviously those game plans exposed more weaknesses than strengths. What I am suggesting here, is that a 3 to 0 defeat of the hottest team in the league should be nothing for the general manager to hang his hat on. Not when the head coach had to scrap the original blueprints and instead hold his fort together with mud and clay.