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Monday, March 10, 2008

How to Fix the Maple Leafs: Player-by-Player

So the task is obvious: rebuild. The methodology is – in stark contrast – very much up in the air. Until a permanent GM is in Toronto this raging debate about how to rebuild will incessantly be overheard. So in a light piece, enjoy how to repair the Maple Leafs one player at a time.

Going out from the net:

Starting Goaltender: Vesa Toskala (27-21-6, 3SO, .909SV%, 2.59GAA)
Has proven himself as a viable #1 on a poor defensive team. One of few Leafs that has played to their potential this year. The main issue with Toskala will be his tolerance for playing on a losing team next year, as goaltenders are not immune to flaking when presented with the opportunity.

Backup: Andrew Raycroft (2-8-4, 1SO, .868SV%, 4.07GAA)
Had one good year, continues to disappoint and has all but officially been cut. He needs to earn some starts in the AHL in order to become a tradeable commodity, otherwise he'll get cut, or bought out (or both just to make a point!).


Tomas Kaberle (7g, 39p, -6)
Lose 15-pounds bag-skating. Force yourself to uphold a two-shot-per-period quota and welcome to elite status.

Brian McCabe (5g, 21p, +1)
Drop your no trade and take your shattered stock to Long Island.

Carlo Colaiacovo (2g, 4p, -3)
Say healthy. Really, just stay healthy and you'll be a solid defender on any 2nd pairing in the NHL.

Pavel Kubina (6g, 28p, +2)
Drop 10lbs bag-skating with your Czech brother, Tomas. At NHLPA meeting kick Dion Phaneuf in the onions and remember the intensity with which he responds so you can incorporate it into you game.

Ian White (3g, 19p, -3)
As a puck mover, he is solid. Otherwise, his game leaves too much to be desired. In order to stay in the NHL White needs to get his +/- near the top of the team and be among team leaders in helpers, both sadly unforeseeable events.

Anton Stralman (4p, -11)
Unlike most of the Maple Leafs squad, the upside is that he actually has an upside. The Leafs are hoping he matures a little more Kaberle-ian and less Kubina-ian, which at 21 is not outside the realm of possibility.


Mats Sundin (31g, 75p, +14)
By far this years MVP. How to fix Mats? Magically make him 28 again.

Nik Antropov (26g, 52p, +8)
Is playing the best hockey he is capable of and might be enjoying the peak of his career. Keep it up, but watch his value drop if/when Mats retires.

Jason Blake (13g, 43p, -1)
Re-negotiate his contract or trade him. Skill players who don't produce are like wooden sticks – when something better comes along they are easily replaced.

Darcy Tucker (15g, 26p, -5)
Make him the key to the powerplay again to inflate his stats and justify his ludicrous contract. Since that won't happen, begrudgingly buy him out and sign a bigger, younger and faster grinder who can play the role the way it should be played.

Kyle Wellwood (6g, 16p, -10)
To be an undersized dangler, he needs to bolster his dangling. The size if fine, but hes no Scott Gomez or Danny Boyle. Get in the gym – it might be news to Wellwood, but weight training has been shown to help athletes perform better!

Matt Stajan (14g, 30p, -5)
Get the trainer to fit you with a flac jacket and learn how to play like Tomas Holmstrom, but with more speed through the middle.

Alexei Ponikarovsky (15g, 26p, +2)
Compete with Stajan to become the Leafs version of Tomas Holmstrom. The loser goes home and opens a car dealership.

Alex Steen (13g, 34p, +3)
What to do with a smart player who offers average hands and size? Steen is a prime example of a player being reward for his position in the draft. He is an interchangeable part of this team that could play on the first line and thrive, or kill penalties for the Marlies. His role needs to be defined and he needs to start making a difference, even if it means by giving up his roster spot.

Dominic Moore (4g, 12p, -5)
Confident puck-handler with good speed and hockey sense. Moore will likely be a good fit centering the 2nd line with a capable scoring winger (see below).

Jiri Tlusty (5g, 10p, -10)
Drag Moore to the rink daily in the off-season and start watching tape of Datsuk and Zetterberg in Detriot. This is how undersized skill players produce points, so take notes and learn how to win battles and anticipate the play. As a 19yo he has time to mature into a valuable offensive contributor, lest he become another ineffectual Alex Steen.

These are the players worthy of an appearance on this list as the remaining players on the roster are notably less significant. As the course of the season plays out it will be interesting who will demonstrate their willingness to compete for a job, because once the the curtain falls the axe from the GM's office won't be far behind. Expect as many as half of these players to be purged from this horrendously average roster and hope, pray – whatever – that the Leafs can get lucky in the draft for years to come.

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