Maple Leafs Thoughts for March 31st, 2013

 
Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Joffrey Lupul, right, recently sat out two games after being suspended for a hit he put on Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

 

Kadri and Lupul

There is not much to say about these two. Their play on the ice has done the talking, but neither has ever shied away from chirping the opposition. It is that ability to get under the skin of the opponent that provided the duo with a swagger of their own. A swagger in which they used to accumulate a combined eight points yesterday night in a 4-0 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Last year, Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel were amongst the most dynamic duos of the league. Some of that chemistry still remains, and Coach Randy Carlyle has been gifted the ability to share Lupul between Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel to receive optimal results.

Kadri and Lupul have to be amongst the best duos of the league.

 

Playoff Picture 

The Maple Leafs currently sit 6th in the Eastern Conference with 44 points. They are nine points up on the 9th place New York Islanders and are five points back of the Northeast Division lead. According to Sportsclubstats, the Leafs have a 99.4% chance of making the playoffs. I don’t think they ever had a number that high in April ever since the 2004 lockout. The following is a snapshot of the Eastern Conference standings via NHL.com.

(NHL.com)

(NHL.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order for the Leafs to clinch a playoff spot, they will have to win 11 of their remaining 14 games. However, that is only assuming the Islanders win all of their 15 games, which is very unlikely. Therefore, the Leafs realistically need to win about six or seven of their remaining games to comfortably clinch a spot.

It is important to note that the teams chasing the Leafs in the standings have played fewer games than the Leafs thus far into the season. The 9th place Islanders have one game in hand, the 10th place Carolina Hurricanes have three games in hand, and the 11th place Washington Capitals have two games in hand.

The Maple Leafs are off for the next four days before facing the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. All of those games in hand will have been played by then.

 

Idle Trade Deadline

The majority of trade deadline insiders, including Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie of TSN, believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to stand pat over the trade deadline. Having accumulated points in each of their last eight games, the Leafs are tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with the Sens. They concluded the month of March with a 7-3-4 record. Why mess with something that is working?

However, they have not been able to mask an obvious need on defense, particularly in the top four. The only player in the defense core that is capable of logging big minutes is captain Dion Phaneuf. Otherwise, the majority of the other defenseman have been given sheltered minutes for most of the season. They are now playing tougher minutes and some of them are starting to show they can’t handle it. Mark Fraser and Carl Gunnarsson are examples of this.

Moving forward, the Leafs require a minute crunching defenseman that plays in the top four. Dion Phaneuf is second in the league in ice time 930:15 minutes. They must find a way to reduce his ice time in order to allow him to play slightly more manageable minutes and the best way to do that would be via trade.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of players avalaible on the trade market. The quality of players available is not great and the price is too high right now. Jay Boumeester is a player that would ideally fit nicely into the Leafs roster, however, the problem is that it will cost the Leafs their first round pick. They Leafs cannot afford to trade their pick right now as it is one of their only “untouchable” assets. Other teams would also look for a first round pick in return for their high end defenseman. The Leafs are in a little bit of a pickle and may not be able to fill their need.

 

Veteran Goalie

General manager Dave Nonis has not shied away from making it known that the Maple Leafs would like to add a veteran goaltender. The talk around the league still remains that the Leafs are pursuing a goaltender. The question is, can they afford to add a goaltender?

James Reimer has been terrific this year with a .920 save percentage. He has a record of 13-4-4 and has only lost one regulation game in his last 15 games. Toronto definitely does not have a goaltending problem. The worries comes when you notice the lack of experience amongst the two goaltenders.

Both Reimer and Ben Scrivens have combined for only 123 games in the NHL with the former of the two playing the majority of games. Obviously, neither of the two have played a single playoff game in the NHL and the Leafs are poised to clinch a spot for the post season this year.

The names out there available for trade are not many. Nikolai Khabibulin is one of the only veteran goalies on the trade market that would presumably fit into the Leafs mold. However, that would result in the Leafs having to waive Ben Scrivens in order to open up a spot for Khabibulin. Therefore, the root of the problem belongs in whether or not you want to sacrifice an asset (Scrivens) that still has some potential for a veteran goalie for a playoff run. The Leafs are not a team favoured to win the Stanely Cup, so this may be a decision in which they choose to look to the future similar to how they will not trade their first round pick.

If the Leafs are not able to trade Scrivens for a separate asset in a veteran goalie trade, then they should not look to adding one. Reimer and Scrivens have proven to be a dependable tandem this season and they deserve a shot at proving their worth.

 

Other Random Thoughts 

The leadership of Dion Phaneuf is being overshadowed by the play of Joffrey Lupul. People shouldn’t forget what kind of a leader he has been on this team and how big of an impact he has had on the success of the team. His teammates definitely have not overlooked it.

Anybody get the feeling that Randy Carlyle would have given Matt Frattin the “Jake Gardiner treatment” after retuning from his injury? The Leafs couldn’t do that since they would have lost him on waivers.

A simple solution to the Leafs defense would be to dress seven defenseman. They have scratched Jake Gardiner the last two games and definitely need to find a way to get him back in the lineup. Rolling seven defenseman allows everyone to play more manageable minutes.

The Leafs are a much better team with Clarke MacArthur and Leo Komarov healthy. They should be back next week.

Carl Gunnarsson would normally be able to play big minutes for the Leafs but this season a nagging hip issue is affecting his mobility. Mobility is very important for a defenseman of his calibre.

 

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Raihan Hussain

Raihan Hussain

Raihan Hussain is a young writer making a name out of himself. He has covered the Toronto Maple Leafs for various websites including Sportshaze.com. He possesses extensive knowledge about the Toronto Maple Leafs from the top of the organization to the bottom.

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