Maple Leafs Thoughts: March 10, 2013

Is Dion Phaneuf the leader the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for? (Icon SMI)
Is Dion Phaneuf the leader the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for? (Icon SMI)


Phaneuf Burdened

Dion Phaneuf has been solid this year, despite starting the first eight games with only one point. He has tallied four goals and 15 assists, playing on the same line with rookie defensemen. The nasty statistic is the -10 on the plus/minus category, of which most can be blamed on the fact that Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer have been his defensive partners.

The Leafs captain has been a little burdened with defensive partners not good enough to match the minutes Phaneuf loges. It is surprising, that coach Randy Carlyle has chosen to pair such line mates with him.

Currently, Phaneuf is seventh amongst NHLers in ice time with 26:06 minutes per game. When Kostka was paired with Phaneuf in the first month of the season, his ice time was amongst the top five in the league. The Leafs have managed Holzer’s ice time to a more formidable number, but he is struggling right now and can’t seem to find a comfort level in the NHL. Kostka and Holzer are AHL defenseman on most teams.

Phaneuf’s best season in Toronto was last year when he put up 44 points. He did that playing with a defensive partner by the name of Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson is still on the team, and has not played a single game with Phaneuf this season.

The main reasoning to that might be due to the fact Carlyle has chosen to move Phaneuf to the left side on defense, as opposed to his usual right side. The move makes little sense, since the Leafs still have three defenseman to play the left side after Phaneuf.

There is no solution, since Phaneuf doesn’t need “fixing.” But if the Leafs paired him with Gunnarsson, they may have these two playing at their full potential.

Clarke MacArthur (bridgetds/Flickr)
Clarke MacArthur (bridgetds/Flickr)

Restricted Free Agents

A lot of the talk in Leafs nation over the last couple weeks has dealt with the pending unrestricted free agents on the roster. Clarke MacArthur is having a stellar season, scoring 15 points and showing great chemistry with Nazem Kadri. The Leafs “first line center,” Tyler Bozak, is also a UFA and some expect him to cash in around four million per year. Scary numbers.

But when you look at the Leafs chart, you notice that six of the team’s players will become restricted free agents season’s end. Most of which, are having breakout campaigns.

Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson have added a much needed scoring touch from the back end, on top of bringing a physical game to the board. Through 26 games in the season, Franson has 26 points and Gunnarsson has 9. Keep in mind, Gunnarsson only played 18 games due to a nagging hip injury and Franson sat out three games as a healthy scratch.

Leo Komarov and Mark Fraser have played key roles in establishing a physical identity for Toronto. Komarov ranks second throughout the NHL in hits with 110, and Fraser is the NHL’s plus/minus leader with a rating of +17. Both are due for considerable raises.

Nazem Kadri tops the list, having tallied 11 goals and 14 assists in 26 games. He has been the best player for the Maple Leafs this season and is amongst the top in plus/minus on the team. There is no doubt he will see a hefty raise in salary, coming off his entry-level contract.

The Leafs may not have to sign all of their restricted free agents, but a lot of them are good players and deserve higher salaries. With above $8 million tied up in the press box, and two million strapped in buyouts, the Leafs will have some issues spreading their money out.

Who to keep, who to let go. Who deserves a raise and who may not. All serious questions to put alongside the uncertainty in the pending UFAs.

Time to call up Gardiner?

It’s about time the Leafs recall their top prospect, Jake Gardiner.

He was assigned to the AHL earlier in the season after just playing two games. Coach Randy Carlyle cited that the team wanted Gardiner to get used to the speed of the game, after missing more than a month due to a concussion injury. He suffered the injury during a game in the AHL while the NHL was in a work stoppage.

A few games in the minors may have made sense, a sort of conditioning stint. However, Gardiner has played 16 games for the Toronto Marlies in that span and his evident call up is long overdue. The comfort level has returned in his game, and anytime you watch the Marlies it is obvious Gardiner is dancing around on the ice. The only problem may be that he is not really racking up the points, but that can be partially blamed on the fact that the AHL is a disorganized league and prime scoring chances are frequently squandered. Gardiner isn’t a goal scorer, he is playmaker.

It is especially surprising since the Leafs are in need of a puck moving defenseman. Night-in and night-out the team has obvious problems clearing the defensive zone, continuously adding to their league lead in giveaways with 287. Not only can Gardiner play a part in solving that issue, he can also add an offensive presence to the power play. A unit that features the talent deprived Mike Kostka.

The Leafs need to find a way to bring Gardiner back up in the big league sooner rather than later. The move should come at the expense of the aforementioned Korbinian Holzer.

Other Thoughts

If the Grabovski line are being used in a shutdown role, maybe the line should be swapped with the Kadri line. The Leafs need to find a way to gradually increase Kadri’s ice time.

I thought the Leafs played better in the game against the Bruins than their three previous three victories. Coach Carlyle said after the game the challenge is to get the Leafs to play like they did in Boston on a nightly basis.

Darren Dreger mentioning a personal conflict as a reason as to why Gardiner is not with the Leafs is a little odd. Does a coach ignore a player’s abilities just because he doesn’t like the guy?

Hopefully John-Michael Liles can find a way to return to the lineup Tuesday night.

James Reimer should get the start next game. No doubt about it.

Great comeback yesterday by Toronto to steal a point. At the end of the day, Sidney Crosby was unstoppable.


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