After a solid to start to the season, our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs are now stumbling in the standings. After weeks of owning one of the best records in the NHL, the Blue and White now occupy sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, a mere two points ahead of the New York Rangers (who have a game in hand on the Maple Leafs) who occupy ninth in the East heading into Tuesday nights action.
While a crammed schedule has taken its toll on the Maple Leafs success, the main reason for the Buds fall from grace has been their porous goaltending and overall defense, which has seen the Leafs allow 39 goals in their past ten games.
The Buds have managed to register a record of 4-4-2, but with many of the Beast in the East humming along at a record of 6-3-1 or better over that 10-game span, the Buds are in real danger of slipping out of the playoff spot they have worked so hard at securing through the first 29 games of the season.
While it is hard to imagine that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis would be willing to re-visit the idea of bringing Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo to Toronto, there is every reason to believe that, for the first time all season, both Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle are concerned about their goaltending.
Then again, stranger things have happened, and with the Canucks barely holding onto a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings (they sit in sixth spot with 32 points, just two points ahead of ninth place Phoenix), Vancouver may want to put to rest the distraction of employing Luongo and Corey Schneider as their number one and one (A) goalies.
With puck movement also a concern for the Maple Leafs, sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner is expected to rejoin the team on Wednesday when Toronto takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning. With Gardiner joining the Blue and White, defenseman Korbinian Holzer will be sent back to the AHL to play with the Marlies.
So, outside of Luongo (who remains a long shot) what are Nonis’ options?
The addition of Gardiner to the lineup should provide the Maple Leafs with a spark and a proficient puck moving defenseman who can get the puck out of the zone quickly, freeing up the defensive zone and giving the forwards some much needed rest.
Should the addition of Gardiner fail, Nonis will have to go the trade route.
A top-six forward and a top-four defenseman would go a long way in righting the ship for the Blue and White. Failing that, an upgrade between the pipes would seem the most likely thing for Nonis to do.
Mike Ribeiro and Brad Boyes remain legitimate options for Nonis up front, while the acquisition of Ryan Whitney (a UFA this summer) out of Edmonton might do the trick on the backend.
With so many teams competing for a playoff spot and with the standings in the East and West equally close, there are few options in terms of upgrades between the pipes.
Luongo is an option, but we all know the price Nonis would have to pay and the complications Luongo’s contract brings to whatever team eventually acquires him out of Vancouver.
Some of the pending UFA’s that may be available at the deadline include the likes of Nikolai Khabibulin (2-2-1, 2.11 goals against average., 0.935 save percentage), Evgeni Nabokov (13-8-3, 2.89 goals against average, 0.902 save percentage), Chris Mason (1-3-1, 3.10, 0.881), Jose Theodore (who is still recovering from a groin injury and will not be ready for another 4-6 weeks).
Outside of Khabibulin and Nabokov (who the Maple Leafs were rumored to have kicked the tires on last season), there are few options for clubs in need of a goaltender, which means Nonis will probably have to stick with the duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens between the pipes.
One thing is for certain, if the Maple Leafs fail to tighten up they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time. For Nonis’ sake and for the sake of Maple Leafs fans everywhere, lets hope Nonis avoids Groundhog day!
Known as an honest, opinionated and trusted writer, Mark Ritter brings a unique view on the Maple Leafs and the NHL in general. Mark has been writing about hockey for almost ten years and is known for bringing an honest view on the Maple Leafs. You can view more of Mark’s work at www.theslapshot.com
Please follow Mark on Twitter: @theslapshot