So as I sit down to write this article, on the 27th of October, the Leafs are on top of their conference with 11 points and a 5-2-1 record. At this pace they will meet last year’s point total, a lousy 74, by their 53rdgame and are on pace for a 115 point season. Phil Kessel is on pace for a 74 goal season and supposed third liner Clarke Macarthur isn’t too far off pace. Luke Schenn is playing with a little balls and sometimes it looks like Kaberle might actually shoot the puck. And say what you want about Colton Orr’s interference with Scott Clemmenson in the Florida game on the 26th, but the puck went in and it counted. All is going well for the Leafs. In fact, I bet the new mayor, Rob Ford, is planning the Stanley Cup parade right now.
Unfortunately, this blue blood fuelled optimism can only carry me so far. But, I guess if I want to be some sort of hockey analyst, I have to be somewhat analytical, and from an analytical point of view, the Leafs are still not a 100 point team. Hell, they’ll still be lucky if they make the playoffs. They are only a tenth into the season and have the better part of 70 games coming their way. True teams prove their worth during the long grind of the season, and if the Leafs want to actually accomplish something a lot of things need to change, and fast.
First of all, what’s the deal with Tyler Bozak? Other than scoring a few ugly goals and getting a couple lucky assists he has been a ghost, despite playing 18 minutes a night. If Bozak wants to stay in the big leagues he needs to wake up to reality and realize the NHL isn’t college. The kid has got skill, but in the NHL you need some balls too, and so far he’s coming up empty in that category. If he doesn’t change his game fast he’ll find himself playing with the Marlies soon.
And then there is the enigma of Dion Phaneuf. Personally, I think he is another overrated and overpaid defenseman. He’s got no puck-handling ability. Phaneuf is starting to look like a defensive liability and his point shot is terribly inaccurate. He is still better than the complete circus show he has been putting on for the Leafs so far. As of the 27th, he stood at the team’s worst; minus 5. He often makes blatant and confusing defensive errors that come off as either laziness or arrogance, or a mix of both. He is supposed to be the Leafs leader, and although I think his skill set is overrated, he needs to at least make an effort, or else the entire ship will go down with the captain.
There is one word that comes to mind that has defined the Leafs two losses this season, and that is apathy. In the Leafs’ four wins they looked driven and confident. They were even starting to develop a bit of a swagger. Yet, during their losses they looked like a bunch of lazy drunks. Apathy was a huge problem with this team last year, and Ron Wilson needs to keep these guys motivated, because they simply don’t have the depth to succeed if they play without drive.
And finally, what is the deal with Carl Gunnarson? I guess his season so far can be summed up in too ugly words: SOPHOMORE JINX. I can only hope that a jinx is the only cause of Gunnarson’s disappointing play so far, because he’s got some serious potential and it would be a shame to see yet another Leafs youngster’s career ruined. Do the names Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and Carlo Coliacavo ring bells, or maybe sirens? Ron Wilson has got to find a way to get Gunnarson back on his game, or else they are going to lose a real asset.
I guess sometimes I can be a bit of a pessimist. The Leafs have looked better in many respects, namely their special teams and goaltending. It also looks like Luke Schenn has fixed whatever was knocking him off his game last year, and Mikhael Grabovski has been very effective. Although I don’t expect Clarke Macarthur to score anywhere close to 40 goals, or even 30, it looks like he may have been a pretty lucky pickup this year and he is providing some much needed firepower beyond Phil Kessel. But remember, we’re only seven games in, and it’s a long ride from here. I guess all I’m trying to say, is that if I were Rob Ford, I’d wait a bit before I planned that parade.