Toronto Maple Leafs to Face Struggling 'Canes on the Way to the Cup

Graeme Boyce@CivilizedGraemeCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2009

The other day Maple Leafs fans were hoping that Jason Blake would repeat his five-point game and lead the team, possibly inspire the team.

After scoring three early goals, the Leafs were well on their way to a punishing victory against the Thrashers. Grabovski was returning from his league-imposed rest and all looked rosy for a feisty, if not electrifying, game.

These days we hear how, since arriving, Blake has been not-so-appreciated in the locker room. More importantly, Blake cannot be traded.

He was part of a loss that was tough to swallow. The Leafs should have won the game. I, along with a few other witnesses, saw the result of letting players skate or fly by.

I can understand momentary lapses of reason, and goals as a result of being simply out-played, but as a result of laziness is a bit much.  These guys are professionals, after all.

I propose this trade today: Kaberle and Kubina for Cory Hodgson.

New players gelling nicely these days include the May, Mayers and Mitchell line.  Speaking of lines, Antropov is unfortunately not doing so well lately, to be polite.

I did some chatting at the pub lately, and these are the theories: He's simply overrated and overpaid, he's saving himself from injury in the hopes of a trade, or he's lazy and thus easily checked by opposing players.

Regardless of engaging teams who are struggling and mired in a losing streak, and opportunistically thinking about somehow taking advantage of depression, the Leafs have always been squarely instructed to focus on their hard work game plan.

As a process defined by coaches and technical staff employed to ensure the success of the plan, executed by players, The Leafs should systematically win each game.

The Leafs are facing off against Carolina tonight, and I predict the team will win.  They will win because they'll win for the coach.

They really let Coach Wilson down the other night, giving up four successive goals to enable the dramatic come-from-behind loss, and had incredibly almost done the same thing against Carolina. 

The 'Canes will come out hard. They know the Leafs typically have been slow to wake up this year, and have clearly demonstrated it by giving up early leads, and lately, then giving up a huge lead.

Here we go again.

If Hagman, one of the Leafs' two Vikings (the other being Frogren), scores first, then he'll be tied for the team goal-scoring race. We all know it's not a race, of course, as these players give 110 percent each and every shift, from the veterans whom we expect so much more from, on down to our vaunted rookies.

Scoring is a matter of chance, and can only occur based on puck possession and puck movement, from one end of the rink to the other, with a goal the result.

Alexei Ponikarovski leads the team in goals scored.

Over the last five games he has graced us with one goal, against Philadelphia, yet still enjoys playing over 20 shifts and 15+ minutes a game.

Antropov is leading the team with total points, averaging less than a point a game.  

Maybe trading players is all about the spin, after all.  Maybe Burke simply has to position Poni and Antropov as our leading players and highly valuable, team leaders, veteran playmakers... and proven scorers.

Surely the Leafs can attract a star player, one possibly underachieving this season, who will make oodles more in sponsorship and endorsement monies than playing in Nashville or Tampa Bay.

Back to possession and what makes a star a star.

As far as statistics go, I'm sure someone will one day verify that a game was won despite the team not having possession of the puck as long as the opposition. Luck and skill balanced. 

Blake certainly proved the quantity versus quality equation last season, shooting the puck at the net a lot, and earning a defining stat (Shots On Goal), does not equate to goals scored.

I wonder what his percentage of shots versus points was against Carolina when he got his incredible five?

Again, Blake has an opportunity to repeat tonight, as does White who scored the other night too.  I'd like to see him get a goal a game.

He needs to take a lesson from Yvan Cournoyer and (based on a CBC profile I saw when I was a kid) buy a whack of ultra-heavy pucks and practice taking shots every day in the summer.  Well, that assumes White takes the summer off.

Stempniak and Moore continue to gel, and really need consistency from Blake in order to achieve career seasons.

Stempniak will begin to score, as he seems energized lately, and Moore should, by good fortune, be scoring more goals.  As veterans, they should be picking up their games going into the latter stages of the season.

The veterans all, in a cynical view, would realize the most lucrative part of the season is upon them.  This is their walk down the runway, for all to see.

They offer sizzle, great entertainment value, great passes and, most importantly, great goals.

The latter creates demand: "I want him on my team."  Demand enables cash.

The Leafs management might do well by offering joint deals with coveted players, perhaps including as a package deal those aforementioned rights (sponsorship and endorsement) along with appearance fees, etc, as well as equity in new ventures.

In fact it's likely that the Leafs can attract quality players by expressing a vision that not only includes a Stanley Cup, but a fully commercialized and monetized run.

Leafs 4, Carolina 2.

Enhancing value every step of the way.


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