Toronto Maple Leafs: Problems Trades Won't Fix
After seven straight seasons of finding themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time, not to mention a horrid midseason tailspin that left them in dire straits, it's safe to say that there are inherent problems with the current Toronto Maple Leafs squad that can't be fixed via trade.
Addressing problems, such as the glaring need for a No. 1 center, is possible via the trade route. However, for each individual need that may be satisfied by player movement, hockey remains a team game. Therefore, each player represents a small piece of the whole, and it's up to management and coaching to mold their team into a well-oiled machine.
From poor penalty killing to shoddy play in the defensive zone, the myriad problems facing the Leafs are as much a result of the lack of coaching adjustments as they are the lack of drive and determination on the part of the players.
With that in mind, here are five areas in which the Leafs need to drastically improve on their own accord as a team, as trading for individual players won't solve the problems at hand.
A big reason the Leafs have been unable to make any headway in the post-lockout era is due to their penchant for toiling near the basement when it comes to killing penalties.
Having a penalty kill that hasn't been better than 27th in the NHL over the past seven seasons, the Leafs tend to dig themselves into holes they can't find their way out of.
New Leaf Jay McClement was signed to help in this regard and he should see ample ice time on the penalty kill. However, as the addition of excellent face-off man David Steckel has proved, one player can't right the ship on his own.
It will be up to Randy Carlyle and his cohorts to devise a new penalty killing system that will take advantage of the assets at their disposal. A more aggressive approach is likely given Carlye's insistence on gritty, physical play.
Whether the defensive-minded Carlyle can get the players to buy into his system and effectively employ it remains to be seen, but penalty killing remains an area in which proper coaching is integral.
Defensive Zone Coverage
The Leafs' pitiful defensive zone coverage in recent years can best be described as watching chickens run around with their heads cut off.
With a tendency to run around and put themselves out of position (something captain Dion Phaneuf has a penchant for,) along with less-than-mediocre play along the boards, the Leafs give up an abundance of preventable scoring opportunities.
Further complicating their defensive deficiencies are finesse defensemen John-Michael Liles and Jake Gardiner, whose soft play makes it difficult for them to clear the front of the net or handle big-bodied forwards on the half-wall and behind the net.
As such, the forward corps will need to place an emphasis on attention to detail and do a better job of dropping down low in the zone in order to help out their defensemen.
Communication is of utmost importance when it comes to playing efficiently in the defensive zone, and it is made more so by the fact that a new system will be implemented by Randy Carlyle.
If the Leafs have any hopes of improving in this area, they need to learn to play more effectively as a team in their own end and provide the necessary support needed to move the puck out of the defensive zone.
You can do many things in the NHL, especially when you're a team with deep pockets, but you can't trade for a strength and conditioning coach. Then again, you could pay top dollar for the best in the business, but what it all comes down to is the internal drive and desire within the players.
It's no secret that the Randy Carlye's reign in Toronto will be decidedly different from Ron Wilson's, and to play his brand of hockey, players will need to be in tip top shape.
Something that obviously wasn't the case when he assumed the helm in early March.
Why is stamina a problem that needs to be fixed? In order to play a gritty, physical, grinding game, you need to be able to not only wear down your opponent, but have the necessary fuel in the tank to take advantage of the opposition's lethargy once they're exhausted.
Ditto for west coast road trips which generally take place over the course of four or five nights, and in a different time zone to boot.
Beyond those obvious reasons, the Leafs are still going to be a fringe playoff team next season. Thus, they'll need to make a late season push in order to secure a playoff spot.
Whether that means gaining ground on opposing teams or holding steady within the top eight is moot, as the fact of the matter is they'll need to compete in all 82 games before clinching a ticket to the NHL's second season.
For a team that ranked 10th in the league during the 2011-12 season, the Leafs certainly didn't display as much zeal without the puck as they did with it.
Puck pursuit was a major issue last season for the Leafs, as they ranked 29th overall in goals against as a result. When a team can score prodigiously, yet still post the paltry record the Leafs mustered in 2011-12, there's an obvious issue with regards to their play without the puck.
It's quite simple, really. If the Leafs could manage to control the puck—and as a result the game—more often, they'd rack up a few more wins. However, with finesse players up front and few willing to use their body to separate man from puck, puck pursuit is lacking. It's even more disconcerting considering the team has been built upon speed.
Playing a high-tempo, in-your-face puck pursuit game is tied directly into the aforementioned topics. Stamina is integral to success in recovering possession of the puck, and it playing an efficient puck pursuit game limits opportunities in the defensive zone, as well as on the penalty kill.
In order for the Leafs to improve in this area, they need to play with a sense of urgency and less timidly, something that becomes quite apparent when they play the likes of the Boston Bruins.
Given the quickness and overall team speed the Leafs possess, they need to employ it more economically on the defensive side of the puck, something Randy Carlyle will no doubt stress come training camp.
If they don't, they'll have to rely on their power play to win them games again, as their even-strength and penalty killing play leaves much to be desired.
Of all the problem areas that cannot be fixed via trade, intestinal fortitude reigns supreme.
This is an area where only the will of the players whom the Leafs employ can make a difference. You can trade for veterans to bring in leadership and have players step up in the dressing room, but each and every player on the team needs to have confidence in their game or the house of cards comes crashing down.
As Leafs fans may have noticed last year, confidence and fortitude took a back seat to complacency and insecurity during the dog days of the season.
Much of that may be attributed to the players tuning out former coach Ron Wilson as the season progressed, but regardless of whether or not a coach inspires a team, players need to believe in themselves before success is realized, as cheesy and cliche as it sounds.
This is extremely important when considering the Leafs only managed to win 12 times after surrendering the first goal last season. As a young team in the NHL, setbacks are expected. But for a team with playoff aspirations, setbacks need to managed in a mature way, rather than dwelling upon them.