Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Biggest Weaknesses Heading into the Season
Having missed the playoffs for the past seven seasons, Toronto has not given its fans much to cheer about.
For the 2012-13 season, the Maple Leafs face much of the same questions they have been asked for the past few years. To escape the problems they have faced, several improvements are going to have to be made.
The Leafs have their strengths, but unfortunately, their weaknesses overshadow them yearly. They have to address their flaws immediately or face the consequences.
Lack of a True No. 1 Center
This is a weakness for many teams in the league, but in the hot stove that is Toronto, it is looked at as a much bigger problem.
What’s ironic is that the Leafs have pretty good depth at the center position. They have Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, Jay McClement, David Steckel, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and Nazem Kadri.
The problem is that none of those players are No. 1 center material.
There is also the fact that not all of them fit at a wing position. Add that Randy Carlyle is going to try putting James van Riemsdyk on the first line as the center, and it compounds the problem even further.
The Leafs certainly have enough depth that they can put some of it in a trade that could potentially acquire a No. 1 center. It’s just that teams that have No. 1 centers usually don’t like giving them up.
The average age of the Maple Leafs defense is 26.7. That’s not exactly very young, but it’s still a defense that has little experience playing at the highest level.
Jake Gardiner is entering his sophomore season, while Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarsson have yet to play 200 games. Even captain Dion Phaneuf is just above the average at 27.
One of the Leafs’ strengths is the offensive production that comes through their blueliners. The flip side is that while focusing on offense, they forgot to play defense.
The Leafs could score a lot of goals, but they could give up whole lot more. It doesn’t fall directly on the defense, but it's definitely part of the problem.
With Randy Carlyle set to make the Leafs a more defensive team, the defense should get at least a little better this season.
Inexperienced Goaltending Tandem
In James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, the Leafs have a goaltending tandem that has potential but is still very young and inexperienced.
Combined, Reimer and Scrivens have appeared in a total of 83 games. With only a game more than a season of experience between them, questions are being asked about what they can do.
If the Leafs don’t acquire a veteran goaltender to start the season, Reimer will be given back the reins, and it is hopeful that he can get back to the form he displayed in the 2010-11 season.
Scrivens guided the AHL’s Marlies to the Calder Cup finals and is at least ready for a backup job in the NHL. While he could go back to the AHL, he is ready to stay with the big club.
The Penalty Kill
The penalty kill has been the Maple Leafs’ biggest weakness since the Paul Maurice days.
No matter which players the Leafs have acquired or which coaches have been hired, the Leafs have yet to figure out a way to solve the problem.
The PK is an issue that Randy Carlyle should also help improve, and Jay McClement should be a great help as well.
However, until the Leafs climb out of the basement in the PK standings, it will still be one of the biggest weakness on the team.
Nikolai Kulemin: 7 goals, 28 points (70 games)
Matt Frattin: 8 goals, 15 points (56 games)
Nazem Kadri: 5 goals, 7 points (21 games)
All of these players need to improve on their stats from last season.
Kulemin went from scoring 30 to scoring seven. Frattin is still developing, so his point total is understandable.
Kadri is the strongest case. If he wants to ever make the team full-time, he needs to show in training camp—if there is one—that he has taken the necessary steps to become a full-time player.
As mentioned before, the Leafs have no problem scoring goals.
However, with the amount of goals they give up, they clearly need to score more. Kulemin, Frattin, Kadri and others need to score more goals if the Leafs want to have any chance to win.