Toronto Maple Leafs: 3 Players Hurt Most by the Lockout

Ryan FulfordContributor IIINovember 2, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs: 3 Players Hurt Most by the Lockout

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    The NHL lockout is disappointing to say the least for all those who love the game, but for the Toronto Maple Leafs it has to be particularly disconcerting. An unsavory aspect of a lockout in professional sports is the challenge presented to players who want to maintain, if not improve, their level of play.

    With a young team and key players who were felled by injury last season, the lockout represents an opportunity lost for certain Leafs. While players continue to work out on their own in order to stay in game-shape and others have signed on to play in the AHL or overseas, there is no substitute for the ebb and flow of the NHL game.

    Bearing that notion in mind, here are three Leafs players for whom the lockout is particularly detrimental.

James Reimer

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    James Reimer's struggles last season have been well-documented. After taking the city of Toronto by storm in the latter part of the 2010-11 season, Reimer's 2011-12 campaign was derailed by an early-season injury.

    Post-injury Reimer was unable to regain the form that made him an instant fan favorite, and by extension, the lockout is compounding that issue for him.

    Reimer continues to work out with members of the Vancouver Canucks and UBC Thunderbirds as the lockout drags on, but the practices he's been partaking in undoubtedly pale in comparison to the level of play he's accustomed to.

    Unfortunately, as a result, Reimer is missing out on an opportunity to continue his development and make the necessary strides needed in order to improve.

    As stated in the intro, there is no substitute for the National Hockey League. While it appeared Reimer was overwhelmed a bit at the NHL level after he returned from injury last season, he would be best suited playing against NHL, or even AHL competition at this point, rather than practicing at a level akin to glorified shinny.

    By not suiting up for any team during the lockout, Reimer runs the risk of regressing, instead of rekindling the form that brought him success during his initial foray into the NHL.

Jake Gardiner

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    There are worse things for a young player with Jake Gardiner's potential than playing in the AHL. In fact, many a young player has developed by leaps in bounds in the AHL. Jason Spezza and Eric Staal are notable examples for whom the 2004-05 lockout was beneficial in terms of personal development.

    It is important to note however, that while Spezza and Staal's careers took off after their stints in the AHL, they were buoyed by a new style of play post-lockout that eliminated much of the clutching and grabbing that was so prevalent during what has become known as the "dead puck" era.

    However, while Gardiner will certainly benefit from playing against increased competition in the AHL due to the influx of talent thanks to the lockout, he'll only improve to a certain degree before plateauing. As a player who has had, by all accounts, a great rookie season, it's clear Gardiner is more than ready to handle full-time NHL duty and make significant contributions.

    As many young players do, especially defensemen, Gardiner struggled at times in his rookie campaign, but anyone who has seen him play can see the potential he possesses. While logging big minutes in the AHL won't stunt his development drastically, his improvement would be accelerated at the big league level as he's already proven to be a more than capable NHL player.

Joffrey Lupul

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    Much like his teammate James Reimer, Joffrey Lupul fell victim to injury last season and saw his career year and All-Star campaign cut short.

    Unlike Reimer, Lupul wasn't able to return to the Leafs after his injury and as such, hasn't played an NHL game since March 6th. While Lupul stated in August that he's 100 percent, the lockout has prevented him from regaining the form that saw him post 67 points in 66 games—an issue a full training camp would have helped resolve.

    Lupul recently inked a deal to play for the KHL's Avtomobolist (via Toronto Sun), which should help him assimilate back into the NHL now that he'll have ample time to work off any rust that may be evident after an extended layoff.

    The lockout presents an additional issue for Lupul however, his relationship with Randy Carlyle.

    While it's no secret that the two weren't on the best of terms during their time together in Anaheim, they've said all the right things since being reunited in Toronto. But a full training camp would have provided Lupul with the opportunity to display his talents to Carlyle, something he was unable to do upon Carlyle's arrival in Toronto due to a separated shoulder.

    With Lupul developing into a key player for the Leafs during his time in Toronto, it's integral he maintains his level of play in order to gain the trust of Randy Carlyle, a coach who "wasn't convinced Lupul could play left wing."