Toronto Maple Leafs' 5 Biggest Questions Ahead of the Olympic Break
With the Olympic break upon us, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to be in a playoff spot despite some obvious warts.
The bottom line is that the Leafs have been winning by scoring a lot of goals and getting great goaltending.
They've done this despite some significant injuries to key players over the past few months and their team defence has been lousy, with their goals-against average (3.03) putting them 25th in the NHL in that category.
Centre Dave Bolland looks to be on the mend, which should have a positive impact on the team. David Clarkson has also returned to the team.
General manager Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle have not really had the chance to assess their full roster working as a complete unit given the injuries and Clarkson's early-season suspension.
Clarkson has yet to find any traction in Toronto, with many fans quick to write him off as a failed Leaf with just 37 games played.
There has been some turmoil in Hogtown despite the team holding down a playoff spot. Here are five of the biggest questions surrounding the team heading into the Olympic break.
5. Is Nazem Kadri Ready to Be a No. 2 Centre?
Nazem Kadri has been very good in 2014. He's even spent some time on the Leafs' first line when Randy Carlyle has wanted to jump-start the offence.
He has 15 goals now and has totalled 41 points in his first 54 games.
Kadri has been playing with passion and an edge. He's a great skater who can intimidate defenders with his speed through the neutral zone.
He's also embarrassed a few goaltenders in the past week with some slick moves in tight. The biggest question surrounds Kadri's commitment to the defensive side of the game.
If Kadri can play a consistent two-way game and maintain something close to his current scoring pace, the answer to the question on his suitability as a very good second-line centre will seem obvious.
4. Do the Leafs Have Enough Secondary Scoring?
This question continues to follow the club, although Kadri has been addressing it single-handedly. Joffrey Lupul is not having a good offensive season, though, and this is a problem.
On the nights when Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are not going, the Leafs are not threatening unless Kadri is on his game.
The return of David Bolland and the ongoing hope that David Clarkson will regain some of his scoring touch must be considered. CapGeek.com indicates that the Leafs do not have a lot of wiggle room against the salary cap, so they cannot simply add an offensive player unless they waive or trade players.
If the Leafs hope to make a run in the playoffs, secondary scoring must improve.
3. Will Phil Kessel and JVR Have Anything Left Following the Olympics?
Part of the problem with Phil Kessel's fine offensive output this season is that he is likely to be leaned upon heavily in Sochi.
With the chemistry that has developed between Kessel and JVR, they will play top-six minutes for Team USA. It won't be surprising to see both of them get a lot of power-play time as well.
While the other Leafs, except for Nikolai Kulemin, will be able to enjoy the Olympic break, the two most important offensive players for Toronto will be playing a lot of intense hockey.
It remains to be seen if they are buoyed by the experience or if it proves to be a drain on them with the most important part of the schedule yet to be played.
2. Do the Leafs Need Another Veteran Defenceman?
Tim Gleason has played well since coming to the Leafs via trade. He played well enough that the club was able to trade rugged defender Mark Fraser to the Edmonton Oilers last month.
Gleason has been logging some significant ice time, as many as 23 minutes on some nights, and he has provided a veteran presence for young Jake Gardiner.
The question is if this is enough and whether or not the Leafs can continue to ride Morgan Rielly and Gardiner this heavily down the stretch. The Leafs have been dominated in terms of possession and zone time in several games.
While Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have been more than up to the task for the most part, the team defence has to improve for the Leafs to secure a playoff spot down the stretch.
1. Should the Leafs Trade James Reimer?
It is a question that needs to be asked, particularly with the emergence of Jonathan Bernier. Reimer's stock is also relatively high, although the market for goaltenders is not very strong.
With the Ottawa Sun suggesting that Ryan Miller is available and Josh Rimer of Sportsnet reporting that Cam Ward is on the trading block, Reimer would likely fit into a second tier of goaltenders in terms of what he would garner on the market.
The Leafs would also have to address their backup situation and ensure that the return was either some solid secondary scoring or a contributing veteran defenceman to help shore up the team's defensive shortcomings.
Trading Reimer would be a risky move for the Leafs.