There have been a lot of things said over the past few weeks: The Leafs don’t have enough offense to compete, the goaltending simply isn’t there to carry them, and wondering when are all these pieces going to mesh.
Some of questions are easy to find answers to. These problems need Carnac the Magnificent and a large express envelope to solve.
While other teams have solved the problems of the past with a quick turnaround, combining effective drafting and quality free agency signings, the Leafs may need to look past that and, in fact, look to the past.
The problem the Leafs face isn’t a lack of talent. Simply put, there are a lot of talented players there who are simply learning the NHL game.
Luke Schenn was the toast of the town last year because of great positioning and his physical play, but he’s off to a slow start this year. Nikolai Kulemin has the tools to be good, but it’s applying them like he did when he played with Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in Russia, while Jiri Tlusty, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, and Viktor Stalberg need the time to develop.
What the Leafs lack is an attitude. That’s what they need to look to the past for.
Over the past two weeks, the Leafs have brought back two of the most defining players in the team’s history.
Earlier this week, the team honored the recently deceased Ted Kennedy.
Quite possibly one of the most honorable players in the history of the NHL, Kennedy came a long way from the player who said the price tag wasn’t high enough for him to play for Montreal.
The price tag that he was willing to pay though was the price of success: Hard work.
That’s what’s written on the wall of the Leafs’ locker room, and it seems that some of the players should look up once in a while.
Over the course of the year so far, fans have grown frustrated with the perceived lack of effort on the part of a number of players on this team. Some players aren’t willing to go hard into the corners after pucks, choosing rather to coast. Others simply aren’t going in to the corners and staying out on the perimeter.
You also don’t win one ring, let alone Kennedy’s team-record five, without recognizing what the sport requires.
“It was never about ‘I’ or ‘me’…it was always ‘we.'”
Simply put. Kennedy said it best.
But that most recent trip down memory lane isn’t what the Leafs can learn from the most.
Over the offseason, Toronto GM Brian Burke said his team wouldn’t be pushed around like it was last year. Burke went out and added toughness and aggression.
In hockey circles, it’s called goonery.
What the Leafs need more of is what the man who dropped the puck on last Tuesday’s game against Ottawa brought to the team.
There was a reason that Gary Roberts was such a big hit in Toronto. It’s because he brought the leadership qualities and attitude of Kennedy, along with edge and scoring ability.
When a player went down, Roberts always stepped up his play. The best example of which was the 2002 playoffs, when he and Darcy Tucker threw the team on their backs—the weight of which led to dual shoulder surgery for Roberts that off-season.
Roberts was willing to run through a wall, whether it was to get to the opposition or score a goal. The player closest to that attitude and abilities is John Mitchell, but he doesn’t have the touch around the net just yet.
After that, they’re divided by a fine line. Their players are either the offensively talented or physically bruising—making the return of Darcy Tucker (another such player) on Tuesday night—when Kennedy was honored—slightly ironic.
Currently, the Leafs are left with a good enforcer in Colton Orr and a pinball in Mitchell. If the rest of the team can’t get on the same page, Mitchell’s efforts be in vain. Orr, while he’s an effective and enticing fighter, simply looks like a goon without reason, due to the fact that no one is worthy of that enforcing right now.
Gene Hackman said it best in The Replacements : The team needs heart.
That’s what they’re missing, and that’s what they need to find.
And this time there’s no halftime reporter to confuse, because everybody knows.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile , or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives .
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