Toronto Finger Pointing: Five Leaf Players Who Must Step Up Their Game

Jon NeelyAnalyst IOctober 25, 2009

TORONTO - MARCH 28:  Jason Blake #55 of the Toronto Maple Leafs hangs his head as members of the Boston Bruins celebrate a 2nd period goal during their NHL game at the Air Canada Centre March 28, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

If I were to ask who needed to step up their game to get the Toronto Maple Leafs out of this terrible slump, the answer might be laughable. You could say that so far, every single member of the team has played far below their potential.

You certainly could make a case.

But things haven't exactly been as bad as it would seem for every member of the team. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this team isn't in a terrible situation, because they most assuredly are, but there are a few positives that can be brought out of these dreary days in Toronto.

Sure, the goaltending has struggled mightily, but things may not be as bad as they seem in net. Joey Macdonald played well in a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night, and Jonas Gustavsson has only played 97 minutes this season due to injury. You can bet when "The Monster" gets back into games this week he'll be at his best, knowing that if he plays well, the starting job is his.

The Leafs have been weak when it comes to scoring goals. Dismal, in fact. They've only scored 15 goals in the eight games played. This has them ranked dead last in the league in that department. There are a few, and I mean a few, bright spots.

Alexei Ponikarovsky has managed a plus/minus rating of five, leading the team. He has also added three goals and looked good for the most part. Niklas Hagman, who was benched just a few games ago (and unfairly by some people's standards), has stood out in almost every game he's played.

His speed and excellent puck control in the offensive zone has lead to many chances, including his three goals and five points. Both of which lead the team.

On defense, it's two Leafs who have been here for a while who are playing the best. Ian White has stood out as the best defender on the team, being a rare skater not on the minus side of things. Thomas Kaberle is in a tie for the team lead in points and has looked like his usual confident-with-the-puck self.

Yes, the good things for the Toronto Maple Leafs have been few and far between this season. Plenty of hard work is needed for this team to right the ship. A large majority of the team has been inconsistent, or consistently terrible. Many of the players who were counted on coming into the campaign to lead the team have not shown up.

Here are the players who must step up and play better for the Leafs or else they'll be feeling the consequences sooner than later.


Jason Blake

Through his first two seasons with the Leafs, Jason Blake has garnered a reputation of a player who gets a lot of shots, but not a lot of goals. He had 634 shots in those two years, scoring only 40 times, a meager six percent. This season he once again leads the team in shots with 28 but only has managed one goal.

Simply not good enough.

If there was ever a season for Blake to take over the team, this would be it. He's been given every opportunity by Ron Wilson to put up points. He's playing on the first line and seeing significant power play time, but he just hasn't been able to produce.

He also is a minus seven, worst on the team. You could say he's been the worst of the worst.

With the addition of newly acquired Phil Kessel (who is expected to be in the lineup in a few weeks), Blake will have a solid running mate to play with and will hopefully benefit from his fellow American sniper.

If that doesn't work and Blake continues to struggle, Brian Burke will do whatever he can to see that Blake is on the first flight out of Toronto. We hear he could use a draft pick or two.


John Mitchell

John Mitchell, where art thou? With talk coming into the season that he would center the first or second line, Mitchell has not only disappointed in a major way, he has all but disappeared. Most of his time is spent on the fourth line. Not the way you want to start a season.

The 24-year old scored 12 goals and had 29 points last season. He was expected to play a larger role in the offense this year, but so far the only thing he has shown is an ability to turn over the puck in the offensive zone.

With no goals to date, his nose for the net that the Leafs were counting on has not been there, as he only has 11 shots. Or to put it in a different way, he has only two more shots than Luke Schenn and is tied with him in points. Told you it was bad.

Talent-wise, he should be one of the top two centers on the team. His disappearing act lately has forced Wilson to play him less and less as the struggles continue.

With a coach and GM who are never afraid of sitting players, or sending them down, Mitchell better be careful that his two-way contract isn't exercised. He may find himself with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL.

It might be too early to threaten him with that, but as the losses continue to pile up you can only imagine what the coaching staff will do to send a message.

It could get ugly.


Luke Schenn

With your sophomore season comes expectations, and Luke Schenn is not living up to them. He has looked out of place at times, panicky when in possession of the puck, and too soft in his own end.

There have been rumblings in the media that the coaching staff were planning on benching him for last weekend's game. They didn't, but his lack of toughness was publicly criticized.

That led to slightly improved play against Vancouver, where he got into a fight. But he knows that fighting isn't the type of toughness they're talking about.

You've got to feel for the kid. Only in his second year and caught in the media mess that is Toronto, where poor play is magnified 20-fold. If you're not playing the way you should be, and Schenn is clearly not, the media and fan reaction can be brutal. How he responds to it will say a lot about the type of player he is. 

If the poor play continues you can bet those benching rumors will become a reality for the youngster.

Where it goes from here is entirely up to him.


Francois Beauchemin

Wake up Francois; you're not in Anaheim anymore.

Gone are the days of lining up beside future hall-of-famers Scott Neidermeyer and Chris Pronger. Welcome to Toronto.

The first three weeks of his time in Leaf-land have not gone the way anyone anticipated. He has made a variety of questionable plays. He is often caught pinching at the wrong time and attempting near-impossible passes up the ice.

His shot is as lethal as advertised, but we've rarely seen it. Surprising, because of the passes on a pillow he repeatedly receives from Kaberle on the power play. He does have one goal this season and leads all Leafs defense in shots with 19, but before he can worry about his offensive game coming together, his own end of the ice should be his main concern.

Too many times is he seen skating off the ice with his head down, while the opposition celebrates a goal.

There are no superstar blue liners on this team to rely on, so if things are going to change in Toronto, Beauchemin has got to be a big reason why.


Mike Komisarek

Coming over from the hated Montreal Canadiens in the offseason, Mike Komisarek was expected to be the cornerstone of the Leafs' defensive core.

Oh, he's been a stone alright, it just happens to be kind that doesn't do much and is rather useless in a hockey game. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that he has been the worst player on the team this year, not talking goalies of course, and the biggest disappointment.

He came over to Toronto as a slightly over-rated and over-paid defender. Let's be honest, if it wasn't for Montreal fans he would not have been voted an All-Star, nor talked about as much as he was. He is going to be relied on heavily to turn this ship around before it sinks completely. If he doesn't improve his game immensely, this team will go nowhere.

He's been an incredibly tough player all throughout his career. This season he hasn't been able to control his emotions and has taken far too many stupid penalties. He's second on the team in PIM's with 23 (Colton Orr has 26) and far too many times has the puck ended up in the net with him sitting in the box.

To put it bluntly, it's unacceptable.

If he can cool down his temper and think less about the big hit and more about the smart play, the Leafs will be in good shape. But if he continues his wild, out of position type play, well, you can stick a fork in this one, folks.

There are plenty of other members of this team who might well deserve to be on this list, but for now these five deserve the most criticism.

I would have added sort-of-rookie Rickard Wallin to this group, but he has literally been a ghost so far. He hasn't done enough good or bad to even get talked about, he's just been completely unnoticeable. Get out your "Where's Wallin?" signs, because as a Leaf he's managed to blend in to a crowd better than any player I’ve ever seen.

Eight games in and not a single win. If the Leafs plan on stepping up in the standings, then it's these five players that need to step up their game before anything positive will happen.