Vesa Toskala Rubbing Leafs' Nation the Wrong Way in His Contract Year

Zach SmithContributor IJanuary 1, 2010

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 18: Matt Ellis #37 and Paul Gaustad #28 of the Buffalo Sabres celebrate Ellis' goal in the second period on Vesa Toskala #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at HSBC Arena on December 18, 2009 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

If you were to look at Vesa Toskala's numbers at the halfway point of the season, you would not guess that this is his contract year.

Appearing in 20 games thus far, Toskala owns a record of 6-8-2, with a goals against average of 3.72, to go along with an .869 save percentage.

To sum up his season, he is ranked at the bottom of the league leaders charts in virtually every category of importance among starters in the National Hockey League, and this guy is playing for another contract in the summer, wow!

Toskala's mediocre numbers leave reason for concern between the pipes for Toronto, as Jonas Gustavsson is slowly making his transition from the Swedish League to the NHL game.

Already hated among many fans for his poor play last year, Toskala was suppose to be the "old" Vesa Toskala after enduring multiple groin surgeries last spring to repair his hip/groin area, which was apparently the reason for his lackluster effort a year ago.

Leafs' Nation was willing to give Vesa a second chance, a fresh start, if you will. He was even given the start on opening in favour of "The Monster" following his sub-par preseason play. It all went downhill from there.

Toskala was very shaky-looking in the season opener against Montreal, giving up four goals in a losing effort in front of the disappointed ACC crowd, leaving much doubt in Leafs fans regarding Toskala's play, and left them wondering if he could ever get back to his form from the 2007-08 season, where he posted a 33-25-9 record with a GAA of 2.74 and a .904 save percentage.

In his next start against the Capitals, he gave up three goals in the first period, giving Gustavsson a chance to take over the number one spot in net.

Since then, "The Monster" and Toskala have gone back and fourth between number one between the pipes, between injuries and losing stretches for both goalies, even allowing Joey MacDonald to get his chances to take over the number one job, one in which he could not get.

To this point, Toskala's year so far can be summarized in one goal that he allowed against Buffalo a couple weeks ago, where Toni Lydman shot the puck into the corner in the air.

Toskala tried to catch it, and it ended up going off of his glove, changing its direction and going right into the gaping cage, giving Lydman his first goal of the season. From there, the momentum swung back in Buffalo's direction as they took the 2-1 lead, in a game which they ended up winning 5-2.

Even last night's stinker he allowed against Edmonton was a momentum-swinging goal that led the Oils to victory, one which Toskala looked like the world's best dodgeball player as opposed to the back-up goalie we all know and love (well, a few of us), Vesa.

In saying that, not all of the goals that he's allowed have been his fault, with suspect defensive play resulting in many of them.

However, it is also fair to say that had he been nearly as sharp as everyone hoped he would be, the Leafs would be sitting five points ahead of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference as opposed to five points behind eighth, which is their current situation.

Vesa has been so bad this year, that he rarely gets any starts at home anymore because they know the fans will just jeer him and make him feel even more uncomfortable on his own home rink!

Heck, he even got it given to him pretty bad on the road in Buffalo, as the stands were packed with Leaf fans at that game as there always are when the two teams clash at HSBC Arena (I have a feeling some of the Buffalo fans were doing it for fun as well).

Well Leaf fans, there is good news regarding Vesa Toskala, and that is that this will most certainly be his last season as a Maple Leaf, and possibly in the NHL if he can't turn his season around, and believe me, it would be in his best interest to do so.

He will more than likely end up getting signed to a minor league contract, or going overseas to play in one of the European Leagues, similar to that of Ray Emery who after a year in the KHL in Russia has earned a spot on the Flyers roster.

Believe me, I hope that Vesa can turn it around, but I just don't see it happening. His lack of consistency over the last year and a half has rubbed many fans the wrong way, and many of them I'm sure would gladly pitch into buy his plane ticket back to his native Finland, myself included.

However, it is our duty as fans to stay patient with him throughout his last few months here (but hopefully more than just a few months), and support him as best as we can, no matter how much we hate him (and believe me I do!)

Anyways, a happy New Year to everyone and remember, Go Leafs, Go! Lets hope Vesa has a solid 2010!