Bad Timing or Needed Rest: Maple Leafs That Could Suffer/Benefit from Time Off

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IFebruary 11, 2010

TORONTO - JANUARY 30: Luke Schenn #2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs moves the puck during game action against the Vancouver Canucks January 30, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages / Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

For some players on the Toronto Maple Leafs, the next two weeks will be as hectic a stretch as they've had in their hockey careers.

Playing for their country in the Olympics with the whole world watching, may be the only scenario that will have them under more pressure than that of playing in Toronto.

There will hardly be any rest after their game against the St. Louis Blues on Friday night before they'll find themselves wearing their countries' colours in Vancouver, battling it out in a short tournament where each game is more important than the last.

For those Leaf players who are lucky enough to be named to an Olympic team, a break is not something they will be getting much of in the coming weeks.

Tomas Kaberle, Phil Kessel, and Jonas Gustavsson will simply be changing teammates and jerseys while getting right back on the ice with only a few days rest.

And of course, we can't forget about Ron Wilson and Brian Burke as well.

But, for the rest of the team, they will have a whole lot of nothing to do for the next two weeks.

The only game action going on will be on the other side of the country, and in the meantime there will be a lot of TV watching and wiping kids' noses on a break that could be great for some, and not so much for others.

The players that will clearly benefit from the Olympic break are the new players to the team; Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and Freddy Sjostrom.

Though it has been almost two weeks since the three players arrived in town, it has no doubt been a constant whirlwind.

Getting some solid time to settle in and get their new homes under control off the ice will be much easier when they don't have a few games a week.

For Phaneuf, who was clearly disappointed in not being selected to the Canadian team, it could be bittersweet for the former Calgary Flame as he watches a team he could have been on play in the Olympics.

Mikhail Grabovski, one of the Leaf players who was originally selected to an Olympic team (Belarus) but has to miss it because of injury, is another guy who could use some time off.

His injury has not fully healed and instead of missing more games, the break will ensure he fully heals before trying to get back into the lineup.

Some key veterans on the team will also benefit from a break from hockey that they rarely get during the season. Francois Beauchemin, who has appeared in all 60 Leaf games this season, could certainly use some time with his family to relax and heal the bumps and bruises that are common in the regular season grind.

Wayne Primeau, who has been a pleasant surprise for the team this season, showing he can be more than just a fourth-line checker, will also benefit from the break. He has had injury difficulties this season as well and though he is back playing, some time off wouldn't hurt.

Same goes for Colton Orr, who after being on the right end of a knock-out punch in a fight against the Ottawa Senators, found himself on the receiving end of a similar jaw-wrenching pop the very next game. Though the injury was not serious, his fists and face could use a break from the tough life of a NHL tough guy.

The young players on the Leafs, who will either get some time off or be sent back to the Toronto Marlies, will also benefit from time away from the spotlight.

Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson, Viktor Stalberg, and Christian Hanson all fit into that category and are no doubt going through some shock from the rigorous NHL schedule; whether they've been up with the Leafs all season or just a handful of games.

While plenty of players will enjoy some time off, there are those on the team who could suffer from a break at this time in the season. No more is that true than for sophomore defenseman Luke Schenn.

It's been an up-and-down season so far for the 20-year-old, but he is currently playing the best hockey of his career.

Ever since the trade, and even before that, he has been more physical, jumped up in the play effectively, and has been a force in his own end like never before.

The questions asked about him at the beginning of the season have all but vanished as Schenn's confidence grows by the game.

Problem is, that current streak of great play will have to withstand a long break of no games. That doesn't mean that he'll have to come back and start from scratch once the season resumes, but if there was ever a killer to a hot streak, it's an extended period of time not playing.

Schenn will obviously take advantage of the time off and work hard in anticipation of finishing the season strong, but it will be very interesting how his play is coming out of the break.

He is surely one player who would probably prefer the season to continue, allowing his strong play to flourish.

Nikolai Kulemin and Lee Stempniak have grown into two extermely valuable players because of their work ethic and never-say-die attitudes on the ice.

They've never been as important to the team as they are now, and as their play becomes better by the game, it's a shame they'll have to pause for two weeks before continuing their growth.

The much maligned Rickard Wallin could also do without a lengthy break in the season.

His play was downright useless for the majority of the season, but ever since the trade that put him on a line with new teammate Sjostrom, he has finally found his game and heck, even added his first goal of the season.

His play on the penalty kill was his best attribute, and he's not only improved in that area but has also been more effective in the offensive zone as well.

Maybe he's hoping Leaf fans will forget about his early season woes (not likely) but one thing is for sure; they'll be expecting him to keep up his improved play upon return to game action.

Of course, after a mostly forgettable season through the first 60 games, the entire team could probably do with a timeout while Leaf fans concentrate on the other team that bears the maple leaf...

And that actually has a chance of winning some hardware this season in Vancouver.

But in lieu of their recent improved play as a whole, the Leafs find themselves facing a break at probably the worst time possible, simply because they've finally come together as a team.

No doubt some were wondering where this two week vacation was after their dreadful 0-7-1 start to the season.

So, who will benefit from the break the most in Toronto?

Well, after the rollercoaster ride this season has been that honour goes to none other than the fans themselves. After watching one of the worst seasons in recent memory, it will be a nice change for Leaf fans to be able to watch a team play meaningful games against arch rivals.

But if for some reason Canada doesn't do what we all expect, and win the Gold Medal, God help the fans in Toronto.

Watching one team struggle to win is bad enough, but to watch two teams do so right before their eyes in the same season, could cause a depression that sweeps the streets of Toronto unlike anything ever seen before.

So for the sake of all of Leaf Nation, best of luck to Team Canada; Lord knows Leaf fans need something to cheer about.  



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