Toronto Maple Leafs: Goaltending Will Propel Rebuild

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IJuly 13, 2008

(Writers Note:  It's a bolder approach from yours truly.  The news has slowed down a bit in Toronto over the past few days, and it has given me a lot of time to think.)

The Toronto Maple Leafs' summer moves have led them to the rebuild that many fans have been longing for. Their moves have not been spectacular—but they have been, at the very least, solid moves that could pay off for the Maple Leafs in the long run. 

Despite his big contract, Jeff Finger has improved every year. Mikhail Grabovski still has a lot of potential—and did I mention we have the Human Eraser himself, Luke Schenn, waiting in the wings, and possibly on the blue line for Toronto come October.

But still, people dismiss these efforts by Toronto as another failed attempt to fly.  Their common argument is simple, and usually goes something like this:  "Toronto's rebuild doesn't matter, because they have no one to build around."

These people clearly have not seen, nor heard of Luke Schenn apparently.  But even still, even I would agree. As good as he is, it may be unfair to throw the complete bulk of the rebuild on the back of Luke Schenn. 

As many cynics and pundits say, the Maple Leafs have some nice pieces—but no crown jewel.

Sisalla Vesa Me Luottaa  In Vesa We Trust.  Everyone agrees that all great teams start from the crease on out.  And if that is to be the case, then the Maple Leafs do have a cornerstone to build their franchise around.  Look no further than Vesa Toskala.

The 31-year-old puck stopper has the rare distinction of being a young veteran (total oxymoron on my part, no doubt).  Drafted in 1995 by San Jose, Toskala stayed in Finland until the turn of the century before deciding to come to North America.

When he did, NHL fnas found out it was worth the wait.    Toskala had a meteoric rise with the Sharks organization, working the way up from the farm team and eventually convincing the Sharks he was good enough for them to let Miikka Kiprusoff go to Calgary.

But when the Maple Leafs traded for Toskala at last year's entry draft, there were still some people who didn't really know much about the Finnish netminder. 

Secluded in the Western Conference and splitting time with Evgeni Nabokov, Toskala failed to convince many in Toronto that he would be up to the challenge of starting for the Maple Leafs.

He answered that call admirably.  Despite being slowed by a groin injury, Toskala managed to start 66 games for the Maple Leafs, tallying a record of 33-25-6.  He also recorded three shutouts and posted a .904 save percentage. 

Not that the league keeps this as a stat, but Toskala did all this while wearing the absolute coolest mask in the NHL!  

At the age of 31, Toskala has the potential to be a starter in this league for nearly another decade.  Surely, his calming presence in the net will be a huge help to a young Maple Leafs team.

Toskala has the talent to be a franchise goalie, and it's all very possible that he will guide Toronto through the rebuilding process and propel them to the top of the league sometime within the next decade.  And if he can't, Justin Pogge will be ready and willing to try.

They say, Leafs Nation, that goaltending and defense wins championships.  Well, rest easy.  We have one of those areas locked down—and if Ron Wilson can work out the kinks in our defense, we will be well on our way.