As a one-time goalie, I can tell you this about the position. It can provide you with both the hottest seat in the house and often the best seat in the house.
So when Vesa Toskala speaks of the current Leaf lineup being able to surprise teams this year I think it prudent to listen up, despite an up-and-down season for the team last year, and having a slow start himself.
Toskala was very solid in net for a team which was not the most responsible when it came to the defensive side of the game. From his vantage point Toskala would see the defensive break downs, the giveaways, and the inability speed-wise to recover from said mistakes.
Over these past few months there have been a number of retooling moves. Many of these focus on bringing in more speed, more grit, and players who have a knack for being defensively responsible.
I am not about to compare these Leafs to the current Stanley Cup Champs, but theirs is a blueprint built on puck control, team speed, and TEAM defense. When you can get your first line scorers to buy into a system of defensive responsibility it yields phenomenal results.
Obviously the Leafs don't have anyone named Datsyuk or Zetterberg in their lineup. However, Coach Ron Wilson is a defensive specialist and he also has a way of bringing the kids along quickly.
New additions Hagman, Kulemin, etc. will compliment incumbent youngsters like Stajan and Steen who have already shown an aptitude for back checking and making it that much more difficult to get good scoring opportunities.
So after some of the debacles of last season and seeing some fresh new faces out in front of him is it any wonder Vesa Toskala is feeling optimistic?
People will talk about the departures this summer. We lost our booming shot from the point we lost our agitator and heart. We lost two of our better centres.
But in the losses we have had gains: more speed, more overall grit, and definitely more defensive commitment. It is a younger team with less overall NHL experience and we won't know until game 82 of this coming season whether or not the retooling has made a difference.
But I am going with Vesa's belief that this is a team that has the potential to surprise. Just maybe not in game one, in which they will face off with the definitive masters of team defense: the Red Wings.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!