Toronto Maple Leafs: 6 Things To Make the Team a Contender
Toronto Maple Leafs fans have had to endure decades of failure in the National Hockey League. The team hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. That's a long time.
Recently though, the Leafs have shown glimpses of brilliance and look to be on the cusp of a playoff berth—something the team hasn't done in a while. GM Brian Burke looks poised to pull the trigger on a few moves to make the team stronger and take them over the hump and into contention.
Here are six things that need to be addressed before the Maple Leafs can be considered legitimate contenders.
1. Better Coaching
Let's face it. The team hasn’t been coached well the past few seasons. The burden of a bad PP and PK should fall directly on the coaches’ shoulders.
This past offseason, changes were made to the coaching staff. New assistants were brought in to help out Wilson, ignoring the true problem: Ron Wilson himself. He just doesn’t get the best out of his players. A new head coach could go a long way in changing the culture in Toronto.
Who calls their players out using the media? The guy’s a clown.
2. Some Size
As the team continues to add bodies and depth to the squad, Brian Burke should make sure these additions have size. The likes of Boyce, Ziggy, Crabb, etc. are just too small for fourth-line duties as they don't bring enough grit.
The addition of Dave Steckel attributes to this. On top of his god-like faceoff skills, he has a big body to throw around. He was a great addition to the squad, and with a few more, the team will be able to make a splash.
Seriously though, at 6'6", how does he beat the quicker guys every time in the faceoff circle?
3. A Top-6 Forward
The team needs additional scoring to carry the load when Kessel cools off. This scoring threat should have size (talked about in the previous slide), and already established scoring pedigree.
As for position, center would be the most likely addition because Connolly has shown no sign of being able to stay healthy. Lupul and Kessel have had great chemistry this year, so all the team needs is a big body between the two.
Adding a top player means that others move down the depth chart and add offensive upside to different lines.
Let's not speculate as Burke keeps his cards tight to his chest. Eric Staal. Paul Stastny. Stephen Weiss.
4. Solidify the Defensive Corps
The team has depth on defense, but cannot continue to juggle around all the NHL-caliber bodies. It will not help player development or team morale. Decisions need to be made, and at least one defenseman should be packing up his bags.
Whether this is Gardiner to the minors or someone getting traded (cough, Komisarek), it doesn’t matter. Just needs to happen. I would like to see Blacker get a look with the big club at some point, as well as Aulie, who is NHL quality.
Hopefully, this drama was created by management temporarily to spark some trade interest and that a current Bud is being showcased as we speak.
5. End the Scrutiny of Playing in Toronto
As fans, we are putting too much pressure on the athletes. Sure, we pay to watch them play and deserve a quality product, but it doesn’t mean we can be hostile toward the hometown team.
They need our support. The players are regular human beings just like you and I. When they are performing poorly, they know it. We don’t need to shove it in their faces. The stigma about playing in Toronto needs to vanish. More players will be interested in playing here.
Less doubt and more belief, Leafs fans!
6. Give the Young Players a Bigger Role
We have the talent, they just need the confidence.
The Maple Leafs need to open their minds to let younger players get valuable minutes. The team has plenty of quality prospects on the cusp of being NHL difference-makers.
Don't put Gardiner in the press box. Let someone else sit to have a look at Franson. If not, send him to the Marlies. Put Kadri on a line with Kessel. Give him PP minutes. See what happens.
The only way these players will improve is if they play, and without this playing time, we will never know what they are capable of. The only way this team will make a splash in the playoffs, with the roster they have right now, is if a kid steps up his game.
I'm telling you, Ron. Gardiner on the first PP unit with Phaneuf. Do it.
You still need a lot of additional pieces for this team to be successful.
But they are on the right track. Brian Burke has made some of the best trades in hockey with the Leafs and is moulding this team to win a championship.
Fans just have to be patient. So, we'll wait and see.