Toronto Maple Leafs: 10 Biggest Changes They Must Make to Reach Playoffs
While Toronto is currently sitting in a playoff spot, their recent play is hardly enough to establish their ranking in cement.
The Leafs are still very far from being a playoff-caliber team, and even if they do make the postseason, it's difficult to imagine them escaping the first round. There is hope, however.
Several different aspects of Toronto's game need help, and with the proper changes this team can really become a contender.
Whether it's roster changes or fine-tuning their play on the ice, Toronto has what it takes to return to greatness.
Here's how to get it done.
Figure out the Goalie Situation
Imagine if you had a girlfriend who would be super nice to you and totally affectionate half of the time she saw you and completely distant the other half.
You'd go out of your mind, right?
That's pretty much what's going on in net in Toronto.
With James Reimer on the injured list for who knows how much longer, Ben Scrivens and Jonas Gustavsson have had to fill in. They've been, for lack of a better word, bipolar.
Some nights they're on fire or can shake off bad goals and other times they are simply awful between the pipes.
Toronto needs to figure out which one is the starter or whether it is necessary to bring in someone more experienced (anyone but Marty Turco).
Handing the reins to one over the other could help confidence-wise and really allow for stability in net.
Find a Proper Center for Kessel and Lupul
This problem was supposed to be addressed with the signing of Tim Connolly this offseason, but the oft-injured centerman is not cutting it.
Now, Mikhail Grabovski is down for a couple weeks from an injury and only time will tell whether Connolly will join him, Kessel and Lupul need a proper center to keep up their impressive (and necessary) offensive production.
Whether that means promoting Tyler Bozak to the first line or bringing in someone new from a trade, it needs to happen now or the goals will slow down.
Run Power Play Drills Until the Players Throw Up "Miracle" Style
John Michael Liles was brought in from Colorado during the offseason to help Toronto's dismal power play.
So far, he has one power-play goal.
The Leafs have only capitalized on 16.9 percent of their power plays, placing them 15th in the league.
That's simply not going to cut it if they plan on making the playoffs and winning some of those postseason games.
Send Down Philippe Dupuis Already...
Dupuis has played in 16 games this year for Toronto, and what does he have to show for it?
That's not how you win games.
Toronto needs a full, deep roster of guys that can get it done on the ice, and Dupuis does not fit that profile.
Right now, he needs to be sent down to the minors to figure out what the hell he's doing and hopefully get his head straight.
Toronto needs offense, not some dud who just skates around all game.
...And Call Up Joe Colborne
Colborne is scoring at an insane pace in the AHL playing for the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' farm team.
In 12 games this year he has 10 goals and nine assists and is plus-7.
He needs to be given a shot on the big club and allow himself to shine where it matters.
Colborne has tremendous skill and can really flourish on the young Toronto roster.
Pair Cody Franson with Dion Phaneuf
Franson was supposed to be a hot commodity that we were lucky to pick up in a trade this summer.
He hasn't been living up those expectations and needs help.
I think putting him on the first defensive pairing alongside captain Dion Phaneuf could really give him the kick-start he needs.
Phaneuf is a solid captain who leads by example, and Franson could learn a lot from him.
I think pushing Gunnarsson to the second pairing with Liles wouldn't be such a bad situation, and Franson will be given an opportunity to shine and mature next to Phaneuf.
He definitely needs a change of pace and sending him to the minors won't help anybody. Let the kid have a chance at proving he belongs here, and I think he could really surprise some people.
Make Sure to Continue Resilient Play
A mere five minutes into Tuesday's game against Phoenix, Toronto found itself down 2-0.
They battled back, and forced overtime and eventually a shootout, finally losing to the Coyotes.
They need to fight for wins and come out with points whenever they can.
Toronto won a good number of games in October, and right now they can win 60 percent of the rest of this season's games and make the playoffs.
They don't need to be perfect, they just need to be decent.
They can let up two early goals if they manage to fight back and grit out a win or overtime loss.
Resilience is the key to winning in this league and Toronto has shown glimpses of that type of play this year. They need to keep it up.
Stick an "A" on Kessel's Jersey
Dion Phaneuf is a solid captain and the right type of guy to lead the Maple Leafs.
Phil Kessel, however, is a player who quietly leads by example.
He scores big goals and is certainly the go-to guy on offense.
Kessel needs the backing of the team on which he is one of the main leaders, and it could go a long way to help his overall play.
He plays hard every game and is finally scoring at the pace that we've all come to expect from him, so why not make him the official assistant captain?
I think it's time that Kessel became an integral part of the Leafs' team, not just its offensive production.
Let the Dogs out a Little
Toronto tough guy Colton Orr has only played two games this season and that seriously needs to change.
The Leafs have no toughness or grit outside of Phaneuf's monster bodychecks and Colton Orr is the right man to stir some stuff up.
This is a very young team that needs some guys to protect it.
Give Orr (and Jay Rosehill for that matter) some playing time and allow him to up the tempo and get Toronto's blood flowing every once in a while. It could help the Leafs pick up their pace a little.
Finish 2011 Strong
Toronto has 20 games left before we flip the calendars to 2012.
That's just under a quarter of the season, and certainly one of the most integral parts of the year.
The Leafs have the opportunity to lay the foundation for a playoff spot with solid play over the next six weeks.
Their schedule is less than favorable with games against the Bruins, Sabres, Capitals and Stars, but if they dig in their skates and pull off 25-30 points out of the possible 40 they could be in good shape come January.
This is definitely a lot to ask of the club, but then again, no one said that making the playoffs was a walk in the park.