Before training camp I was not the only one who had high expectations for this team, and after the preseason, those expectations were heightened. Brian Burke and Ron Wilson did not do anything to dampen our collective hopes, or prepare us for what was to come, as other Leaf administrations have in the past. When you have a fan base that hasn't seen a playoff game in 5 years, making them think there is a legitimate chance their team will make the playoffs and then pulling that rug out from under them is a sure fire way to get your ass booed.
Brian Burke had Leaf Nation in the palm of his hand, all dreamy eyed and drinking the kool-aid. There was no pressure to perform this season, everyone had accepted this would be a year of rebuilding and bringing up the young guys. But then Burke had to go and trade away two first round picks for Kessel. While I am not exactly against the deal itself, and I am even on record defending it, what I am against is the timing and circumstances of the trade. In trading the 2010 first round pick, there is immense pressure for the Leafs to finish in the playoffs so that the pick they traded isn't very high. Unfortunately the Leafs are dead last in the NHL meaning if the draft was today, that pick would be first overall and that is expected to by Taylor Hall. Burke now has to worry about losing a high draft pick, possibly Taylor Hall and the hit his reputation could take. My fear right now is Burke will make some ill advised trades circa the last 10 years in order to boost the Leafs spot in the standings, which will hurt them in the long run. Secondly, a lot of people are now looking to Phil Kessel to come back from his injury and deliver us to salvation. Unfortunately, from what I have been listening to, it seems to the consensus among the radio talk show hosts that Kessel does not have the skill to score 30 goals in Toronto with its current personnel. And it is unfair to place that kind of expectations on a 22 year old kid. I really have a feeling Burke is starting to have some buyers remorse. I hope he kept the receipt.
Next we have the issue of Burke's prized defense. Komisarek and Beauchemin don't seem to be performing the way Burke had in mind when he gave them the big bucks. I don't expect them to play the way they currently are for much longer, but they haven't really done much to inspire confidence in them. Both players were lauded by Burke as tough as nails, stay at home defensemen, who would improve the back end dramatically and help on the penalty kill. So far, Komisarek mostly has taken dumb penalty after dumb penalty and made rookie mistakes. Beauchemin has been caught out of position several times, and made some glaring giveaways, he has managed however to tally 3 points in 6 games. I was excited when we got these guys, and I really want to like them, but so far they haven't done anything to deserve my affection. They better soon, or else we will be stuck with them for a pretty long time.
Schenn is also struggling. He is having trouble with the same stuff he did last year, like not using his size, giveaways, inability to clear the puck, and defensive zone coverage, but he is no longer a rookie so he wont get a free pass anymore. There has been rumblings that he should not have been in the NHL last year, and it might have stunted his development. It is possible he will become the 5th 6th or 7th defensemen or even be sent to the Marlie's. I hope he can get it together,because I like him, but remember, he is only 19!
In net, it hasnt been much of a suprise. I was crossing my fingers thats Toskala would be better this year after the surgery, but deep down, I didnt believe anything would change, and I was right. So far, he is averaging over 5 goals per game, and has a save percentage of about .800. The best thing he had done this year is get hurt, and the best thing Jason Blake has done is hurt him.
The Monster, Jonas Gustavsson really hasn't got a chance to shine yet. hes only played about 1.5 games in total, and has been adequate but has been injured twice, with a Heart problem that needed minor surgery, and then a groin problem that still has him on Injured Reserve.
On the offensive side of things, Stalberg impressed before he got injured, and personally I think Grabovski has been the best forward so far. Blake, Ponikarovsky, Stempniak, and Mayers have been pretty invisible. Hagman, has been alright, Kulemin has been pretty good in the couple of games he has played, and Stajan has scored three goals but other then that hasn't really done anything. The best line has been Kulemin-Grabovski-Hagman, They have been creating lots of scoring chances and consistently been deadly. In fact, the offense as a whole has hit the post and come very close to scoring more times then they have actually scored. The teams they have played have all had stellar goaltending compared to what the Leafs have been getting.
So to sum up, the first 6 games have been quite disappointing. With the defense and goaltending leading the way down. I really want to like Burke and his trades, but everything he has done seems to be blowing up in his face. I want to like Komisarek, Beauchemin and Schenn but they have to step it up. Toskala has got to go, and so does Blake and Mayers. We might be able to work with everyone else. I also wish Burke didnt put so much pressure on the team to perform this year via the Kessel deal, because they could have cruised through this year and developed Schenn, Bozak, Kadri, Stalberg, Hanson, and the 2010 Draft picks. Then picked up a goalscorer or two through a less rushed trade or free agency. We would have been set for next year to make the playoffs.
But we have to remember it's only been 6 games. while this doesn't excuse the poor start, at least it hasn't been 20 games. However, we are still going to be without a possible 11 points that would have really helped make the playoffs, especially because they were 13 points short of 8th in the East last year.
Here it a video I came across today. Its not hockey related but who cares