Colton Orr unleashed, and the rest of the Leafs are following his lead. - Joel Auerbach
The Toronto Maple Leafs are once again coming out of the gate strong this season. At 6th in the East with a record of 9-6-0, the Leafs are turning heads as they have found their groove winning 6 of the last 7. Yesterday, I asked PPP, (aka @mlse on twitter ) the Managing Editor of Pension Plan Puppets how they're managing despite the injuries, team leadership in the public eye, and, if they are contenders at the trade deadline, who he hopes Nonis will make a play for (Bonus: he cites the wisdom of Brian Burke.)
Thanks to our colleagues at Pension Plan Puppets, for giving us a better look at the Leafs roster and their efforts this season, as they continue to make a solid push for a playoff berth.
1) Injury Updates: What's the word on James Reimer's return? And what updates can you give us on other injuries? Will Joffrey Lupul be ready before the post-season? Any others whose absence is hard to overcome? Who is stepping up to fill the open spots?
Reimer is still out for a couple of weeks. Ben Scrivens will hopefully buy the Leafs some time to ensure that there isn't a need to rush Reimer. I would guess that he would be starting both games in Florida.
Lupul's original injury prognosis was 4-6 weeks so he should be back before the theoretical playoff push. Lupul's absence has been filled by moving wingers around. James van Riemsdyk has been moved up to Phil Kessel's line and then Clarke MacArthur and Jay McClement have alternated on a line with [Mikhail] Grabovski and [Nikolai] Kulemin to give the Leafs a checking line. Matt Frattin had been filling the void offensively until his own knee injury. Now, Nazem Kadri has lost his running mate and is playing with Colton Orr. So watch out for that line.
The other big injuries have been the concussion to Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson's mystery hip ailment. They were both big parts of the Leafs' defence last year. While guys like Mike Kostka, Mark Fraser, and Korbinian Holzer have been doing some admirable work as their replacements, they do not measure up defensively or offensively. While the injury problems have been quite extensive, it is good to know that the Leafs have banked a lot of points while undermanned.
2) Leadership: Both Phil Kessel and Dion Pheneuf are subject to a lot of scrutiny and criticism in the Toronto market, and neither is particularly strong in front of a mic and camera. Is there a less prominent name who has emerged as the team's most visible or respected leader in the public eye? Whose interview do fans always listen to most carefully for insight to what's really driving the team or whose quotes are trusted and cited most often?
Joffrey Lupul is the media darling in Toronto. He is well spoken and friendly to the media and always up for a chat which makes him a demi-god in the media's eyes. I'm not sure that fans look to a particular player for insight in their interviews. I've found that usually the best insight comes out of nowhere and is inconsistent. Most of the time, these guys don't have a clue what they are talking about.
3) Trade targets: Let's assume the Leafs continue to hold their own and remain in playoff contention next month (and leaving Luongo rumors and goaltending out of it for now), what is the highest priority trade deadline move GM Dave Nonis should make to address the Leafs' needs down the stretch?
If the Leafs are still in the hunt later on in the season and Ryan O'Reilly is still available then Nonis should consider moving the team's first rounder for him. He would address the team's long-term need for a first line centreman and strengthen the team right now.
Otherwise, I'm not sure on specific targets but I would want the Leafs to follow Brian Burke's stated standard: Not moving youth for short-term assets just to make the playoffs. That original quote got mightily twisted out of context by people looking to score cheap points against him but it is sound. When he moved youth in Luke Schenn, he acquired James van Riemsdyk who could contribute now and for a long time in the future. It would be similar with moving the first rounder for O'Reilly