It's been a month since the Lightning and the Maple Leafs last played each other in Tampa. Things have changed for the Leafs, who are sliding in the standings in the East.We check in with Pension Plan Puppets about the club and what's going on in the post-Burke era in Toronto.
1 - Last time these teams met, James Reimer was out, as was Joffrey Lupul and there were concerns the Maple Leafs playoff hopes might be in trouble without them. Well, seems like they weathered those injuries very well, but now both players are back and the team hasn't won in a couple weeks, 0-3-2 over that span. Any cause for concern?
Oh, there's been cause for concern with the Leafs since day one. They never really addressed their glaring needs of a top centre and another top defencemen which, while not exactly easy to address, an astute observer will notice are the same ones from when Brian Burke was hired as GM. This team has been overachieving and it landed them in a playoff position but now that their luck is balancing out they are sliding down the standings. Funny how the same thing happened last year. So yes, there's concern because on paper the team looks good enough to compete in the awful Eastern Conference if only for the 8th seed but their best assets are being generally misused. Korbinian Holzer and Mike Kostka seeing top pairing minutes while Jake Gardiner continued to languish in the AHL well past his recovery from a concussion is laughable. In fact, it's only exacerbated by the rumour that the Leafs were going to recall him earlier but didn't because of Jake's agent's *hilarious* tweet seeking his freedome.
2 - What's going on with the teams defense personnel? Can you summarize the challenges and decisions for those of us who don't follow the team daily?
The challenges are many:
1. Carl Gunnarsson's hip: Gunnar is probably the Leafs best defenceman but has a hip injury that kept him sidelined with pain and requires a lot of treatment but apparently no surgery. Knowing the Leafs' medical staff I would bet dollars to doughnuts that he has surgery in the off-season.
2. Dion Phaneuf's Partners: For some reason, the Leafs have decided that part of the captain's responsibilities should include trying to carry two AHLers.
3. No puck movement: Carlyle's passing obsession with having defencemen play on their "proper" side (ie moving Phaneuf from the right where he played his entire career to the left because he is a left-handed shot) resulted in each pairing having one player that is not able to move the puck at an NHL level. Leaving aside any analytics, a big part of defence is moving the puck in the right direction. The Leafs aren't able to exploit their speed and skill up front when their defence can't make a breakout pass.
3 - Thinking of how Brian Burke was released so abruptly right as the lockout ended in January, now 2 months later, do you feel that move has benefited the Leafs yet?
Hard to say because the argument would basically be that Burke wasn't worried for his job so he hasn't swung for the fences for a wild deal to save his job. On the other hand, maybe that deal would have worked out well. We'll see the difference when Nonis starts going through a UFA season, the draft, and a full off-season.