Sorry for the long break – between a much-needed vacation and coming down with a nasty bug, I’ve thankfully had more pressing concerns than the Leafs’ unfortunate road trip through Western Canada last week, and I even managed to miss the debacle on Mats Sundin Night, the first Leaf game I’d missed all season. Of course, in the meantime, there’s been all kinds of Leaf-related news popping up, starting with the somewhat ridiculous Rick Nash trade rumors. Jeff Mullen had a great post up here the other day about why Nash is not the answer to the Leafs’ current problems, and I have to agree with him. While there’s certainly no real downside to adding a star-quality player like Nash to the roster (other than what you’d have to pay to get him), what was evidenced against the Flames and Canucks this past week was a real lack of defense and solid goaltending.
Nash doesn’t solve either of those problems, and to be honest, I don’t think a real solution is going to present itself on the trade market this season. Then again, none of us saw Dion Phaneuf on the radar when Burke picked him up, either, so nothing can be ruled out. Burke has stated repeatedly he’s not in the market for a goalie, which means one or both of Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer needs to get their s*** together in a hurry. I don’t care who you’re a bigger fan of, they’ve both had some pretty unconvincing seasons thus far. Reimer has yet to fully get back to his original self after Brian Gionta knocked his noggin, and Gus has been, well, just about what we expect from Gus: pretty solid play most of the time, but you’re just about guaranteed to see him give up one or two goals that you’d be screaming at your peewee goalie if he let in.
As far as the blueline goes, when you look at the Leafs’ defensemen on paper, there’s not many places you would really look to upgrade. This is not to say that their play has been satisfactory of late, but really, who would you like Burke to go after to really boost this defensive corps? Dion Phaneuf is actually having a pretty decent season, Jake Gardiner is leading all rookie defensemen in points and Cody Franson has worked his way into a permanent roster spot after getting the short end of the stick early in the season. Injury troubles have plagued Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Komisarek, who have both played pretty quality hockey for the most part, and Luke Schenn, despite being apparently on most people’s “trade everything for Rick Nash” list, is 2nd in the league in hits.
With a crucial home stand coming up, the Leafs have got to solve whatever mystery illness has ailed them for the past two weeks, and fast. With games against New Jersey and Washington, both teams in the thick of the race for the final few playoff spots, it will not be up to Brian Burke to bring in some magic help to keep pucks out of the Toronto net. Instead, the highly-paid and supposedly highly skilled blueline he assembled over the past two seasons will have to work to keep the pressure off of their shaky goaltenders. Lost in all of this is also the fact that their offense has gone a bit dry in the past four games, and at a crucial time in the season, the team’s strength needs to be exactly that.