As the year of 2013 comes to a close for the Toronto Maple Leafs, we look forward to hopefully a brighter second half going into 2014. I have come up with five things they must accomplish to be a better team, so let’s take a look.
This team needs to compete every game for a full 60 minutes. When they do this, they usually win or keep it close. In the other four points that I will be speaking about, it all comes down to this number one point.
Stronger down the middle
Tyler Bozak is back from injury so that should help, but the other three centremen (Nazem Kadri, Jay McClement, Peter Holland) will need to step up in their play as well. I’m almost thinking that Coach Randy Carlyle should do a switch with Holland and Kadri, and here’s why: Holland has been more aggressive on the puck down low and has produced more offense in the last eight games. He is also a better face-off man as he seems to be stronger on the draw.
This is a stat that really eats at me and I can’t understand why the Leafs so lousy at it. Maybe they need to bring back a Doug Gilmour or Dave Keon to show them how to do it? The team average is at 46 per cent which puts them at a tie for 26th overall. That isn’t good enough to win as they say. Puck possession wins you games so winning face-offs gives you puck possession. What the four centremen need to do is compete more on the draw and bare down on the player in front of him. McClement is averaging 54 per cent but the others are below 50 and that won’t be good enough to win.
We have seen some big miscues by the defense but it isn’t totally their fault. While the goaltending has been good and the forwards have been getting better as well, it does come down to the play of some of the defensemen. The three that stand out are of course Mark Fraser with a minus-seven rating, Paul Ranger with a minus-five, Cody Franson with a minus-two and Morgan Rielly with a minus-10. OK, I will give Rielly some slack for being a 19-year-old playing at this elite level but for the other three there is no excuse. While Franson has been playing much better over the last 10 games, the other two…well, maybe it is time to start looking elsewhere. Don’t forget the other three defensemen are performing well as they can. Dion Phaneuf is a plus-13, Carl Gunnarsson is a plus-seven and Jake Gardiner is a plus-one. With Phaneuf and Gunnarsson usually paired up against the other teams first line, those stats are very good, so trading Phaneuf right now would not be a good idea in my opinion.
The second half of the season will tell you what your team will be like in the playoffs (that’s if you make them!) and in the playoffs you need your special teams firing on all cylinders. Right now, the Leafs aren’t firing, but are puttering along, especially with their penalty-killing efforts. While last season they were one of the top teams on the PK, they have now dropped to 27th in the league with a 77 per cent rating. That’s not good for any playoff team. On the other side of special teams, their power play is ranked fifth in the league and motoring along at 22 per cent, which is exactly what you want in any playoff season. Getting Bozak back will help in the PK department as will hopefully Dave Bolland when he returns, but at this moment the Leafs need some players to step up.
I will be looking forward to the rest of the season if the Leafs can address some or all of these points but maybe three out of five would be a good start.
The Leafs kick off 2014 at home on the 4th against the Rangers. Be sure to get your Maple Leafs tickets here.