THE LEAFS ARE DEFINITELY IMPROVED

Steve Lansky
November 15 2010 07:06PM

So the Toronto Maple Leafs are struggling a bit. The last few weeks haven’t been exactly relaxing for Leafs’ fans. We can agree on that. But are the Leafs worse than they were last year? Are they going the right direction, or would you rather have the team that lost 5-2 to the Calgary Flames last November 14th?

On that night, the Leafs started Jonas Gustavsson. He let in three goals on five shots and was replaced just 9:54 into the first period by Vesa Toskala. Has Gustavsson done that yet this season? Nope. He’s played very well. In fact, in his five starts this season, he really only struggled in Florida. And, in Pittsburgh in October, you could argue he was the key reason that the Leafs skated away with a 4-3 win. And would you rather have Vesa Toskala than J-S Giguère? Neither would I - or anyone with any hockey sense.

After their loss to the Flames, the Leafs fell to 3-10-5, 11 points (ahead of only Carolina in the East), 45 GF, 68 GA. Today, they are 5-8-3, 13 points (more wins, two fewer games), 35 GF, 47 GA. Of course, the number that absolutely jumps off the page is the fact that they’ve given up about twenty fewer goals. That alone tells you how much better this club is in their own zone.

Against the Flames, the six D were Luke Schenn, Tomas Kaberle, François Beauchemin, Ian White, Jeff Finger and Carl Gunnarsson. Based on the line-up the Leafs iced last Saturday v. Vancouver, would you trade White, Finger and Gunnarsson for Mike Komisarek, Keith Aulie and Brett Lebda. I’m thinking you would…but that could go either way. If we replace Aulie with Dion Phaneuf (who would be in there if injury-free), it becomes a no-brainer. This team is much better.

Let’s see how Brian Burke is doing re-building up front. Versus Calgary, the Leafs’ centres were Matt Stajan, Rickard Wallin, Mikhail Grabovski and John Mitchell. The swap here would be Stajan and Wallin for Tim Brent and Tyler Bozak. Say what you want, Brent and Bozak have a much greater upside and tons more potential.

On the wings, gone from last year are Niklas Hagman, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Lee Stempniak. Replace them with Mike Brown, Clarke MacArthur, Nazem Kadri, Fredrik Sjostrom and Kris Versteeg. There are pros and cons to both groups, but the mere presence of Kadri and potential of Versteeg and Sjostrom make this year’s group a tad more desirable.

Is this year’s Leafs’ team a great club? Of course not – although I still think they’ll make the postseason. But they are better than last year’s club at every position. And that means Brian Burke is moving in the absolute right direction…just not as fast as some would like.

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Steve Lansky's first exposure to the game was at storied Maple Leaf Gardens, running downstairs at the end of every period just to watch the great Dave Keon walk off the ice to the room. A decade later, while he was still in high school, Oilers' head coach Glen Sather asked Lansky, "Hey, how'd you like to be our team statistician?" In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, giving him a front-row seat to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. Lansky also helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. You can follow him at bigmouthsports.com and at twitter.com/bigmouthsports
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