The Christmas break is over so, after 34 games, the time is now for your Toronto Maple Leafs. Although some Poindexter with a calculator will likely try and prove me wrong, if the Leafs are going to make a bold move up the standings, it will have to be in over the next 16 games. Typically, teams, who make major in-season standings’ improvements, do it before Game 50. Right now, the club sits ten points out of the 8th playoff spot. That’s not very far…but the move must start now.
The Boston Bruins, in eighth spot, have only five more wins than the Leafs. Frankly, that’s nothing to make up. Five of the Leafs’ next sixteen games are against teams that hold spots between Toronto and that coveted playoff spot. Now, if you want to get technical, they began the move Sunday night in New Jersey. Excellent start. Great defence. Almost all New Jersey’s shots came from the perimeter. And, Martin Brodeur stinks. That helped.
I suspect the real deal-maker (-breaker) among those sixteen games will be a three-game trip to California. It’s Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix in the middle of January. And, if the Leafs do what they did in Western Canada in December (take just two of a possible six points), it would be a major blow.
Just before the break, GM Brian Burke said that changes in Toronto were in the wind. How big those changes might be, only Burke knows. While I continue to think a correct fix might be replacing Ron Wilson, I believe Burke when he says he’s committed to his coach.
What can Burke deliver? He suggests that a big winger, to plant himself in front of the net, is a priority. Many fans feel a centre who can get Phil Kessel the puck is paramount. Burke says he will make a move soon. Just prior to Christmas, that’s what he told the Toronto Star’s Vinay Menon. Burke is a lot of things, but a liar isn’t one of them. A move is coming. But can he make one big enough?
Another small obstacle facing the Leafs is the number of teams they have to climb over to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s often insurmountable in March…but this is December. Last year, at this very time, the Philadelphia Flyers sat in fourth place in their division – and out of a playoff spot. Montreal sat fourth in theirs. You know how those stories played out.
I refuse to believe this Leafs’ season is lost but, if they still sit thirteenth in the conference after 50 games, they’re done. That’s the focal point.