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I hate you, Toronto, ON • Canada • 27 Years Old • Male
After the recent 174-foot goal Vesa Toskala allowed against the Islanders, many non-Leafs fans may question the 31 year old goaltender, but that would be a mistake if you're not aware what kind of season he's endured with the Blue and White.

To begin, when the Leafs acquired Vesa Toskala in the summer, they were not expecting top five quality goaltending. Fact is, Toskala had been a career back-up goaltender to Evgeni Nabokov on the San Jose Sharks for most of his career. In the last two seasons with the Sharks, injuries to Nabokov gave Toskala the call as the starting goaltender, and he performed brilliantly. In fact, he played in the playoffs for San Jose that season, making it to the second round. Toskala finished the playoffs with a 2.45 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. However, last season there was a fierce goaltending battle between the two, and at year's end head coach Doug Wilson decided to trade one of them to have an undisputed starter for his club, clearing cap space in the process. He opted with Toskala after attempting to trade Nabokov's 5.1 million contract proved too be difficult. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a city where the scrutiny can be too much to handle for many, and often the pressure can ruin careers. The Leafs extremely critical fan base and media are constantly judging the professional athletes that represent their city, and most times, they deem unfair opinions of them. What no one was expecting, however, was the puzzling downfall of Toronto's defense. A position that was weak last season is being even more exposed this season, and it's essentially the same core.

Vesa Toskala was then thrown into the fire. He began with a sub-par pre-season, and immediately the fans and media were on his back, calling for the head of former Leafs GM, John Ferguson Junior. What many did not take into account, however, is that many goalies do not have great stats in pre-season, even future hall-of-famer Ed Belfour struggled in his pre-season debut for the Leafs a few years back. The negative attention was so overwhelming that even Doug Wilson came to defend Toskala, stating that he is a great goaltender and he's confident he'll do well in the hockey crazed city of Toronto. Shortly after this, the opening night of the regular season kicked off, a game which saw the Toronto Maple Leafs head-to-head with arch rivals, the Ottawa Senators. A difficult task considering the Senators has had the Leafs number in recent years. The Leafs lost both games against the Senators, and Toskala was once again questioned for his goaltending abilities.

While Toskala was not the goalie he is now, it's not as if the Leafs defense were helping, consistently coming up with mediocre efforts to defend their goaltender. Part of the problem was that they often left one offender in front of the net unharmed, because the two defensemen were chasing one forward in particular. Not only that, but the Leafs couldn't get control in their own zone; every game they were struggling for possession of the puck and the opposition took full advantage, making the Leafs defenders look like pylons. That's not all either, when the attackers were entering the zone, the defensemen often huddle up in the crease, screening Toskala in the process -- if they were planning to get a higher draft pick, bravo troops, bravo!

As the season progressed, so did Toskala, eventually ceasing all doubt that he is not a capable #1 goaltender. Clearly the issue was to adapt to his new team, and he did so fairly quick, covering up the defensive woes that plague this team night in and night out. Throughout the course of the season, he has consistently come up with game savers; giving the Leafs a chance to win games they have no business winning. Last season, the goaltending was a liability to the team, this season it is not.

What makes Toskala so valuable to the Leafs are his lighting quick reflexes, superb glove hand, fast lateral movement and his ability to steal games. While he is small at 5'10, he makes up for it by challenging the shooters at the appropriate times and possessing a cool demeanor. The man is fazed by absolutely nothing; he stays mentally strong no matter what the scenario, as he proved on the Island earlier this week. He currently holds a 31-22-6 record with a 2.57 GAA, a .909 SV% and 3 shutouts. Remarkable stats considering the Leafs were in the Eastern Conference basement for the better part of the season.

However, next season may once again surface some interesting decisions going into the Trade Deadline. If Cliff Fletcher is true to his word, then the Leafs will forming a much different club next season, one that will hopefully consist of young players. And with Andrew Raycroft putting up another abysmal season -- even as the Buds back-up -- all signs point that the incumbent goaltender is on his way out, thus leaving the door wide open for Justin Pogge.

With that said, you can most certainly expect that Toskala will once again be the team's go-to guy, only difference being that Pogge will be his back-up, so you can expect a shortened work load for the Finnish netminder. One has to wonder though, if Pogge delivers some solid performances will the next GM of the Leafs look into trading Toskala? The Buds would be able to acquire a vast portion of prospects, which would do nothing but help this wounded franchise. If the Leafs do decide to rebuild, then having a 23 year old goaltender in Pogge will not be the end of the world, and he can grow with the young team in the process.
Filed Under:   Toskala   Leafs   Pogge   Raycroft   Fletcher   hockey  
March 22, 2008 8:44 PM ET | Delete
People actually blamed Toskala for the 200-foot goal, even though pretty much every goalie or ex-goalie interviewed said it was just a horrible bounce he couldn't have stopped? Anyway, good post, I always thought a lot of Leaf fans gave Toskala a bad rap.
March 22, 2008 8:47 PM ET | Delete
When the trade was made, I actually thought that the Sharks gave up the wrong tender, but Nabby has proved that he is very capable of playing eighty games. But still I wonder where we would be with Tosk intsead. Last year the Sharks played better in front of Tosk then Nabby. So, what is the answer. You guys got one hell of a goalie, and we might have the better one, only because Nabby has muck more experience as a number one. You guys did get a cool cucumber in your net and I like him. When the Sharks had Nabby Kipper, and Tosk, the general contention was that Tosk would be the better goalie due to athletisism. Keep the faith he is a good one.
March 22, 2008 9:52 PM ET | Delete
Toskala is the only reason the Leafs aren't 15th in the Eastern Conference. He has kept them in several games and stolen quite a few. It's a shame he didn't get a chance to be a true number one till now. He certainly is capable of it.
March 22, 2008 10:27 PM ET | Delete
The Leafs made a mistake by trading for this team. Do not get me wrong because that has nothing to do with the way he is playing and everything to do with the needs of this team.To begin with, Toskala was traded for a 1st, 2nd in 07 and a 4th in 09. Bell was a salary dump throw in. Big mistake. The Leafs should not have traded a 1st rounder, who they could have moved themselves to get a guy like Couture, much like the Sharks did, or keep it at 13 and pick "the Danish" Forsberg in Lars Eller. Toronto squeezed 37 wins out of Raycroft last year and I think they could have managed this season by keeping Raycroft and signing Garon. If you pull up Garon's stats, they are very comparable to Toskala's, however, Garon was free as he was a UFA. I had been saying this all along. Garon is a year younger, taller, and has the same potential as Toskala.However, because the deal was made, and the Leafs did get Toskala, and he played so admirably, they are faced with ANOTHER problem and that problem is his age and this team's future. This team will do one of two things with Toskala, and both of them are disastrous to the TEAM. The first thing they could do is do what Fletcher does best. Trade away everybody and everything and rebuild in a year. Frankly, we've done it before and it's failed, miserably. Doing this to accommodate Toskala is a terrible idea. The second thing the Leafs could do is rebuild. Rebuilding done properly takes about 5 years between drafting, developing and getting ready to progress. Toskala at 31 would be 36. Only Roy at 36 has won a Cup. There is no comparison that can be made and justified.The fact is, this team can not use Toskala the way he needs to be used and the best thing for the team is to trade him to a team where he can get his remaining 3 or 4 years of elite competition and in return take back pieces that will benefit our future such as a top 5 pick this year or previous top 5 picks to help us rebuild better and faster. Unfortunately, Toskala isn't 26 otherwise we could keep him, but because of his age and the need to rebuild, we need to turn Toskala into an asset and not a building block otherwise we could find ourselves with an untested Pogge, and elderly Toskala, and a missed opportunity.
March 22, 2008 11:40 PM ET | Delete
is it just me or is bringing Pogge in slowly behind a guy like Toskala so as not to put too much pressure... isn't that a good idea??? I kinda thought that was the plan.
March 23, 2008 12:21 AM ET | Delete
Nice Post Ron. I like the idea of keeping Toskala around and have Pogge as his backup (at least until around the deadline time). We did give away: 1st, 2nd in 07 and a 4th in 09 as U_G states but I think we could easily trade him at the next trade deadline for MUCH more! If there is a knock your socks off offer at the draft then by all means trade him then. I could see the Leafs hooking up a HUGE trade with LA as they have lots of talent up front now and need a solid goalie. The trade would fit into both teams plans. I also think Toskala's talent would go to waste on a Leaf's team that is in a rebuilding stage!
March 23, 2008 6:16 AM ET | Delete
ug... comments should not be longer than the initial post, lolgood blog RG
March 23, 2008 1:09 PM ET | Delete
A terrific series, RR...I think you might just have a future in this business!
March 23, 2008 5:11 PM ET | Delete
I liked most of it, but the whole " if they were planning to get a higher draft pick, bravo troops, bravo!" didn't seem like it was needed to be thrown in there.
March 24, 2008 5:18 PM ET | Delete
I agree with Green_Eagle that he COULD be traded at the draft, although I doubt he will. I think LA is an ok fit, but I think Tampa would be an even better fit for a goalie. I think the Kings are ok with having a plethora of goalies play until Bernier is ready, but Tampa really, really needs one at this point.
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