Twelve games into the NHL season and the Leafs have garnered a 5-4-3 record. Considering NHL critics predicted the Maple Leafs to get humiliated this season, they are one of the biggest surprises so far.
While they battled with a 5-game losing streak early on, the Leafs displayed a ton of heart during the losing skid. In fact, most of those losses were one-goal deficits that generated a lot of positives for the rebuilding club. The most improved aspect on the Leafs, though, is without a doubt their defensive play. For once, a defense-first attitude is a key component on the Leafs.
In the offensive zone, however, things are a little different this time around. The Leafs can no longer rely on the 'Big Swede' to lead the troops. They boast a group with Nik Antropov as their top offensive weapon. Intimidating? Not really, but this group shows up to play every night and uses their grit and speed to keep opponents at bay.
While the offense lacks a stand-out player, the team delivers a balanced attack. Take a look at their top point producers so far:
SKATERS: GP G A PTS
N. Antropov: 12 4 5 9
A. Ponikarovsky: 12 3 6 9
N. Hagman: 12 3 5 8
D. Moore: 12 3 4 7
M. Stajan: 11 3 4 7
M. Van Ryn: 11 2 5 7
J. Blake: 11 2 4 6
T. Kaberle: 12 1 5 6
J. Mitchell: 12 2 3 5
N. Kulemin: 12 2 3 5
Pavel Kubina: 12 2 3 5
Looking at that, the first thing that comes to mind is the Leafs do not have a point-per-game player. Instead, point production is spread across the map, with no players really sticking out from one another.
Will this approach withstand all season? I'd have to think not, but stranger things have happened. The Leafs' offensive game is a pleasant surprise, but how long before a group of these forwards falls into slumps, because speaking truthfully, none of them are playing even close to an elite level.
The Leafs are a hard working team, no one can dispute that. The lack of skill, however, will make the Leafs an underdog until the issue is addressed. Until then, focusing on their defensive game is the only way the Leafs have a chance at the playoffs.
If you ask me, I think the Leafs actually have a shot at the post-season, but in order to accomplish the task, they must acquire another top-six forward.
It's worth mentioning that GM Cliff Fletcher has been rumored to be in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes (While Fletcher denies the rumor, I'm still not totally convinced). Now, I happen to think the best thing for the Leafs right now is working through the draft and keeping their draft picks. But, I don't think one Leafs fan can honestly say they wouldn't enjoy seeing Kovalchuk in a Leafs uniform.
Can this trade actually happen? I would say yes. Cliff has said outright that he's looking for another top-six forward, and the Leafs certainly have the cap space to take on Kovalchuk's contract. The bigger question is, what would the Thrashers want in return? Well, we have 9 NHL quality defensemen, and players like Steen and Stajan who, if you ask me, are certainly expendable. You'd have to think some draft picks would be thrown into the mix as well though, which is a little concerning.
If this deal does transpire, I can't lie, I'd be thanking Fletcher for an early Christmas gift. The thought of Kovalchuk leading the Leafs brings some happy thoughts in this ol' noggin.
What do you folks think?