Now that my heart and soul has recovered somewhat from the Maple Leafs' monumental game 7 collapse in Boston, I think I can finally chime in with some post-series comments.
First of all, give the Maple Leafs all the credit in the world for bringing out the best in the Boston Bruins. As I originally predicted, I thought Toronto would have been lucky enough to win one game in a best-of-seven round against a proven champion like the Bruins. Instead, the young Buds came within a mere minute or so of completing a miraculous comeback being down 3-1 and winning the series in Boston.
James Reimer looked shaky in game one, but stood on his head the rest of the way and gave his young group a chance at knocking off a Stanley Cup favorite. Although, the overtime goal he allowed in game four, he should have had. But, that's now in the past, and so are the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs.
I read through Mike Augello's take on the Leafs and going forward. I don't think the front office should make many changes, if any with the current lineup. The team knows right now that they are good enough to compete in major games including pivotal playoff games. However, that depends on whether or not Tyler Bozak is resigned.
Dion Phaneuf took great strides at becoming a competent leader on and off the ice. I had been highly critical of him during the regular season, but I no longer think it is fair to hang all of the defensive leadership woes on him. I believe the Leafs need to bring in an experienced and accountable defenseman to play alongside Phaneuf. His main defensive pairing throughout the season, Carl Gunnarsson is not the answer.
I've also been very critical of Carl Gunnarsson also throughout the season, and his play during the playoffs has ultimately allowed myself to believe that he is simply not good enough to play at this level. Gunnarsson (-7 in the series) was responsible for many of the goals during the series, and was on the ice for both goals allowed in the final two minutes of game seven. Gunnarsson is soft. He is afraid to take a hit to make a play, and was constantly caught in no mans land allowing for the Bruins to get way too many good looks at Reimer.
Still, almost every defenseman in blue and white made huge mistakes in game seven. Cody Franson made a stupid blind between the legs pass to an oncoming Matt Bartowksi who fired in the opening goal. Gunnarsson let Milan Lucic push him out of the way to get to a lose puck to score the all important third goal. Phaneuf flat out lost Zdeno Chara in front of the net who effectively screened Reimer allowing Patrice Bergeron's shot to tie the score. And lastly, Jake Gardiner, who missed a lot of season with injuries, made a poor decision in overtime after Mikhail Grabovski failed to clear the front of the crease. Instead of knocking the loose puck to the boards and away from danger, Gardiner, under pressure, whacked the puck right back into the buzz where Bergeron finished off the play and the Leafs.
Although I believe the Leafs played some of their best hockey during the series, they also could not shake off the usual high frequency of mistakes.
Looking it over, the Maple Leafs still play a style that is just too risky. Under Ron Wilson, the high risk style of thinking nothing about offense cost them dearly. But now, under Randy Carlyle, the Leafs have started to play a much more responsible, two-way game. Next season, if the Leafs can lower the level of risk in its game, the better off they will be. Perhaps games will be a little less scoring, but that is how the game should be played. The teams who eliminate most of the risk in their game in the Eastern Conference, like Boston, Pittsburgh and the NY Rangers, seem to do well in the end. Another team who also does that well is the LA Kings. Sure their games are relatively low scoring, but eventually the hard work pays off. Basically, keep the game simple. Now that the Leafs have their defense almost set and a young goaltender ready to take the next step, it is time to put forth the work.
In this series, the Leafs saw some significant growth in players like Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner, and Matt Frattin. Those type of guys make up the core of this team, who also will need Joffrey Lupul to remain somewhat healthy in 2014.
Nazem Kadri did not light the lamp until game seven, and it was a big goal at the time putting the Leafs up 4-1 with under 10 minutes to go. Still, Kadri was a plus 4, and is only going to get better with seven playoff games under his belt.
It was disappointing to see Jay McClement have a tough postseason, being a minus 4 with no points. Still, his presence on the penalty kill helped tremendously, and deserves much of the credit for turning the Maple Leafs into one of the better PK teams in the NHL.
I also would like to see more from Joe Colborne next season, who got thrown into the fray and did nothing but throw his body around hard and played a responsible game. Perhaps, he could take some playing time away from Nikolai Kulemin, who was a minus 9 in the series, and registered a single assist.
On to Tyler Bozak, who sat out the last two games of the series with an upper-body injury. I am not sure how bad his injury was, but I am skeptical because he had played so well in games 4 and 5. With him being an impending free agent, if he asks for something astronomical, then the Leafs should let him walk.
Tyler Bozak does mean a lot to this team, and is perhaps one of the best two-way players on the team. Having #42 on the ice in the last ten minutes of game seven would have been great. If he thinks he is worth that much, he surely did not help himself out by sitting when his team needed him the most.
If the Leafs lose Bozak to free agency, that opens up an opportunity for Colborne next season. Then again, the front office can also be a bit creative and find a way to replace him and also find a way to bring in a proven defenseman to go along with Phaneuf.
If Nonis and company can find a way to keep Bozak, get rid of Gunnarsson and bring in a better defenseman, then the offseason will be a total success. Perhaps the Leafs can find a way to move someone like Grabovski in an effort to find someone better than Gunnarsson, then that would also be a success.
The offseason all depends on the status of Bozak.
More to come...