It has been a while!
I was writing some blogs on a newer site after being invited by some fellas up in Gatineau to write for their site, Pool Deluxe Forum last season. Not sure how the site is doing, but sounded like it didn't go very far as I never heard back from them. For the most part, I've been enjoying the exciting season for the Maple Leafs in the first full season of the rebuild for much of the team. (Saw the team play back to back in Florida over the holiday's, winning both 3-2 in overtime) Auston Matthews has been an absolute stud, an younger and even better version of the Kings' Anze Kopitar who has really had an awful season as have the Kings (do not get me started on them! What a miserable year! And with so many awful outlandish killer contracts, the Kings have a real mess to sort out this summer if they hope to contend again with their core). Mitch Marner to me is the Leafs' Patrick Kane, with crazy strong skating and passing abilities. Nylander is another budding star, perhaps a Pavel Bure or Markus Naslund type player?
Still, the one big thing the team is missing is their Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Keith Seabrook or Shea Weber type player on their blue line. The fact that the Leafs made no effort to get some blue line help at the deadline was puzzling to me. Yet instead, the team brings in veteran wingers like Brian Boyle (who I have always liked, sad the Kings dumped him) and Eric Fehr. Both good experienced veterans but still NOT defensemen with experience.
So that has been my season analysis of the Leafs. I didn't expect them to be in the playoffs this season given all the ups and downs roller coaster season Freddy Andersen has had in goal, but at least he has brought some stability and experience to the club when everyone knew that James Reimer nor Jonathan Bernier would be the answer with the upcoming class of talent.
But I have to finally sound off about tonight. I have questions Mike Babcock's decision making all season. He finally mixed up his defensive pairings which to me got to be too much seeing Morgan Rielly paired with Nikita Zaitsev most of the season, two guys who aren't very strong defensively and were both in the minus 20s yet your top pairing...? The talk of Zaitsev being offered a long term contract is also puzzling to me since I see him no better than a 5 or 6 or even depth defenseman. To add to that sentiment, I don't see any Toronto blue liners as top 1-4 defensemen. The only guy I have good faith and some degree of confidence in is Matt Hunwick and even he is at best a 4-6 guy on any decent team.
Finally...here is my big dilemma. With just give games remaining after tonights's last road contest in Buffalo (a total house of horrors!) the Leafs have four big home games against Cup minded or experienced clubs. With three games in four nights, tonights game is obviously not the bigger of the three, especially in a place where everything in the world usually goes wrong.
I see Freddy Andersen as the confirmed starter tonight and I think that could very well be a decision that could cost the Leafs a playoff spot. With first place Washington waiting for you at home tomorrow, and the big Lightning matchup on Thursday would it be wise to rest your starter tonight and get him all the more prepared and ready to go for those next two games? I say throw Curtis McElhinney in there tonight and if they get a point, great! If they somehow find out a way to win tonight which would be their second or so in about 25 games in that dump, then God bless them!! The big picture lies with the latter two games at home with the Caps and Bolts in the fold, this game tonight is not life or death, but losing it makes those next two even more interesting.
Instead, Babcock throws Andersen out there again in a game where the Sabres will most likely come at him tooth and nail and Freddy will be under siege with no real possibility of playing tomorrow night against Washington at home. Then you run the risk of injury since it is in Buffalo and things usually go from bad to worse. My best decision would be to protect Freddy, play Curtis and hope for the best which is a HUGE understatement in Buffalo. Some have said that if the Leafs cannot beat Buffalo then they probably don't deserve the playoff spot. I agree with that, yet when the team is 4-0 against Boston, 1-0-1 with 9 goals against Washington, 1-1 against Pittsburgh, beaten the Rangers and Blue Jackets on the road, drew twice with Chicago, beaten the teams they were supposed to beat down the stretch so far, then I still think they deserve the shot.
It is a good thing though that the kids have been playing their tails off lately because I just do not trust Mr. Babcock behind the bench with his roster decision making. A lot of his decisions have been total head scratchers yet the team has been able to overcome a lot of them. If the Leafs get into the playoffs it won't be at all Babcock's job that got them there. Yet if they miss the playoffs with a poor final week of play and Andersen not looking sharp enough, Babcock will definitely be to blame!
Here is to hoping I am wrong!
I WAS WRONG! IT DID WORK OUT FOR BABCOCK! LOL...BUT THURSDAYS GAME VS TAMPA IS REALLY THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON AND IN THE YOUNG CAREERS FOR MANY OF THE ROOKIES ON THE TEAM.
Not sure I see the same in Zaitsev as you guys do. Rielly, Gardiner, Zaitsev may all be fine 4-6 pairings, but definitely not 1-3 pairings. Their all offensive minded, puck moving defensemen as is Carrick, who I think is just too soft to be a 1-6 pairing in the NHL. To me, Hunwick is actually the most responsible blue liner, and Polak, well I was expecting more from him since the Leafs replaced Carl Gunnarsson with him straight up. Thought that was a steal...? I would still take Polak. Maybe I like Hunwick's experience, because he does have a good track record being with Boston. I just feel the team is very light and soft on the blue line and do not trust Rielly, Gardiner and Zaitsev back there enough. If they face a team like Washington in the first round, I would be willing to guarantee Rielly something like a -5 or worse say in 6 games. Same for Zaitsev. Gardiner hopefully would be better but not much better.
So Roadrunner, you think the Kings should abandon ship? Very disappointed in Kopitar, but willing to give him, Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez and Quick the benefit of the doubt. But if he is plain awful next year, then something would need to happen. I still think even with that contract he can be traded. Marian Gaborik has to go! Period. He was rewarded with the 2014 Cup run, but thats long gone now. Brown is still a valuable guy, plays hard and is a solid bottom 6 winger but not at that price tag! Awful deal...Lombardi won't be the GM, it will be Rob Blake, who I never really cared for in LA. I remember him for getting traded and then leaving the club the summer after he returned when he refused to go at the deadline.
This is a real big mess. They have one season to figure this out, then for sure I would clean house. Of course, still hanging onto Quick, Doughty, Toffoli and Pearson and build around them.
Rumor of Vegas picking up McNabb. I have been disappointed in him since his game has not rounded out too much, but I would rather keep him around than Muzzin, who seems to keep getting weaker and weaker in all areas. Almost a -20 is just plain unacceptable on a team that still controls the play often but cannot score to save its life!
Part of me who says that is because when Muzzin had a chance to stand up to that little puke in Calgary Tkachuk, he backed down. McNabb came in and flattened his butt!