Toronto is currently in 13th in the East. They are only 2 points back of 8th place Montreal with a game in hand. While there are teams between the Leafs and 8th with games in hand as well, this is an undeniable turnaround for the franchise this season. Makes one wonder if they are a playoff team. I'm sticking with my preseason prediction that the team will finish 7th in the East.
Upon further review... Phil Kessel looks well worth the picks and the contract. I will openly admit I was more than moderately skeptical about this move, especially after the horrendous start, but the last time the Leafs had a young player with anywhere near the same caliber talent was many moons ago when a future captain wearing the number 13 wore the blue and white.
Speaking of captains, will Tomas Kaberle wear the "C" for the Czech Republic at the Olympics. I wouldn't be surprised in the least. He ranks 2nd among all defensemen in points and 26th among all skaters, showing why the Leafs have fielded such significant offers for his services and why they rejected an offer for him PLUS a pick for the aforementioned, eventually-acquired Phil Kessel.
The team, headed largely by Kessel and Kaberle, sits 9th in goals for per game. For a club so many proclaimed was devoid of any significant scoring threats, even after acquiring Kessel (despite ranking 10th in goals for last season), the Leafs are poised to make a lot of people eat their words that they can't score.
Speaking of scoring, the Leafs have 4 players in the top 40 in goals. A pretty impressive statistic in a 30 team league. Hagman's 15 (rank 19), Ponikarovski's 13 (rank 29), Kessel's 12 (rank 33), Stajan's 11 (rank 36) are well on their way to giving the Leafs at least 4 20+ goal scorers.
An interesting statistic for Leafs fans. The team is 8th overall when leading after the first. Granted, it hasn't happened often, but the fact that the team is holding leads when they do grab them early is worth noting due to the numerous collapses since the lock-out that essentially cost the Leafs the playoffs on more than one occasion.
Ian White is going to be a sought after commodity, and will receive a hefty pay hike next season. His +11 ranks first on the Leafs and tied for 17th in the league. Tack that on to his 5 goals and 17 points and he has become one of the Leafs best all-round defenders.
Speaking of Leafs defenders.. Luke Schenn. What was management and/or coaching thinking with his scratching. His 63 hits in 31 games (27th among NHL defensemen), or his 40 blocked shots (6th on the team) aren't physical enough? He is also 3rd on the team in fighting majors. Frankly, the manner / timing of it leaves me scratching my head! Would it not have been better to do this in the midst of the disastrous start. Perhaps sending him down with a roster player or two to the Marlies earlier on could have sparked the team quicker. Now the question lies, do you put him back in now that the team seems to have found a groove. What if they put him in and they lose again, what happens to his confidence. What if they don't put him in... Do they ship him to the AHL? Do they leave him scratched? The part that is really confusing to me is that he looked to be shaking off the early season rust and perhaps coming out of the dreaded 'sophomore jinx.' I have no idea what I would do now in the Leafs shoes regarding him. In my eyes, a poorly handled situation.
Jeff Finger has a whopping 49 blocked shots (good for 3rd on the Leafs) in 17 games. To put that into some perspective Beauchemin leads the team with 60 blocked shots, but he has played 33 games, 16 more than finger. Finger would be closing in on 100 if he had played 33 games. Gotta wonder how many of those would have been shots that ended up in the net...
That's all I have for now ...
For those of you who like prospect updates, be sure to watch the World Juniors coming up. There looks to be a decent number of Leafs prospects attending for their respective countries.