Saw this quote from Brian Burke yesterday in the Star:
"I'm tired of watching teams come in here and push us around. I'm tired of seeing our trainer being on the ice... We have to find a defence that can stay intact. ... We have to figure out how we can get more games out of the guys we have or we have to get more durable people back there."
The Curse of Colaiacovo lingers on apparently, as injury problems have continued to plague the Leafs' blue-line this season. Burke however, has had enough and seems to be indicating with this comment a preference towards keeping or moving certain defenders based on their ability to endure the physical punishment of an 82-game schedule at the NHL level.
Mike Van Ryn - - played in only 27 games for the Maple Leafs this season. While Kostopolous is to blame for the initial dirty hit that sent Mike to the hospital, Van Ryn has had a run of bad luck with injuries for 2 years straight now. Last year with the Panthers, Van Ryn appeared in only 20 games after surgeries on his wrists. It's disappointing that Van Ryn has not been able to put together a healthy stretch that would have allowed him to replace McCabe's lost offence and skill.
Jonas Frogren - - made it into only 41 games this year and now his season is over due to a knee injury suffered March 7th against Edmonton. Many of the games he missed in the first half of the season he was a healthy scratch, but too often he missed opportunities to have a regular role because of his own bumps and bruises. Given that his contract has now cost the Leafs a bundle of money and a draft pick, Burke's not likely to have much patience if Frogren can't stay healthy next year. I love the Viking's bravery and sacrifice when it comes to blocking shots and taking the body, but "fearless" does not equal "indestructible".
Tomas Kaberle - - has appeared in 52 games this year and is hopefully back in the line-up for the final two weeks. His mysterious hand injury, which occurred just before the trade deadline, has kept him out of the line-up at an important time of the season, though I can't truthfully say that the team has suffered from it. Wilson's system seems to function even without Tomas on the blue line and Kaberle's absence has actually had the reverse benefit of allowing other players to develop with increased ice time.
Jeff Finger - - has played in 61 games so far, missing 7 games at the very beginning of the season due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason. He also missed 2 weeks in January with an "upper-body" injury. To his credit, Finger has 129 hits and leads the Leafs in blocked shots with 147, and despite missing 16 games, he's still 5th on the team for total ice-time.
Luke Schenn - - has played admirably in 65 games for the Leafs and looks like he'll finish with 70 in his rookie season. Despite the games he's missed, he is 3rd on the team for overall ice-time, and no one on the Leafs has thrown as many hits. In fact, no one is even close to laying the body as often as OLAS. While Finger ranks second on the team with 129 hits, Schenn has delivered 191 bone-crushers to his jellied opponents.
Ian White - - was a healthy scratch for the first 11 games but has been in the line-up ever since. He's now played 66 games this year consecutively, and is second on the team in total ice time. Not just average ice time - he's second in that category too - but total ice time. This year's Masterton nominee for the Leafs has shown the exact kind of resilience and smarts that I'm sure Wilson and Burke are looking for on the blue line for next year.
Anton Stralman - - has appeared in 38 games this year with the big club, and also 32 with the Marlies, for 70 games total, and as far as I know, has not suffered any serious physical setbacks. If he can have a strong finish in the playoffs with the Marlies it'll reflect well on him when he comes to camp in September.
Pavel Kubina - - has played in all 77 games so far this season for the Leafs. If ever there was a player for whom the words "solid" and "durable" could be applied, it is Kubina. His play this season, while short of spectacular, has been consistently good enough, giving the Leafs at least some blue-line stability. Kubina tops all Leaf players in total ice time this season, enduring over 1,700 minutes of NHL competition without missing a step. At 6'4" and 244 pounds, he's a big presence on the blue line or in front of the net, and while he plays a less physical game then Schenn, Finger, or Frogren, he doesn't seem to ever shy away from physical contact. While Ponikarovsky has really come on lately to become the team's top forward, Kubina has been steady all season and may in fact be the team's most valuable player this year. 86 hits, 121 blocked shots, 14 goals, 26 assists, 40 points, 9 powerplay goals, and a very impressive 4 game winning goals. Kubina's 5-million dollar salary makes him the most expensive player on the team, but he's giving the Leafs excellent value that can be counted on like money in the bank. For these reasons, I would now be very surprised if Kubina was moved over the summer. If anything can be assumed from reading Burke's quote at the top, it's that Kubina is type of defenceman that Burke will be seeking to add, not replace.
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