Thursday, July 3, 2008

Maple Leafs Nation: Meet The D-Men

I'm assuming that Bryan McCabe is here to stay. If he doesn't want to go, there's not much that can be done. I do think there is reason to hope, however. This group of Leaf D-men, as is, seems solid enough for now, and may even overachieve. Disaster-waiting-to-happen, or not, this is what the Leaf defence should look like going into this season:

Bryan McCabe: The big question for me is why would McCabe want to stick around? His relationship with Leaf Nation is at an all-time low, perhaps even toxic. He must be aware of the size of the target on his back, but he seems stubbornly unaware of the "kick me" sign just above it. Could be a rough year for McCabe, but if he's determined to stay, then I hope he's equally determined to give it all he's got. If he can re-invent the can-opener and find the opponents net with his big shot, he might survive. Also, I'd pair him up again with Kaberle. They have a strange chemistry together. Individually, they have limits to their talents and abilities. Together, they can be one of the most magical tandems in the NHL.Tomas Kaberle: Personally, my favorite player on the Leafs, my favorite player in the league, and has been for some time now. Last year was the first season where I was disappointed in his play. I wrote Damien a letter, which he never printed or responded to, pointing out Kaberle's "startling non-commitment to execution". Then he won the accuracy shooting contest. I'm still not sure if that proved my point or defeated it. Tomas has a Jari Kurri-esque quality about him. He's quiet, cool, calm, some might even say passionless. Yet he's in on almost every scoring play, he's on the ice in all key situations, and nobody (seriously, nobody) carries the puck from one blue line to the other as efficiently or as smoothly.

Pavel Kubina: Took a lot of criticism at the beginning of the year, but then became a solid #2 defenceman down the stretch with a couple of memorable performances and solid efforts. Pavel can obviously play with Kaberle, but can he jive with anyone else on the Leaf blue line? I think this is an important point. If he can, it takes some of the weight off of McCabe's shoulders. If he can't, then Bryan will fend for himself and so will the mystery partner.Carlo Colaiacovo: Seen here with his personal astrologer, Carlo has been having a run of bad luck, and hopes his fortunes will soon change. This is the year to turn it around for Carlo, to establish himself as an everyday NHL defenceman, and to prove he's more then just another Drake Berehowsky. I know he's better then "the Bear", and Carlo knows that, but Berehowsky might still have his own opinion. Time to put it to rest, Cola. We've seen some real heart and talent, but now we need to see a whole season of what you can do without us holding our breath. Colaiacovo is the real dark horse here. If he can be as good as I think he can be, then the Leaf defense is a lot better then I think it is. (Wow, it is easy to write like Damien!) Ian White: As long as he doesn't grow a beard mid-season, I'm cheering for Ian White. He's seems like an honest and thoughtful guy, and he has shown some heart. Not really a warrior's heart, like Carlo, more like a poet's heart, but still, it's a big heart, and I believe he sincerely cares about his performance and contribution. He sees the play well, moves the puck pretty good, and has a very valuable quality that you like to see in a 5th or 6th defenceman; sensibility.
Jeff Finger: A truly unfortunate name. Apparently no one in the Toronto Sports Writing Universe has any idea who he is. I'll admit, I'm not familiar with him either. He's described by Fletcher as a "shutdown guy", who "will bring a much needed physical element" and "plays a strong positional game at both ends of the ice". Well, if he's anything like Sylvain Lefebvre or Bob Rouse, or one half of one and one half of the other, then Cliff has done well to correct 2 mistakes he made in the past by letting those guys go. Anton Stralman: Appeared in 50 games as a Maple Leaf last year, registering 9 points, but was a disappointing minus 10. He's not a big D-man, similar to White, at only 180 pounds, but he can carry the puck and shoot, and it's a beautiful sight whenever a Leaf can go end-to-end. He's not a fighter, though, as you can see from this weird "gloves-on" scrap with Ilya Kovalchuk. Entertaining though, and as soon as Carlo goes down for the first time, I'm sure Stralman will be appearing in the Big Show.
Stefan Kronwall: May or may not be part of the Leafs' future. Another Swedish defenceman that would probably rather be playing in Detroit, Kronwall only appeared in 18 games last year with the big club, and failed to register a point. He also had a seriously ugly moment when, with Leaf playoff fantasies and mathematical possibilities hanging in the balance, decided to simply give up on a play, allowing Bruins forward, Phil Kessel, an uncontested breakaway, while attempting to give instructions through sign-language to the bewildered linesman. Almost unforgivable at the NHL level, if it had actually been a playoff game, I don't think you would have ever seen him again. Luke Schenn: Saviour. Cornerstone. The Foundation. The Franchise. The Future. Our Hopes and Dreams. Please, please, for the love of all that is holy, please don't suck.


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

excellent post. kabby's one of my favourite leafs as well. he's been a pleasure to watch over the last 10 years. to see him grow into one of the best puck-moving defenceman in the league has been special. i wouldn't say i was disappointed in his play last year, but he, like the rest of the team, can be better. he's proved it.

if mccabe stays, we've got one too many d-men. and in my opinion, stralman has to, absolutely has to, play a lot this year. he showed in the world championships that he can be a big time player. if mccabe stays, white's the odd man out for me, leaving schenn in the minors for the season.

i don't see kronwall coming back, at all. unless he wants to be a marlie again.

should be interesting to see how the mccabe situation shakes out.

general borschevsky said...

Cheers eyebleaf! Good comments. I'm only guessing that things will stay this way 'til training camp. I'm also guessing Wilson won't rush Anton Stralman into the line up, but by mid-season he'll take a regular shift. By that point, there'll have been an injury (Carlo) or two (Carlo again) and space will be available.

Greener said...

Great post, general.

Frost said...

If we are forced keep McCabe i hope he can find chemistry with a defensive guy like Finger, that might help mask his defensive shortcomings. The same could be said for a Stralman/Coliacovo pairing.

All in all the Leafs D doesn't look so bad, over payed, but no bad.

general borschevsky said...

Hey greener: Thanks. It does mean a lot.
Hey frost: Thanks for stopping by. I was lookin' at your blog, nice work, welcome aboard. As for McCabe, either he plays beside Kaberle and they look wicked, or all hell breaks loose.

bkblades said...

Solid overview, general. And if all indications are true, looks like the Leafs are about to sign another defenceman by the name of Jonas Frogren. Looks like Kronwall and White are the odd ones out. Unless of course, Colaiacovo gets hurt eating cereal again.

general borschevsky said...

Sincerely flattered, bkblades.
The addition of Jonas Frogren is a curious move. I will try to do a follow up post, but he seems even less well known then Jeff Finger.
It could be as simple as Frogren replacing Kronwall on the depth chart, or it could be an indication that Cliff is serious about changing the character of the team on the ice and in the dressing room.
Also, Cliff has been dealing picks and letting guys go, so it's nice to pick up something for free. Now he has a surplus to continue dealing with.