There’s a certain bias in every hometown when it comes to the local hockey team. Sometimes it’s overly critical, sometimes too fawning, but it’s always there.
Toronto is no different.
Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy was a goat to the Hogtown faithful, but all he did was tally 61 points from the blueline in 1995-96 on a team that placed third in its division. Only in Tomas Kaberle’s best season (2005-06) did the steady Czech surpass Murphy’s totals, when the current Leaf had 67 points on a non-playoff team.
Given that the Leafs are in rebuilding mode this season, there will be big personnel changes in the future, so I thought it would be handy to do a little comparison between some current Leafs and their equivalents on other teams to show why this squad is where it is in the standings and what they will need to be a contender in the future.
Former GM Cliff Fletcher’s famous comments about the team’s lack of top-six forwards at the beginning of the season weren’t meant to sting egos, but rather ground fans and certain media in fact. Rolling over current NHL depth charts, it’s fair to say the Buds have one of the least intimidating front lines in the league.
If we set a fair standard of 80 points to mark elite status in the NHL, Toronto is one of only four teams not to have a player reach that level in the past two seasons, or at least be on pace for it this year. Phoenix, Columbus and the Islanders are the others. Pretty exclusive company, eh?
Even defensive-minded teams such as New Jersey and the Rangers have offensive terrors in Zach Parise and Nikolai Zherdev.
While Matt Stajan is on pace for about 70 points this season, which would obliterate his career-best, Nik Antropov (career-high 56 points last year) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (career-best 45 points two years ago), if rated according to their production, roughly translate into Carolina’s Scott Walker and Matt Cullen – who both play on the Hurricanes’ second line.
On defense, it’s a little trickier to gauge success, since keeping pucks out of the net is just as important as blasting them in from the blueline, but Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are the current anchors until Luke Schenn gets a little older.
Both veterans are having down seasons defensively, with plus-minus ratings of minus-8 (Kaberle) and minus-9 (Kubina), though ex-Leaf and current Atlanta Thrasher Mathieu Schneider is down there with them and plus/minus is sometimes an indicator of the quality of your team.
Kaberle’s peers are two players named Sergei: Pittsburgh’s Gonchar and Dallas’ Zubov. That is to say, premier offensive defensemen who aren’t quite Norris Trophy contenders, but borderline All-Star Team (not to be confused with All-Star Game participants) selections at the end of the year.
As for goaltending, I happened to put together a comparative guide called the Goalie Confidence Index, which objectively and statistically stacked up all 30 NHL tandems.
Based on last season’s numbers, Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph came in at No. 23, behind Ottawa’s Martin Gerber and Alex Auld and ahead of the Isles’ Rick DiPietro and Joey MacDonald. Looking at the stats so far this year, the Toronto tandem may have been too high.
So what does this all mean? If it wasn’t obvious from the standings, a lot of work needs to be done and it starts at the top. Even if the Buds bottom out and select center John Tavares or defenseman Victor Hedman this summer, that’s only one potential impact player – and a rookie, to boot.
No, this is a process that requires a patented Brian Burke blockbuster trade if we’re even thinking about the playoffs next season.
This article also appears in the Toronto Metro newspaper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect-watch feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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