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Despite Additions, Leafs Enter Camp With Uncertainty On Defense

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With very little news circulating in the hockey world (well, except the news that Oilers defenseman Theo Peckman is changing his number next season), I’ve decided to tackle a story that I’ve been meaning to write for several weeks now, but never got around to it because of the scorching hot temperatures in Toronto. Give me a break, I’m still celebrating from one day, in particular, during the first week of July. No, I’m not talking about Canada Day.

I’ll give you a clue. It rhymes with Lebda. Oh wait… it is Lebda.

Now that Brett Lebda has moved on to greener pastures in Nashville and part two of ‘overpaid and skillfully challenged defenseman off the roster’ has occurred (*cough* Finger *cough*), the Leafs have, on paper at least, a more of the youngest and more versatile defense cores in the leagues. Led by Dion Phaneuf, the backend boasts a nice mix of smooth skating puck movers and hard nosed shutdown guys.

The clear cut first pairing heading into training camp is anchored by Phaneuf and Keith Aulie, who brought out the best in Dion during his stint with the Leafs in the second half of last season. Aulie, known in the blogosphere as ‘Mohammed Aulie’, created time and space for Phaneuf, in addition to supporting him when he rushed the puck up the ice. Needless to say, Aulie was a refreshing change for Phaneuf and deserves the opportunity in training camp to prove his worth as a top four defenseman.

There is bound to be uncertainty on any team, but in the Leafs case, the young movement has created far more uncertainty on the second pairing because of the potential for players to either move up or down in the depth chart. Aside from Luke Schenn, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson, and to a lesser extent, Mike Komisarek, the bottom four is any area of great unpredictability.

The likes of Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker all have the potential, even as early as this season, to be slotted into the top four. However, the coaching staff, led by Ron Wilson, will likely opt for more experience on the second pairing in what is a make or break season for the club. If Gardiner or Blacker earns more ice time than Franson, fans will be asking why the player earning more money isn’t receiving the time he deserves.

Well folks, it’s called accountability.

No matter what has happened in the past or what you predict to happen this winter, the Leafs are viewing training camp as a clean slate for all involved (yes, equipment manager, that includes you) and an opportunity to be apart of, what should be, a contending team.

While the Leafs are likely to start the season with a top four defense of Phaneuf, Aulie, Schenn and Liles, don’t count out Franson, Gunnarsson or even Gardiner to slip it because when it all comes down to it, the best players are the ones who will play.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Toronto Maple Leafs, Greg Thomson, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: brett+lebda

Comments

bezukov's avatar

Getting Brett Lebda off your team is one of the sweetest reliefs a hockey fan can know.  Now the human turnover can ruin Nashville’s defense.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 07/25/11 at 07:08 PM ET

BrendonR's avatar

...and now we can enjoy the Wings going against his terrible play several times a year.  If he’s in the Preds’ lineup that is.

Back to the Leafs: I wonder, with the Franson acquisition and emergence of Gardiner as a bona-fide prospect who will likely be ready for duty either this year or next, whether they will dangle Gunner hard as trade bait.  I’m sure almost every team would be interested in a young, inexpensive offensively-minded D-man.  Perhaps packaged with Rynnas?

Posted by BrendonR on 07/25/11 at 07:38 PM ET

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I am convinced that if Dion Phaneuf did not have such a unique name, he would be nothing.  A certain columnist for ESPN made him. 

John Michael Liles is a totally reliable defenseman who has some offensive upside.  Luke Schenn has some future is playing in Toronto does not ruin him - it has ruined a whole lot of potentially great players over the last 50 years.

Other than that, I see more of the same for the Leafs.  Potentially good on defense and no solidity on the back end.

Until management changes that mean something are made, the Maple Leafs will be an afterthought.

Doc

Posted by DocF from Reidsville, NC on 07/25/11 at 09:11 PM ET

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Next to Jason Blake, Lebda is the sweetest relief.

Gunnarsson’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors several times in the last year, but his trade value isn’t very high unless he is packaged with another player. I don’t see the Leafs moving Rynnas, but that all depends on how Scrivens and Owuya play in the minors.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/25/11 at 11:14 PM ET

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Other than that, I see more of the same for the Leafs.  Potentially good on defense and no solidity on the back end.

Until management changes that mean something are made, the Maple Leafs will be an afterthought.

It’s far to early to tell, but this defense has the potential to be one of the better groups in the NHL because there is a mix of skill and toughness. They may be unproven now - with only one player over the age of 30 - although the future has never looked brighter.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/25/11 at 11:16 PM ET

statelouis26's avatar

I love writing that makes me laugh and anytime you say Lebda I laugh.  It’s simple really.  Nashville really takes their budget stuff seriously, maybe they should be in washington.
I think there was proofreading error too; “Phaneuf, in addition to supporting him when he rushed the puck up the ice.”  I think what you meant to write was instead, “Phaneuf, in addition to covering his ass when he rushed to cough the puck up on the ice.”

Unpredictable describes the entire leafs organization really, not just the defense.  Sure they’re just bad enough to miss the playoffs every year yet good enough to resist a high draft slot.  But nobody knows who is going to score, tend net, or stop the opposition from scoring every year either. 

All jokes aside Schenn is really the only steadying influence on the blueline and that’s scary for a player of such young age.  Komisarek is a shell along with Phadouche.  Aulie is still growing into his body but promising.  Franson needs more seasoning and experience.  This is essentially the same corps as last year that gave up a 251 goals-good for 24th in the nhl.  Couple that number to goals for and you’ve got a -33 differential.  Sweet!  And I hate to break the news but that JM liles you guys got is a career negative 16 after 7 seasons, boasting a 5’10” frame and meaty 180lbs.  Wait I thought TO got rid of Lebda?

Posted by statelouis26 from Detroit, MI on 07/26/11 at 04:35 AM ET

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im saying get rid of wilson and phaneuf who are over rated PHANEUF COULDNT HIT A COW IN THE ASS WITH A SHOVEL so much for his slap shots
he is excellent at hitting the end boards LMAO . trade him for a top six forward etc etc

Posted by gerry misener from st.catharines ontario canada on 07/27/11 at 01:18 AM ET

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Gunnarson has enormous potential. He steadied Schenn’s play soewhat, which is still quite erratic around the Leaf’s net. Before Schenn ruins the Leaf’s now would be a gret time to trade for some top six forwrd.

Posted by Patrick Cashman from Musselman's Lake, Ontario on 07/27/11 at 02:16 AM ET

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the only thing screwing up most players on the leafs is all the retarted shit fans say about how bad they are they realy want to rally around a city like that probly not i say go leafs go dont listen to that crap you are a solid team this year i expect a cup     good job burke

Posted by Doug from alberta on 07/27/11 at 12:26 PM ET

statelouis26's avatar

the only thing screwing up most players on the leafs is all the retarted shit fans say about how bad they are they realy want to rally around a city like that probly not i say go leafs go dont listen to that crap you are a solid team this year i expect a cup   good job burke

Posted by Doug from alberta on 07/27/11 at 11:26 AM ET

Yes, the only thing that has prevented the leafs from winning the cup lately is the fans criticizing the players.  If everyone would just say “They are the best players yet.  They’ll win the cup” then the magical hockey fairy will come down and drop stanley in the hands of Phaneuf.  Typical leaf nut.

Posted by statelouis26 from Detroit, MI on 07/27/11 at 09:52 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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