Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Greg Thomson on 07/25/11 at 06:01 PM ET
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.
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About Kukla's Korner Hockey
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.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
Email Paul anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org