Leafs Defend Their Defense

Toronto Sun.com

The season opener is a month away, but already it is open season on the Maple Leafs defence.

Since the club’s failed attempt to land free agent Rob Blake in 2001, the lack of a No. 1 Norris Trophy candidate has been ample fodder for critics of the Leafs’ Stanley Cup chances. Consider that the National Hockey League champion has boasted the Norris winner or runner-up in four of the past six seasons.

There is not a sign of a thoroughbred coming out of the Leafs’ St. John’s farm team or the junior ranks in the immediate future, but club executive Bill Watters gets testy when it’s suggested the club has not improved its blue line.

“You can have one big horse that gets worn out, but we think we have a number of horses,” the assistant to the president said yesterday. “We have a group in the 23 to 27 age range (Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Aki Berg, Karel Pilar, Anders Eriksson and Wade Belak) plus Jyrki Lumme coming off (a shoulder) injury, and Robert Svehla.”

It’s Svehla who is going to get the most scrutiny when training camp starts next week. The club had to give up its best all-around defender in Dmitry Yushkevich, though a looming contract war might have made his departure inevitable.

The 33-year-old Svehla was on the verge of retirement with the Florida Panthers. But he is one of the most consistent hitters in the league and has flirted with 50 points a season much of his career. Offence from the back line has been a Leaf weakness.

“I played with Bobby a year in Florida and with Dmitry for a year here,” Eriksson said yesterday after an informal workout of NHLers at a Toronto-area rink. “They both play the same kind of game. They’re both crazy in the aspect of blocking shots and hitting. You can’t really say who is the better player. It all comes down to who fits best with the team.

“Everybody on our (defence) grew last year, especially in the playoffs. McCabe had a strong second year in Toronto, Kabby played well as usual, Karel will come back from his injury, Lumme is healthy and Aki’s playing well.”

But it will be tough to get used to life without Yushkevich, who is among the top 10 in games played by a Toronto defencemen.

“I talked to Yushkie and he’s excited about going down there to be the No. 1 guy and play a lot under (coach Mike) Keenan,” Eriksson said. “I think it’s worked out for the best and we’ll certainly welcome Bobby here.”

Eriksson is on the bubble himself. A leaner, meaner player when the Leafs recalled him in the spring from a long sentence in St. John’s, there’s no guarantee he can beat someone out for a job on the starting six. The Leafs also have some new defencemen on the training camp roster, such as journeymen Marc Moro and Ryan Bonni and youngsters Petr Svoboda, Richard Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo.

“It’s do or die for me I guess,” Eriksson said. “Hopefully I can push myself to where I think I can play. It was a good thing to be sent down. I matured as a player on and off the ice. It was a wake-up call.”


19 Responses to Leafs Defend Their Defense

  1. GloveSide says:

    OKAY!

    EVERYBODY LISTEN!

    THE LEAFS WEAKNESS FOR THIS YEAR WILL NOT BE ON THE D SIDE…..THE OFFENSE FROM THEIR D I VERY UNDERRATED AND PILAR IS GONNA BE THE SECOND COMING OF MARKOV…ITS THE O WE NEED TO WORRY ABOUT UNTIL ROBERTS COMES BACK!

  2. Tony says:

    If I were the Leafs I would be more worried with their goaltending, people act like it’s a given that Belfour will all of a sudden rebound from his average year, more then likely he will be the same which will not cut it for the fans of Toronto.

  3. Tradedude says:

    I agree, i mean, belfour has yet to improve us leaf fans to be happy, yes, we have Kidd backing him up, but kidd is no match for cujo and everyone knows that, as well as belfour, there new team looks pretty good on paper, but i wouldnt start chearing just yet, i mean, it comes down to training camp to see what this team is really made of, and without GARY ROBERTS, it’ll be tough.

  4. aaron says:

    Amazing what one playoff run will do to a player’s worth. Gary Roberts was almost a noname until last season’s miracle. Now he’s like the team’s savior.

    Defense ain’t bad, they have no great players, 3 really good players, and then a bunch of average-at-best players. But stacked up against a team like Detroit: 2 great players, 1 really good player, 1 good player, and then 3 wild cards, it just doesn’t stand up.

    T.O.’s offense is underrated, they have a lot of guys who put up pretty sucky numbers, but the key is they have a LOT of them. So they may only have one guy who breaks 60 points , but then they have 8 guys who break 40. So not high powered, slightly above average again.

    Weakness is goaltending. Belfour sucks. Nuff said. Rebound schmebound, if its possible to will that guy out of the league, I sure as hell am going to try. I hate him.

    They’re a good playoff team b/c they’re goony, and their goons have an offensive upside. Not a pretty team to watch, though, and very weak in goal. And they don’t have the element of eliteness that teams require to win it all.

  5. Robert says:

    i am done defending the leafs…i have took to many beatings.

  6. acebailey says:

    I will say it again, the Bruins scouting has demonstrated in the past that they really like Johnas Hogland. Don’t ask me why. But they would like to unload Kyle McClarren, could the Leafs package Hogland?

  7. Rico71 says:

    Toronto’s D should be okay this season.

    But so many potential disasters are looming around the corner. Yushkevich is gone and he was a great D-man. Svehla might be a decent replacement if he’s in the mood to play and not only sit on his new contract. Lumme is not getting any younger and Berg…well who knows with him? Never the same player each game. Kaberle and McCabe look fine. Pilar is a rookie with potential while Eriksson…sucks really bad. *lol*

    Getting rid of Dempsey was a typical stupid Toronto move. They seem to love giving up on young players without giving them a single chance to shine. And Chicago loves to pick them up for free and have them reach their potential in a Hawks jersey. Anyone remember Sullivan?

    But the area with the most danger is in goal. Eddy is 37 and Trevor’s got a wife that is seriously sick with cancer. If her health deteriorates (god willing she will recover fully) he will not have all of his mind on hockey. Also, he’s injury prone and has basically sucked for the last few years…same goes for Eddy’fly off the handle’ Belfour.

    Boy…

    Hoglund is really a favorite around here. This guy was a no-name in MTL and CAL…until he arrived in TO. *lol* Playing with Sundin can be really good for someone eh? Shit…I’d be a good player on Sundin’s line! He’s overated and a lazy player.

    If…if Boston wanted him, they would not trade Kyle for him. *lol*

    And Pilar? What’s so hot about him? He’s had a FEW good games in last year’s playoffs and suddenly he’s worth trading for an established player like Derek Morris? C’mon…let’s not go overboard here.

    In Montreal, Hossa played really well for the 5-6 games he was called up, but he’s not all-of-a-sudden worth trading for someone like Samsonov, Morris and god knows who else. *lol*

    Until those guys play a full season and post some decent stats/performances on the ice, I’d not even think of trading them. 1)In case they develop into grade-A players. 2)Because no sane GM would give up proven quality players for a potentially good player.

    Rico_71

  8. Tradedude says:

    Do you guys think Kaberle, 4th round pick for McClaren is a good trade, or even Kaberle , and 2nd rounder for Morris????

  9. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    Cross is gone from the Leafs! No more Cory Cross for Kariya rumors! Lol.

    But seriously, the leafs D will be better this year than last year, and they did pretty good last year

  10. Leaf_Expert says:

    atleast u have a brain…

  11. edmontonrules says:

    I’m not sure if you know anything about Gary Roberts but he has 750 points in the NHL. Consistanly for the last 5 seasons at least he has had around 50 points per season. One season with 84 and one with 90. Come on man. He might have dropped off from the glory days with Calgary but research what you say.

  12. G_Hadd says:

    “Roberts was almost a noname until last season’s miracle. Now he’s like the team’s savior.”

    I’m not sure which planet you’ve been on, but Roberts has been rather well-known, and well-respected, for about a decade now. It was his reputation for timely – albeit ugly – goals and no-holds-barred forechecking that put him at the top of the free agent signings a couple of seasons back.

  13. G_Hadd says:

    It’s not a bad suggestion. From time to time Kaberle amazes me with his puck movement and sense of shape and form on offense – but he seems to be reluctant to put the effort into bulking-up and paying more attention to his own end. McClaren is just the opposite – he’s no field-general on offense (though he can contribute), but he comes to play in his own end most of the time (when he’s not hurt, that is). What does bother me about Mclaren is that his +/- stats have never been that good so while he can dish out the physical stuff, I think his overall sense of his own end is not as good as some make it out to be.

    I wouldn’t do that deal right now, if I were Pat Quinn. I would wait and see what the competition for jobs brings out of inconsistent players like Berg, Lumme, and Eriksson. Berg showed that he could be a very consistent stay-at-home type in the playoffs last year, and he doesn’t mind laying on the body along the boards and at the blueline. Moreover, his first pass decisions were markedly improved last season in comparison to when he came over from LA. During the playoffs, I no longer felt that awful feeling in my stomach every time he had the puck as the last man back. However, he is too soft in front of his own net – but if he could be coached into being more agressive in that area (remember, he’s only 24) he could provide a package similar to McLaren’s in terms of size and physical play, but with better skating ability and better puck moving abilities. In short, I would wait-and-see how things panned out in the first few months of the season before trading Kaberle’s flair for an oft-injured player like Mclaren when the possibility that Berg may develop into that kind of role is still out there.

  14. bluntman says:

    breathe child!!!!!! jeez

  15. bluntman says:

    the d for the leafs should improve for this year. i say this because they have an untested goalie which means the d will step up their game in order to help our new friends. (belfour, kidd) but i must agree with some other suggestions for more depth in the net department. that is how the leafs became a good team was because of the netminders. and mr. gloveside, please use your indoor voice, everybody can hear you.

  16. Leaf_Expert says:

    This is a trade:

    To Toronto:Kyle McLaren, and a 5th-round draft pick.

    To Dallas:Robert Reichel, Jonas Hoglund, Karl Pilar, and a 2nd-round draft choice.

    Reichel can score during the season which Boston will need for this year,Boston for some weird reason have been interested in Hoglund for the past 2-years and Pilar has the potential of becoming a solid scoring defense man.

    McLaren is a feared and effective hitter, a stellar shot blocker, and posses a great shot from the point.

    This deal is very fair for both sides.

  17. acebailey says:

    Please note the word “Package” in my post. I don’t think for a minute that the Bs would trade Kyle for Hoglund straight up.

  18. Leaf_Expert says:

    i meant to type boston

  19. BayStBullies says:

    The Leafs Defence is under-rated no doubt about it.However,I say our defence is average.The verdict is still out on Pilar.Cross *jumps up and down 100 times and does a cartwheel* isn’t coming back!.This guy is a total waste of space and hopefully Quinn will start to dip into the farm a bit more and use a few of the young guys.Lumme should be out of there,another waste of space.He use to be decent but that was about 3-4 years ago.McCabe looks outstanding,I’m very impressed with this guy.He could turn into the #1 defenceman that the Leafs have been “trying” to aquire.Kaberle is a great passer and isn’t as bad defensively as some people say he is,yes he is soft but he gets that” first pass” out of his end pretty effectively.As for Berg,he is most nights just “ok”.I think he could use his body a little bit more and start laying out some hits.He could still develop into a decent stay at home defenceman.Hopefully Belfour will hold up and the defence becomes a bit more defensive cautious this coming season.

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