Toronto Maple Leafs Mid-Season: Goaltending Report
I know what your thinking. Another tedious article about the over-lavished Maple Leafs. Leaf fans everywhere grabbing ridiculous and preposterous trade rumors out of a hat in an attempt to look informative by calling it ‘inside information’. By no means am I Mr. Perfect, I am guilty just like every one of my peers. It is our nature to speculate, it is our nature to exonerate. As Leaf fans, we expect only the best out of our beloved franchise and when that does not occur we fantasize about the best players launching our team to a level of triumph. Contributing to the fact, the Toronto Maple Leafs are arguably the most loved and the most hated team in the NHL.
Going in to the new year, Toronto has a season-high five game winning streak. Despite still missing five regulars to injury; Eric Lindros, Nik Antropov, Jason Allison, Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo. But what happens when they all return? Guys like Mariusz Czerkawski, Clarke Wilm, John Pohl and Staffan Kronwall who have been sitting in the press boxes or sent down to the Toronto Marlies have played their way on to the team and deserve just as much respect as the aforementioned players. So how have the Leafs, winners of 43, 44, and 45 games in the past three seasons of NHL hockey, slipped from the rank of contender to pretender in the NHL? There isn’t one precise answer, however their slide into mediocrity is evident at all positions of the ice. Toronto’s recent history of goaltenders has been respectable; Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour respectively. It has been quite sometime since the Maple Leafs have drafted a goalie and had the faith to use him as their starter. Leaf fans everywhere should rejoice, because for the first time in a long time, the Maple Leafs finally have above-average goaltending depth. Youngsters such as Canada’s WJC back-stopper Justin Pogge and Finnish’s Tuukka Rask have both played exceptionally well for their country as well as respective franchises this past season. Not to mention AHL affiliate Toronto Marlie goaltenders; Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Jean-Francois Racine.
Future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Ed Belfour is a shadow of his former self. With the combination of age and the new rules of the CBA, “The Eagle” has exceedingly struggled in this first half of the season. Throughout his career he has been a perennial slow starter, but it is becoming more evident, that this will occur throughout the entirety of this season. Not overlooking the fact Eddie has been the foundation of the last few playoff runs, backstopping them against the Senators twofold. It is becoming more apparent that this will be his last season in the NHL as he may be on his last legs. So what do the Leafs do? Do they trade him between now and the trade deadline in hopes to get an injection of youth into their system from a playoff contender in need of goaltending help? Or do they ride the season out and see how far mediocrity will get them in the playoffs? Doing both, in turn, raises individual questions. Does Tellqvist have what it takes? What do we do next year if he can’t handle it? It is in this writer’s opinion, at the risk of sounding cheesy, that this Eagle must be put into extinction. And no, I do not believe at this point in time Tellqvist has what it takes to be a number one, especially from pressure by media and fans alike to have a solid number one goaltender. Here is what I would like to see happen at season’s end; Belfour retires, trade Tellqvist, when his values is high, call up one of Pogge or Rask (hopefully Rask, he is going to be fantastic) and sign veteran net-minder Marty Turco, as he is Unrestricted.
In evaluating the Maple Leafs, it’s fair to say that this is a good hockey team. They may finish as high as sixth in the conference if injuries are low. However it’s also clear that the 2005-06 edition of the Maple Leafs is not a “great” team. It’s a team that has slipped from the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference and will have to be very diligent to win a playoff round, particularly if they face their arch-rivals, the Ottawa Senators, who have absolutely thrashed Toronto their passed two meetings by a combined score of 16-2.
Stay tuned for Defensive and Offensive reports….