The Leafs after the 20 Game Yardstick

Are you there Darryl? It’s me, Brian.

"I think a realistic yardstick is 20 games, that being said, these points that they’ve put in the bank are important come March or April. But you can’t just have a great start and then fizzle. That flame has to be sustainable. That’s the challenge." –Brian Burke on October 20, 2011

When Brian Burke said that Leafs were 4-1-1 after 6 games played. They had just suffered their first regulation loss of the season to the Bruins, with Gustavsson in goal. James Reimer would be injured in his next start against the Canadiens. Wilson commented after the game that Reimer “could have finished the game”, he hasn’t played since and the Leafs have gone 6-6-1.

On Saturday the Leafs will play the Washington Capitals at home in their 20th game of the season. Their record is 10-7-2 good for second in the Northeast Division and 6th in the Eastern Conference. They have as many points as the Sabres but trail in the all important “regulation wins”. They are on a 95 pt pace, just good enough for a playoff position. In short they are exactly where most rational fans and observers thought they would be before the season began, maybe even a little higher.  That’s the good news.

That being said there are plenty of reasons for Brian Burke to be concerned at the 20 game mark:

  • Secondary scoring has been hard to come by- Phil Kessel and Joffery Lupul have 25 and 20 points respectively. Dion Phaneuf is next with 12. Liles and Grabovski are the only other players with double digit points thus far. That is simply not good enough.
  • We need an actual NHL goaltender. Ben Scrivens has started 4 straight games. That’s all you need to know right there.
  • The special teams are still terrible. This is a recording.
  • The Leafs lack a player with a combination of size and skill in the top-six. Joffery Lupul is the closest thing we have to a power forward right now, just let that sink in.

Thankfully Burke has shown an ability to make effective trades during his time in Toronto. I have the sense that he’ll make a move sooner rather than later in hopes of building on what has been, all things considered, a positive start for the Leafs.

I’m not going to forecast anything but what makes the most sense is a trade for a relatively experienced NHL goalie who can play tandem with Scrivens until Reimer returns and then serve as a capable backup. This will most likely be the end of the line for Gustavsson.

I also imagine that Burke would love to acquire a guy capable of playing in the top-six with a combination of size, and skill. This team needs to get mean. This is the one player that Burke has yet to add during his time here and I know it’s eating him up inside. I really wish the Leafs had gone after Nathan Horton, but what can you do. My own personal belief is that Dustin Penner will be a Maple Leaf before Christmas. Once he’s off the IR I think Burke goes after him. The two have a good history together, offer sheet aside, and he’s a guy who could use a fresh start and is on an expiring deal so there’s very little risk.

I know which of these two guys I want! 

While their recent stretch of play is disappointing, the Leafs are exactly where they need to be in the standings at this point of the season. Their great start helped build a cushion for the inevitable regression. One only hopes that this is the worst things get this season. Otherwise the next twenty games will be unbearable. 

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