Gotta ask the 10 questions: Things about the Leafs we’d know by now

Footage from the last Maple Leafs win, or so it feels like.

Toronto Maple Leafs were due to play their 20th game of the 2012-13 season tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. But they won’t play for some weird reason, making it all the less likely that you’ll go to the corner store to buy a creamsicle at 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night.

Novelty uniforms aside, there is a lot we have missed about the Toronto Maple Leafs and their opponents this year, things we would know by know if the owners or players decided to take a short-term financial hit to appease the totally not greedy fans and drop the puck already.

There isn’t much to discuss, or rather, there isn’t much left to discuss. We’ve hurt our necks by looking for every available angle to write about players on the Maple Leafs, and it’s time that we were left with more data. By now I’m even quite almost partially convinced of all the things I said this offseason, but, heck, there’s no way to know if Nazem Kadri is a No. 1 centreman without seeing him in the NHL as a No. 1 centreman, right?

So what would be know by now? Bolded below are 10 questions that, well, if you were in a coma from September 15 until November 28, you woke up, you might ask me. Unfortunately, with no games, I can’t give you the answers yet, just explain to you why you asked the question.

Is Nazem Kadri the No. 1 centreman yet?

Let’s pretend that the first 20 games didn’t work out for the Maple Leafs as well as everything did last year, and Randy Carlyle wants to flip a few things around. Does the organization show confidence in the young Kadri with a small NHL career to date with an optimistic sample of data, or have they written him off completely because he didn’t immediately break into the NHL as a scoring dynamo, and the likelihood of being a 60-point scorer by age 23 is getting slimmer by the day (unlike Kadri himself)?

Moreover, how did the team fit him into the logjam at centre ice? Gus disagrees with me and says Kadri is groomed to be more of a winger, but to me, the data suggests he’s a puck-possession threat and, as such, ought to be at centre.

Why didn’t James van Riemsdyk work out as the team’s No. 1 centreman?

We knew this summer that the Maple Leafs brass wanted to see what their shiny new toy could do between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, despite van Riemsdyk never having actually played in the middle since novice.

In an alternate universe with no lockout, sure van Riemsdyk got the shot in two exhibition games with a full roster and has been rotated up to that spot when the Leafs trailed and needed a goal, but the line’s aversion to defensive play didn’t make it a viable option going forward.

Did Brian Burke trade for Roberto Luongo?

The world was abuzz when discussing potential trades for one of the league’s best goaltenders. Toronto hasn’t had a goaltender play three straight seasons for 50 games since Curtis Joseph (he played four from 1999-2002) and haven’t had a goalie play over 50 games with a save percentage of over .910 since Ed Belfour in 2004. Luongo seems to be the natural fit here. He still has some good years left in him, and the odd summer complete with tactical negotiations through the press between Brian Burke and Mike Gillis were both tremendously entertaining and a general boon for Canucks blogs and Leafs blogs alike.

So how did Burke resolve the goaltending situation? Did he part ways with Jake Gardiner, or did he manage to get Luongo for Tyler Bozak, Mike Komisarek and a third round pick?

Hey, how does James Reimer look so far?

Suppose I answered negative to the above question about Luongo, and instead James Reimer was leading the Leafs between the pipes. Reimer’s primary issue last season was his health, but despite an early season concussion, he’s just about the average for NHL starters in even strength save percentage over two seasons of play. His main issue has been not playing enough games, and the Leafs’ penalty kill. Maybe, just maybe, in the absence of Luke Schenn, the Leafs’ PK has looked just a little bit better and that has, in turn, helped Reimer’s overall perception in Toronto.

Where did Cody Franson go?

Somehow, Toronto managed to lose a trade where they gave up Brett Lebda and acquired a young defenceman with plus-possession upside. Indeed, in less critical minutes this past season, the Leafs spent more time in the other team’s zone when they were with Franson than without, and despite lacking a number of qualities that could make for a Top Four defenceman, he is a better option than most to take a job on the Leafs’ third pairing.

But then he went on to sign in Sweden after the Leafs failed to get him under contract by the September 15 deadline when the collective bargaining agreement expired. Failing to get Franson under contract, or at least trading his rights for some sort of asset, was one of the mistakes Burke made this offseason.

Is Jake Gardiner being asked to play tougher minutes?

After last season saw Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson handle heavy minutes but fail to bring the Leafs much closer to a defensively reliable team due to an overall lack of depth, pressure was put on a few of the younger Leafs this summer to bridge the gap. Jake Gardiner, who had an exceptional rookie season contributing offensively and moving the puck. At some point, somebody is going to entrust Gardiner with a late shift in the defensive zone, or a hard matchup against an offensive star. Since those are the situations we don’t know what to expect about Gardiner yet, they’re critical to see if we want to know just how well Gardiner projects as a defenceman in the NHL.

Did the team break camp without a fighter?

Last season saw the much-discussed decision to waive Colton Orr and send him to the minors. Jay Rosehill was waived at the end of last season and was picked up by the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals (He has 1 goal and 30 PIMs in 11 games). Mike Brown is still under contract, but the Leafs have enough forwards who can play without having to throw their gloves on the ice every shift to have some value as an NHLer. Last season, the Leafs were 14th in the NHL in fights with 35, but the men behind 17 of them—Orr, Rosehill, Luke Schenn, Joey Crabb, Colby Armstrong—are gone. Did the Leafs decide to go with Leo Komarov in Brown’s stead, or is this archaic stereotype still adhered to by two traditionalists in Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle?

Are the Leafs still scoring at a super high rate when Joffrey Lupul is on the ice?

With Joffrey Lupul on the ice as a Toronto Maple Leaf, the team has scored 79 goals on 641 shots in 94 games. That is an 11% shooting percentage, compared to the team rate over those days of 8.5%. From one perspective, you can look at this like “oh, heck yes, Lupul can really set up quality shots” but the analysis consistent with NHL careers is that this a trend that will likely not continue, and when Lupul’s on-ice shooting rate drops to a more realistic number, we may begin to notice that he’s probably not first line material.

With all that said, perhaps Lupul is the outlier, and the palindromic player simply doesn’t want to play by the rules of regression and fancy math. Maybe he wants to continue scoring goals at an absurd rate and stick it to the geeks with their fancy eyeglasses and pocket protectors. What do you say about that, stat boy?

Is Jonas Gustavsson a quality starting goalie in Detroit?


Is Phil Kessel still awesome?

Indubitably. The only lock on that top line for the Leafs after 20 games is that Phil Kessel will continue to be an exciting forward who takes a lot of shots and scores a lot of goals. Perhaps either Mikhail Grabovski or Nazem Kadri, somebody who can get him the puck, may have played with him over the course of the first quarter of the season.

Perhaps not, but we can always hope.

(h/t to Pass it to Bulis for the idea, and in interest of Question #3, we hope that blog is able to change its name to ‘Pass it to Bozak’ next season)