What's wrong with the Leafs? No experience

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:51 PM ET

TORONTO - Grizzled veterans, the Maple Leafs could have used a few.

For all of their talk of gaining valuable experience by playing in meaningful games down the stretch, no matter how much we’ve heard about the playoff-like intensity of the games, the bare fact remains that they were not playoff games.

And the Leafs roster as it stands today — with yet another spring of dark days and nights on tap at the Air Canada Centre — isn’t brimming with players who have much of an idea of what it’s like to go on a long post-season run.

Of the Leafs regulars who skated in the finale on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, forward Joffrey Lupul led all with 39 career playoff matches in the National Hockey League. The jittery Mike Komisarek was next with 29, captain Dion Phaneuf had 25 and Phil Kessel 15. There were dribs and drabs with a few others, but totalled, it’s not much.

Integral pieces such as Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Luke Schenn, among others, are like many of the rest of us. Their NHL playoff experiences are confined to what they have seen on their high-def televisions.

The youth movement is great and everything, as usually there are tangible positives for players that come out of taking lumps as a group.

But that the Leafs didn’t have that battle-scarred veteran, one who has been around the block a couple of times and has a Stanley Cup ring or two to show for it, helped lead to their downfall in the end.

“Those guys never hurt,” forward Clarke MacArthur said on Monday as the Leafs gathered for one final time in 2010-11 to empty their lockers and meet with Ron Wilson before going their separate ways.

“We could have used a guy like that in November when we were struggling. If (general manager Brian Burke) can add someone like that, it’s always a good plan.”

It was not just on the ice that the Leafs might have benefitted from that kind of guidance.

Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who turns 34 in May, is the closest thing the Leafs have to such a player, and he could be gone to free agency this summer. Giguere often was the voice of reason in the dressing room, whether he was playing or backing up James Reimer. It’s not that players such as Phaneuf, who slipped into the role of captain more comfortably as the season wore on, or Schenn, whose maturity belies his 21 years, were to be viewed with skepticism when they spoke. MacArthur had wisdom and so did others.

But they haven’t endured the highs and hardships that come with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Phaneuf never went past the first round with the Calgary Flames.

Wilson on Monday went so far to say that he hoped some of the Leafs’ youngsters could learn a thing or two by watching other teams in the playoffs and identifying themselves with “the skill sets of peers throughout the league.”

That still doesn’t equate to experience. They won’t be blocking shots or scoring huge goals while sitting on their couch.

“It depends if that type of person is available, who he is,” Wilson said when he was asked whether the Leafs could have used another savvy vet or two. “Can he play in this environment, how much does he have left? What kind of role does he expect?”

The role wouldn’t have to be on one of the top two lines or among the top four defencemen, and that’s not really the point. The expectation is Burke will try to beef up the roster in those areas, especially at centre. Fans might expect more light to be shed on the topic when Burke meets with the media on Tuesday afternoon.

There was a time, less than a decade ago, when you couldn’t swing one of those fake tin-foil Stanley Cups in the Leafs dressing room and not hit a guy who had more than just a sprinkling of playoff games on his resume.

Now, the Leafs could use a couple.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


Videos

Photos