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Sunday, January 19, 2014

NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs Mid-Season Report, January 19, 2014

Tim Gleason trade steadies Maple Leafs D

Nonis went out and traded for a solid defender, landing 2010 USA Olympian Tim Gleason, and Carlyle has finally found his pairs:

Phaneuf - Gunnarsson
Gleason - Franson
Gardiner - Reilly

This allows the Leafs coach to play his youngsters against third and fourth lines, and start them in the offensive zone the majority of the time. Mark Fraser would likely come in if Phaneuf or Gleason was injured, while Ranger would be the likely fill-in for Gunnarsson. If Franson, Reilly or Gardiner were to miss games, TJ Brennan may get the callup from the Marlies.

With the 2013-2014 NHL season past the halfway mark and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics approaching, let us have a look at how the Buds have performed to this point (19JAN). 

Premier Players

Phaneuf, Kessel, Bozak, Van Riemsdyk, Bolland, Bernier

Crucial Players

Lupul, Reimer, Gunnarsson, Kadri, Gleason, Raymond, Franson, McLement, Gardiner, Kulemin

Role Players

Clarkson, Reilly, Holland, Fraser, Ranger, Orr, McLaren, Ashton, Smith, Brodie, D'Amigo

Marlies to Watch

Brennan, Abbott, Leivo, McKegg, Holzer

The Horses - Toronto Maple Leafs Top Players

Dion Phaneuf - Captain Dion is a lightning rod for criticism, and his slowness of foot can be deceiving. He's the Leafs rock, and contributes key offence in pressure situations.

Phil Kessel - One of the NHL's top snipers, looking forward to seeing Phil and his sister Amanda at the Olympics. Kessel's game has improved dramatically over the past few seasons, as a floating cherry-picker was transformed into a slick-passing, back-checking frontline winger.

Tyler Bozak - When he was out with an injury, the Maple Leafs found out what it was really like to play without a #1 centre. Crucial on the draw, stellar play at both ends of the ice.

van Riemsdyk - Leafs best forward close-in to the net, has sparkling chemistry with Kessel, which I hope will be evident in all games at the Sochi Olympics excepting those versus Canada.

Bolland - Began the year as Maple Leafs best forward. His return could push Kadri to the right side of a Lupul - Bolland - Kadri second line on the Leafs. Holland can centre the third line and McLement the fourth.

Bernier - Given a heavy load backing a team that many nights lacked effort, JB has more often than not provided the lads with an opportunity to win. Stellar in shootouts, his puckhandling consistency will only get better now that the Leafs D pairs have been settled upon. Being on-call for Canada's Olympic Hockey team has likely given his confidence a boost.

The Fierce - Leafs Competitive Edge

Reimer - Relegated to backup status with the emergence of Bernier as the steadiest starter, James Reimer has continued to play like a number one goalie. This means the Leafs will be in a great position in the stretch drive and playoffs if they get in.

Lupul - A dangerous forward, tough to play against and always ready to snipe a key goal.

Gunnarsson - Plays against top lines of opposing teams, is second only to Phaneuf in plus / minus. 'Nuff said.

Kadri - When he's skating and hitting and drawing penalties, Naz is one of the best young players in the league. When he's floating and taking penalties. With less points than Raymond and sporting a -10, Kadri needs to step up in the homestretch and play like he did (2 assists, +2) against the Montreal Canadiens last night.

Gleason - Steady vet adds huge experience down low for Maple Leafs, bringing a calmness to the bench, the netminders and the coaching staff.

Raymond - UFA has exceeded expectations and earned a contract extension, fits with this group.

Franson - Has been solid all year, now finding a comfort level with Gleason as partner.

McClement - Key player to re-sign in offseason if not sooner. One of the planet's best defensive players.

Gardiner - Now on the third pair with Reilly, this keeps him fresh for first line power play duty.

Kulemin - Being named to Russia's Men's Hockey team for the Sochi 2014 Olymopics has boosted Nik's confidence. Together with McClement, part of primary penalty-kill pairing.

The Grinders - Can we win the battles?

Clarkson - It's too early say that giving a $35 mil contract to a player with only one 20-goal season (30 goals, 2011-12) and a career minus record was a mistake. EVERYTHING will depend on the homestretch and playoffs, where a guy like Dave can come in quite handy.

Reilly - Take care of the disc and keep reading the play for opportunities, listen to coaches.

Holland - Play fast, tough and hard, and the third line or fourth line (after Bolland returns) centre spot will remain yours.

Fraser - Could be valuable to a team needing size and toughness on back end, difficult to see how Mark replaces anyone if D stays healthy.

Ranger - Play had been improving when supplanted by Gleason, so teams may be interested.

Orr - Likely to be in and out of lineup depending on opponent, needs to stay sharp. 

Trade Talk

Fraser or Ranger could be moved as part of deal for a top skater with an expiring contract, as the D seems set. They are both UFAs, so a pick or a prospect will have to be packaged in to get a quality player back.

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