Monday, November 23, 2009

Good soldier or bad teammate?

Tonight Vesa Toskala let in three goals in a span of 3:14. Shortly after a shorthanded shot handcuffed him deep in his net to give the Islanders their three goal lead, Toskala went to the trainer's room and did not return.

After the game, it was revealed that Toskala had tweaked his (chronically injured) groin after the second goal. Knowing this sours the outcome of the game a little bit. Toskala was just trying to be a good soldier, battle on through his injuries to give his team a chance to win. However he let in a decisive goal while doing so.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Earlier this season on Oct 12, down 3-2 to the Rangers in the second period, Jason Blake shoved Chris Drury into Toskala, aggravating his groin. After the intermission, Toskala remained in net and surrendered 2 goals in 3:13 to start the period, going on to lose 7-2. Toskala would not play another game until the 31st, 19 days later, even though he played for over 20 minutes after his injury.

Last season at the trade deadline the Leafs revealed that they had picked up Martin Gerber off of waivers and that Toskala would miss the rest of the season for groin surgery. The impetus for the move had been Burke calling Toskala out on his poor play down the stretch, the Leafs of course having a poor record. Toskala became incensed, citing the injury that he had been playing with for some time even though he and the team had been faring poorly with his efforts.

Goaltending is a crucial position in the NHL, a position which has been consistently weak for the post-lockout Leafs. Obviously there is more wrong with the team than just one player between the pipes. Obviously Toskala, in the face of inconsistent back-up performances, has been trying to help the Leafs by staying in while wounded.

So when does being a good soldier turn into being a bad teammate? When does the altruism of playing through adversity for one's team begin to reek of self-importance? Are Leaf fans supposed to sympathize with Toskala for losing games when he's not at his best? Or should they wonder about what might have been if Toskala was up-front about problems that the team could address.

Maybe it's time for Vesa to understand that the team needs him to be honest with his abilities. Maybe it's time for the Leafs to realize that a goalie that can't last 20 games without getting injured probably shouldn't be counted on as an NHL goaltender, and that they might have a player that cares more about ice time than wins.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is 20 the magic number?

Generally speaking, late November is around the time of the season that moves involving roster players tend to start. A quarter of the way into the season, GMs can feel like they've seen enough of their club to know what's going right or wrong, while still having enough time to turn things around.

Last year the first major player movement of the season for the Leafs came on November 24th, after their 20th game of the season, when Fletcher traded Steen and Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak. Struggling to find offense in their first half of October, the Leafs had only 7 wins heading into late November, while the Blues were dealing with injuries to key players and badly needed depth.

(Funnily enough, last year's Blues team is an example for why Leafs fans can still have hope about their season, a team with some emerging youngsters, and one that needed time to gel before tearing up the NHL in the second half en route to a playoff spot.)

Game #20 once again approaches, and the Leafs are about to embark on a stretch of games against teams that they should be able to win against (no offense meant to any team that isn't Ottawa). Whether they know it or not, these next two weeks will likely decide roster spots for our forwards, and like last year both the players and fans may be surprised as to who gets the axe.

Whether it's through trades or waivers, it's obvious that our current roster is suffering from an abundance of contracts. We need the flexibility to make call-ups, if only for the energy that youthful players can bring during their cup of coffee to the show. Like last year, I'd be surprised if any players brought in or up amount to more than depth, but I think player movement is just as important right now.

So who needs to watch out for their jobs? Stajan and Hagman have both found themselves into the doghouse this year, and Exelby and Finger have been unable to cement their roster spot in the eyes of Wilson. Whatever happens, I can't imagine this roster looking the same a month from now.