NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick is penning a weekly blog for NHL.com this season. Look for new entries from, "World According to JR," every Wednesday. Roenick offers sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.
I have to give some kudos and offer my respect to one of my least favorite players, but I also have to get critical with one of my favorite teams. Read on to find out what I'm talking about:
Ilya Kovalchuk is really playing like the player that he should be, and that's a really good sign for the New Jersey Devils.
One of the reasons this team is winning is because their best player is doing the little things he's supposed to be doing to allow his team to win. He's working harder defensively, and his coach is playing him more in penalty-killing roles because of his speed and because of how well he's playing. When you play well, your coach is going to reward you with more ice time.
Kovalchuk is very focused on scoring goals and being one of the best players in the game, and that's pretty commendable for him.
I've been all over him in terms of his team mentality. I've called him selfish. I've called him a lot of different things, but I've been impressed with his dedication to Pete DeBoer's system and how he's been playing to the system. You know what, he's scoring goals and he's one of the hottest guys in the League right now because of it.
I can be mean, but when you're playing well and playing properly, within the team rules and the team concept, I can appreciate that, too. And I need to give a lot of respect to Kovalchuk for his recent play. I hope he keeps it up because if he does, the team will continue to do well and creep up the board to secure a playoff spot.
Hey, I will say that Kovalchuk is not one of my favorite players. I have no problem telling you that, but I do appreciate his dedication to the team and that his work ethic seems much more focused. I recognize good, solid hockey when I see it. He has more success when he plays a team-oriented way.
I'll go on record and say the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of my favorite teams because of their fan base, their history, and it was also one of my favorite places to play because of the fans, their knowledge, and the history behind the Maple Leafs.
But Toronto's last playoff appearance was in 2004 when we [the Philadelphia Flyers] knocked them out with one of my favorite goals of my career against Eddie Belfour. Since then, it's been a downhill spiral.
The Maple Leafs started off so hot, but they've lost three in a row and now they're ninth in the Eastern Conference.
At the beginning of this season it looked like they were on the right path to getting out of that playoff funk. They started out so hot and Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were off to career years, but now the Leafs have lost three in a row and they're again flirting with the possibility of missing the playoffs.
One of my favorite coaches, Ron Wilson, just received a contract extension and some people might have scoffed at that, but this is less about coaching and more about putting enough talented players on the ice. Brian Burke is a very savvy, smart GM, but because of Toronto's inconsistencies in winning hockey games and with missing the playoffs looming again, he needs to make a trade.
Burke needs to get somebody that will help the Leafs secure a playoff spot for this year, and he needs to do it now because time is running out for the Maple Leafs. How much are the fans and the media going to allow with this team missing the playoffs?
It's funny, though, because I don't know if it's goaltending, defense or offense. It befuddles me as to why this team can't find consistency.
It has to be the players, and Burke, being as smart as he is and being this close to the trade deadline, he has to start shopping people around and getting on the "I need" list for players to help his team get into the playoffs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs need something, and they need it now.