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It's Time To End The Logjam On The Blueline

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s time to end the logjam along the Maple Leafs’ blueline and tonight’s game against the Boston Bruins would be as good a time as any.

Thirteen games into the season, Carlo Colaiacovo has played five games.

Jonas Frogren, who has the body and inclination to develop into a shutdown, Yushkevich-style defenceman, has missed six games, nearly as many as he has played.

Anton Stralman, usurped as the Leafs best blue line prospect by Luke Schenn, has played nine games and looked fair, but the top-drawer skating and puck movement have not been evident.

If the purpose of the 2008-2009 season was to develop young players, then it’s time to start doing it.

Frogren is only 28. Colaiacovo is 25, Stralman is 22. Under the optimum scenario, if you combine those three with the prodigy Luke Schenn you have your core blueliners well into the next decade...

That’s ridiculously premature of course. Colaiacovo’s list of injuries is longer than his arm. Does Frogren have the necessary mobility? Stralman’s skating and puckhandling are exceptional, but it takes years to develop the two-way game necessary for defencemen in the two-way NHL. Is he destined to be another soft defenceman or an impact blueliner?

It’s impossible to know but you’re never going to find unless you give all these players the chance.

The Leafs are in a bind, if you can call every defenceman playing pretty well a bind. Mike Van Ryn has been a total pro. Jeff Finger has been very good. Even Ian White, when given some shifts against Carolina, looked adept.

Committed to the future, Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher must balance immediate returns in the form of a potential playoff appearance, with a pre-occupation with the future.

By rotating Frogren, Stralman and Colaiacovo into one spot, coach Ron Wilson allows for some development while getting pretty consistent results. If there is a bottoming out later in the season, there will be plenty of teams searching for capable puck-carrying defencemen. Teams will look to Toronto. I get that.

But I think you need to see more of Frogren, Stralman and Colaiacovo. If there is to be a rotation, it should involve all nine defencemen. That way the veterans could be freed from the season’s constant wear and tear, both physical and mental and the youngsters would accrue the experience they so desperately need.

If you’re not developing your prospects and moving towards the future, you’re sliding backwards. The Leafs have done plenty of that.

It’s time to go in a different direction.
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