by Brian Duff
The Maple Leafs have hit the quarter-pole of this 2002-03 season and it's safe to say, there are many concerned fans out there, and plenty of questions that need to be answered. (Since no one knows what will happen in the future, we cannot answer, but only wonder.)
So, here we go, diving headfirst into the Maple Leaf Mail Bag.
Timothy Buck II, from Timbuctoo writes: "Is Ed Belfour the man in goal?"
Well Timmy, we can understand your confusion given the way the season started, but after a quick double check with NHL head office, and a look at his driver's license, we can confirm that it is indeed Ed Belfour wearing number 20 for the Leafs, almost every night. At this rate, he'll likely appear in 60 to 70 games, and should he keep up his current play, he'll be among the league leaders in goals against average by year's end. Also, fans will have firmly adopted a new two-syllable chant for the team's number one netminder. (Ed-die, instead of Cu-jo, in case you were wondering)
Reaching a little deeper, we find this question from Eileen Kristal, on the back of a picturesque postcard, from Crystal Falls. "Do the Leafs need at least one more physical defenceman?"
We're leaning to the simple answer on that one Eileen. What team wouldn't want one? That's not to suggest the Leafs can't win without making any significant upgrades, as McCabe, Svehla, and Berg can all step it up on the body battering front, but we believe that if a team has the resources to do so, it should do so. Even if that means parting with some prospects who rank high on the organization's depth chart.
| With Bryan McCabe out, the Leafs may be looking to beef up the blueline. |
Graig Abel Photography
Our next venture leads us halfway into the bag to find a letter from The Ladies Club in Byng Inlet. They write: "How do you explain the fact that Tie Domi is fourth on this team in goals? Doesn't that say something about the state of this team?"
Well ladies, you're right. Simply put, this team needs to find some balance in its attack. Too many players are not living up to the club's expectations, the fans expectations, and presumably their own expectations in the scoring department.
Heading into this past weekend, half of the clubs' forwards hadn't scored in more than a couple of weeks. And don't think Pat Quinn isn't well aware of this. He's been regularly giving Mats Sundin more than twenty minutes of ice time per game, not because of a rash of powerplay opportunities, but in an effort to get somebody going.
For a team that seemed to have good balance coming out of the preseason, it's kind of ironic that this would be an issue right now. But keep in mind that Gary Roberts will return at some point, and barring any other significant setbacks, we still believe this team should be able to score (just ask Philadelphia).
A growing confidence in their goaltender will also help the cause. On a positive note, Mikael Renberg is halfway to his goal total of a year ago already, and is looking more like a high twenty-goal scorer, than the player we've seen the last five years.
Mrs. M. Brown of Embrun asks: "Will this team win the Northeast Division, and if not, will it at least get home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs."
Too close to call Mrs. Brown. We here at ML Mailbag figured the Eastern conference to be a dog's breakfast, but I'm not sure anyone could have predicted what has gone on in the first 7 weeks of the season.
After personally predicting the Leafs to finish 5th in the conference, the editor here at ML Mailbag isn't wavering. But it's doubtful the Blue and White will make up the 12 points on the Bruins, given the B's should get better via the trade route and improved health as the season wears on. Frankly, it doesn't matter where the Leafs finish, as long it's in the top-8, then let the fun begin.
Last question from this session goes to Ken, from Dryden, ON. "When are the Leafs going to spend the money from increased ticket prices and grab a top-notch player?"
Ken, first you must know, it's not always how much you spend, but how you spend it. The Leafs are clearly one of the NHL's top spenders, but as most fans will point out, they've had little production from a lot of well-paid players.
After Sundin and Mogilny, and Belfour, that next tier of players on the salary scale must show more. Otherwise the Coach and GM will be faced with some tough decisions. Cut them loose, buy them out, get what you can for them, or live with them. Once that gets sorted out, perhaps then we'll see the Leafs make a big move. Either way, we're looking forward to the trade deadline on March 11, 2003.
Well that's all for now. Thanks for your letters, and keep 'em coming. Look back at other Brian Duff columns: "Good" defence hard to get