Gord Stellick is host of The Big Show, the popular afternoon radio program on the FAN 590. The former general manager of the Maple Leafs is also a hockey commentator on numerous local and national television shows.
The post-game discussions on the Leafs early season games carry a familiar and consistent theme. After a win, it is the explosive, offensive power that earns the credit and accolades with the additions of Alexander Mogilny, Robert Reichel, Mikael Renberg and Travis Green, the stellar play of holdovers Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Gary Roberts, a rejuvenated and healthy Shayne Corson, Jonas "we're happy the fax machine jammed" Hoglund and a seemingly fully recovered Alyn McCauley. The excellent goaltending of Curtis Joseph is a given and he is usually one of the game's three stars.
After a loss, like this past Saturday against St. Louis, you usually see this same contingent of forwards escape blame. It is the Leaf defence coupled by an ordinary performance by Curtis Joseph that bears scrutiny. Joseph is, of course, forgiven - the defence is not. While this has been an unfair pattern against the current Leaf blueline, it has merit when you think of the Leafs current short-term objective - the Stanley Cup.
Since this is the current mandate of the Toronto organization, then the talent has to be compared with the best teams in the league. This does make the case that it is the Leaf defence corps more than any other facet of the team that lacks the depth and the talent of other Stanley Cup contenders like Dallas, Detroit, Colorado, St. Louis and New Jersey. An argument can be made that the current Leaf defence would be ranked only the fourth best among Canadian teams after Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Compared to the other Stanley Cup contenders the Leafs do not have an all-star the likes of Derian Hatcher in Dallas, Rob Blake and Adam Foote in Colarado, Niklas Lidstrom in Detroit, Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis in St. Louis and Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer in New Jersey. The Leaf management is fully aware of this void and that's why they were in hot pursuit of Blake at last year's NHL trade deadline. The Leafs actually made the Los Angeles Kings an offer that was superior to what they later received from Colorado. For the Leafs, the deal was contingent on Blake agreeing to a new contract with the Leafs for a reported $48 million over five years. Blake reiterated his intent to explore unrestricted free agency and turned the down Leaf contract offer. This killed the trade, but give the Leaf front office credit for their pursuit.
So if the Leafs are to experience playoff success it will have to be with a "good, solid and sound" unit rather than one led by "star" players like most of the other Cup contenders. A perfect example of this solution hits as close to home as Leaf fans can get when you look back to the Maple Leafs during their great playoff run in the spring of 1993. Jamie Macoun, Dave Ellett, Bob Rouse, Todd Gill and Sylvain Lefebvre were a group where the sum was greater than the parts. No member was close to being an all-star but as a five-man unit they were without peer in the NHL.