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Ulmer: A Memo To The Leafs

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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To:  The Gentleman of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Re: Your trip to Florida and the possibility of returning home.


It has reached m y desk that even as we speak, you are hitting the Sunshine State for a compressed road trip and two games in as many nights.

Nor did I miss this, the one-month anniversary of a season best described as full of peaks and valleys because the peaks have been big and the valleys have been, you know, really, really deep.

A glance at the standings confirms this is no ordinary road trip. A season that started nicely has bottomed out with five consecutive losses, two in the shootout. Saturday’s defeat to Buffalo was particularly, if you don’t mind me saying, soul-destroying.

The general manager has angrily insisted that Ron Wilson’s job is safe and wonders why the media seems fixated on the one guy behind the bench instead of the guys whose keisters are on it. That would be you guys. We find little fault in this argument but acknowledge you would be enjoying  more success if Colby Armstrong and Dion Phaneuf were on board.

It is, like everything, about expectations. It is one thing for a lousy team to play poorly if the club is built along those specs.

But this looked like the best team in the last five years. It had experience on the blue line, an emerging shut down guy in Luke Schenn, what has proven to be good goaltending and enough goalscoring to be dangerous although, as it turns out, only to itself.

Here’s some stats to consider. The Leafs are third last in goals for with 31 goals in 13 games.

The power play (13 percent) is inoffensive, again to everyone but you. It’s at 20 per cent. The penalty kill is 21st

That sucking sound you hear is all the optimism of the first weeks of the season siphoning down the drain. Right now, you are 11th in the East but on the plus side, they only give out the playoff pairings in April.

Fellows, this can be fixed. Your 2.46 goals against average is good enough to garner a playoff spot. Some goals and everything bad has a chance to go away.

I am sure you have considered the options. No one is breaking down the door with a 35-goal scorer they absolutely can’t live with. Consider a trade unlikely in the extreme.

There has been much discussion about Nazem Kadri and the wisdom of bringing him to the big club. Kadri can’t, for reasons of age and inexperience, play on the top line but he might generate some return on the third unit if you surround him with the right people. Go ahead and bring him up. The Marlies are on what amounts to a 19-day road trip. I’m pretty sure he’ll come.

What we are suggesting is radical, but these are urgent times and more importantly, it’s a slow news day. Consider this the hockey equivalent of drawing names from a hat in baseball,
Nik Kulemin, you’re on the number one line, but in the middle. I know, you’ve never played centre. Tyler Bozak has and he has one goal. Sometimes experience can be overvalued. I am thinking that your defensive awareness and skating will make up for any shortcomings in offence and besides it has always been a pet project to see how you would fare in the middle. It’s time to grow, Grasshopper.

We think it prudent to move Mikhail Grabovski to the wing and put Clarke MacArthur anywhere he wants to play. Welcome to the first line, fellows. You deserve it.

The second line will feature Tim Brent, whose hockey smarts and still embryonic offensive skills would mesh nicely with Luca Caputi’s go-to-the-net truculence and Phil Kessel’s offensive gifts.

Nazem Kadri, come on down. You will be playing the wing with Kristopher Versteeg and Bozak on the third unit. No sense bringing you up to play with pluggers. Get used to 12 minutes a game and get your feet wet. Versteeg, coming off the big rebound after a season in Chicago and Bozak, nailed to the second-year agony express, have done little to justify more ice time.

You two guys could use the juice Naz is sure to bring. If you stumble Naz, they will still welcome you back to the Marlies.

My friends, I hope you find this helpful. Score some goals and you will find your way back to Air Canada Centre with ease. Just follow the rose petals scattered down Bay Street.
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