Don't forget the 'D'
October 26, 2016 | 11:51pm ET
There's excitement in the Toronto air, but the Maple Leafs won't succeed until
their defensive game is in check.
TORONTO, ON -- The Toronto Maple Leafs came into this new season with
a different vibe, similar to the one they ended the 2015-16 campaign
with, only this time around, their strut has a little extra bounce to
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have added significant fire power up
front to an already young lineup that boasts William Nylander and Zach
Hyman, not to forget James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri.
They're dangerous, explosive and deep. But they're young and they're
going to have plenty of growing pains.
"Yeah, for sure," Nylander said earlier this week. "It's what you've
got to go through. You've got to lose some to start winning some.
We're working on it every day."
As potent as they can be, their defensive game is significantly
lacking. Blame goalie Frederik Andersen all you want for Tuesday's
performance, where he let in seven goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning,
but when the team in front of him continuously fails to clear the zone
and leaves opposing players wide open in front of his net, there's
only so much any goaltender can do.
Andersen aside -- he's a good goalie and he'll start gaining his
confidence again -- until the Maple Leafs fix their defensive game,
it's going to be an up-and-down season in Toronto.
And this goes beyond the actual defensive corps. As much as GM Lou
Lamoriello and the management staff want to improve the talent on the
blueline, the young team up front needs to be held accountable, too.
The mood inside the Air Canada Centre is already significantly
different than it was last season. The optimism is alive again in
Toronto, but the fans seem to understand that this campaign is still
part of the rebuilding process -- and that'll help the players on the
ice get through the grind some of their current and former colleagues
had to deal with.
It's looks like swapping mandatory days off and putting some of the
media into an unnecessary frenzy has paid off for the Edmonton Oilers.
I was in Edmonton when shit hit the fan early against the Buffalo
Sabres and head coach Todd McLellan belted out some fantastic quotes
that will probably be used in highlight packages for the remainder of
the season. The Oilers looked bad. They were sloppy, Cam Talbot's head
wasn't in it, and it seemed as if the team gave up.
Boy, how things have changed.
Granted, it's been a small sample size, but the Oilers are clicking on
all cylinders and Talbot, with his new, healthy twins watching on, has
Similar to the Maple Leafs, the Oilers' forwards are getting the job
done. They've proven to present a balanced offensive attack, and
they're pitching in defensively... which will be counted upon later on
in the season.
The Oilers will continue to look for ways to strengthen their defense
-- it's still a priority for GM Peter Chiarelli -- but they'll gladly
ride the waves their goaltender and offensive studs are creating.
The whispers are starting to pick up. Yes, it's not even one month
into the season, but teams are starting to explore potential ways of
upgrading their rosters.
Defense, as in every season, is an area of concern a number of teams
want to address. Some more than others.
The Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers and Boston
Bruins are among the teams quietly examining possible options for
later on in the season. They'd all like to add a top-four blueliner to
the roster (shocker, who doesn't?), but the salary cap is still a
tricky thing to maneuver. The Kings might be in the best position if
Marian Gaborik and Jonathan Quick are placed on LTIR, but that's a
bridge they can cross later in the season.
There are plenty of eyes on the Anaheim Ducks and what they will end
up doing once they sign Hampus Lindholm -- and Cam Fowler's name
continues to pop up as the odd man out, but the Ducks aren't moving
him for draft picks and prospects; they'd like to pick up a top-six
And in Winnipeg, the Trouba holdout continues. Teams are trying to
present packages to Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, but nothing has
intrigued him enough to extend talks. Not yet, anyway.
David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of
The Fourth Period. Follow