After all of these acquisitions, the Leafs are struggling and allowing an alarming number of shots per game. Something just isn't clicking here and now the fan base is starting to really question the off-season moves that were made. Let's start with Jonathan Bernier. I like Toronto. I like Bernier. I hated this trade. Reimer was not the reason for the Game 7 meltdown. He fought hard the last two seasons to secure himself as the #1 netminder on the team. Then, in one fell swoop, he was back in a battle. Position battles can be a good thing, but Reimer is a player who had the support of the team and the city. The trade immediately created a stir and at this point has turned into a heated debate. The players may not be saying it, but the fans sure are. This situation will only get uglier until one of them, the obvious choice is Reimer, gets moved. You can bet that the guys in that locker room do not all agree on who should be the starter. It's just a matter of time before it becomes a team problem as well. In other moves, Dave Bolland has been welcomed with open arms thanks to his hard-nosed style and skill combination. This team badly needs him to return from his injury. Peter Holland, acquired from Anaheim, has been a pleasant surprise, but has seen sporadic amounts of ice-time which is confusing considering his production when given the chance. There are several other transactions that occurred, but again, they are all listed below and there are still two other moves that need to be discussed in more detail.
Next, the David Clarkson signing. I honestly feel bad for him. He was offered big money from the team he's always wanted to play for - who wouldn't sign the deal? The pressures of playing in Toronto, the dollar amount of the contract and the comparisons to Wendel Clark appear to be getting to him. Oh, and then HBO caught him yelling at Todd Bertuzzi about a water bottle which led to more ribbing around the league. He's been in an awfully tough spot and I really hope he turns it around. So, first was the Bernier move that divided fans. Next, came the Clarkson signing which got so far out of hand there was no stopping the commotion. Before the season even started, the Leafs had mounted an incredible amount of pressure on themselves. This is not to say they shouldn't have signed Clarkson, but they should have expected that the media would really run with it and could have prepared Clarkson a bit more. It will take time, perhaps a full season and off-season, but David Clarkson will round into form. He was one of the most coveted free agents available so I can't blame Toronto for giving him the best deal they could.
The last move that needs to be discussed is the trade that sent John-Michael Liles and prospect Dennis Robertson to Carolina for Tim Gleason. Gleason still has two years left at $4 million per, while Liles also has two years left at $3.875. The deal, strictly going by the players swapped, was being ripped from the onset. Gleason has been fighting injuries and carries a larger cap hit. I believe the thinking was that Liles was too similar to the mold of Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, so they were hesitant to dress him in their top six. Gleason brings a physical presence, highly coveted by Randy Carlyle and he allows the Leafs an alternative to Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger, both of which have taken turns struggling so far this season. That said, I understand the move and I really don't mind it. What I do mind is how the deal was presented. Liles, who has handled his constant call-ups and demotions to and from the AHL with extreme class, was told during the Winter Classic warmups that he had been shipped out. All throughout the game, the deal was being reported and talked about, taking away from what should have simply been an incredible outdoor game with the focus solely on the moment. Liles has barely played this season; if he left the ice, no one would have thought twice. Leaf management should have pushed to have the trade announcement wait until after the game. Another three or four hours to announce the deal wouldn't have hurt. It's hard to say who broke the news, but I would think Leafs GM Dave Nonis could have asked Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford to hold off until after the game. It took away from the game and lacked class.
The moves have been made and the extensions have been signed - Toronto needs to move on and work through them. Because of the passion of Leafs fans, any and all transactions are put through the ringer. All of the moves can be hard to explain, but they were able to lock up some core players (Kessel, Phaneuf, Bozak) and bring in new talent. A look at their roster would leave some other franchises envious. While I pointed out my issues with Leaf management, I do believe they have made several good decisions. Toronto isn't a patient town, but it may be necessary with this group. There is veteran leadership, but several of the teams pillars are still you and up-and-coming. Players like Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Gardiner and Rielly. These are players who see a lot of key minutes, but haven't seen enough of them at the NHL level. And keep in mind that Bernier has never started more than 25 games (2010-11) in an NHL season until this year and is used to a stout LA Kings defense compared to a fairly inexperienced blueline in Toronto. While injuries are never to be used as an excuse, the Leafs have yet to have their entire roster intact and they've already crossed the halfway point of the season. Keep calm with Toronto and see where their season lands. Every team has ebb and flows. Their young core may just need time to figure out how to win together.