Last season the Maple Leafs were easily the NHL’s worst defensive team, surrendering 3.49 goals-against per contest. The Buds managed to stay competitive-ish by potting 2.98 goals of their own each game, good for 10th in the league, but GM Brian Burke has obviously seen enough.
In true Howard Beale fashion, Burke has gone about moulding a D-corps with the “proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence,” as he described the vision he had for the Leafs upon his arrival in Toronto this past November.
With the signing of former Duck Francois Beauchemin Monday, the Leafs now have nine defencemen under NHL contract, six of whom are more expensive towards the cap than the Leafs’ three most pricey forwards. Something’s got to give (see: Kaberle, Tomas), but Burke is doing the right thing, loading up on the back end, where the affordable free agent talent has been this summer.
Burke’s plan seems to be working. He’s managed to lure one of the most sought-after UFA defenders out there in Mike Komisarek and as good a second-tier guy as the market offered in Beauchemin.
The Leafs were also the big winners in the Jonas Gustavsson sweepstakes.
Gustavsson chose the Leafs over others despite the team’s poor defensive record in recent seasons, the fact they already have an incumbent No. 1 netminder, Vesa Toskala, and the likelihood Toronto will again be watching from the sidelines when the NHL’s spring tourney begins next April.
Why? Well, surely money was a factor, although $900,000 seems like a real bargain.
But part of the reason must be the fact the Leafs will be a much harder team to play against this season compared to the recent past. And with significant money still remaining under the cap and a big chip to play in perennial All-Star Game participant Tomas Kaberle, it’s likely the Leafs will only get better — if not this season, then in the very near future.
Beginning with a blue-collar, lunch-pail group on the blue-line is a good way to start.