Leafs Must Focus on Rebuilding ‘D’

Much has been made of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ inability to score this season. Reasons such as having such a young team, lack of experience and the most used one of all; no legitimate top-six forward, have been thrown around by fans.

Although all of these reasons are true, adding another forward may not be Brian Burke’s main concern right now.

The Leafs General Manager wants to build the team from the net out; starting with goaltending, moving out to the defence and wrapping things up by putting together the forward group. While it looks like Burke has done a great job of that on paper, that philosophy certainly has not been showing on the ice.

Toronto certainly appears to be set in goal with former Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Jonas Gustavsson and rookie sensation James Reimer between the pipes.

The defence, headlined by Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and four-time All-Star Tomas Kaberle, also lookis like it should be on of the best groups in the league on paper. However, they have combined for a minus-55 rating. Included in that minus-55 rating is forwar Brett Lebda at -19, Korbinian Holzer (two games, minus-1) and Keith Aulie (12 games, minus-5). What would happen if you were to take out those three? Well, you would end up with a minus-30 rating, which is still nothing to be proud of.

To give you an idea of how poorly the majority of the Leafs defensemen have played this season, Komisarek’s ice time has gone from 19:56 per game last season to 14:45 this season, including just 7:11 of ice time on Monday night against Carolina.

While the three goalies have a combined save percentage of just .896, the two groups forwards and defence have combined for a disappointing goals against average of 3.06.

Before moving on, I figure I should mention that it would only be fair to eliminate Reimer’s statistics, although they are included in the combined save percentage above. Reimer, who has only played in just eight games all season, has a record of 4-3-0, a goals against average of 2.24 and a save percentage of .933. Although he was tagged with the loss Tuesday night in Tampa Bay due to the Leafs’ inability to score. Reimer kept the Leafs in the game, stopping 29 of the 31 shots he faced.

As you can see, Burke’s plan on building the team from the net out hasn’t exactly gone over as planned, though it’s not entirely his fault. So even though there is no doubt Burke is looking for a forward the question begs: Should Burke continue to add to the defence group, or go ahead and look for another forward?

There is no question that defence can win you games. With the competition still wide open in net, Burke must not worry about the goaltending position. Instead, go a bit further out and start combing the league for a defender. He cannot worry about offence right now; it will come as the current forwards become more experienced.

That’s not to say another forward is needed, however. With Phil Kessel on the cusp of a 40-goal season, players like him need help. But for now, one of two things need to happen: Burke must find a new coach for the back end, or begin re-tooling it.

A team can only go so far in the NHL without good defence. Allowing more than three goals per game does not cut it.

Follow me on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage.

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