Roberto Luongo is not the answer in Toronto

Mar 31, 2013 by

Roberto Luongo is not the answer in Toronto

Barring a spectacular collapse the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of securing a playoff position for the first time since the spring of 2004. After shutting out Ottawa 4-0 last night, they sit firmly ensconced in the middle of the playoff pack. Now the most pressing question on the fans minds today is whether or not the Maple Leafs make an acquisition at the trade deadline. Apart from adding some veteran depth, this team shouldn’t be in a hurry to do anything drastic at this stage of the team’s development. However, some observers believe this team is a quality goaltender away from being a more significant contender in the playoffs. Adding to that speculation, hockey insiders Bob Mackenzie and Damien Cox have recently implied goaltenders such as Mikka Kiprusoff and Roberto Luongo are seriously being discussed as possible additions to the Maple Leafs roster before the trade deadline on April 3. Either goaltender would shore up the position in the near term, but neither is the solution at this time – especially Luongo and his ridiculous contract which expires in 2022.

The main reason the Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn’t be in a hurry to add a goaltender is that we haven’t seen how the tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens respond to a playoff run. It’s clear at this point Reimer has emerged as the number one goalie, mainly separating himself with his winning percentage, going 13-4-4 versus Scrivens 7-8 record, but otherwise their other statistics are comparable. This goalie tandem has not been spectacular this season, but has played solid enough to ensure a winning season and a likely playoff berth. That accomplishment in itself is worth noting and they should at least be given an opportunity to test their worth in the playoffs. Neither goalie may be the long-term solution, but given their youth and inexperience how can we be sure until they have been tested? Reimer and Scrivens have earned that right and there is no telling how much improvement will occur should Kiprusoff or Luongo become the Maple Leafs starter. In addition, there are grander implications to consider; each has their own baggage and may only provide a negligible upgrade in the short-term and there could be a huge cost required to attain their talent.

Kiprusoff is the more intriguing of the two in that he only has one year remaining on his contract; however, he hasn’t played well this season, has faced personal adversity off the ice and is playing in the twilight of his career. Considering these variables his addition could be riskier, but his past performance still make him a highly sought after asset. Playing in the backend of his prime, Luongo appears to be the safer of the two and has played well this season. Also, he would likely be more impactful for another three-four more seasons, but his contract is so onerous that any short-term value is mitigated by his age and the length of term remaining on his deal. If the Maple Leafs had more depth and experience in the lineup and resembled something closer to a contender, the contract wouldn’t be as much of an issue considering the wealth of the organization, but this team still have a long way to go before being legitimate contenders. They lack a number one centre, a number one defencemen and some sandpaper in their top six forwards. Nazm Kadri has emerged into a top flight player, but how will his small frame fare when teams are focusing on him in a 7 game series? The same can be said about key players like Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski. There is a lack of skilled toughness on the Maple Leafs that is simply required for a long playoff run. There are too many small finesse players that are content playing a peripheral game, and not enough who are willing to stand in front of the net and risk the punishment of the oppositions defence and the chance of getting hit by one of Dion Phaneuf’s unpredictable point shots. In the regular season they might be able to get away without having a physical presence in their top six, but come the playoffs, the game tends to change dramatically. There are some good pieces in place, but this team is still learning how to win and lacks size and toughness in key areas. Should they play a team like the Boston Bruins their weaknesses will get exposed, perhaps even in an embarrassing way. Nonetheless, the team still needs to go through the process and be given the chance to prove otherwise.

Given all these factors the Maple Leafs should simply see what the kids can do this year. It’s a young team that has mobilised admirably and played solid hockey this season – something very few prognosticators predicted at the seasons start, including myself. Aside from adding some depth in their forwards, like a Ryan Clowe type or a 6th defencemen, this team should look at making any major acquisitions in the offseason. The players have earned the right to get an opportunity to play when it matters most, more specifically the goaltenders. It is only under those conditions that we can judge their true value.

There is hope in hogtown this year, but this years Maple Leafs are not Stanley Cup contenders. There is nothing inherently wrong with that and shouldn’t be dwelled upon too much considering the abysmal failure the Maple Leafs have been for nearly a decade. Winning is a process of which previous failure is usually a key component and it’s a positive step in the teams development. Letting this young hockey team go through that process together will serve them better in the long run and any immediate shortcomings can be addressed in the offseason. There is no reason to make a short-sighted move that could set them back in the future, with no guaranteed improvement to this years team. Trading for a player like Luongo would only undermine the efforts of those who have brought the Maple Leafs success this season. Also, why bring in a player that could potentially handcuff the organization with his exorbitant long-term contract for years to come? If the Maple Leafs should get swept in the first round of the playoffs and the goaltending crumbles than the team can address it in the offseason. Luongo and Kiprusoff should still be available and at least this team can see if this current goaltending tandem has the fortitude to rise to the occasion. They’ve got them this far and deserve a chance to dispel the notion that the Maple Leafs lack a legitimate starting goaltender.

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