Toronto Maple Leafs Must Focus on Building Their Defence, Not Offence

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IJanuary 27, 2011

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 06:  Mike Komisarek #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre on November 6, 2010 in Toronto, Canada. The Sabres defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Much has been made of the Toronto Maple Leafs' inability to score this season. Reasons such as having 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 those reasons are true, adding another forward may not be Leafs general manager Brian Burke's main concern right now.

Burke wants to build the Maple Leafs 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.

With former NHL All-Star and Stanley Cup champion Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 6'3", 192-pound Jonas Gustavsson and rookie sensation James Reimer between the pipes, the Maple Leafs certainly appear to be set in goal.

The defence, headlined by Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and four-time All-Star Tomas Kaberle, also looks─on paper─like it should be one of, if not the best group in the entire National Hockey League.

However, they have combined for a minus-55 rating. Included in that minus-55 rating is forward/defenseman Brett Lebda at minus-19. Korbinian Holzer (two games, minus-one) and Kieth Aulie (12 games, minus-five) are also included. 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 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 James 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 isn't 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 needs 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.


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