Tuesday, 21 December 2010

No Play Nazem

There are a lot of things I don't understand about the Toronto Maple Leafs. For instance, how can a team that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967 have such a passionate following? How can a team so stacked in history struggle to emerge from the basement year after year for the better part of a decade? And why does a team that gets so many high draft picks seem to be unable to develop a legitimate Calder Trophy candidate? It is this last question that has me puzzled today as it seems that the Maple Leafs' brass is happy keeping highly-touted rookie Nazem Kadri under wraps as he watched the last two games from the press box.

I'm not sure why they keep Kadri off the ice. Kadri has six assists in sixteen games thus far this season, but is saddled with a -4 rating. That gives him more points than Fredrik Sjostrom, Colton Orr, and Mike Brown already this season despite playing in less games. While those players are wingers and Kadri is listed as a centerman, you don't have to look far to find Tyler Bozak's 11 points in 33 games with a -9 rating, Tim Brent's six points in 33 games with a -4 rating, and John Mitchell's two points in 20 games with a -8 rating. So I ask this question honestly: why is Kadri watching while these other men are playing?

I'm not saying that Kadri is a Calder Trophy candidate by any means at this point in the season. His play has been good enough, in my opinion, to give him a shot in the lineup. But to sit him in the press box is absolutely ludicrous when he could be playing down the road for the AHL's Toronto Marlies and improving his game so that he can help the Leafs when called upon in the future. Yet he sits. Can anyone explain this?

Look, if the Leafs aren't interested in developing any solid young talent, they'll be doomed to the NHL's cellar for a long time. The last three Stanley Cup winners - Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago - all developed some excellent young players that helped them get to the playoffs and beyond. Kris Versteeg, one of those young players from the Blackhawks, is now a Maple Leaf, and he's playing well with 21 points in 32 games. However, his -16 rating is the worst on the Maple Leafs, and there seems to be no push from head coach Ron Wilson for him to change his ways on the defensive side of the puck. Versteeg, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Bozak - once the Leafs' first line - are a combined -39 on the season thus far, and none of them are over the age of 25. That's some damning evidence of a coaching staff that either can't get its players to play in its system or evidence that the players have stopped listening. For young players, this is paramount in the development of bad habits and poor play.

I'm not saying that Ron Wilson should be removed as the head coach, but his team has become ineffective and unresponsive. Goals happen as often as deserts get rain, and goaltenders Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have seen more rubber than a Goodyear factory. Not scoring combined with giving up a lot of goals equals a losing season. And that leads me back to Kadri.

You need to change one of the variables in that equation: either score more goals, or stop the opposition from scoring. Kadri, from his current statistics, generates more offence than Sjostrom, Orr, Mitchell, Mike Brown, and Colby Armstrong. While these players bring different elements to the table than Kadri, it is clear that the Leafs need to score more goals. They are currently 28th overall in the NHL for goals-for with 73 on the season for an average of 2.21 goals-per-game. The problem is that they have given up 100 goals-against this season for an average of 3.03 GPG. Clearly, there are problems in Leafs-land on both sides of the puck.

So why not give Kadri a chance? What does a team like the Leafs have to lose when an offensive player like Kadri is sitting in the press box? You don't see a team like the New York Islanders sitting John Tavares. Kadri, for all intents and purposes, should be playing over some of the other Leafs centermen.

In regards to the development of young players, I believe that Ron Wilson has no ability in getting the most out a young player while turning them into an effective NHL player. He coached some great teams in Washington and San Jose to success, but those teams were flush with veteran players who understood the rigors and intricacies of an NHL season. He was able to push those veteran players, but he rarely got key contributions from young players in both Washington and San Jose, something that seems to be plaguing him again in Toronto.

With the way that the NHL is played today, young players are key to the success of many teams. Perhaps the NHL's ideology has left coaches like Ron Wilson behind. What I do know for sure is that leaving Nazem Kadri, an offensively-gifted player, in the press box is a bad idea for a team that can't find the net on a map. And this problem with Wilson not being able to develop good young players into good NHL players may eventually cost him his job in Toronto.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Peter Santellan said...

When it comes to the Maple Leafs, they almost always seem to be at their best when they have actual veteran players mixed with young players. The problem here is that too many of the players on the team would be third line (or pairing, as would be the case for defensemen) players, at best.

Look at Edmonton's youth movement this year. They still stink, but Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, and Omark are all getting significant time on the ice. They also have Horcoff and Hemsky there to provide some veteran leadership, and both have been to the Stanley Cup Finals before and are also Oiler lifers (to this point). Toronto doesn't have any stability when it comes to veteran talent. Much of the young talent that they could have used in the NHL now, either isn't developed well enough or has been traded at some point (see Rask, Tuukaa).

Anonymous said...

I do agree that Wilson will soon have to go. His autocratic style does not sit well with young twenty year olds and they have stopped listening to him. Kadri needs lot of ice time to learn his game. Get a coach in there that can deal with young guys. Wilson your time is up..." a plate of waffles for you."