Is it time for the Maple Leafs to make a change? A question I would hedge a bet that a number of Leafs fans, myself included are starting to ask themselves. These past few games have come as a surprise given how well the team started the year and you have to wonder if injuries are really starting to catch up with the team.
There have been rumblings that John Michael Liles, who has been playing incredibly well this year with the Marlies (12 points in 15 games with a +10) should be called up again to replace either Mark Fraser or Paul Ranger, both of whom have struggled this year and who could both potentially be placed on waivers in order to free up room on the roster. There have been rumors that the Maple Leafs are considering a trade with the Caroline Hurricanes for Tim Gleason, sending JML the other way. This trade would almost certainly end with either Ranger or Fraser being placed on waivers for the purpose of sending them down to the minors.
So what would Gleason add to the team exactly? He is essentially a bonefide NHL stay at home defenseman who would shore up the 3rd defense pairing on the Leafs. Gleason has only managed to play seven games this season, currently out with an undisclosed injury although any guy that takes a puck to the face, comes back wearing a shield and scored the GWG is a beast in most peoples books and would definitely be a welcomed addition to the team.
Really hate to admit this given what a fan of his debut with the Marlies I was but the Paul Ranger experiment with the Maple Leafs may be over; I more than anyone wanted this feel good story to work out but his timing really appears to be off and in all honesty he is trying way too hard to make plays when he just needs to get back to the basics and then focus on rounding out his game. I wouldn’t mind keeping him up but you have to start wondering if it is time to bring up TJ Brennan who has just been tearing up the AHL right now.
Mark Fraser recently returned to the squad from a knee injury and either the injury itself or the knee brace he is wearing appears to be limiting his effectiveness more than anyone appears to be willing to admit. The next couple of games coming up are definitely going to be statement games for him and I would not be surprised to see him paired up with Cody Franson who is also returning from a lower body injury to see if the two can rekindle some of their chemistry from last year while playing more conservative minutes.
There were also some rumblings about the Leafs looking at New York Islanders Andrew McDonald who is a UFA at the end of the season and could be looking at a hefty raise. The 27 year old 6’1”, 197lbs defenseman has quietly becoming a steady defenseman in the league that had up until this year been relatively unnoticed. The Islanders will without a doubt hold onto him unless they falter out of the playoff race or receive a significant offer, something a number of cap strapped teams will shy away from.
There are also some causes for concern with respect to the contributions from the Leafs third and fourth lines this year that could also see change. Have to wonder if it is time for Randy Carlyle to throw together a line consisting of Kulemin, Ashton and Smith for an extended period of time to see if they can generate some much needed offense (leaving Clarkson where he is in my opinion as all this line juggling just cannot be helping him settle in). No disrespect to Orr, Smithson and McLaren (Smithson has been quite effective on the draw and Orr has definitely been an effective forechecker this year, actually better than I can ever remember) but these players and this line are not put out on the ice in an effort to contribute points and never have been, quite the opposite actually and they appear to be doing a reasonable job at that, just that with the lack of production coming from the third line, they get included in the conversation. If the third line doesn’t produce results you have to wonder if moving McLaren down to the Marlies, placing Ashton back on the fourth line while bringing young prospect Josh Leivo up to play on the third line might have some impact.
Regardless it will be interesting to see if the team is able to pull together through these tough times and rebound. The game against the Sharks, although a loss gave me some hope that the teams core is still relatively strong but the supporting cast needs a retooling. Anyways as always food for thought.