This week has been an odd one in that it saw the Toronto Maple Leafs have five straight days off between games. This window of time prompted (most likely from a desperate need for content) both TSN 1050 Radio and The FAN 590 to have on members of Leaf management. At the moment the Leafs are dealing with a fair bit of adversity and how they proceed over the next stretch will go a long way in determining what this roster is capable of in 2013-14. Due to the questions surrounding how the Leafs can cope without centres Tyler Bozak (not a problem) and Dave Bolland (big problem), Loiselle and Poulin sounded more defensive in their interviews than I have heard them be in the past. In their attempt to sound confident about the current situation, both Claude Loiselle on Tuesday and Dave Poulin (available at the On Demand section here) on Wednesday brought up an all too familiar theme.
In these trying times Loiselle and Poulin mentioned how they believe the Leafs have a strong leadership group in the room and that it will be leaned on during this trying time. Personally, I believe in the leadership factor being crucial to winning teams. What I take issue with though, is praising players who contribute leadership yet nothing else. It was an issue that was repeatedly brought up when Mike Komisarek was in town. With the arrival of David Clarkson, it appears to have re-emerged in this market place. Clarkson’s leadership and intangibles (both on and off the ice) began being discussed the moment he agreed to his massive 7 year $36.75 million dollar contract. Funnily enough, I didn’t think the Leafs lacked leadership at the conclusion of last season. Yet, the major selling points on both Clarkson and Bolland were how great they were in the room as well as on the ice.
Leadership is something that evolves organically within a team in my mind and I think the Leafs exhibited loads of it as they stormed back from a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs last spring. With their current predicament at centre ice, they are going to need their leaders to step up once again and raise their game. While Poulin went out of his way to bring up Jay McClement, Joffrey Lupul, Clarkson and Colton Orr, I think more appropriate names would be Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk and Nikolai Kulemin. Players that got the job done last year.
It appears as if Poulin, Loiselle, General Manager Dave Nonis (and the various media members who supported the signing) believe Clarkson’s leadership sets him apart. I sincerely hope so. It’s been very early in his Leaf career so far, but I have yet to grasp the appeal of Clarkson. While I think he is a good bottom six winger, the reason he is due $5.75 million over the next seven seasons has not been demonstrated yet. Perhaps this will be his opportunity to raise his game and prove me wrong.
Clarkson has now had time to get his feet wet and adjust to the blue and white. Come this weekend he will need to elevate his game and prove worthy of being the guy people think he is. All signs point to Nonis looking to solve the problem with his current core. It appears as if a matchup against the Bruins Saturday night is coming at the worst time but it may also provide the healthy Leafs (Clarkson included) the opportunity to prove they are both capable and willing to weather the storm. Character is key to winning but so is ability. Valuing one without the other is a mistake.