Tim Gleason made his Toronto Maple Leafs debut on Tuesday night as the blue and white went down 5-3 to the New York Islanders. Gleason played 15:55 alongside Dion Phaneuf, and saw 18 of his 19 shifts against Islanders star John Tavares.While Tavares did finish the night with three assists, the 30 year old new Leaf (who was on the ice for two of those three points) can’t be blamed in any way for goals that goaltender Jonathan Bernier probably stops any other night. If Gleason’s downfall is allowing clear path weak wrist shots from just inside the blueline or slap shots from the red line then there will be no reason to complain about the former Hurricane blueliner. If Gleason does revert back to the guy that has been struggling dramatically for the Hurricanes the past two seasons though, then there will be major complaints surrounding a player who is due $4 million dollars a season through the 2015-16 season.
Make no mistake, Gleason is a shadow of the player that used to physically dominate his opponents and play solid shutdown minutes for Carolina. Since the 2011-12 season the Hurricanes have finished 25th and 29th in goals allowed. In that same time they ranked 22nd and 28th on the penalty kill. Through the opening half of this season they haven’t been much better ranking 18th in GA and 24th on the PK. A team that has seen such bad results in their defensive game usually doesn’t go about offloading shut-down defenseman. Gleason’s struggles were major reasons why they ranked so low. In 2011-12 he led the Hurricanes averaging 2:36 per game on the penalty kill. In 2012-13 he dropped to second on the team but saw his average go up to 2:48 per game when down a man. Gleason’s average ice time per game is a good indicator to gauge how faith in him has suffered. The 6’0 220 pound defenseman’s ice time per game has gone from 20:43 in 2011-12 to 19:34 in 2012-13 and – prior to his trade to Toronto – 15:54 in 2013-14.
I have no problem with Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis bringing in Gleason. He was once a player that I really liked. If he can play a safe game like he did in his debut then the Leafs turned something that they refused to use (the $3.875 of John-Michael Liles) into a valuable contributor. However, the Leafs need to be careful with placing too much on Gleason’s plate, thus putting him in an unrealistic position to succeed (something the Leafs have been guilty of doing far too often). Gleason is no longer a top pairing defenseman. Randy Carlyle may be able to get away with it for a game or two, but eventually that is something that will come around to hurt the Leafs. The acquisition will be successful if the Leafs play Gleason around 15 minutes a game with spot duty on the penalty kill.
It doesn’t sound like this is Carlyle’s plan for his new defenseman. Following the game against the Islanders Carlyle had this to say:
I thought Gleason played fine. He played like we expected him to play. He didn’t look out of place. I think it’s going to take a little bit of adjusting to play these types of minutes with Dion
If the plan is to get Gleason to adjust to play big minutes with Phaneuf then the Leafs season will only continue to spiral downhill. I have to believe that the Leafs organization did their homework prior to acquiring Gleason and must realize that he is no longer the big minute horse that he once was. Yes, the Leafs do need a shut-down defenseman capable of shoring up their horrific defensive zone play. Gleason can help, but he is not the saviour. Asking him to be so will only get him off on the wrong foot in this town (something many players have shown is a recipe for disaster).
Gleason can easily replace one of Mark Fraser or Paul Ranger and help bring along Morgan Rielly. Trying to make him a replacement for Carl Gunnarsson and ease the burden on Phaneuf is not something he can accomplish. A common complaint I have had is the Leafs trying (regardless of past or current results) to force square pegs in round holes, let’s hope the Gleason on the top pairing isn’t another one of these experiments.