The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t need a drama queen in goal. But they do need Joffrey Lupul.
Whether it was simple faint-heartedness on the part of Miikka Kiprusoff coupled with greed on the part of Mike Gillis, or just plain, dumb, blind luck, Leaf Nation made it through the NHL’s trade deadline without adding a goalie who might not want to play any more or finding itself living through the daily drama that is whither Roberto Luongo.
Good on general manager Dave Nonis for his nothing ventured, nothing gained approach, and for drawing the line on the demands by Gillis, the Vancouver Canucks’ general manager.
Gillis doesn’t want to cut a cheque to end the Luongo nightmare? Fine. Let him take out his own contractual garbage. Better to find out for sure whether James Reimer can carry the freight, and if he can’t, better to do a thorough search in the off-season.
Proximity to Ilya Bryzgalov, who has another seven years at a cap hit of $5.67-million (U.S.) per season remaining on his contract, only served as a reminder of how awful a bad goaltender’s contract can really be.
This is the way it needs to be, folks. Sorry. And, yeah, the Leafs gosh-awful performance on Thursday in a 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre was not the way head coach Randy Carlyle would have liked his team to respond to Nonis’s vote of confidence.
Reimer? It’s not fair to look at that particular performance as some kind of postdeadline referendum.
“He fit in with the rest of the team,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said later. “We were not as sharp as we needed to be.”
Adam Hall clearly interfered with Reimer on the Flyers’ fourth goal – Hall brushed by him and hooked his stick hand – after Michael Kostka lazily tried to clear the zone.
Reimer let in the third goal only after Nikolai Kulemin tried a no-hope pass for Nazem Kadri, and Reimer had no help from Carl Gunnarsson on the second goal. Gunnarsson let a pass from the side go through his legs to Jakub Voracek, who could have turned and waved at Matt Frattin before slipping the puck past Reimer.
“Weird game,” Reimer said.
There were warning signs right from the start, the Leafs winning a defensive zone faceoff but failing to jump on the puck leading to the Flyers’ first goal less than a minute into the contest.
Then it all came crashing down.
Lupul returned to the lineup from a 25-game absence due to a broken forearm and is the major reason Leafs fans are thinking playoffs. But Thursday night he was sandwiched between Jay Rosehill – a favourite of Brian Burke when Burke was the Leafs’ general manager – and Hall, one of the Flyers’ most effective players.
There was contact with Lupul’s head, and the Leafs’ forward seemed to be almost out on his feet as he staggered to the bench, missing the gate once he arrived.
Pushback is what the puckheads like to call a team’s ability to get off the canvas. The Leafs had none of it, and if anybody still doubts the significance of Lupul to this outfit, the stunned non-combativeness of the Leafs until the third period ought to serve as a reminder.
So now the new drama will be Lupul’s health, especially considering he has had at least three concussions before this upper-body injury. Carlyle said Lupul was “50-50” to practise on Friday.
James van Riemsdyk stepped up during Lupul’s absence earlier this season, and after being largely invisible during the recent good times, guess who flicked in the Leafs’ third goal?
Some will shake their heads at how close the team came to getting a prima donna. Reimer shook his head at Lupul’s bad luck with health, saying that Lupul takes such good care of his body that you’d think “he’d be the least likely guy to get hurt.”
It’s going to be a tough road into the postseason, and there are hard, summer-time decisions to be made about Tyler Bozak and maybe even Phil Kessel. This is how it should be. This is how it has to be. There’ll be drama enough.
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