Picture an NHL player with just eight games playoff experience.
Add in a couple of goals, a couple of assists and keep in mind that he hasn’t yet hit his 27 th birthday.
And that, right there, is a portrait of the average member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In all, the 23 players currently on the roster have played just 187 postseason games, with nine forwards, three defencemen and both young goaltenders on the verge of getting their first taste of life after the regular season four weeks from now.
That the Leafs will make it is now all but a foregone conclusion, needing as few as two or three wins in their final 12 games to get in for the first time since 2004.
How they should prepare for that apparent inevitability, however, is a huge point of debate.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, much of the focus for Leafs management has been on their green goalies – James Reimer and Ben Scrivens – and how they can add some experience at the position.
GM Dave Nonis has been in talks with both the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames over veterans Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff, two netminders in their mid-30s who have been to the Stanley Cup finals and have the big cap hits to prove it.
At Tuesday’s practice, all of the Leafs top brass were on hand and in meetings high above the rink, but the flow of information out of the deadline week war room was limited.
“At this point, there’s nothing that I can report on,” assistant GM Claude Loiselle said.
While the vast majority of attention has been on the Leafs potentially adding a goalie, the Leafs are also believed to be quietly on the lookout for improvements in other areas, with experience on the blueline perhaps an even more pressing need.
Four of Toronto’s defencemen (Carl Gunnarsson, Mark Fraser, Jake Gardiner and Mike Kostka) have a combined one game of playoff experience, and defensive zone coverage has been an issue at even strength with the Leafs allowing more shots against per minute than any other team.
The Leafs have cut down their goals against and improved dramatically on the penalty kill this season, although at least some of that has to be credited to Reimer and Scrivens and replacing either one may not lead to much of an improvement on the ice.
Up front, meanwhile, the only Leafs with a significant amount of playoff experience are Joffrey Lupul (39 games), James van Riemsdyk (39 games) and Phil Kessel (15 games), and a case could be made for upgrades there, too.
In many ways, that speaks to this team’s youth, something that should allow Nonis and Co. to keep this group together for what may be more realistic chances for playoff success in the two or three years to come.
There’s also the concern of tinkering with the chemistry of a team that hasn’t lost in regulation (5-0-3) in its last eight games and entered Tuesday night’s action sitting comfortably in sixth in the Eastern Conference.
“There’s always danger when you’re dealing with the movement of players,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “That’s part of the business…. There is a certain amount of risk that goes with every decision you make.”
If the Leafs don’t land a veteran in goal, that will allow Reimer, in particular, the chance to gain some of that valuable experience. The 25-year-old netminder is actually the fourth youngest player on the team and, with a .920 save percentage this season, appears to be trending upwards the more he plays.
With so many inexperienced goaltenders – from Stanley Cup winners Cam Ward (2006), Antti Niemi (2010) and Jonathan Quick (2012) to unlikely heroes Jaroslav Halak (2010) and Braden Holtby (2012) – having postseason success, gambling on a potential goalie of the future may be the right way to go for a developing team.
And that type of vote of confidence is certainly what many of the players are hoping for.
“If that’s the case, obviously, I’ll be excited,” Reimer said. “I’ll just try and keep doing what I’ve been doing. Working hard and playing as well as I can.”
“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” added teammate Tyler Bozak. “We love the guys we’ve got in here and we think we have the guys that can get the job done. We’re hoping no one goes.”
Toronto’s playoff (in)experience
Only nine members of the Leafs current 23-man roster have ever played in the NHL postseason
James van Riemsdyk