Despite an 0-5-1 start to the season and a myriad of other issues, many fans are still holding out hope the team will come out of their funk when Phil Kessel returns to the lineup.
Certainly Kessel — who’s recovering from off-season shoulder surgery — will bolster a Leafs offence that has yielded only 13 goals for, ranking them No. 17 in the league.
Last season, Kessel scored 36 goals and added another six in the playoffs, on a line with gifted playmaker Marc Savard.
The question remains, though: Who will Kessel play with in Toronto, in an attempt to replicate those numbers?
That problem is exacerbated when a potential line mate like Matt Stajan is spending time in the press box as a healthy scratch — in an attempt by coach Ron Wilson to shake up his team — this early in the year.
Even when in the lineup, Stajan’s career-high 40 assists in 2008-09 are dwarfed by Savard’s 63 helpers, many completed by Kessel.
An area where Kessel will surely help is on the power play, but this has been one of the few stats that Toronto can boast about.
Six games in, they have a 27.8 power play percentage, ranking among the top 10 in the league.
On the other hand, the Leafs have a penalty kill of only 58.3 per cent, good for second worst in the NHL and one of many stats that Kessel will not be relied upon to improve.
The Leafs have allowed a league-worst 28 goals against in six games, thanks to a lackluster defence and poor goaltending.
Despite an attempt by GM Brian Burke to solidify his team’s back end by adding Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin in the summer the Leafs defensive corps has looked atrocious.
The Leafs goals-against average in 2008-09 was 3.49, the worst in the NHL. So far this season, the Leafs are still sitting at the bottom of the league in this stat with an inferior 4.67 marker.
More importantly, the team’s goaltending issues won’t be clearing up anytime soon.
Starter Vesa Toskala is out for at least the next week with a bruised knee and back-up Jonas Gustavsson has just returned to practicing after suffering a groin injury.
This has left the tandem of Joey MacDonald and James Reimer to try and fill in, while both are better suited for the AHL.
To sum up, Kessel will help in some areas, but he can’t work miracles and the Leafs have many looming concerns that he won’t be able to correct.
When Burke traded for and then signed Kessel to a five-year, $27 million US deal, he thought the addition made the Leafs an immediate force.
“Bringing Phil Kessel aboard, it’s a statement to our players that we intend to be competitive right away, and I think he gives us a dimension that we need,” Burke told reporters following
The Leafs however, have been anything but competitive thus far.
Kessel should return to the ice sometime in November, and all fans can really hope for, is that there’s anything left to fight for at all.
Kessel isn’t going to cure everything but his speed and touch on the power play should help. Hopefully he can draw a few penalties along the way. The return of Gustavsson may get Toskala out of the limelight and let him concentrate on stopping pucks.