The Toronto Maple Leafs finished last season with the single worst penalty kill in the entire NHL with an abysmal 74.6% success rate.
With a mere 27 games left in the season last year, Brian Burke pulled off a pair of blockbuster deals that officially put the world on notice, these will be Brian Burkes Toronto Maple Leafs.
As mentioned the Leafs penalty kill was as far beyond bad as Wayne Gretzky was beyond good. The morning of January 31st 2010 was a day that fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs will remember for a lot of reasons, Brian Burke absolutely taking Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter to the cleaners. The disposing of not one, but two contracts in Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala that were not just a little over valued but widely though to be impossible to trade.
That day of course will be most remembered, or should be because of the arrivals of Dion Phanuef, Fredrik Sjostrom, and veteran goal tender JS Giguere . The addition of Phanuef accomplished two things, and one almost as quickly as the other.
Phanuef managed to almost single highhandedly change the aura of the on ice product known as the Toronto Maple Leafs. From walking into the dressing room, changing the music station and cranking the tunes to writing words of motivation on the butt of his stick to yelling at and communicating to his team mates, the once virtually silent Leafs dressing room was now buzzing!
JS Giguere, was equally effective at changing an attitude on the team.
Before he arrived, when the team was playing you could almost see the looks of despair as they watched almost helplessly as yet another goal was scored against them for one reason or another.
Whether the fault belonged to the goalies or the organization is something that will be debated ad-nausiam for as long as there are Leafs fans and beer. The truth us it doesn't matter. Giguere gave the team instant credibility in net as well as instant confidence on the strength of not one but two shut outs in his first two games as a Maple Leaf.
Lastly, Fredrik Sjostrom. Much heralded as a penalty killing specialist, "Freddy" Sjostrom was more than a welcome addition the the team. Sjostrom has always had a knack for killing penalties and his size, speed and reach have also been welcome. One of the most welcome attributes that he brought to the team was his very un-Toronto like ability to stay out of the penalty box.
The Toronto Maple Leafs last year gave up an average of 3.21 goals per game while scoring only an average of 2.56. They also surrendered 77 goals while on the penalty kill, that is very close to a goal a game. The additions of Sjostrom, Phanuef and Giguere payed an immediate dividend on the PK.
The last 27 games of the season saw a marked improvement in the penalty kill, in fact in the next ten games the team went 37-3 while short handed for a remarkable improvement of 92.5%.
While ten games isn't always an adequate indicator, over the 27 games that remained after the deal, the Toronto Maple Leafs would average a little over 89% on the penalty kill which would have easily been good enough for number one in the league.
Brian Burke's dealings over the off season has done nothing to suggest the penalty kill will slide backwards in terms of changing personnel and in fact has made the team better in both the defensive and offensive categories.
Expect the Maple Leafs penalty kill to be among the best in the league this season. With a more solidified goal tending presence for the entire season, one of the best defensive corps in the league, and some decisive leadership both on and off the ice, there really is no where to go but up!