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Three Questions about the Leafs with Pension Plan Puppets

I got a chance to catch up with PPP's site manager Scott Wheeler, who had some interesting things to say about this years Maple Leafs team.

TORONTO - NOVEMBER 8: Ethan Moreau #18 of the Edmonton Oilers flies over Ed Belfour #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and into the net during the game at Air Canada Centre on November 8, 2003 in Toronto, Ontario.
TORONTO - NOVEMBER 8: Ethan Moreau #18 of the Edmonton Oilers flies over Ed Belfour #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and into the net during the game at Air Canada Centre on November 8, 2003 in Toronto, Ontario.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Scott Wheeler is a very smart man. After doing work for McKeen's hockey, he was brought on to manage the ever popular Maple Leafs website, Pension Plan Puppets. Since he is covering the team on a daily basis, I figured he would be the best guy around to get some fantastic insight into the ever changing Leafs and their organization.

Copper and Blue: Right now it is apparent that the Maple Leafs are going through a rebuild. In your eyes, how have things gone in Toronto this year, and when do you see them being a playoff team once again?

PPP: It’s rare you’ll find consensus among fans, the coaching staff, the media, and management that a last-place team is doing "well" but that’s where this season is at. Babcock and co. set expectations so low that they couldn’t fail and the Phaneuf trade solidified their commitment to the process. For now, that means being bad, and that’s ok. I think we’re still looking at two more seasons of struggles before they’re a playoff team, but Babcock has made them more competitive than expected so we’ll see. Stamkos would obviously accelerate the process but I think he’s a long shot and the timing is off.

C&B: The play of James Reimer has been fantastic this year. Boasting a top ten save percentage as well as a top 15 goals against average, what has made his season a strong one so far?

PPP: Reimer has proven time and time again that despite not being the most sound technical goalie that he can battle for loose pucks and get pieces of pucks. It’s hard not to be impressed with the way he "competes." It’s cliche but it really is what has separated him from Bernier, who is by all accounts a more gifted goalie. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Reimer dealt because of how he has risen to the occasion this year, but the Leafs have a tough decision to make on whether they’re going to commit to him.

C&B: Comparative to how the team played under last years coaching staff, what are some of the big things you’ve noticed about how Mike Babcock is running the Leafs on the ice?

PPP: There are a few stylistic changes that standout under Babcock versus Carlyle (and Horachek to a certain degree). For starters, he runs four lines that can score more effectively. The only clear hole they’ve had in their lineup has been when they’ve played Rich Clune when injuries have factored into the lineup. I think Babcock and co. know Clune is an anchor of sorts, but they’ve been dedicated to keeping the top Marlies in the AHL to flourish — at least for now. The days of sitting Clark MacArthur for Colton Orr are certainly gone, though I think he’s relied too heavily on Byron Froese, Nick Spaling, and Roman Polak. The team also plays a much more controlled game with the puck, creating on tipped and controlled entries rather than putting the puck into 50/50 plays down low. Defensively, the wingers collapse left than they did under Carlyle which allows the forwards to apply more pressure on the puck and avoids the team getting hemmed in like they did so often in years past. It’s been nice to watch players like Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner deployed more to their strengths too.

Great stuff from Scott. You can follow him on twitter
@ScottCWheeler.