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Kadri up for good? Give Bozak a break and how about a standing ovation Saturday night?

It was good to see Ron Wilson give Bozak a look as the so-called “second-line” center at practice, as the Leafs prepare for the Canucks to come to town on Saturday night.  How the line juggling will evolve with Kadri now up (for good?) will likely be a fluid situation for the next while.

Bozak started the season nicely, like the entire team did.  But the past number of games have seen few good bounces and likely some lost confidence on his part.

Talk radio and various analysts have suggested he is not a first-line center, is in over his head and perhaps would benefit from some time with the Marlies.

I was all for Luke Schenn spending some time in the AHL last year when he seemed to be off his game through much of the early part of the 2009-’10 season.  The Leafs chose instead to sit him for a few games, and he showed slow but fairly steady improvement the rest of the season.  This year he has been generally good—certainly better overall and more of a presence than a year ago.

Now, Bozak (older than Schenn) is not, right now, a first-line NHL center.  But we knew that.  I don’t see Grabovski in that role, either, but as I said a few weeks back, I don’t much care who goes where on those top two lines.  Mix and match.  Whatever.  Beyond Kessel, it’s not like it should make much difference.  We all realize this is not a team filled with “top-six” forwards, so it matters little if Bozak centers Kessel or Grabbo plays with him.

My broader thought is simply that Bozak needs time.  He just needs to keep playing.  It usually takes time to be a consistently good player at this level.  He has demonstrated the vision you need.  He can make plays.  He will score some goals.  He is a good face-off guy already.  He can skate.  So he can play at this level.  As much as some may have over-projected where he would be right now, I don’t believe he is slipping as badly as some suggest, or suddenly not a capable player.  Let’s give him time to develop.

Mostly, a lot of these guys need to relax.  I don’t mean take it easy, or not care.  But it’s obvious players care.  You don’t make it this far is you don’t care, work to improve your game and stay in top condition.  And yes, it’s hard to suddenly tell yourself to relax and just “play your game” when—here’s the obvious rub—you’re not relaxed to begin with.

Some time soon, Kessel will score a beauty.  Bozak will have one bounce off his backside into the net.  Vertseeg will hit the crossbar, and the puck will drop into the net instead of bounce away.  Kadri may provide a spark, and suddenly, this team will have some confidence and a bounce in their step and the world won’t look so gloomy.

How many different ways are there to say this?  The Leafs, whether Burke wants to admit the five-year rebuild reality or not, are still in the midst of a major overhaul.  It will take time.  Hey, they could sneak into the playoffs and go on a run like the Habs did this past spring.  Who knows?

More realistically, they will win some, lose some.  Look pretty good some nights, and everyone will applaud their drive and ability to work through the difficult times.  Then they will lose a few, and many will call for more changes.

It’s a very long season.  Doesn’t end until well into April.  A lot will happen in the next four months.  If they stay healthy, that will help.  If not, I’m not sure there are a lot of reinforcements available.  Some, maybe, with the Marlies, kids who would certainly bring energy.  But the team is filled with young guys now who have energy.

Their current burden is that they are playing in the best league in the world, in the biggest hockey market in the world, and they aren’t the most skilled team in the world.

And, they’ve lost a few games.  That equals pressure.
The best thing fans can do is give them a standing ovation when they hit the ice Saturday night.  That won’t solve the long-term challenge but it sure would make this young Leaf team feel like a million bucks for a few minutes.  And just might send the kind of message that no coach or General Manager can send quite so well.


Now that Kadri has completed serving his penance with the Marlies, expectations may be more modest than if he had started the season with the big club.  Though there is the obvious concern that fans will look to him to be the offensive difference-maker because the team is struggling to score goals, I sense folks just want to see him play like he can, and settle into his place on the club.

The risk at hand may simply be: what if he doesn't play well enough to stay up, for good?  I’m not a big fan of sending a player like Kadri back down to the minors once he has played a while with the big team.  It’s far more preferable that he do everything he can at the AHL level, then once he joins the Leafs, he stays here.  Having to go back may not be the best thing in terms of his confidence and development.  But Burke must believe now is his time, and if so, that’s great.

With regards to Aulie, it’s an opportunity I did not expect would come his way just yet.  Holzer had moments but they likely feel he needs more time to adjust to the North American game.  I have not seen enough of Aulie to make a comment as to what he will bring to the Leafs.  Just looking at his stat lines doesn’t usually begin to tell the story for a defenseman.  We know he has size.  Does he move the puck well, make good decisions?  Can he move guys in front of the net?  Does he make a good outlet pass?

This is Burke’s guy, a pick-up in the big deal with Calgary.  If, and this is a big if, Aulie is already poised to help the big club, it makes the trade even more lopsided in Toronto’s favor.

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