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Leafs that, well, I could do without- how about you?

To be clear, this is not a column intended to criticize any of the current Leaf players.  In fact, it’s a hard-working team that has certainly seemed to meet, maybe even surpass, the expectations of most Leaf fans.  I like the effort I’m seeing most nights.

But if fans are honest, even on a team they really like, there may be individual players that they, say, wouldn’t be upset if those players were traded or perhaps played somewhere else.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t good players, or aren’t valuable and really solid individuals.

In short, it’s a fan thing—very personal.

Here’s an example.  Through the beginning of the 2010-’11 season, I was very open here about my general apathy (maybe even antipathy) toward Mikhail Grabovski.  I saw him as an ex-Hab with some skill, but a guy who was smallish and played that way, and wasn’t particularly gritty or consistent.

Maybe I was way off-base and didn’t give him a fair shot.  Fair or not, I put him in my mental player “box”.  He was what he was, I figured and I didn’t much like it.  I just thought of him as some guy who had an issue with some ex-Montreal teammates whenever he played them.  He seemed motivated when he played Montreal, but that was about it.  Then last season, I slowly came to see he really was a hard-working player and he slowly won me over with his combination of smart play and steady performance night after night.  In fact, I thought he was the guy who should have been the mid-season All-star representative from the Leafs, and I felt he was the team’s MVP a season ago—and said so here.

So yes, opinions can change, for sure.  Much like when I was a kid, way back in the 1960s, there were just some Leafs I didn’t really like that much, or didn’t appreciate until I was a bit older and able to appreciate what they had really brought to the club.  (I was not, for example, an Eddie Shack guy, though Eddie was wildly popular in both his incarnations as a Maple Leaf.  I mostly saw him as an old-fashioned river skater who didn’t really play the Leaf  “style”.  Or maybe I just didn’t like him, for reasons I can’t even put my finger on.  But hey, check out the great old Harold Barkley picture of Eddie "the Entertainer" at left in action in the early 1960s against Ted Green and the Bruins...) Shack could skate, and he scored more than 20 goals in a season a number of times in his career.  But he just wasn't a player I ever gravitated to.

It’s like that wonderful old TV episode of “Frasier”.  Frasier’s radio show is assessed by one of those “focus groups” and Frasier and his colleagues are allowed (even though they weren’t supposed to) to actually listen to what everyday people had to say about what they liked—or didn’t—about his show.  Every person in the focus group had glowing things to say about Frasier and his radio program, except one guy.  That fellow was pushed as to why he didn’t like the show.  He was reluctant to be forthcoming, but under further nudging from the facilitators hosting the session, eventually said, “Well, I just don’t like him”….

Upon hearing this perceived personal slight, Frasier spent the rest of the episode tracking this poor fellow down to try and discover precisely why the guy didn’t like Frasier.  The episode ended with Frasier inadvertently setting the gentleman’s newspaper stand on fire.

So there are times when we just don’t like a certain player.  It might be his style of play.  Might be that he doesn’t pass the puck enough.  Maybe he’s got what we perceive as an attitude of sorts or gives the puck away too much.  Whatever.

Through the Quinn years there were always guys I was frustrated with, Robert Reichel being one.  Talented guy who played great at International events for his home country but always seemed un-involved with the Leafs.  Again, probably not fair but that’s how I perceived him.  I was not a fan of Jonas Hoglund, though he was certainly a talented guy.  I just wanted to see more effort, I guess—and a few more goals.

I’ll admit a personal bias with the current group.  I like Gunnarsson and Kulemin a lot as players.  Both are quiet guys who aren’t flashy but generally just go about their business without being noticed too much yet do their jobs well.  (Kulemin is not scoring this year, I realize…but hey, I like the guy.)  So they’re always on my “players I want to keep as Leafs…” list.

I’m also a Reimer guy, primarily because I like the way he presents himself in public.  He seems like a guy not yet caught up in being a star, someone who may (and we’ll see…) be able to maintain his humility in a world that makes it awfully difficult for multi-millionaire (and often pampered) athletes to do just that.

But on the other list, the one with players I’m not as fond of?  Hmmm…that’s tougher, because there is no one on the current team that I can honestly say I wish the Leafs would get rid of. 

That said, I guess I’m not a huge MacArthur guy.  Nice player, but I probably more see what I perceive to be as his less useful traits and focus on things I don’t like about his play.  Again, not fair, but a fan’s prerogative, eh?

The other fellow (and I feel like I shouldn’t be admitting this!) is Connolly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched this guy play for years.  I remember that the Islanders traded him when he was just a kid to the Sabres.  I saw him develop into a solid two-way player.  I’ve probably been influenced by the persistent negative talk I was exposed to the last couple of seasons he spent in Buffalo.  Many fans were largely dismissive of him, feeling he was no longer a factor and was fading as a player.  Of course, there is the injury history, too.  That’s no reason not to like somebody, but I probably haven’t quite put out the “welcome wagon” for him as I might have for, say, Milan Lucic if he was suddenly a Leaf.  Connolly has played some nice hockey for Toronto.  But these things sometimes take time, eh?

Anyway, I’ve put some names out there.  Nothing personal.  They guys I've mentioned, both past and present were/are good NHL players- just not favourites of mine.

Anyone on the current Leaf team (or from years gone by) you could live (or  could have lived) without?


  1. I am thinking about this question slightly differently...not so much a matter of personal taste...rather a matter of who doesn't really fit with the longer term plans.

    I like J.M Liles. He's older, but still has lots of value. Eventually Gardiner will take his place.

    I like Lombardi, but as a small skilled forward his ice time may hurt Kadri's development.

    I like Armstrong, but the team seems ok without him...not like past years. His size and grit needs to be present in a player with more skill.

    Would Liles, Lombardi and Armstrong or a draft choice get you Getzlaf?

    What would a Western team (ready to make a Cup run) like Chicago give you for Liles and Lombardi?

    I really don't want to give up the younger guys like Franson, Gunnarson, Grabovski or even Kadri... at least not yet.

    Komisarek's contract makes him difficult to trade.

  2. You know thats funny Michael. My brother and I were talking just yesterday and while he is ambilavent towards MacArthur I am just not a big fan. I just can't seem to appreciate his game at all.

    The other guy both of us could really do without is Connolly. I think his exact words were "now I know why Buffalo got rid of him". The guy has oddles of talent, he makes some incredibily good passes and against Ottawa I saw him make a superb defensive play without the puck. A very smart guy. Yet for some reason I can't just shake the fact that he is only competing when he feels like it. There are just too many shifts where it seems like he couldn't care less about what is going on around him.

    As for past Leafs, Reichel was a guy I could do without. The other guy who really sticks out was Darcy Tucker. He was dirty, faked injuries, took stupid penalties and was just generally a guy I wish had never been a Leaf. To top it all off the Leafs are still paying this guy even though he retired 2 years ago. Arrggh

  3. Good post DP....Interesting. Hard to know what Lombardi and Armstrong would net in a trade. My guess is other GM;s would shy away from them because of their injuries histories....Liles has value to some teams, I would think. I guess the question is: is he worth more to the Leafs if he re-signs here, or in a trade?

    Wilbur...sounds like we were contemplating the same ideas at the same time! Also seems like we kind of had the same players in mind.

    Tucker is an interesting one. A lot of Leaf fans loved him. I tended to have your perspective...

  4. One guy I could see moving and myself not being too broken up over is Tyler Bozak. That may sound odd as it's seemed the kid has gotten well over the sophomore slump from last year, but I felt this way even the first year we had him. I always thought when Burke signed him out of college that he was going to be part of a larger deal down the road. I haven't stopped feeling that way even halfway through a much improved campaign this year.

  5. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 21, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    I know I might get some flack for this but, I can do without Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Mike Brown and long gone Philippe Dupuis. The reason I have dislike for Captain Dion is he is over hyped, over played and over paid when you compare him to other top d-men in the league like Shea Weber. As the rest of the list in my humble opinion they do not have a fit in the team. As for the past I felt similarly about Bill Derlago, Mirco Frycer, Peter Ihanacak, Robert Reichel, Nik Antropov, and Alexei Poniarovsky all talented players in their own right but were only taking up a roster spot.

  6. On my likes list: Reimer (same reasons you mentioned Michael), Phaneuf (I just gotta admire how he doesn't take crap from the media), and I'll say I actually like Connolly quite a bit. He can seem standoffish in interviews, but I'm a sucker for a clearly talented player that has faced a lot of criticism coming to Toronto and finding his game. Ditto for Liles (to a lesser degree).

    The players I don't feel that bond towards? It feels easy to say Lombardi because he hasn't been here very long...but there it is. And I've never had any particular affection for Luke Schenn - fair or not, his defensive miscues just stand out far more than his great plays, for me anyway.

    Still, I love watching all of them play every night. When they're on, they're ON. Good post!

  7. LeafluvrCC...Interesting. Bozak is a guy that seems to ooze potential some nights. Some fans like him a lot, others less so, I sense.

    Long Suffering- I hear you on your list of former Leafs. Each one of those guys had skill but were, for many of us, infuriating to watch. I thought Frycer had loads of offensive ability (so did Derlago, for that matter) but left us wanting more consistent effort. Maybe in a different era, different coaching?

    And as for choosing Dion- yes, that might raise eyebrows, but that's the point of this post: we all have players that, for our own reasons, we could live without. He's one of those guys for you. I get it.

    SteveW- good stuff. I can appreciate what you're saying about Connolly and Liles. Schenn is an interesting choice on the other side of the coin. Again, a young player some love but you're likely not alone in your point of view.

  8. This is for Willbur-

  9. Michael, just wanted to say I absolutely love your blog. Just discovered it last week (commented as "Anon" but figured out how to do it properly now I think!). Great work--true passion exemplified in each post/comment!

    With regard to today's post...and as you say, this isn't personal...I just couldn't get around liking these guys as Leafs:

    Rob Pearson--so much talent in Oshawa, but never came close to as pro and ended up as a below-average tough guy - I hated when he fought - which he didn't need to do back then (the Leafs had people for that) - he was very disappointing as a Leaf.

    Jyki Lumme--something about him screamed 'overrated' to me. He had a few great moments, but never saw him fit in.

    Those are 2 that come to mind. Others that I might mention: Owen Nolan, Tom Kurvers, Freddie Modin, Jason Blake, and somewhat related to my first listing, the big-E.


  10. Thanks very much for the comment here Caedmon and the kind words. I'm glad you found the site.

    I often wonder if coaching (thinking of Pearson) influences how a particular player turns out. Many offensively talented players have to take on more of a checking role as NHL'ers, of course, but sometimes I think a certain kind of coach helps a guy to stay/become a well-rounded player, and not just become, for example, a "tough guy".

    Lumme must have had his best years in Vancouver. He was not popular in his time here, though Leaf fans have been tough on some pretty outstanding players over the years, too (e.g. Larry Murphy is an obvious example, though frankly he wasn't great here- he was much better on teams that suited his style, I guess, like Pittsburgh and Detroit...)

    Owen Nolan is one of those guys I coveted for years, but when he got here, not so much....In fairness, injuries didn't help.

    Thanks Caedmon. Great post.

  11. It's tougher to answer your question this year, because I feel we're getting the kind of effort, game in/game out, that we haven't seen in a while. I'm hesitant to drop the bomb on some players because I think it's often a question of linemates. If Kadri starts scoring now that he has Lupul to provide a decoy/set him up, I'll probably like him more than I do at the moment. If MacArthur stops overhandling the puck and just shoots the dang thing, or finds his touch again, (along with Kulemin), maybe I won't mind his play quite so much. But at the moment, I wouldn't miss either of them. In the same way, if Hoglund, Ponikarovsky or Antropov had jelled with Sundin, I'd have loved them. (Did anyone see that cool back-skate-to-stick-to-goal move Antropov made the other night?) As it was, they wore out their welcome with me.
    Recently, I don't miss McCabe, Blake, Toskala, Giguere, or everyone in the Phaneuf trade except White. Kubina was another guy I thought never fit.
    Way back, I loved Shack - but I was a kid, and thought it was neat that he knocked out two ... Rangers, was it? ... in one fight. With head butts, as I recall. (That front page picture must exist in some archive somewhere). In the same vein, I actually liked Tucker for his intensity - until he low-bridged Peca. That was just embarrassing. And Domi I could've done without all together.
    Having said that, I'd add that what we're missing at the moment is someone with their unrelenting competitiveness.

  12. Gerund O's...great comment. I always appreciate your perspective. Some wonderful old names on your list, too....

  13. Leafs from the past I could have done without...

    Dan Maloney... I don't know why, I just liked Errol Thompson much better. Maloney was tougher, but I thought the team would have had more success with Errol.

    Pat Hickey... disinterested, Leafs paid way too much obviously, and got nothing back

    Billy Harris (1980s)... same as Hickey

    Todd Gill... just never was really good. He was talked up a lot as I recall, but early in his career, just too many mistakes. I appreciated him later in his Leaf career more, but he took so long to mature.

    Rob Pearson/Mike Craig... so much upside in both, and so little follow through. Pearson was a wasted 1st round pick. And Craig cost Zezel and Marshall.

    Ric Nattress/Garth Butcher... the least parts of 2 of the biggest Leaf trades. But neither had really any impact, frankly it's a stretch to even remember them.

    Sergio Momesso... for Mike Ridley? And then to get Wayne Presley? What a waste of time. Talk about trading downward...

    Mike Johnson/Darby Hendrickson/Todd Warriner... IMO, all lesser versions of Alyn MacCauley. AlynMac was who they should have kept, the other 3 just were smallish, not quite as talented filler.

    Owen Nolan... paid too much, not enough impact, and I still think he was trying some kind of workmans comp-type scam with the injury dispute.

    Vesa Toskala... not totally his fault, but there was no need. Raycroft was not great but the kid won 37 games, he was adequate. Toskala was not an upgrade. And JFJ trading for him before moving Raycroft diminished Raycroft's value to zero.

    Philippe Dupuis... why does Brian Burke always want to have a Fred Sjostrom/Rickard Wallin type of player? Completely forgettable.

  14. Outstanding list, Mark. Love the detail and point of view. Won't go over all the guys you named, (I can't argue with most of them and besides, the point is, these are our personal lists, doesn't matter what others think!) but a couple of highlights:

    I thought that we wouldn't have beaten the Islanders in the spring of '79 without Maloney, because until he came we were a bit intimidated by them. But after that, no, I'm with you, he tried hard but never brought the impact I had hoped for. (I had loved him with LA and Detroit.)

    I have the exact recollection of Hickey and (the ex-Islander Billy) Harris. Harris was a great junior and OK with the Isles but

    Like you, I grew to respect Gill. He played hard and had great pride in wearing the Leaf sweater. But it did take a while for him to grow into his role, yes.

    Thanks again. Loved the post.

  15. I'm kind of shocked that I'm the first to mention this name...

    Aki Berg.

    There is no reason that guy should have been playing 20 minutes a night on any team. But I think my biggest gripe about him would be the constant and consistent brain farts in his own zone, he was worse than some of today's leafs at getting the puck out his own end. Good Riddance!

  16. I think I might be psychic.

    "What would a Western team (ready to make a Cup run) like Chicago give you for Liles and Lombardi?"

    Leafs GM Brian Burke commented today about not being able to attend the AHL Outdoor Classic this afternoon at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium between the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Marlies on twitter:

    "Stuck in Chicago. Flight delay. Bad storm. Will not make the AHL Classic now. Go Marlies!"

    I also said they should send down Frattin...and they did.

  17. The Shawn....Berg certainly irritated Leaf fans during his tenure here. An awfully high draft pick as I recall (LA?)..... may have something there. But we best wait awhile before we declare you a full-scale hockey prophet!

  18. This is such a difficult task. I'm glad i dont have burke's job. I love every guy on this team, but I know that we have to be better to be a contender, so who gets dumped? I guess there are a lot of factors including injuries, contracts and most of all player development. After watching the transformation of players like Grabovsky, Gunnarson, Kulemin, and even Bozak, I have a new appreciation for our organization's potential to develop hockey players ( you'll have to forgive me but i grew up in the Quinn era, we didnt have things called prospects back then) But... if I go down the roster and am completely honest I'd have to say there are some odd guys out as far as who fits the mold of this club:

    Connelly, Grabovksy, MacArthur, Lombardi, Amrstrong, Brown, Liles

    Aside from lombardi (and only because he hasnt had enough time to return to form) i LOVE all these players. BUT if i'm honest, they dont fit the role as needed as far as the roster spots they fill.

    Connelly - Not a number one center. Also not a legit number 2 either (look at stanley cup contending teams' number 2 centers and agree with me). Connelly could fill a third line center role but it wouldn't make sense to take connelly over bozak as bozak's potential is still yet to be fully reached and the age factor speaks for itself, Connelly on the decline and bozak with his best years ahead of him likely. So Connelly can eventually hit the road

    Grabovsky - Great heart. Creative and slippery. I just dont believe he's mentally strong enough to power through four playoff rounds and not be physically shut down or go invisible on the score sheet. Again, one of my favorite leafs, but if i'm realistic is he a stanley cup winning 2nd line center? I dont believe so ( i wish i did)

    MacArthur - what a guy. He loves the leafs as much as I do. But he doesnt have that killer instinct either. He seems to be one of those guys that plays to the game instead of bringing HIS game every night. If things are going well macarthur is thriving, but if things arent going the leafs way he doesnt tend to be the guy to take charge. Again, not who you want flanking your second line in the third round of the playoffs, and nor do you want his small frame trying to add offense to the bottom six, so unfortunately bye bye clarkey (sigh)

    Lombardi - a bit of a question mark. His speed makes him an asset to most teams but we arent exactly hurting in that department. If lombardi has a Lupul like comeback and finds his scoring touch he could be a lethal part of a second line scoring unit. However this seems so unlikely i'd say its safer to move him and leave room for kadri if he makes the grade

    Armstrong/Brown - these guys are both character guys, but they arent BIG enough to be effective at their supposed roles. Armstrong is supposed to be a guy who mucks things up. He's also one of the lankiest dudes on skates, and he's hardly a force to be reckoned with. Again i LOVE army but I dont see him being apart of a stanley cup winning club. Brown does a decent job stirring things up and being frantic on the forecheck, but since he rarely puts up any points, you'd like him to be a bigger factor on the boards and in front of the net to take up a spot on the fourth line (hes too small)

    Liles- as many have already said, Liles and Gardiner fill the same role. You obvioulsy take the 19 year old phenom over the 30 year old.

    That leaves some pretty big holes in the lineup, but with the possiblity of players like Kadri, colborne and Frattin either becoming legitimate pieces to the puzzle or legitimate trade bait, the notion of acquiring the missing pieces might not be so far out of reach. Here's to Burke making something literally out of nothing. Even what he's accomplished so far is worthy of a medal.

    oh also, if leafs dont make the playoffs this year Burke will have a hard time assessing who the real winners are on this team. WE HAVE TO MAKE THE WRETCHED PLAYOFFS

  19. Anon...I can't add much, you've done a tremendous job. I appreciate the fact that you are trying to separate your love of certain players from the desired team outcome- winning come playoff time. Great post.

  20. Hey Michael,

    Not to get bogged down in debating one deal specifically lol

    I think you could be right, Maloney gave them some grit to get by NYI. Of course, hindsight being 20/20 now... I think my bias re: Maloney involves that
    a)Thompson had a nice scorer's touch to compliment Sittler, McDonald and Boutette, and
    b) Looking back, that trade involved first round picks. The Leaf pick used to take Brent Petersen, but a few spots later, Al Secord and Dale Hunter were drafted. Sometimes I wonder what the early 1980s might have looked like... Sittler, MacDonald, Thompson, Boutette, Ferguson, Williams, Hutchison, Secord, Boschman, and a back end of Salming, Turnbull and Carlyle...

    That could have been a contender if Palmateer stayed sharp, and maybe an upgrade at back up from McRae/Harrison.

    Alas, if not for Pal Hal and ol' Punch doing their best to tear it all down...

  21. Mark, thanks very much. We're on the same page. I loved the Maloney from LA and Detroit, and as we both said, he sure helped with the playoff win over the Islanders. But yes, two first-rounders was a lot. Thompson was best as a Leaf. And if they selected the "right" guys, they could have had some great talent here with those picks, as you alluded to with some of those names (Secord, Hunter...).

    And yes, Punch and Hal tag-teamed on that particular de-construction (destruction?) eh....Oh well.....