Custom Search

The Leaf brass and the next 48 hours: are the Leafs suddenly looking for a goaltending?

Sunday night the Leafs are off (in fact, they next play in Calgary on Tuesday night...), so unless there is a trade, it may be a quiet day in Leafland.  With that in mind, if there are any recent posts that you didn’t catch but might be interested in, here are a few links below…

  • Your favorite (or not so much) hockey TV and radio talking heads
  • Connolly—will he be important or is he taking up space?

That Toronto has lost three games in succession (two close games and an old-time blow-out) should probably be no more discouraging at this point in a long and winding season than their recent string—when they earned 9 of a possible 10 points over a 5-game stretch—was cause for celebration.

For most NHL teams, these are the natural ups and downs that occur.  In fact, while I may be wrong, I would argue that in many of the last few NHL seasons, notably since the lockout, the parity of the league has seen things develop such that most teams go through this ebb and flow.  They win a few in a row, look good doing it and all is well.  Then they lose a few, and things look gloomy.

It seems to be the way things are in today’s NHL.  There are no dynasties, and very few teams that are consistently “elite”  (the Devils until recently, the Red Wings still, San Jose and now, we could probably throw in the Canucks…).

So as we address the Leaf situation with that backdrop informing our perspective somewhat, the current three-game slide may mean nothing at all—or at most, very little.

I’m guessing we will (a mini-prediction) hear a Leaf player or two offer the thought that the best thing that can happen now is for the team to get out of town, go on the road together and bond, without the pressure of trying to play entertaining hockey at home (witness their big win just a week ago in Ottawa).  That’s a song I’ve heard for as long as I’ve followed hockey.  When they lose on the road, players often say “we need to get home in front of our fans and get some home cooking”.  When they lose at home, it’s “time to go on the road and spend time together and play the kind of hockey we need to play to be effective on the road…tight-checking, yada yada yada….”

In any event, we are where we are in what has been a very interesting season so far in Leafland.  Hope is running high and there are expectations aplenty to be fulfilled.  Now, admittedly, a bit of the air went out of the balloon this week, but as we all understand, things can change for the better (or worse) very quickly.  It has always been thus, I guess, in sports.

Let’s credit Price for playing a major part in the win Saturday night at the ACC, when the Leafs clearly were so choked up by the emotion of the evening that they spent the rest of the night wondering when their own sweaters will be hung from the rafters at the ACC.  Based on the evening’s performance, however, well…let’s just say Sunday may not be a good day to ask Burke for a raise, much less a ceremony….

No, it was indeed Price’s night.  (Two third-period goalposts helped, but we know the game had left the building by then…)  He looked so comfortable, so at ease, that you almost couldn’t believe it was a high-pressure NHL game.  He really did make virtually every save (and there were some that should have been tough—had to be tough, actually) look effortless.  Everything from the way he caught and played the puck to how he anticipated re-directs was so calm.  Nothing fazed him.

Now we can compare this (and on this night it was an un-flattering comparison, to be sure) with what our guy was dealing with at the other end.  Reimer had a really solid stretch recently (as part of a personal three-game win “streak”) that included two shutouts.  Let’s not forget that.  But in Philly and again versus the Habs, he was not his cat-like quick, confident self.  Was it all his fault?  Not at all.   Mike Brown was perhaps our best player on the night, and as much as I respect the way Brown plays, if he is your best guy, you aren’t likely going to win many games.  Phaneuf had an assortment of giveaways (not unusual for him in recent losses) and one of his old Dion “moments”, when it just seemed like too much effort, I guess, to cut Ellar off before the speedy Montreal forward swindled Reimer at the crease.

But here’s my question for the day:  forget what we, as fans, think.  What will Burke and company think Sunday morning—and Monday, for that matter?  Do he, Nonis, Poulin (I won’t name everyone who is part of the league’s largest advisory crew) convene and say, “hey guys, just one lousy game.  No big deal…”.  Or—and this is the seminal  “or”—does the brass start to think, “hey, we need to make the playoffs.  Now.  And, we need do so some damage once we get there.  Are our goalies just struggling a bit right now, but when they get hot again, we’ll be just fine…?” The question, conversely, that may be discussed is:  "What if our guys aren't good enough, what do we do...?"

I think those are reasonable, and critically important, questions.  And I do believe the conversation will take place over the next 48 hours, just to be sure everyone is on the same page.

If you think you need to say, trade for a goalie, surely that changes the equation in terms of what you’re planning to give away—or bring in.  Because, if you bring in a goalie, you are basically saying “we can’t win with these guys right now, and  maybe we never will be able to…”  It changes your priorities, which I thought were (we can never be sure what the brass is thinking, but I’m thinking it has to be the case) a tough, shutdown defenseman and/or a forward with skill and willpower.

Here’s the thing:  I don't think the Leafs can get both, without blowing up a lot of the long and painful re-build.  And that’s not going to happen, just to get into the playoffs.

My thought is, Burke will not be making a move for a goalie.  So nothing changes.  If they do anything at all in terms of deals (and I’m sure we have all noticed that virtually no significant moves have been made—might we finally having a truly hectic trade deadline day?), it will either be a modest tweak or two, or they will indeed try to obtain a solid forward for as little as they can possibly give up.

I just believe that Burke believes in Reimer, and knows that goaltenders take time to develop.  Price is a great example in Montreal.  He had that big Ken Dryden-like rookie splash in that first playoff year where he starred for the Habs, yes.  But before long he was struggling.  Then,  some people were questioning his “desire”, if I remember things clearly.  Then Halak stole the show, and the question was, do the Habs deal Price, or the other guy?

Now, Price is generally acknowledged as a solid goalie (maybe even “elite”), but he goes through slumps as well, though he sure looked like Patrick Roy against the Leafs.  And he’s not the only goalie who has had to fight through ups and downs.  Reimer will have to, as well.  And if Reimer, still a young goalie, can work through this season and hang tough (and come back healthy next season), there is no reason to suspect the young man with the great disposition can’t be a star.

I’m guessing we’ll see Gus in Calgary, as the Leafs go back and forth waiting for one guy to take the ball and run with it.

But the bigger question is the one I posed above:  what is Burke thinking?  There’s the goalie question (if it is one in the brass’ mind).  There the “team toughness” issue which I have harped on so much this season.  And there’s the lingering memory of no one really standing up for Phaneuf a few games back, and the same thing happening with Kessel Saturday night against Montreal, when Subban hit Phil in the knee area.

Lots to consider, eh?

By all means share your thoughts.  We have plenty of time to ponder things before Tuesday.  The East is up for grabs.  That has been clear all season.  The team that wants the playoff spot the most will get it.


  1. After that horrible game from end to end, I find myself thinking, "If James Reimer is the answer, I'm not sure I want to know what the question is."

  2. I've taken to summing up each game this year as GHF or GHE - glass half-full or glass half-empty. Last night it was about 7/8ths empty.
    To my eyes, Reimer just hasn't looked comfortable in net, even when he was getting those shut outs. After the third goal last night, I thought he looked as if the concussion symptoms had returned - on all fours, slow to get up. He took at least two taps on the mask from passing Canadiens - who knows? Maybe he was just depressed. If I'm management, I'd be watching the next three games very closely. They may WANT Reimer to be the #1 goalie, but he hasn't played like one since his injury. I think Gustavsson has consistently played better - even in the losses. So there's one decision to be made.
    I'm OK with the D - they make mistakes, but that's part of the position. They've definitely improved here, and I think they'll just be getting better.
    The next issue for me would be how to address the lack of "compete" we've discussed all season. It's unthinkable to me that someone takes a run at Kessel, or our Captain, and doesn't pay a price. And as long as we refuse to get in a goalie's face, preferring to fancy-dan it and shoot from the outside, we won't have a hope when it comes to playoff hockey. Heck, we're playing pond hockey!
    And one good hitting line is not going to do it for us. For me, that's the third issue to be addressed. There doesn't appear to be anyone else in the organization who's ready to play that role, besides the four guys already in the line-up (I'm including Armstrong), so I'd be thinking trade.
    Finally, there's the matter of our unproductive third line, and our inconsistent second line. We've seen glimpses of what we all thought would happen this year, but, bottom line, it hasn't happened yet. So eventually, that's got to be addressed. This may be an end-of-year thing.
    Much as I enjoy this team, its "consistent inconsistency" is making it clear that we won't be moving forward without some changes, or a significant turnaround in some players' year so far. The next three games should reveal a lot about whether the glass is indeed half full or half empty.

  3. This was a seminal loss - the pendulum now swings one way, or another. If - as a Maple Leaf - you cannot summon-up the energy and will against the Evil Empire, then something is clearly wrong.

    What would Keon do ? (WWKD?)

    I know. He would just shut-down Jean Beliveau.

    But that is when the Sweater actually meant more than the paycheque ...

  4. It was Mats Sundin Night, with, the eyes of Sweden focused on the Air Canada Centre, and Ron Wilson has Jonas Gustavsson warming the bench? Are you kidding me? Here is the question that I would ask: “What was Ron Wilson thinking?” It was, to anyone with a moment’s thought to spare, Jonas Gustavsson’s night to shine, not only in front of the big Swede, but back home as well. While Wilson could never match Mike Keenan’s incompetence in having Dominic Hasek sit for a full season, he does not appear to have a good feel for goaltending, particularly who to start and when. I know, anyone following what I have written here might conclude that I prefer the Monster over Reimer. Am I dissing Reimer? Not at all. I like Reimer, always have. After seeing him in an AHL game last year, I predicted his success at the NHL level, which will continue, I believe, in good time. Nevertheless, that time is not now. In fact, time is exactly what Reimer needs. In the face of that fact, Wilson continues to try to force last year's Reimer magic, in a way that borders on obstinate. The facts, however, are obvious. The man had a serious injury which will take time to fully recover from. Can the Leafs not win with their current goaltending? As I have written before, there is only one goaltending stat that matters: WINS. Gustavsson’s record: W=16, L=11. If I am not mistaken, those numbers are close to a 70 win percentage. No, the question does not have to do with shopping for a goaltender. Jacques Plante at his best would have been able to do much with yesterday's appalling effort. To me, the real question is: What on Earth is Ron Wilson thinking?

  5. I think they aren't properly managing their current goalies. They have Gus on too short of a leash and Riemer has one that is too long.

    Let's hop Gus wins the next game so that they play him some more.

    Where was Colby Armstrong? I could not find anything on injuries

    The Leafs need to get tougher, but top-six toughness is very hard to get.

    If the third line isn't going to score...then the Leafs should maybe trade one of those guys in a combination deal that includes a third line guy who will check, intimidate and occasionally fight...someone like maybe Chris Neil. Neil can actually play the game. Steve Downie?

  6. KidK...difficult night, for sure, which begs more questions than answers, for sure.

    Gerund O...I know you have stressed that this has been a fun team to watch. Nights last last night were obviously not the kind that inspire confidence, but if it was a "one-off", it may soon be forgotten.

    K agree with your thought on the defence. All defences make mistakes. The Leafs are not along in that regard. And it was a particularly difficult game to find the "good". You touch on some other issues that are fodder for a post. Thanks.

  7. Shaftesbury- thanks for posting. I know an "old-timer" like myself can tend to glorify the past and days of yore, and players like the man you cite (Keon). Of course, we know that even those great Leaf teams had lousy nights. It happens. But you raise a point that we can't ignore, either. On a night when two points was available and very much up for grabs through most of the contest (set aside that it was a festive evening honouring an all-time Leaf)- and it was a big game at home- the Leafs laid an egg. It happens, but the timing was unfortunate, to say the least.

  8. Bobby raise a point which, to be honest, was not on my mind. (The Swedish connection...Monster and Mats...) I guess my "interpretation of the Wilson decision to start Reimer was/is in line with what I have been posting here for quite some time. Barring an amazing performance by Gustavsson, all things being "equal" (i.e. both goalies playing well at the same time, or both goalies being kind of middlish...) Wilson will almost almost decide on Reimer, because that;s the guy the Leafs want to carry them and get on a roll.

    Is there a stubbornness, as you cite? My guess it is -and has been- not just a Wilson decision, but an organizational preference and assessment.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts on the goaltending question, DP...Well-stated (and strongly).

    As I mentioned to Gerund, what he noted and now your comment points me toward a post idea. Thank you.

  10. Trade or not to trade, relative proximity to playoff contention will not pressure Burke to pull the trigger on any trade. Except for player specific issues, Burke will trade just about any time if it betters the club. Takes two to tango, so if there is no Leaf trade before this trade deadline the fault does not lie with Burke. And as "they" say sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make.

    Ebb and flow perspective aside, I do believe current 3 game losing streak means a lot more than "very little". Since 05/06 with exception of 09/10 Canadiens squeaking in with 88 points, Eastern Conference final playoff spot required 92-94 points. If Leafs would have won all 3 games they would need .500 win percentage for remaining 26 games, give/take a game, to make the playoffs. As it stands now they need to win close to 6 out of every 10 games, or more than 11 regulation losses and they are out. Not an easy task when you still have to face Boston twice, New Jersey twice, Philly twice, Montreal twice, Van, Rangers, San Jose, Pittsburgh.
    For some reason .500 feels significantly more doable than 6 out of 10 games. That extra win every 5 games is very tough especially when Leafs will not have the advantage post All-Star game dead cat bounce they experienced in previous post lockout seasons.

  11. Thanks for your post, Walter B....I tend to agree Burke is always looking to improve the team, regardless of the time of year. Anything could happen, of course, in terms of a trade, but it would appear there is a logjam this year with regard to the "deadline"- everybody is looking and the few "sellers" are, understandably, asking for a lot.

    As for the rest of the season, you've well described the task at hand. Do-able? I'd say yes, as it is "in their hands" and they don't, at this point, have to be reliant on others losing...

  12. Sitting Armstrong has got me a little more curious.

    Were they getting close to a deal that included Armstrong and Kadri or Frattin?

    Marlies played in the afternoon and had tons of jam and beat the baby Habs 5 to 1.

    3 fights...even Kadri:

    Ian Schultz vs. Jerry D'Amigo
    Zack FitzGerald vs. Keith Aulie
    Ryan White vs. Nazem Kadri

  13. DP, I think it's natural for a lot of us to jump to the thought that when a guy sits (if not because of injury) he may be part of a pending deal. In the case of Armstrong, given his injuries this season, I just wonder what he would bring in return. Perhaps if he is part of a larger package, as you cite.

    I just wonder if, ironically, a healthy Armstrong, though one with more offensive pop, is a kind of player Burke would look at bringing in? (Like Versteeg, who may be quite useful now...)

  14. i think the biggest problem the leafs have is toughness the leafs have brown thats it and he is a middle weight no one can or will stand up to the other teams toughness if someone hits kessels he should be dealt with but they can and will cheap shot him as well as other tallented players on the leafs because they have no fear of anyone standing up for them reimer was taken out with a cheapshot that should have been a suspention in my oppinion from gionta no one stood up for reimer then and on sat gionta came real close to doing the exact same thing in the first period to reinmer again and no one did a thing about that time either as long as the leafs have no toughness to throw at oppoinents they will get worked over every night.

  15. "I just wonder if, ironically, a healthy Armstrong, though one with more offensive pop, is a kind of player Burke would look at bringing in?"

    I would want somebody both tougher and more skilled than Armstrong. Paul Gaustad?

    Armstrong doesn't really intimidate like Neil, Lucic or Clowe.

    Steve Ott gets 35-40 points?

    Feel free to make suguestions.

  16. By the way...Leafs prospects enforcer Jamie Devane has 36 points and 17 goals in 44 games so far.

    I can't remember a recent heavyweight with those kinds of OHL numbers...maybe Chris Neil...though Lucic was similar at a younger age in the WHL.

    Devane also has 67 PIMs so far...6'5" and now up to 220 pounds....he might be very nice on the third line in a few years. He looks like he can play the game...imagine a bigger, taller Chris Neil.

  17. Based on your description, DP, it sounds like he could be a factor in perhaps 3-5 years. Longer than fans might like to wait, but perhaps part of what could potentially by then be a consistently strong team in contention every year...

  18. My guess is that Devane could be playing for the Leafs in 2 years.

    Devane absolutely dominates in the OHL and has been known as the toughest guy in that league for a while.

    Look how he goes to the net and how much bigger he is:

    This is Devane against current Marlie tough guy Kyle Neuber. Neuber is two years older and yet Devane does well:

    Look at Drevane vs Andrew Shaw who currently plays for the Blackhawks:

    Next year he will play for the Marlies. This will be the test. Devane will be up against all sorts of AHL tough guys.

    My guess is that in the AHL he will prove equal or tougher than Rosehill and Mike Brown at a much younger age.

    I think Devane will put up more points than Rosehill or Brown did in the AHL...both Rosehill or Brown's best AHL seasons came out at 15 points.

    I bet Devane gets over 30 points or more with the Marlies next year. What happens if he gets more?

    If Devane is tougher and has more raw skill and a better nose for the net than Rosehill or Brown...I think he plays on the Leafs the year after. Playing him on the 4th line and letting him work his way up won't hurt him as much as skilled guy.

  19. The way you have highlighted Devane certainly makes him an appealing-sounding guy to keep an eye on. I will do just that. Thanks DP.