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We need some hope, so let’s look at 15 positives about the Leafs going forward

It’s easy to fall into the trap (especially, I guess, as Leaf fans) to look at the cup as half empty.  I’ve posted a fair bit lately about things that are concerning to me about the leadership and direction of the franchise, but that shouldn’t be the only thing that we discuss here.

I’ve always wanted this to be a place where hockey fans and yes, Leaf fans in particular, can come to and have it feel like home—a place where we chat about the Leafs, remember the good times (and there have been some, for sure) and hope for a better tomorrow, as it were.  I think we have largely been successful doing that here, while listening to and respecting different points of view.

Those of you who drop by fairly regularly know, I hope, that I just don’t ignore the issues that the organization faces—some of which they have surely created themselves.  But since we don’t want this to become a dumping ground, a place where we just complain about how awful things are (hey, it wasn’t that long ago that things seemed, if not rosy, at least hopeful…), let’s focus on some of the positives that we can take out of the 2011-’12 NHL season, as we look to the future.
  1. We have an elite offensive talent in Phil Kessel.  I think, if Lupul had not been hurt and the team was still playing with the passion that comes from being in the playoff chase, that the young winger would have 40 plus goals by now.  He may pad his stats in the next few games, and while it won’t “mean” anything, perhaps it will help him and how he feels about himself—and the Leafs—going forward.  Let’s see if Phil can thrill us a few more times before the season is out.
  2. While I’m concerned that we may have to trade him to get some of the parts we need, I think on a good team, Carl Gunnarsson is a keeper.  I don’t know if, in the modern parlance, he fits as 3-4 guy, a really, really good 5, or if he blossoms into a 2 (first-pair) defenseman.  But while I’ve seen slippage in his game in the second half (there’s a lot of that going around, of course), I still like his game.
  3. Reimer may—may—just rebound.  I’m not guaranteeing it.  I’m not saying it will happen.  I just feel as though, while he has flaws (what goalie doesn’t—just shoot high, they all play on their knees…) the kid can still play.  Will he be a starter?  A really good starter?  I hope he can be. (This does not preclude the Leafs from exploring options in goal, of course…)
  4. Lupul will be back and presumably healthy next season. While he was having a "career year", there is no reason to suspect he can't be a major contributor again next season, even if his numbers are not as spectacular as they were this year.
  5. Kadri will be with the team full-time.  Surely he will provide some offense, and help in terms of the Leafs having more balanced offensive productivity across several lines.
  6. Colborne will be here as well.  We seemingly have been talking about him forever as though he will be an impact guy.  We might as well see him with the big club regularly.  (After Dudley’s recent comments, it sounds like the Leafs pretty much have to run him out there on one of the top two lines next season.  They obviously believe he will carry the load…)
  7. I love Mike Komisarek’s attitude.  He is one of those ultimate team guys, but for a host of reasons, it just hasn’t worked out for him here.  After three seasons, we can pull the plug without feeling he has not had an opportunity to earn his time here.  I’m anticipating he will be with the Marlies next season, thereby providing significant cap relief (assuming we have a new, favorable, CBA, whereby teams can bury bad contracts…).
  8. That roster spot could go to an emerging Marlie defenseman (Holzer, Blacker?) and that could be a good thing.
  9. Carlyle will be entrenched as Head coach.  We all know (at least we think we know) what we’re getting with him.  A guy who demands hard-nosed play, matches lines and focuses on defense.  Much like Ken Hitchcock and John Tortorella, and maybe even Dave Tippett.  I have to believe he will adjust a bit, too, and work with the roster he has next fall and bring the team together at training camp.
  10. Nik Kulemin has to be better next season.  Has to be.  He showed me enough the three previous seasons that he can be a very useful two-way guy here.
  11. I think Matt Frattin can have a break-out season and really evolve into a hard-skating power forward in the years ahead.
  12. Grabovski did not have a remarkable season this year, but with a new baby and a new contract behind him, he should be in his prime for the next couple of seasons at least.
  13. David Steckel wins face-offs. (OK, I'm stretching a bit, but some day it will seem important when the games mean something...)
  14. Assuming there is no dramatic “sophomore” year regression, Jake Gardiner should put up some dramatically improved offensive numbers next season.  A little size and strength, while not perhaps absolutely necessary for his skating game, shouldn’t hurt his play in his own end of the ice—and in front of the Leaf net.
  15. Burke wants to win, badly.  Almost as much, he wants to make himself look good while doing it.  He and his large management group will work their tails off to find and bring in talent for Carlyle’s roster.      
Look, I’m not ignoring what’s right in front of me, but I refuse to concede that everything needs to be blown up.  There is a base to work with here.  Another skill player (could be one of the young Marlies—or two or three), a veteran leader, a new or current goaltender who has a big season…and, well,  2012-’13 could be much brighter.

I’m sure I’m missing some other positives…as always, send your thoughts along.


  1. Well it is easy to be down and really ripping on the Leafs right now your right there is something to build on here.

    I know I've said in the past that I'm not as sold on the prospects as a lotta peole seem to be. However, there a some intriuging pieces there. Hopefully one of them will blossom. It seems to happen to other teams around the league on a fairly regular basis so why not on the Leafs? One of those players down below actually exceeds expectations. A guy that they had pegged as a third liner or second develops into a stud first line type of guy. It does happen and hopefully the Leafs catch a break.

    The one thing I will give Burke credit for is that he may not have any obvious blue chip players in the system but he has given himself a lot of seemingly decent guys. To have one exceed expectations it always helps to have more chances at it. With the number of guys it might be a chance to package a few for some help. Again I don't want Burke to trade a 19 year old for a 32 year old on the downside of his career but a couple of prospects on the Marlies for a 24 year old NHL regular might not be a bad thing.

    There is something to like here on the Leafs it just takes a lotta looking to find it. I still think they are at least 2 years away from the playoffs but I still see upside to the team.

  2. I've said it before. I am hoping for and looking forward to an elite level talent in a lottery pick.

    Here's a video on center, Mikhail Grigorenko:

    We have two centers with skill and size in this year's draft.

    Mikhail Grigorenko is 6'3" and 200 lbs. Alex Galchenyuk is up to 6'2" and 205 lbs.

    Those are big kids for 18 years old. They might fill out at 215 lbs or more. It's what we have been waiting for and we might get it.

    Think of a young Malkin or Lecavalier playing with Kessel or Lupul in a year or two. I hope it works out and nothing goes wrong.

  3. Agreed Willbur. We can see all the problems, and we will no doubt talk a lot more about the challenges the Leafs face (maybe as early as the next post here!) going forward, but I just thought it would be uplifting to look at some of the positives that they can build around.

    You're right about some young guy maybe playing better than we expect. It can happen. I'm not sure which of the guys with the Marlies right now that that might apply to - we're already expecting a fair bit from Frattin, Colborne and Kadri...but we'll see.

    Thanks Willbur- you got into the spirit of the post!

  4. You've identified some really outstanding young talent here DP. Thanks for that. This is the post to look at some hopeful things for the future and drafting one of those guys sounds like it would be good news...

  5. Yeah I'm not sure who the guy might be. My biggest point is that at the very least he has given himself a decent number of chances that it could happen.

    I guess it's like a lottery ticket, sure the odds might be long but they are better if you have 4 instaed of one.

    I also think the core here in Toronto is still pretty good. Lupul I have a feeling might be traded, that analogy of buy low, sell high would seem to apply here. I'm pretty hard on Kessel and to lesser extent Phanuef, but there is no denying they have talent. If they get the right personal to help them (to me this could include a new captain to let Dion focus on hockey) and thus let Kessel play as a support player not the go to guy, if a player on the Marlies steps up and becomes a signifigant producer they could be a lot better next year.

    Too bad Burkes not starting right now as GM. His don't like 5 year rebuilds would make a whole lot more sense now than it did then. I say two years if things break thier way could see the Leafs really starting to be good.

  6. You're right, Willbur. You just need one guy to exceed what the organization expects and they could have a gem. If some of the others develop as hoped, then it is good all around.

    The three big names you mention are all part, I guess, of what Leaf management will have to consider this summer. Do they, as you say, "sell high" on Lupul? Is Kessel a long-term keeper who just needs a bit more elite talent around him, or a guy that can bring talent and grit back to the Leafs in a trade? Is Phaneuf becoming a leader, or has that ship sailed?

    Lots of uncertainty, and a ton of questions, but while I'm a realist about their future and see plenty of potholes, I do see some hope. Your two-year window seems realistic.

    Thanks Willbur.

  7. ..and Spencer Abbott, if you believe the hype, has the potential to be at least a Bozak level talent, if not better. Free signing, why not?

  8. As you say, Sean, no assets involved except money....we'll see if the hype means anything this time! Thanks.

  9. We wcould call tonight's blog the scouting video episode.

    Here is the video on Spencer Abbott:

    Here is Alex Galchenyuk

    Here is Mikhail Grigorenko

    I think Mikhail Grigorenko is the most talented. Alex Galchenyuk is next.

    Abbot is a level lower, but does look good on the power play.

  10. Well as mentioned in an earlier post, I've been reading up on this years draft more closely now. I have heard some but not all scouts say Grigorenko could be a Malkin level talent.

    To me with this years top picks being Russian, I would see what it takes to flip our first rounder with Columbus' first overall. There is no way they could pick a Russian with thier first pick again. With the team's fan base hanging by a thread and having taken two Russians first in the last 5 drafts and having both of them flame out a third could drive a stake through the heart of the Columbus franchise.

    If they could do that, take Grigorenko with the pick. You always take the center first if the two talents are somewhat close. Think Seguin and Hall. Who would you have rather have? To me it is Seguin by a mile. I remember telling my boss ( an Oiler fan poor bastard) when that draft happened that the Oilers would, while not regretting the choice would not mind a do over either. Just last week he agreed with me. The lesson from all this always take the center.

  11. As much as a skilled, rugged winger (Neely and Lucic come to mind) is so important to win battles, a smart, creative, skilled centre rarely hurts, Willbur. Well said. I have to agree with you.

    Interesting that your colleague has slid toward Seguin, two seasons in. That's something, given his support for the Oilers.

    And thanks to DP again for the film clips of the young talents before us....

  12. Yeah its not that he dislikes Hall, far from it. The wing position takes a lot more abuse than center does. Hall is not very big but he plays with reckless ambition and gets hurt a lot.

    Also we both tend to think that centers are more versatile than wingers. Most wingers do not do well when playing as a center. Whereas a lot of centers can play decent wing. Look at Connolly this year.

  13. Quick comment on an otherwise great article: Komi has an NMC and therefore (unfortunately) cannot be buried

  14. Thanks Chris C....I knew about the NMC but didn't realize that meant his contract could not be sent to the mar lies.


  15. Glad to see some of us are still able to look at the glass and see something in it. I see all the positives too. One thing that your post reminded me, was how many young talented forwards are in the system. The question is how do these kids (Frattin, Kadri, Colborne, Ashton, Abbott, etc) get adequate ice time and crack the lineup next year? If Carlyle plays a true top 6 - bottom 6 system, it makes it harder for some of these kids to crack the lineup and develop their offensive skill. They all have huge potential, but will they be given a sufficient opportunity? Lets hope so.

  16. Well said, as always, TML__fan.

    There is hope- there are some players on the current roster who have developed nicely, others who can do more, and youngsters on the way.

    This is not to sugar-coat things, simply to look at some of the positives that are certainly in place.


  17. "Komi has an NMC and therefore (unfortunately) cannot be buried"

    I think at a certain point Komisarek is going to want to waive the NMC and go to another team just to get a fresh start and try to restart his career.

    Sometimes players just don't work out.

    Remeber Larry Murphy? Booed in Toronto and later does fine in Detroit.

    There might be a team wanting to get up to the cap floor and Komisarek with a cap hit greater than his salary might actually be a decent value and suit them well.

  18. Especially, DP, with only one year left on his deal, if I'm not mistaken.

    Good point. Thanks DP.

  19. A further note about Alex Galchenyuk, who should be available right when the Leafs draft at 5 or 6:

    One scout said imagine Marian Hossa as a center. Galchenyuk is already that size at 18. He has the skill, speed and a good shot just like Hossa.

    All we need are one or two defencemen taken in the top five and he should be there when the Leafs draft.

  20. Komi needs to move to another division where he doesn't have to play against Lucic so many times a year.

  21. I give Komisarek a lot of credit for taking on Lucic, Steve...he has a lot of heart, for sure...

  22. As dreadful as the close of the season has been, there's always reason to be optimistic, and I'm glad there are bloggers out there reminding the fans of this.

    A potential top 5 draft pick, likely amnesty provision, and potential free agents and available money make next year seem full of possibility.

    - Adding someone like Galchenyuk, Grigorenko, or Forsberg to this roster
    - an infusion of young talent in Kadri/Colborne and potentially Blacker/Holzer,
    - the signing of Spencer Abbott
    - and possibly (read: hopefully please burke) Justin Schultz,
    - potential rebound seasons from Schenn, Kulemin, Reimer, Liles
    - burying/buyout/firing into the sun of any (hopefully all) of Connolly, Lombardi, Armstrong, Komisarek
    - growth of Franson, Gardiner, Kessel (who are all still improving)
    - potential big UFA signings (as rare as they are, they remain possible) such as Parise, Suter (please don't let nashville go deep in the playoffs)
    - 1 year wait for Carey Price to become a UFA after signing a 1-year RFA tender, ok maybe i'm just dreaming now

    I think this team wasn't as good as it played early, but also isn't nearly as bad as it is now. This collapse is pretty unheard of, and it seems like they've just lost the will to compete. I think they'll have a lot to prove, and I think Burke will be particularly aggressive this offseason in trying to set this team up for the playoffs.

    A note about Komisarek. He has 2 years left (2012-2013, 2013-2014), but a simple "accept a trade or enjoy a pressbox seat for the next 2 years and consider your career over at that point" will probably sway him to consider allowing the leafs to trade him somewhere he might actually get a chance to revive his career and earn a final contract after his current one.

  23. Well thought-out post, Darryl (I was with you there, until we hit the bullet point about Carey Price...but a man is allowed to dream...)

    I think all of the other points are entirely reasonable/likely/possible.

    I believe Leaf management will do everything they can to bring in talent and experience, without giving away young prospects.

    Thanks Darryl.

  24. Perhaps this good news if you are hoping for lottery pick:

    Gustavsson gets the start tonight.

    Reimer may be shut down for the season

    Steckel left practice for an MRI and is a game time decision.