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How many Leafs are “must keep” under Carlyle? Part II of II in our "look ahead"

Yesterday, we talked about which Maple Leaf players provided the team with the kind of true toughness that all really good teams need not just to get to the playoffs but to be in a position to make something happen once they get there.

For me, the list of Leafs who provide that important ingredient is pretty short, unfortunately.

As part of this analysis, many of us likely agree that the team also needs leadership, and some veteran players who would (hopefully) bring something to the dressing room that just isn't there right now.  This is an issue that we have discussed here quite a bit, and if you'd like to chime in on that missing piece of the Leaf equation, by all means jump in.

We have kind of reached the stage in the annual Maple Leaf “look into the future” where we wonder, as we all step back and reflect but also try to look ahead, who are “keepers” and who may be elsewhere when the 2012-’13 NHL season begins.  What adds a bit to this discussion is, of course, that we have a new coach in town- one who likes a different brand of hockey from his predecessor and also believes in a very different approach to moving the puck and playing a “system”.

Too, we all understand that the existing salaries, along with cap realities (and the reality that there are a lot of other unsuccessful teams looking for the same things- a number-one goaltender, a top centre, grit, etc.) will impact what the Leafs can and cannot do with their current roster. But when Randy Carlyle sits down and debriefs with Brian Burke via traditional exit interviews this week (that process may have concluded on Monday, but I would think they'll be talking for the next few days) and provides input for his General Manager when it comes to summertime decisions, it’s natural for us to wonder:  who exactly does he really want Burke to keep on the Maple Leaf roster?

We all know that the Leafs have already turned over the roster a ton in the last four years, since John Ferguson was replaced by Cliff Fletcher.  The pace of those changes accelerated under Burke.  So we are where we are, though I’m not quite sure where that is.  We know the team is young. We know there is some skill here.  We know there is speed on the current roster.  But we also know that the style of play we saw, say, in the opening weeks and months of the 2011-’12 season, is dead.  The Leafs will be a tight-checking, defense-oriented, line-matching team going forward.  The coach will expect them to be very hard to play against, become a physical team that will drop the gloves and grind down the opposition—a team that will be able to hold a lead and also display prowess on special teams.

That’s a tall order, but if you’re not an elite offensive juggernaut (which many thought the Leafs were becoming not that long ago—a mini-juggernaut at least), some version of the above approach seems to be the ticket in this day and age if you hope to at least gain entry into the playoffs in the NHL.  (Personally, I prefer a hybrid approach- a team with grit but one that can make plays and score goals, you know, the whole Detroit thing...)

So here’s the question again, who does Carlyle absolutely want to keep?  Who are the players that he will say to Burke:  these guys have to be part of the team’s future for the Leafs to take not only the “next” step, but jump all the way to becoming the type of team that can make waves in the playoffs—and perhaps even make their way to the Stanley Cup finals, which would be a first for this franchise since, yes, 1967.

Let’s look at the roster and try to determine who Carlyle will want here:

Goal—Reimer, Gustavsson (UFA), Scrivens, Rynnas.

Defense—Schenn, Phaneuf, Komisarek, Franson, Gardiner, Gunnarsson, Liles, Blacker, Holzer.

Forwards—Armstrong, Lupul, Steckel, Bozak, Ashton, Kadri, Frattin, Colborne, Kessel, Grabovski, Kulemin, Devane, Mueller, Brown, Connolly, Crabb, Lombardi, MacArthur, Rosehill.

So, based on what you have seen about Carlyle, and everything we think we know about him as a coach through his years in the minors and with the Ducks, let me know who you believe he really wants to keep.

I realize the fact that certain players will be with the Leafs in the fall does not necessarily mean they are guys Carlyle wants here (roster realities and the cap will impact roster decisions, of course) but with this as a backdrop….if Carlyle were to put names on a piece of paper- and then hand the piece of paper to Burke across the table-  these are the guys I think would be “must keep” in his eyes (I’m not suggesting I agree with these names; just who I think Carlyle would ideally want to keep...):

Steckel—as a role guy, face-off man and penalty-killer
Schenn—a young, physical defenseman with size who can hit
Lupul—Carlyle certainly won’t push him out after their mess together in Anaheim
Grabovski—not big but he can certainly contribute under Carlyle’s system and he plays hard at both ends
Frattin—has the potential to be a power forward, which the Leafs will need
Colborne—a center with youth, potential and size (and Dudley has already come out publicly and predicted he will be here next season; can't really go back now, can they?)
Devane—young player with size and toughness, but not likely on the roster in 2012-'13
Gardiner—Carlyle had Niedermayer; he knows you need elite smarts and skill on the blue line
Brown—plays hard

For me, I sense Carlyle and Burke have similar perspectives, and I sense the following guys will actually be here, all things being equal, come training camp in September (it’s a longer list):

  • Schenn
  • Phaneuf
  • Gardiner
  • Steckel
  • Lupul
  • Kessel
  • Frattin
  • Colborne
  • Grabovski
  • Connolly
  • Brown
  • Bozak
  • Kulemin
  • Brown
That’s my early roster  “projection” for October - not including the free-agent signings or trades (and any draft choices or Marlies who could make the club).

That core was not good enough to make the playoffs this season.  We know there will be additions, including a goalie, one would guess (though I'll keep saying: I love Reimer.  I want him to succeed here...).

Send your thoughts along.


  1. My view of Carlyle's list(s):
    Must have:
    Kessell & Lupul (needs the goals)
    Grabowski (grit & goals)
    Gardiner (potential)
    Gunnarson, Schenn, (defensive upside)
    Can keep:
    Keep or replace with similar capability:
    Scrivens ( potential with no baggage from the past)
    All others:
    No Marlies on his keep list since he knows nothing about them!

  2. I like the way you broke it down, Ed. "Must have" is a short list, I see.

    Good stuff. Thanks Ed.

  3. I get the impression that Carlyle thinks of Franson as a project that he can work on.

    I have been watching Jaime Devane carefully but I think there is no way he is one the Leafs next year. He is bound for the Marlies and that's good for his development.

    Devane has disappeared in the playoffs with just 3 points. I know that doesn't sound bad, but these have been high scoring games. Teammate Stefan Noesen has 14 points in 6 games.

    Here's our happy thought. Another teammate, Mitchell Heard, was getting a point a game during the regular season in the OHL. He has 8 points in 8 games in the playoffs.

    That name sound familiar? He's the undrafted kid from training camp. He's a leaf prospect. There's your "found wallet" Mr. Burke.

    Two other Leaf prospects Sam Carrick and Andrew Crescenzi are in the top 20 scorers in the OHL playoffs.

    You can be depressed with the results from the big club...but then you look at the Marlies and the prospects and things look much brighter.

    The organization is going to be deep with talent in a few years,perhaps not elite talent but deep with guys that get their time in AHL the way Detroit does it.

  4. After a year like this one, I'm not sure anyone is "must keep". There's always a deal to be made, and if the right one comes along, I'd say do it. As fans, we want to see potential and we like certain players for who they are, or seem to be, but the fact is this group didn't get it done. Saying someone is "must keep" just perpetuates the mediocrity we've been subjected to for years, with the promise of good things to come some time in the future. As I've said before, I'm sick of "potential". How about some results for a change?
    But, on a more positive note, if we want to imagine Carlyle and Burke will somehow magically transform the lacklustre roster we now have into a serious contender, we'd definitely want the chemistry of Lupul and Kessel; Gardiner appears to have upside; Gunnarsson had a good-ish year; Grabovski was OK, until he made the big bucks; um... that's about it for me. I think anyone else could be made available if the deal was good.
    In reality, I expect we'll keep Phaneuf, Liles, Schenn, Franson, and Komisarek, as well as Gunnarsson and Gardiner. I also expect Bozak, MacArthur, Kulemin, Brown, Frattin, and Steckel will stay around, along with Lupul and Kessel.
    We need a goalie. We need team muckulence, Bobby Craig's term-of-the-year, and we need some team leadership.

  5. I think Reimer can succeed - but he's young, and 99% of all young goalies go through ups and downs. You need a solid, dependable veteran to back-up/spell Reims. Having two young inexperienced goalies is, for most teams, a recipe for disaster or at least long stretches of frustration.

  6. I agree DP, there is no question that the depth has been improved significantly in the Leaf system. And I like the Red Wing model, for sure.

    The question with prospects always is: how many will be legitimate impact players, and how many will simply serve a role as an easily replaceable part as a third or fourth-line player?

    I sense the jury is still out for the Leafs, but again I agree, at least there is a pipeline to discuss!

    Thanks DP.

  7. Agreed Gerund O' best, it's a small group of "must-keep" players.

    And yes, we need muckulence more than ever.

  8. Anon re Reimer:

    Well said. I remain a believer in Reimer. He has the determination and the make-up, in my view, to get the job done here. I think he can be a number-one one guy, though I realize not everyone shares that assessment. (As you mention, young goalies almost always have ups and downs. We need only look at at Carey Price in Montreal....and he's just one example. Elliot was a give-away at the trade deadline last year and now he's an All-Star...)

    I would be surprised if another goalie is not brought in. After this past season's dilemma, I don't see us heading into a new season with Scrivens and Reimer, as much potential as Scrivens may have.


  9. I don't think Scrivens is ready. They need an NHL goalie to compete with and challenge Reimer. Beyond that, is it at all possible that Kessel might be motivated to work with Lupul in the off-season? With all their chemistry, I wonder what kind of player Kessel might become with some good conditioning.

  10. Hi Anon. Scrivens may or may not be ready but I guess we won't know until we are well into next season. Whether he will ever be a co-number-one or a back-up to Reimer, I don't know. My guess is he will be with the Marlies again next season but we'll see.

    As for Kessel, I don't know if conditioning is a major issue. Carlyle certainly talked around the subject at the year-end media conference. For me, the lingering question with Phil is whether he will add elements to his game, as in, can he become a stronger all-around player?

    My guess is many fans are happy if he just provides what he already does- offensive flair and point long as the organization brings in some help for him...Thanks for posting.

  11. "The question with prospects always is: how many will be legitimate impact players, and how many will simply serve a role as an easily replaceable part as a third or fourth-line player?"

    I think most of these guys are 3rd and 4th liners.

    Back to the Detroit analogy... think Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm. Guys that are not elite players, were not selcted in the first round, paid their dues in the AHL and are now decent two-way players.

    Could Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm help the current Leafs? Absolutley.

    That's all I am really hoping for: Some guys that will slowly improve our lower level lines, give us more skill, grit and better two-way play.

  12. I understand, DP. And I agree, the Leafs could use some players precisely like the Detroit guys you cite.

    I sometimes wonder, though, if those same players would come here and not contribute in the same way, simply because the rest of the cast is lacking. It's hard to gauge. Guys like that have a major role on a really good team, like Draper and Maltby did all those years. Would they do have the same impact here?

    Thanks DP.

  13. I love the post Michael but I wonder if Carlyle looks at it more in terms of line composition. I guess it would be impossible not to have done some player evaluation but I have a feeling it is done against the idea of specific roles that the team needs filled. For instance it's fine to have a Kessel on a first line provided you have a good two way centre with size that makes up for any deficiencies that Kessel shows in his game.

    The Truth for me though is that our second line composition is a disaster. Sure we had one great year from them which left us all in awe ...but for real - they have to be so perfect and in-sync to play their crazy passing game, that it might not be realistic to believe they will ever have another year like they did.

    I think Macarthur and/or Kadri for a big LW on the second line would do wonders for this team. You can't have two small players on your second line vs teams like boston. If we are going to be able to play a cycle game we need some size on that line.

    I feel the small size of our second line limits our options regarding our third line which should be used next year for colborne, frattin and kadri/ashton. Our so called fourth line with Steckel, Brown and a player to be acquired via trade in the offseason will probably be getting major minutes next year - more like a third line.

    Perhaps Burke will be trading our marlies talent (colborne, frattin) to put together a big line around steckel for a line that can bang bodies with the bruins.

    In short the list of must have players is related to holes within the lines not just based on performance. Certain role players are harder to replace than others (Lupul, Gardiner, Dion, Kessel) because they naturally fit their roles fairly well. Other players such as bozak, conolly, lombardi have not, in my mind, justified their role on the team by having enough impact when compared to their TOI. In the end though these players need to jell with their line mates and the team system and to that end the final evaluation is about the fit between the players natural abilities and the needs of that line under Carlyle.

    As a final thought...a team which lacks offence like LA might be our trading partner in the offseason. Mike Richards and Dustin Brown would both be a good fit for a roster that needs players who play physical.

  14. Perhaps my memory is selective; however, Brian Burke’s postmortem strikes me as eerily familiar, as if I am reading criticisms in VLM prior to the February 2012 cataclysm. At that time, in the earlier part of the season, we were searching around for words to describe the precariously missing element in an exceptionally entertaining team. A dearth of “muckulence” helped describe the worrisome lack of “grit” and “compete” that Michael, Gerund and others zeroed in on. How prescient those discussions turned out to be!

    I wonder if the question might be framed more in terms of “what” is available than “who” is available? We have to say, after this season that anyone is available, at the right price of course. We all, including me, struck out in anger at Burke in one way or the other during the season from Hell. Rightly or wrongly, we felt betrayed and deceived. However, I think the problem has to be looked at in macro, rather than micro terms. I feel Gerund’s fatigue with the notion of “potential”, a fools’ game if there ever was. However, there is a whole development side to the game that cannot be ignored. In this way, Burke has not lost me with his approach. While, he needlessly overpaid for the scintillating Phil Kessel, he has, in very creative ways, fostered a compelling stable of emerging talent that are indeed “assets” (that brutally honest way to describe human beings in the world of professional sports).

    Whereas JFJ, an adept drafter under Dave Morrison, would gladly hand over the farm to a con artist for the promise of a quick profit, Burke has diligently worked at the recruitment and development aspects of the organization, investment in the long term. Some of these dividends can be cashed in the near term. I have a sense that the AHL has improved to the point that a player does not have to dominate in terms of point production there to suggest a successful role in the NHL. Therefore, I do not buy the argument that the lack of big point producers means that our “assets” are overblown. A consensus is emerging that we are looking at four to six big “muckulent” players with at least one being a defender, a playmaking centre and probably a goaltender as the primary personnel changes that are needed to right the listing ship. The question is, how do you achieve that goal within the parameters of the salary cap, free agency and what may be emerging down on the farm?

    I am well aware, we were listening to spin at the end of the season address; however, I do not see it as an unrealistic or dishonest presentation. I am stuck on my view that a hockey team behaves more like an organism than a machine. By introducing a half dozen elements or so, a very different Leaf creature may well emerge.

  15. That's a great post, J. Ashworth.

    Your comments vis a vis Carlyle and line composition are probably correct, and likely a better way to look at things going forward than what I presented in my post.

    I do wonder about MacArthur's ability to function consistently as a second line winger, but I like your point very much about the second line overall. Kulemin is a big guy but needs to be more physical, consistently (at least to me).

    I'd like to think Frattin has a future here. He has some size, and I think he has the potential, with experience, to be something of a power forward. Colborne has size, so it's hard to know if they would be trade bait, or part of the solution in terms of getting bigger up front.

    Dustin Brown would be welcome here anytime.

    Good to hear from you J. Ashworth.

  16. Thoughtfully said, and very apt, Bobby C.

    One area where I differ with Burke (based on his post-season address today) is that fans were satisfied on February 6. No, in fact, he had a team that was maybe going to scrape into the playoffs. And as we subsequently saw, if they had somehow made it to 7th or 8th place, even playing as they did in the "heady" 6th place days, they would have been mere cannon-fodder for the Bruins, Flyers or Penguins in a rough and tumble and high-end skill playoff series match-up.

    So I don't buy the February 6 theory.

    But I do accept Bobby's thoughts there there is something down on the farm and that Burke has assiduously developed something of a pipeline. Now, we don't know exactly who will emerge, but one would think that of the group that includes Colborne, Kadri, Ashton, Blacker, etc. (Frattin and Gardiner are already here) there will be guys who can play a role, maybe even a major one at some point, at this level.

    I also agree with Bobby that you don't have to be an 80-point player in the AHL to have a future in the NHL.

    Burke has pieces; what he does with those pieces will obviously determine whether the team achieves any real success in the playoffs next spring. Because for me, that's the minimum: winning in the playoffs in the spring of 2013.

    Because, if the Leafs do not have at least some playoff success, Leaf fans will have every reason to be even more inpatient than Burke suggests he is (his excuse for referring to his lack of interest in a five-year re-build).

    Just to add a point, Bobby. I agree with you that Burke was not being disingenuous during the season-end media session. But I'll have more to say on that later.

  17. I think you hit the nail on the head... the core is simply not good enough. Compare our top 5-6 forwards and top 3 Dmen to the top 20 teams and you'll see two trends, less skill/mental toughness and way fewer guys developed by the Leafs who bleed blue and white.

  18. Thanks Anon (I also inadvertently posted your comment on today's post about the year-end press conference and corporate apologies...)

    There is some talent here, for sure, but the core is yet not what it needs to be to compete with the big boys.