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20 Leaf notes and NHL playoff observations

While there is no truly “big” news in Leafland, some things are still happening.  And there’s also plenty going on in the NHL playoffs.  While the second round, for me, never reaches the dramatic heights of the first round, it’s always good to be reminded just what it takes for a team to be successful at this time of year. I trust the Leaf players are taking notes…

Some wide-ranging thoughts:
  1. I’m not concerned that Leaf exec Rick Dudley is leaving.  He’s clearly a well-regarded guy, with a strong personnel background.  But it was evident from the day he arrived (less than a year ago, right?) that he wasn’t going to be here long.  I think he has been a solid GM wherever he’s been, but he’s a guy that has moved—a lot.  Whether it was a question of butting heads with ownership (in the case of the Thrashers, he couldn’t help the franchise leaving town, obviously) or other issues, I have no idea.  But I expect his stay in Montreal (if he does indeed sign there) will be short as well.  Some owner will like his management pedigree so he may well get another gig as a GM somewhere.  From a Maple Leaf perspective, as good as Dudley is at recognizing talent, surely we have plenty of other guys who also do that well, right? There’s no cap on hiring top talent evaluators…
  2. My interest in how various Maple Leafs (including Phaneuf and Schenn) are playing at the ongoing World Championships will increase as the games begin to matter more.  The tilt between Canada and the U.S.A. had its interesting moments, but results against France, Norway, etc. mean precious little.  I’m keen to know more about Nikolai Kulemin’s work with the Russian team.  His minutes decreased last year as the event unfolded.  So far this spring, he appears to be playing just over 14 minutes a night, and has already scored his first goal of the tournament.  Maple Leaf Finnish hopeful Leo Komarov (a “prospect” though he is already 25 years of age) is getting regular minutes in the event and is worth keeping an eye on, as well.
  3. It’s good to see Leaf fans excited in the spring about playoff hockey.  While it’s “only” the Marlies, they sure look like a well-coached team, which is a big factor come playoff time—as we see every year at this time at the NHL level.  We all know the names of the primary “prospects” in the Marlie line-up, but I’d be interested to know from you which players, based on what you are seeing in these AHL playoffs, seem most ready to jump into an NHL spot at training camp next fall.  There’s a long summer of training and preparation ahead, but these games usually provide for us a glimpse   into the future- and some sense of what the brass might be thinking.  We know Frattin will be here for sure, and Gardiner is already a full-time Maple Leaf.  Beyond that, it looks like Kadri is “next up”.  I don’t see Colborne as a prime time “top-six” guy just yet, but I could be wrong.
  4. The Leafs do have some nice young prospects in the system.  But we shouldn’t forget that other organizations do as well.  I thought Carolina, for example, was not a very good team this past season, yet they finished higher in the standings than the Leafs.  More importantly, they have some outstanding prospects themselves, like Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner along with Justin Faulk.  (They have Cam Ward in goal, too, which doesn’t hurt their chances going forward).  Virtually every NHL team has these kinds of prospects in their systems.  The Leafs are far from alone.  So our hope for help from “within” should be tempered with a dose of reality.
  5. I enjoyed getting your responses to a recent post here on which of the potentially available players you would most want to see join the Leafs this coming summer.   Names like Staal, Luongo, Getzlaf (who seems to be enjoying his time in Europe, eh?) and Semin could well be “out there”.
  6. I guess I fail to see how the Shea Weber head smash was not a suspension at all but the Raffi Torres hit was worth, on the other hand, 25 games.  Meanwhile Ovechkin leaves his feet the same way as Torres, delivers a "head shot" and gets nothing.  I mean, I understand there is a historical double-standard for “stars”, but, well, it just seems odd to me.  I’m sure not everyone agrees…
  7. This year’s playoffs remind me a great deal of 1993.  Most of the big-name teams—or at least those I anticipated would still be around by the time we reached the “final-four”—are gone.  It’s entirely possible that an underdog team will win the Stanley Cup, like Montreal did in the spring of 1993.  I didn’t see that one coming, and I haven’t seen much of what’s going on now coming, either.  Leaf management’s earlier stated concern about “just getting into the playoffs only to lose four straight” sounds reasonable on the surface, if the longer-term vision actually works out in the end.  In the meantime, though, some teams that just “squeezed in” are having a pretty good run, eh? (Though I’m not suggesting the Leafs have the skill level of the Kings, for example, who did indeed barely make the spring dance.  But if they played as hard as LA does most nights, well….)
  8. As much as Sutter was responsible, as General Manager, for the mess the Flames find themselves in now, he should get credit for his apparent impact on a Kings team that looked lost and often listless earlier this season.  Something’s happened and he has to be part of it.  I sometimes forget he took the Flames to Game 7 of the finals not that many years ago.
  9. While I absolutely give full marks to the Senators for an unexpectedly successful season, will they, I wonder, fall back next season?
  10. I know a lot of people find John Tortorella entertaining.  But while I don’t question that both he and Dale Hunter are excellent coaches, I find them both singularly (and unnecessarily) agitating, which makes them, for me, un-likeable.  Not that that matters…
  11. Despite what management is saying publicly, I think Tim Thomas is done in Boston.  The team has some very good young players, but also has some needs.  Who knows how long Thomas will be as effective as he was most of last season?  He is an asset they could likely get something substantial in return for.
  12. It’s funny, the Flyers have had some very, very good teams off and on over the years, but they haven’t had a true elite goalie since Bernie Parent.  Last summer, they paid Bryzgalov all that money, but I don’t know that he has provided the playoff goaltending they were hoping for—and needed.  I can’t pretend to be able to assess the guy’s mental toughness, but I wonder how his teammates feel?  He’s played some good games, but the consistency has not been there, at times, when they perhaps needed it most.  They likely don’t have much left to give, at this point.
  13. After a wildly successful regular season rebound under new coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues sure came crashing down to earth against the Kings.  Some analysts shave suggested that Hitchcock didn’t make the necessary in-game adjustments, for some reason.  Hard to believe he missed something obvious.  He’s been coaching forever.  I did notice that ex-Leaf Carlo Colaiacovo, who had a nice season with the Blues, did not dress for Game 4 against the Kings.  I didn’t think he was injured.  Not sure if he was a healthy scratch or not.
  14. Everyone stand over there that predicted a LA/Phoenix Western Conference final back in September.
  15. I feel the need to say it again:  I was very wrong about the Devils (as I was about the Senators).  They obviously are much better than I thought they would be.
  16. How long does Doug Wilson get to have really good teams that rarely win come playoff time in San Jose?  GM’s sure get more rope than coaches, eh?
  17. The last time Steve Tambellini took this long deciding about his incumbent coach, he changed coaches.  I’m guessing he will fire Tom Renney soon.
  18. It would appear the predictions that Scott Howson would be fired in Columbus did not turn out to be accurate.  It’s too late now for the team to change GM’s, with some huge decisions upcoming in the next few weeks…
  19. I usually wait to say this until training camp every year, but I sense the Red Wings are finally (really, this time) headed in the wrong direction.  They can’t win with what they have, and I don’t see amazing prospects coming in to save the day.  Maybe they’ll splurge in free agency, but that is rarely a panacea for NHL teams.
  20. I think Florida will fall back next season.  They need goaltending and lots of other things, too. More room for the Leafs if both Ottawa and the Panthers step back...
Finally, where does Roberto Luongo end up this summer?

As always, send your thoughts along….


  1. The most striking thing about the playoffs so far has been the impossibility of advancing without superior goaltending, team defence, and a fierce desire for the puck. I can't help assessing the Leafs when I'm watching these games - usually to our detriment, but after all, that's why we're not watching our team!
    The mobility and positioning of Smith, Rinne, Lundquist et al has been amazing - with virtually none of the floundering we saw so much of in our net last year. It's abundantly clear that improving here is essential if we're to have any hope of improving overall.
    Contrary to Brian Burke's assertion, we don't need truculence - but we do need Bobby C's "muckulence" - in spades. The battles for the puck have been awesome.
    And the ability of teams to think and move as a five man unit - wow! ASs we often say here - it's a team game!

  2. You said it the way it is, Gerund O'. I admit, I do the same, I look at these games and wonder how the Leafs, even if they "elevated" their game, would fit. And the truth is, they don't. They still have so far to go.

    Bobby C. hit the nail on the head here months ago, for sure.

    Thanks Gerund.

  3. Brian Burke lost me somewhat when he said that (paraphrasing) he could have made a trade that would have got the Leafs into the playoffs only to be blown out in the first round. This statement was probably in reference to an offer to trade Luke Schenn for some capable veterans who could have pushed them into the mix (I think it was the season before this one). While I would not advocate that kind of move either, I find Burke’s comments metaphysical, when let’s face it; hockey is played in the physical universe. For one, there is no guarantee that such a move would translate into wins. On the other side of the coin, there is no saying that such a move would not result in a winning streak at the right time of the year. Consider this year, for example, the Year of the Underdog. As Michael says, stand up and take a bow if you predicted the Coyotes and Kings to be in the final four. At the end of the day, you never know who is going to end up wearing the crown, once the dance begins. Therefore, there is no way to predict future results based on roster moves. Managing a hockey team seems to have a lot in common with alchemy, with equally uncertain results.

    That said, I appreciate why a long-term strategy and rational thought matters to success. In the long run it is probably better to follow a reasoned long-term strategy than to roll the dice and come up with snake eyes. For that reason, I appreciate what has been achieved with the Marlies this year, a success that bodes well for the future, or at least we all hope. At the other end of the team building spectrum, I am becoming leery of the mine field of free agency as a quick, supposedly “free” fix. In a salary cap system nothing is free, because an inflated salary for a worn-out or underperforming veteran can cost you a lot in terms of roster flexibility and player development, a self-imposed problem that is seems to have played out with the current Leafs. It would be interesting, for example, to consider how Phoenix has employed the free agent pool, given their limited resources, what might be called, to further the dice metaphor, a “dog throw” (assuming that the Stanley Cup tournament is not a mere game of craps). Maybe the Bauhaus axiom, “less is more” is somehow appropriate (this year at least). And, at least we have some hope to hang on to, even if most of us have learned by now to be leery of metaphysical predictions in the world of hockey. Such powers reside with the likes of Mark Messier, who had a definitive say in the outcome of the physical world. So, let’s stay away from metaphysical predication shall we? Because, as Brian Burke has demonstrated, a little hubris can be a dangerous thing.

  4. Thought-out and well stated as always, Bobby C.

    I'm very much with you when you say that nothing is "free" in a cap system. it's true. A UFA signing may "only" cost dollars and no assets, but dollars are an asset in the current system, for sure.

    It's funny, as I try to step back and look at the Leaf picture, I'm neither hopeful and impressed nor resigned and disenchanted with how the Leafs have "built" over the past three and a half years. I guess I see them as just another team trying to build a roster, trying to build an identity, looking to improve.

    They have improved, but so have (and so will) other teams. It is the constant cycle in professional sports. Can the Bruins stay near the top, or will they falter? Have the Wings finally hit the time when they start to go backwards? Can the surprising Senators move ahead, or was this past season a mirage? How can teams like the Leafs with money miss so badly, yet franchises with much less do so well sometimes?

    The Leafs, right now, are just another team with questions. In a "results-oriented business", the answers are only available to us every spring.

    Thanks Bobby C. You always help keep the level of discussion here high- where it should be.

  5. Hey Mike,

    So I've attended 3 of the Marlies home playoff games so far (2 wins and their only loss so far). The games have been fantastic to watch. My observations about the Marlies are this:

    1. Joe Colborne is not ready. He's chipped in with some assists thus far, but his skating still isn't strong enough and he still needs to fill out that big lanky frame of his. Maybe a strong off-season training regimen will give him a chance to crack the lineup in the fall, but I don't think he'll be a better option than any of Bozak/Grabo/whoever the leafs might bring in as a FA this offseason. As such, I'd rather see him suit up as a Marlie for one more year before trying to make the jump.

    2. Kadri is probably as ready as he's going to be. His size and skillset probably lend themselves more to playing the wing at the NHL level, but it will really be a disappointment if he doesn't make the squad next year. He's had a great playoffs, throwing some hits and contributing a good deal on the scoresheet. He has the occasional moments where he tries to do a little too much with the puck and turns it over, but he seems more responsible in general with making those kinds of high risk plays away from his own end where the good outweighs the bad.

    3. Matt Frattin is on the upswing. 1 goal in each game of the second round so far, his wrist-shot is every bit as good as it has been hyped up to be. I doubt he'll ever be a 30g scorer, but I think he definitely has the potential to be a 2nd liner who can contribute MacArthur like numbers while also playing 2-way responsible hockey and throwing hits. He's physically the most mature of the young prospects (especially since he's older at 24), and he will definitely be on the roster next year barring a trade.

    4. Blacker is a player that a lot of people expect to contribute in the future as a 3rd pairing defenseman with the potential to be a 2nd pair guy and contributor on the PP. He hasn't looked very good so far in the couple games I've seen, but he is just coming off an injury so hopefully he can regain his form and push some of the vets next year.

    5. Gardiner's skating really shines in the AHL, to the point where he's noticeably better than the other players on the ice. He's been playing pretty well, without any glaring mistakes that I've seen so far.

    6. Scrappers - I think that the Leafs can definitely count on a couple Marlies to be cheap fill-ins on the third and fourth lines next year if they can manage to shed some dead-weight contracts (connolly, armstrong, lombardi). Jerry D'Amigo is really in his first year of pro hockey, but he's a rock, playing heavy minutes on the Marlies #1 in the AHL PK. He's also been outstanding offensively, and if Crabb leaves as a UFA, I'd love to see D'Amigo step up into his role on the 4th line.

    7. Korbinian Holzer anchors the PK and is just very smart and consistent defensively. Definitely the best defensive d-man the Marlies have, I think he gets a real long look as a potential 3rd pairing guy, maybe as a complement to Jake Gardiner to form a young 3rd pairing. I'd love to see our d shape up as Phaneuf/UFA, Gunnarsson/Schultz(dreaming maybe), Gardiner/Holzer if we can somehow manage to shed the contracts of komisarek and liles. I also anticipate the Leafs package the RFA rights for Cody Franson in some trade this summer, as I think his skillset is redundant on a team with many OFD already.

    8. Scrivens has been rock solid for the Marlies all year, but his time up in the bigs has been inconsistent at best. I'm not sure if he really has what it takes to be what the Leafs need at the pro level, but I think he's definitely earned a look for the pre-season. I think Jussi Rynnas will no longer be with the organization by the fall, as he is a free agent, and the Leafs seem to be higher on Mark Owuya who has been very good in his time on the Marlies and has shown flashes of NHL-quality goaltending in the lower levels.

  6. As for the rest of your post...

    With regards to the Red Wings, I think they make a hard push for both Parise and Suter in the off-season, and getting both those players could convince Lidstrom to make one last go of it, which would make them solid contenders in my opinion.

    I anticipate a fall for both Ottawa and St. Louis to be honest. Ottawa had a poor goal differential for most of the season, and I just really don't think Craig Anderson will be able to reproduce the numbers he put up this season. Ditto for the Elliott/Halak combination, which is why I anticipate St. Louis also regresses a bit. Also, Ottawa has few prospects and his getting old. I also hope the Leafs can poach Chris Stewart from the blues on the cheap, who seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff there.

    I'm totally with you on the inconsistency of discipline so far in the playoffs. Weber gets a $2500 slap on the wrist (which I calculated out to be approximately 1 shift's worth of salary). Ovie gets nothing, but Giroux gets a game. Chris Neil had numerous hits that were probably suspendable while Neal got relatively little for 2 bad hits in the same game. It has been all over the map and even the star treatment theories out there don't account for the exceptions...Klesla got a game for his hit which was in my opinion less of an infraction than what Weber did. Who can know the mind of Shanahan...

  7. Excellent breakdown, Darryl. I have not been to the Marlie games, but have watched some of the action. I'm with you on Colborne. And yes, Kadri looks like he needs to play regularly in the NHL next season. We need to see what he can do over an extended period of time without the risk of his constantly being sent down.

    Good observation as well with regard to Blacker and Frattin. We know Gardiner is a fixture. D'Amigo would be a nice spark to have in the lineup- when he's NHL ready.

    Yes, the jury is out on Scrivens though surely her will get a look next fall. Holzer's short-term future likely depends on, as you mention Darryl, what happens with some of the current contracts on defence.

    Really good stuff, thanks.

  8. If, as you say Darryl, the Wings can attract those two guys, yes, that could be a season-changer for them. In fact, it would help them for years to come, I would think.

    Some teams will definitely fall back. Hitchcock tends to have that great initial hit, then his voice grows old, though he claims to have "changed" over time. We'll see. Every year we have surprise teams, and many fall back to where they were before.

    I'm baffled by the so-called discipline. Can't make heads or tails out of it.

    Thanks again Darryl.