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On Morgan Rielly, who has Leaf fans all a Twitter, but a note of caution...

I noticed on the weekend that, in the absence of NHL early-season hockey, many Leaf fans were turning their attention to the Marlies and also to Leaf prospects playing junior hockey across Canada.

It’s fun to do that.  I spent a good chunk of my earlier Leaf-possessed youth frantically following how  prospective future Leafs were doing. (It was harder in my day to really know how guys in the “system”, or potential or actual future draft picks, were developing—there was no real TV coverage and of course, no Internet!) It’s always kind of neat to play the “what’s ahead” game with our prospects, especially when you’re a Leaf fan and the present is not always that tolerable.  The future  provides glimpses of hope, at least.

The Marlies’ opening AHL weekend was appropriately Leaf-like.  A very thorough opening-night 3-1 victory at home was followed by a second encounter on Sunday with lots of shots by the good guys but a lousy result.   The 4-0 scoreline in the loss may not have been fair, but it was emphatic.  Just about everyone on the Marlies looked good enough to play for the big club on Saturday—not so much on Sunday.  So the picture kinds of fits, eh? (Quick aside:  we best not get too high or low over the weekly travails of the Marlies.  As much as the play of prospects at that level is often some indication of future NHL performance, there are so many variables I’m not sure it’s always a reliable predictor…)

There was also some weekend excitement around 2012 first-round pick Morgan Rielly’s impressive 5-assist night for his sometimes struggling Moose Jaw squad on the weekend in the Western Canadian junior loop.  That’s a standout evening for any player at any level, to be sure.  It so happens that as I was writing this particular column, I broke away to spend a few moments on Twitter (just in case, you know, there was a miracle breakthrough in the CBA negotiations...). I noted that someone  had "re-tweeted" a comment from a former long-time Leaf beat reporter.  Apparently a junior scout had opined that Rielly could become the most talented rearguard (I may not have the words exactly correct) for  the Leafs since Borje Salming, seen during his time with the Leafs in  the photo on the left.

What little I’ve seen of the young man certainly fits with the assessments I’ve read in various publications and outlets.  I don't know just yet about the Salming point of reference, but Rielly is  hockey-smart, has good vision, is a very nice skater with some “giddy-up"-  a defenseman who moves the puck awfully well and seems to have a "pull-away" gear.

Now, not to throw cold water on the accolades being passed young Rielly's way (and by extension, to the Leafs, for drafting him), but let me temper our expectations just a bit at this stage. I well recognize that what has happened in the past may mean absolutely nothing when it comes to the present.  History does not always foreshadow the future in hockey- even in Toronto.  I get it.

Yet I fear what could transpire next because it has occurred all too often in my lifetime as a Leaf observer.  And not all of it is "long ago and far away" and therefore irrelevant.  Here's the chain of events: we draft a young defenseman who has all the tools in the world.  They may be big, or tough, or a great skater—whatever.  We naturally project that, with any kind of coaching at all (and maybe, imagine, a bit of patience as well) they will some day not only be a Maple Leaf, but a high-end NHL’er.  Maybe even, goodness, an All-Star.

Let me see.  It was going to be that way with, ah…..Ian Turnbull.  He was a wonderfully talented junior in the early 1970s.  I saw him play often in his last year of junior hockey and he was outstanding.  Drafted in the first round by the Leafs, he did have some nice years with the Leafs, peaking in the 1978 playoffs against the Islanders and Montreal when he played the best hockey of his life.   But his career was over by the time he was 28, 29.

Then there was Trevor Johanssen, a tough sparkplug of a defender, an ex-Marlie as I recall.  I saw him as a junior as well and was thrilled when the Leafs selected him in the draft a few years after Turnbull.  I thought he would be a Leaf for 15 seasons.  He played strongly for the Leafs but for some reason was traded at the age of 21 and retired by the time he was 25.

Then there was Randy Carlyle.  He struggled at first but over time became a Norris Trophy winner.  Just not with the Maple Leafs, unfortunately.  In more recent (at least to me...for some the name may sound like ancient history) times there was the uber-talented Al Iafrate.  In my estimation, Iafrate (seen in his early Leaf days on the right) may have been the most naturally gifted defenseman ever to play for the blue and white, and that’s saying a lot, since I've been following the team since the late 1950s.  I may be alone in that assessment, but regardless, he was extremely talented.  Again, though, he was brought up too soon, suffered a knee injury, and while he actually had a productive and fairly lengthy NHL career, it just wasn’t, for the most part, in Toronto.

Before Al there was high first-round pick Gary Nylund, a can’t miss NHL prospect in the early 80s.  I believe he came out of the Portland Winter Hawks system.  Drafted in the top four by the Leafs in the first round, Nylund brought a great attitude, a heart of gold and the willingness to work his tail off, despite his somewhat limited skating ability.  Sadly, he was pushed into the league too soon and early-on knee injuries did not kill, but certainly curtailed, what was a promising NHL—and Maple Leaf—career.  He was eventually traded to Chicago.

But when I see and hear all the glowing reviews about Rielly’s game, I can’t help but think about another former Maple Leaf pick, who joined the team as a 18-year old.  He made the jump to the pros amid, for the time (nothing compares with the media and Internet hype that we all are part of nowadays) a ton of publicity.  And that was young Jim Benning.

Benning had amazing on-ice vision.  He could make deft, no-look passes, the kind few others could even envision, much less make. He could skate very well and move the puck.  A supremely skilled offensive player, he was almost too good for junior hockey—thus his unfortunate and rather premature call to the “big leagues” after Punch Imlach (or was it Gerry McNanamara by then?) had drafted him in the summer of 1981.  I think it was Punch, because I seem to recall Imlach comparing Benning (in some way, not overall, I don't think) to Bobby Orr—never a good comment to hang on your top prospect.

Benning, drafted sixth overall, I think it was, had some nice seasons with the Leafs, putting up some very decent assist numbers, though also some huge “minus” numbers as well.  (I‘m pretty sure most Leafs did in those days…)  But he was not a physical defenseman, and I always felt he had been pushed into the lineup (can you say Luke Schenn?) too soon. While he looked great at first in Toronto, he kind of regressed in some ways as time went on.  His confidence waned, and his performance suffered.  Of course, the atmosphere around the Leafs in the dismal early ‘80s was not exactly the best environment for a young, promising player to fulfill their promise.

By the age of 23, Benning had been traded to the Canucks. He was out of the NHL by the time he was 26—just another example of the gross mismanagement of so many of our prospects over the decades.  As I’ve said here before, I consider Schenn (and Gustavsson on the goaltending side of things) in that category as well.

So while I love to hear that young Rielly is playing well, and has loads of promise, I tend to temper my projections, based on what I’ve observed in the hockey world for the past fifty plus years.  I remember an old NHL coach saying years ago that draft picks are called “prospects” for a very good reason—they haven’t done anything yet.

Rielly looks awfully good, I admit, and it’s important to be positive and have hope for the future.  But even if he’s very, very good some day soon, he’ll still be just one piece of a very large puzzle that will be needed to make the blue and white legitimate contenders for something more than just a measly playoff spot…


  1. Great, another case of "Leaf fans don't be optimistic." We could draft the next Crosby and get these blog entries. Any other organization is allowed a sliver of optimism.

    Yeah, Leaf history has been full of disappointment and failure. So no reason to be negative. If failure happens with Rielly or anyone else it happens. I'd rather keep a brighter outlook until it happens.

  2. Michael,

    Do you happen to have Brian Burkes' email address? He desperately needs to read this article. Before he trades Rielly or Gardiner for a bag of pucks named Lee Stempniak, or some other replaceable part. The incompetence of this organization in drafting and developing talent is really astonishing.

  3. Anon, I thought I said in my piece that this is part of the fun of being a fan, that we can hope. In fact, my concluding paragraph reinforces that point from earlier in the post. But tempered expectations still seem reasonable to me.

    A lot of Leaf fans may not know the history of the defensemen we have drafted, for example. I simply try to provide that kind of perspective here, when I sense that it may fit with the realities of the present day situation. We can all know the history and still choose to be hopeful. I just write about what I've seen. Other fans choose to respond as they wish.

  4. I'm pretty sure Burke won't be moving Gardiner or Rielly- but I guess we'd have said that about Luke Schenn three years ago! Thanks Jim.

  5. Great article. I can't understand why people get so caught up in building these prospects up only to get angry when they don't live up to their lofty expectations. It happened last season with Greg Millen flaming the fanbase by comparing Jake Gardiner to Phil Housley and Brian Leetch.

    I'm not a big fan of comparisons for this particular reason. All indications are that Rielly will be an above average NHL'er, but as you said developing and harnessing his abilities are what will make him elite or not.

  6. I think you got the main ones Mike, but in ways, the entirety of that young Leaf defence in the early 70's was mismanaged - Dorey, Selwood, McKenny, Glennie, Pelyk, Ley, Quinn and then Neely. It hurt all their development to be thrown out, so many youngsters, all in a group. Some busted up their health, some developed bad habits, some just headed to the WHA. By the time we got to Neely, and messed him up by switching him around all the time, I'd kindof given up on doing things right - and just wanted to clone Salming.

  7. Thanks HS...I understand why fans want to be optimistic. That's why we're fans, we live in hope.

    But I agree that there is no need to make comparisons. That's part of why Benning never had a fair shot. Comparisons by the GM to Orr? C'mon. Benning was an excellent young player and should have spent more time in junior, then the minors, then the Leafs.

    Same with Schenn. And that's on the current administration. (Also Fletcher, in fairness.) Why was he up, at unnecessarily so, at 18? Because he had size? Suddenly at 22 he's a flop. It's not fair - or true.

    Rielly may be tremendous. If so, that will be great. He sure looks like a player. But all kinds of junior players do. Some "make it", others never live up to the billing they receive.

    Bottom line, you nailed it at the end- it's about developing players properly once you sign or draft them. Some think the current Leaf management is doing a better job of that. After watching them destroy Monster and Schenn's confidence, I'm not so sure.

    Thanks HS, good stuff.

  8. You're absolutely right, Not Norm. That early '70s Leaf defense could have been very, very good. Dorey, Ley, Glennie, Selwood, Pelyk, McKenny. And yes, Neely a bit later. I've written about him here before. I thought Neely, with better coaching and development (and commitment on his part) could have been a really good NHL player for a long time.

    And that's what I'm saying, in part, today. Let's just develop these young guys like Rielly properly. No need to build them up so expectations are unfairly high.

    Thanks Not Norm. I always enjoy it when you take the time to visit and post.

  9. Thank you for your well-balanced cautionary tales, Michael! I remember each of the players you mentioned (and the 70's contingent Not Norm mentioned) in much the same way that you described.

    I wonder if fan expectations pushed management and the players themselves beyond what they could have been... tempering ones' long term hopes so that they don't weigh down the players that give us hope, seems to be a healthy reason to write such an article!

    When first hearing about Rielly's 5 assist night, I immediately thought of the 5 goal night that (Salming's oft-time defense partner) Turnbull had in 1977. Turnbull was so talented, but is rarely mentioned or remembered in Leafland nowadays.

    I am hoping that our defensive depth with the Marlies may provide us the resources to wisely allow a 'season-ending-knee-injury recovering' young man the opportunity to put in a full season dominating the Juniors with an opportunity to represent Canada, rather than rushing him into the lineup like so many that have gone before.

    I believe Rielly has the makeup to heal, grow and excel right where he is. I'd love to give him the time to do that. In the event we have a season, let's hope our defense doesn't fail so badly or become decimated by injury such that calling up Rielly this year becomes an option/temptation.

    If he has done well and becomes stronger in the meantime, I could see the season-end 9 game callup as a possibility, though I would prefer to put that off til the next season. If we're in the playoff hunt, then go with the guys who got you there from the Leafs/Marlies, if not, why finish lower in the Draft Sweepstakes than necessary if Rielly was ready?

  10. Yes, the Turnbull 5-goal night did spring to mind for me as well, InTimeFor62. I think it's natural for we long-time Leaf people to think that way.

    You've described my intent perfectly. The post was not intended as a negative piece or a downer at all- simply a realistic look at how we, as Leaf fans, tend to react to various rising stars over the years. And more importantly, how the organization has handled things, which is not always well.

    Thanks as always, InTimeFor62.

  11. I agree Michael. Let me add Fred Boimistuck to the ignominious list. Fred was QJMHL defenceman of the year in 1981 and a Memorial Cup winner with the Cornwall Royals. The Cup was played in Windsor that year and my sons and I saw him play along with Dale Hawerchuck and Doug Gilmour.
    He was drafted by the Leafs and brought up to the big club as a teenager. Lasted 2 years and disappeared in the minors shortly thereafter after completely losing his confidence. What a waste!

  12. Given patience and proper coaching, Boimistruck would have indeed been a fine defenseman with the Leafs, Ed. It was a shame to see he, Benning and McGill rushed prematurely into the line-up in the early '80s...Thanks for chiming in Ed.

  13. At the tender age of sixteen on my first trip to Toronto, I wandered into Maple Leaf Gardens and watched the Leafs practice. It was probably not allowed, but nobody stopped me. I remember being not far from Harold Ballard who didn’t seem to care that I walked in off the street. Errol Thompson pointed at me and covering his mouth, whispered something to Roger Neilson, who probably sensed that I was just another Leafs fan; or nobody important at least. I guess potentially however I was a spy. What I remember most is Borje Salming, who parked himself in front of me and fired slapshots in the general direction of my head, positioned a few inches over the glass. Whatever the point of the apparent attempt at intimidation, it didn’t work. Like all goalers, I am largely unaffected to having pucks are shot in my direction. To be acknowledged by Borje Salming, even as someone worthy of a puck in the face however, is a memory to hang onto. As with all great players, Salming harbored a little nasty within. I remember that nasty streak well when I watched him play at the Forum, the way he laid the lumber on every Hab that got within his range. At any rate, I was not about to change seats. As you might expect, before long, Borje got bored and skated away to take part in some other drill.

    More recently, a few weeks ago in fact, I went to see Morgan Rielly’s Moose Jaw team play against the Regina Pats. I sat about where I sat at the Gardens, four rows back of the Moose Jaw bench. Needless to say, as a Leafs fan I was focussed on Rielly. To tell the truth, for most of the game, he looked like an above average junior player, and not much more. He showed a lot of natural talent, a high hockey IQ, smooth skating and positioning as well as a propensity to make the odd mistake. At one point in the game he made one of those mistakes and received some pretty “heated” coaching from assistant coach Mike Vandenberghe. The next shift was a Moose Jaw power play and Morgan looked like a player assumed that his presence on the ice was a given. However, fresh from Vandenberghe’s heated coaching he sat, and the Regina Pats immediately scored a shorthanded goal. On the following shift he was put back on the ice. And then I saw what all the fuss is about. In seconds Rielly helped engineer a play and had deposited the puck in the Regina net, so fast I barely saw it, a thing of beauty from the high slot. More than that, it was the extra gear that impressed me. All I can say is “Wow”!

    Without doubt, Rielly is a confident player. At one point he took a dirty hit and let it go. On the same token he gave it to the officials when he was unhappy with their decisions and gave it to Regina players as well. As with Borje Salming, you sense the nasty (although a lot less). For sure, I get what Mike is saying. Once upon a time, a gifted defenseman named Fred Boimistruck was confident as well. It is a shame the Leafs usual ineptitude in developing players compromised his great potential among others. With that and other lessons in mind it is absolutely imperative that Morgan Rielly is properly nurtured and developed. If that can happen then we might have something special. I would have said that Rielly’s play was the highlight of the night; however someone else takes that honor. While I was not paying particular attention a puck flew over the glass a few rows away from me, heading straight for a woman’s face at high velocity. With Cujo like reflexes her husband grabbed the puck out of the air inches from her face. That nearly tragic second made me wonder: Would the idea of taking stitches from a Borje Salming slap shot be worth the story to tell? Or would have there been anyone to tell it?

  14. I really enjoyed the Salming story, Bobby C. - Goaltenders like you are always tough...or crazy, eh? (And in answer to your final questions....I'm glad you had no "stitches' story" but are here to tell the story anyway...)

    Good to know that you saw Rielly in person. You had mentioned a few weeks ago that if possible you would provide some first-hand observations. Thank you for that.

    All the guys I noted in my post were excellent young defensemen. But rushed call-ups, injuries, unfair expectations, inadequate coaching, a poor development path- all that and more seemed to conspire against any of them having as long and/or productive careers in Toronto as they all perhaps could have had.

    Current management will hopefully do a better job than they did with Schenn...a different type of player, but the challenges are much the same.

    Thanks Bobby C.. Good to hear from you.

  15. While mismanagement of some players by rushing them, over the years is in some cases a reasonable sentiment of long time fans, some of your examples here don't belong, in my opinion. You seem to have skewed the context from that which was prevalent at the time. Your main theme, that the Leafs rushed these players into the NHL doesn't hold up when you consider what was normal for most teams draft picks of that time period. Picks were also older then and the majority of 1st rounders found themselves on an NHL roster the following year.

    Why should Ian Turnbull be included here? He had a successful career with the Leafs but was considered "too soft" by some and annoyed many Leafs fans at the time for what seemed to be a casual approach to the game as if he could take it or leave it. He probably came by that naturally as he appeared to be a little more gifted intellectually than the average player of the day and had some entrepreneurial spirit as well, evidenced by his life during and after leaving the game. I don't see how the fact that his career was over by the time he was 28, 29 has any bearing on the Leafs. He suffered a knee injury in "81-82 with L.A. and a back injury in 82-83 with Pitts. and was done, nothing to do with the Leafs. Most 1st round picks in his draft year played in the NHL the following season.

    Trevor Johansen was traded for 22 year old multiple 30 goal scorer Paul Gardiner in what appears to be a reasonable trade even if Gardiner with the Leafs did not work out as hoped. Again the fact that Johansen left the game at a young age has little to do with mismanagement by the Leafs. Your thrust in this article seems to be that the Leafs acted stupidly by promoting these players to the NHL too soon. By what standard? Certainly not the prevailing one of the day exercised by almost all teams of that time. Roger Neilson was the coach at the time, not someone often linked to detrimental practices towards players that I recall.

    !977 Draft. 1st Round.
    #1. Dale McCourt - Started in NHL next season. (76 games)
    #2. Barry Beck - Started in NHL next season. (75 games)
    #3. Robert Picard - Started in NHL next season. (75 games)
    #4. Jere Gillis - Started in NHL next season. (79 games)
    #5. Mike Crombeen - 1977-78. Started 25 games in minors, 48 in the NHL.
    #6. Doug Wilson - Started in NHL next season. (77 games)
    #7. Brad Maxwell - Started in NHL next season. (75 games)
    #8. Lucien DeBlois - Started in NHL next season. (71 games)
    #9. Scott Campbell - Started in WHA next season.
    #10. Mark Napier - Started 3rd season in WHA.
    #11. John Anderson - Played 55 games in minors, 17 with Leafs.
    #12. Trevor Johansen - Started in NHL next season. (79 games)
    #13. Ron Duguay - Started in NHL next season. (71 games)
    #14. Ric Seiling - Started in NHL next season. (80 games)
    #15. Mike Bossy - Started in NHL next season. (71 games)
    #16. Dwight Foster - Stayed in junior + 14 games in NHL next season.
    #17. Kevin McCarthy - Started in NHL next season. (62 games)
    #18. Norm Dupont - Played full schedule in AHL next season.

  16. Thanks Anon but I'll stand by my post. Of course, the circumstances in every situation are different. (I could have included a number of other former Leaf prospects as well...) I recognize that. But I wasn't trying to be scientific, simply make the point that in all cases, for any number of reasons - lofty expectations, less than wise management approaches, poor coaching, injuries, etc. things did not work out.

    For me, in every case, their careers should have been "better", based on their play and draft status coming out of junior. Turnbull was gone and retired by the time his junior teammate, Denis Potvin, was helping the Islanders win 4 Cups in the early '80s.

    Johansen was traded for Gardiner, but Gardiner was gone in no time. Johansen, based on his work ethic and skill set, should have had a long career with the Leafs.

    I'm not sure that the excuse of a supposed "prevailing standard" in each of the eras excuses an overall record of developing players inadequately.

    I'm not suggesting the Leafs have "always done everything wrong". But for me, there is enough evidence that a lot of prospects have not panned out as we had hoped. So while we can hope Rielly has a tremendous career, only time will tell.

  17. 2nd of 3 parts

    The Leafs were one of only 4 teams to send a 1st round pick to the minors this draft (#11 John Anderson).

    With Johansen the Leafs acted completely in accordance with the prevailing wisdom of the day, as exercised by virtually every other team at that time, yet you seem to want to rewrite history in accordance with how we think teams should act today based on the fact that today's draftees are 17 and 18 year olds. A majority of players in 1977 were 20 the year they were drafted and only a few were a couple of months short of 20 starting the 1977-78 season. The influx of European and more American players in the NHL since that time has raised the level of play and along with the younger age of today's drafted players, makes development necessary in many instances but it was clearly not the case back then.

    Al Iafrate was drafted #4 by the Leafs in 1984, the first defenseman taken. Of the top 11 picks that year 6 were defensemen. Every one of those 6 defensemen started in the NHL the next season. Al Iafrate-68 games, Petr Svoboda-73 games, Craig Redmond-79 games, Doug Bodger-65 games, J.J. Daigneault-67 games, Silvain Cote-67 games. Again the Leafs did nothing different than every other club so I see no reason why we should now try to say they rushed things.

    Saying that an early knee injury was detrimental to Iafrate's career seems an overstatement or perhaps a mistaken memory. I believe he came to camp considerably overweight early in his career and spent some time getting in shape. He played 68, 65, 80, 77, 65 and 75 games in his first 6 years with the Leafs with 63 points in that last season. It seems to me that it was late in that season, '89-90 when Al suffered the serious knee injury and missed the play-offs, then had a disappointing first half in '90-91 and was traded. The Leafs picked up Bob Rouse, a solid stay at home d-man and Peter Zezel in the trade to Washington. Not the worst return for an underperforming defenseman with a wonky knee. Although I wouldn't know the truth about any of it, there was also a fair amount of talk about discord in the dressing room between Iafrate and other player(s). So a trade at that time doesn't seem that strange.

    As for overall pick #3 Gary Nylund, he did suffer an unfortunate injury his first year but the 3 other d-men taken in the top 10 of that draft (1, 5, 6), all started the next season in the NHL. So the three other top talent defensemen were started in the NHL in '82-83 by their teams, but somehow the Leafs were fools for doing the same?

  18. 3rd of 3 parts
    Jim Benning, taken #6 in 1981 like every other player taken in the top 8 except #4 Ron Francis (25 games in junior, 59 in the NHL), went straight to the NHL. Benning was the top scoring defenseman in the WHL, tied for 4th overall with 139 points his draft year. I think at the time one could have legitimately asked what more did he have to prove in junior? As you say, he did have some nice seasons with 51 and 44 points in his 3rd and 4th year. He played 74, 74, 79 and 80 games his first 4 seasons so there was no significant injury incurred by bringing an apparently, hugely talented player into the league. Under the conditions and in doing what most teams would have done I wouldn't consider this "gross mismanagement". Should we consider Boston negligent for bringing Bobby Orr into the league at 18? He suffered two knee injuries in his first two seasons, not to mention a third one suffered in a collision with a Boston teammate during an off season charity game between those first 2 seasons that led to another operation and left his knee in a cast for 5 weeks.

    No one suggests that Boston was guilty of mismanagement even though these injuries were to contribute to a far too early retirement for the best player in the game. Why? Perhaps it's because they won a couple of Stanley Cups with Orr.

    I suspect if the Leafs had won even 2 or 3 Cups over the last 45 years we would hear far less of this or at least reserve criticism for situations that clearly fit the bill and not these trumped up allegations in which the Leafs, as I've said, did nothing more than what most other teams were doing at the time.

    With a 45 year Stanley Cup drought people want to hang the blame somewhere and there have been some legitimate complaints to aim at management over the years, but I don't think most of the ones in this article apply for the reasons I've stated. With the losing atmosphere that has surrounded the Leafs for most of these years, all it takes is for a reporter to say the team really screwed up this or that, and without checking the facts or remembering the prevailing realities of the time, the majority of fans will just nod and agree with that knowing look that we've become so good at. Because we haven't periodically won the Stanley Cup and been able to release and let go of the sins of the past, we as Leafs fans find it easy to lay blame on management for anything and everything they've ever done, even if at the time it wasn't really a mistake.

  19. Thanks again Anon. While I hear you, doing what other teams did "at the time" is not excuse for poor development, regardless of whether a player was 18, 20 or whatever when they joined the Leafs.

    Turnbull should have been an even better player than he was, with good coaching. Neilson tried, but Turnbull's habits were well entrenched by then.

    As for Iafrate, he did suffer a bad knee injury early in his career, came back and I believe was injured again. I could be wrong. But he had remarkable talent and had a fairly solid career, just not all in Toronto. (Rouse was indeed a fine defenseman, a key guy in that Burns era, agreed...)

    My broader point is these guys, in most cases, were not coached, developed or nurtured into being the players they could be, regardless of the prevailing approaches at the time in terms of thrusting guys into the NHL at a young age. (I still don't like it today...didn't like it with Schenn...).

    Bob Neely was another example. He was cast into the guy of "tough guy" defenseman by the Leafs because of his size, but he had real skills and never blossomed. Part of it was his lack of commitment, part of it was the environment, in my view.

    Of course the players have a role in their own lack of reaching their "potential". It's not all the Leafs being "dumb". But they have made tons of mistakes.

  20. We just see things very differently. I saw saw each of the players discussed in my article in person, many times, over the years. I followed their progress.

    Benning should not be mentioned in the same breath as Orr. Orr, like Howe, Hull and a few others before him, was truly ready at 18. He had been hurt (knee) already in junior hockey, before he reached the NHL.

    Anyone who follows this site knows that I don't just "blame" the Leafs for everything, past or present because it's convenient to do that. But they do do have a record of poor development, in my view (and not just with defensemen, obviously), and we should be very careful whenever the hype machine (as with Rielly) goes into full gear, whether it comes from the team or fans/media.

    We can agree to disagree. I know my facts, and I lived through the realities "of the time" as well. Those were mistakes in how you develop an athlete, in pretty much every case - in any era. As I said in the post, injuries and other factors came into play as well.

    The article was mostly a perspective to remind us as fans we should maybe not get overly excited by any one player, because we've been down this road before. You chose to try (unsuccessfully in my my view) and pick apart the examples, though I never suggested it was highly scientific.

    So I'll cut the debate off here. You've had a lengthy say. I think you're making excuses for poor player development, but we'll leave it at that. Thanks Anon.

  21. I believe I've provided facts that disprove your suppositions about most of these players. IF you HAD used a list of different players then I likely wouldn't disagree as I know there have been mistakes over the years, just not with most of these names. How can this be considered poor development when practically every team did the exact same thing with their draftees? "At the time" is not a poor excuse for development, it was the reality of the day. Was every other team in the league wrong too or just the Leafs? Again, was it gross mismanagement by the Bruins starting Orr when they did? I'll bet Boston fans don't think so even though he too suffered serious injuries early in his career. It seems to me that you're saying that the Leafs are guilty of gross mismanagement because they didn't do what nobody else in the league was doing. Again virtually all of Ian Turnbull's and Trevor Johansen's 1st round colleagues went straight to the NHL the next season. And that in itself is enough to prove your memories about THESE players are mistaken or am I to believe that the Maple Leafs were the only guilty team. I've supplied you with FACTS not supposition. I can lead a horse to water but I can't make him drink.

  22. Don't know what else to say Anon, and I really am cutting this off here. I don't get your argument at all. The "era" thing doesn't work for me. The Orr thing has me baffled.

    You claim "facts" versus my incorrect memory. What can I say? You believe you're right. We move on.

  23. At the end of the day, hockey is a results oriented business. I assume that if the Leafs weren’t doing anything wrong, then we would have seen much better results than what we saw -- basically mediocre teams and a number of young men with stellar backgrounds trapped in a culture of failure.

    I take one of Mike’s points to be that the Leafs have failed several of these young men in a systemic way (probably based on a longstanding dysfunctional culture). The Leafs may have been acting in a way consistent with the historical context, although it is not the impression I have had for a long time. To the contrary, I recall spirited criticisms about attempts to rush their youth into situations that sadly, set up the players in question for failure. I seem to remember a lot of questioning during those times about the Leafs’ approach to developing players. Was it George Armstrong who wondered aloud, how Benning, Boimistruck and McGill would be able to succeed without enough veterans to show them the way? In contrast, Montreal had a very robust farm system that seemed to prepare their players for long and productive careers, and Stanley Cup rings to boot. We all saw the results; and those results certainly did not result in any Stanley Cup rings on Leaf fingers, and let’s face it, several ruined careers.

    Were Leafs management doing everything right and simply victims of fate? It’s an interesting idea, but it is certainly not one that will motivate anyone to get out of bed in the morning. I think it is more likely that mistakes were made, and that several of the players mentioned suffered because of it. Incompetent player development has long been an Achilles heel of the Leafs culture, for sure one that has to be reversed if we are going to line up to see a blue and white Morgan Reilly in any future parades.