The locker cleanout day offered many interesting pieces of information that occupied me to the point of having to write about it. These are the quotes of things said that intrigued me the most. Below each quote is a note about what I took from it.
About Tyler Bozak:
â€œIf we got Tyler Bozak in the one hole (top line center), and he canâ€™t play in the one hole, thatâ€™s my fault, itâ€™s not Tylerâ€™s fault. I really like the way Tylerâ€™s game improved this year, he became a really solid penalty killer, heâ€™s what we thought we were getting when we signed him, and heâ€™s a great kid. Heâ€™s going to be a good NHL player. Heâ€™s probably in the wrong box (playing as the top line C). If heâ€™s playing in the one hole and heâ€™s not on the same level as his two wingers, that means they are not getting the puck, they are not getting chances. Thatâ€™s not his fault.â€
To me, this is a clear indication of a â€œlesserâ€ role for Bozak in the near future, a role that would have him centering our third line and a role most us thought would suit Bozak best.
Singling out players for praise:
â€œIn my mind, Phil Kessel emerged as a 200ft player, a three zone player in addition to having his 3rd straight 30goal season. And then of course, I think James Reimer has to be singled out for praise, I thought his second half of the season was remarkable.â€
Pretty much sums up the kind of season (or at least half a season) that Phil Kessel had. Brian Burke certainly doesnâ€™t see Kessel as a one dimensional player, and after what he has shown this year, neither should we.
About the coaching staff:
â€œThe coaching staff will be back, there seems to be some speculation as to whether they should be extended or not, that will wait until the end of the World Championships and if done will be done privately, but thereâ€™s no reason to extend the coaches in particular, they are all under contract for next season.â€
Ron Wilson added: â€œAs far as Iâ€™m concerned the coaching staff is going to remain intact.â€
Not overly happy about hearing that. Somebody has to take the blame for 3 years of dismal powerplay, and so far it looks the blame for it falls on multiple groups of players during that period which isnâ€™t very convincing. Iâ€™ll admit that the quality of players couldnâ€™t exactly rival the NHLâ€™s big guns during that period, but even with the improvement in play and roster quality this season the powerplay didnâ€™t receive a significant boost. Also, if you look at a team like Pittsburgh, who have star caliber players and yet canâ€™t seem to get a good powerplay going, the roster quality becomes a somewhat mute point.
About special teams:
â€œSpecial teams was our Achillesâ€™ heel this season, itâ€™s the reason weâ€™re not in the playoffs. Itâ€™s not an overstatement but a legitimate concern. Itâ€™s too easy to blame special teams on the coaches. When our PP was clicking, when our PK was clicking, when our players were executing our percentages were just fine. The players didnâ€™t execute a well thought out plan but the temptation is to blame it on the coaches and frankly I donâ€™t understand that. Itâ€™s a legitimate concern and we may have to address it through a player acquisition so we may have to acquire a player either by trade or by free agency that can improve us in these areas.â€
This can either be a PP quarterback, defenseman with an offensive skillset or a top line C that is a deft passer so thatâ€™s nothing new, but Burke going out and â€œcondemningâ€ the team for poor special team play should put more pressure on getting that area of our game to an acceptable level.
â€œIn terms of goaltending, weâ€™re confident that James Reimer can handle not only the physical workload but the pressure cooker workload of being a starting goaltender in a Canadian market and at this point weâ€™re confident that we want to give the Monster a chance, which he hasnâ€™t gotten due to physical issues, to show us what he can do. I think heâ€™s a legitimate NHL goaltender. Weâ€™ll have to wait and see what Giggyâ€™s status is after his surgery, he may not be a factor for us, he may be, weâ€™ll see. Itâ€™s premature to discuss that.â€
Ok, so the chances of Giggy returning are slim, but most of us realized that even during the season. But whatâ€™s new about this is a clear cut message about who will be considered as the No1 goalie coming into next season.
About the current strength of the team:
â€œWeâ€™re probably two, three pieces away from being a true contender and Iâ€™m not talking about contender for the playoffs, but contender for the Stanley Cup. And it may come from within, you donâ€™t know.â€
Itâ€™s really tough to analyze this because itâ€™s unclear if the quote is intended to show his belief in the development of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne or Jake Gardiner seeing how most experts would agree that we need that top line C and a good puck moving defenseman, PP quarterback to be a legitimate contender. Given that is the case, this can also mean going out and getting those pieces from Free Agency or via trade but it definitely shows some degree of belief that we do have something good brewing on the Marlies. Matt Frattin is also a guy expected to seriously challenge for a spot in next seasonâ€™s camp.
About the Monster:
â€œAt one point he became overly concerned about winning games. A goalie canâ€™t win a game for you, but can lose a game. And then when we started to score the shoe was on the other foot, he started losing games. His focus was all wrong, his confidence went and then he got injured. We believe that Jonas can get it back. I told him I believe in him.â€
Ron seems to be bang on here, itâ€™s way to early to give up on Jonas and he knows that, and at the same time itâ€™s good that Wilson realizes the problems Jonas had to deal with.
On Kessel and Lupul:
â€œI think Phil can be a 45-50goal scorer in the league, Iâ€™m confident, from what Iâ€™ve seen in the last 20 games, that Joffrey Lupul is a 30goal scorer as well.â€
Good. As far as Kessel is concerned, I think 50 is pushing it, but 40+ can be attainable. Lupul will be a 30goal scorer with the Leafs as long as he gets adequate playing time.
About the team:
â€œWe had a lot of changes, a lot of personnel changes, so I donâ€™t think itâ€™s fair to compare or say that our success in the last 25-30 games was buying into the system, I think it was more just coming together as a group, with new people that we brought in or that got called up. You look at the way Reimer played; he gave us a chance every night. Weâ€™re confident in all our goalies but he played well for us and I think that was a big part of why we had success down the stretch.â€
Another quote which speaks about the culture change that was made possible by trading Beauchemin, Versteeg and Kaberle along with keeping a younger group together. Also, whatâ€™s interesting about this is the captain coming out and singling out Reimer as the go to guy for the future. He didnâ€™t do it without class, but I think this was just another way of saying: â€œWe trust this kid, this kid is our goalieâ€.
On the importance of the run:
â€œNight in and night out, we played in big games that were playoff like and that is really going to help us next year. The good thing about having a young group together is you get to go through those ups and downs together and you learn from it. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to take from this year.â€
Speaks volumes about Dion’s enthusiasm about having a young team together, one he enjoys being a captain of. It also confirms the team realizes the importance of learning from the playoff run that the team made this year.
About Keith Aulie:
â€œI think we both complement each other, the chemistry we had started right from day one, I really enjoyed playing with him. I think he definitely helps, because in order to be effective and play my game I have to be jumping, I have to be more on the offensive side. Heâ€™s there, heâ€™s always steady, heâ€™s there to back me up when I do jump, like I said, there are a lot of positives and I really enjoyed playing with him.â€
About Kaberle leaving:
â€œIt was more of me starting to feel good around that time, I donâ€™t think it was because of him leaving at all, itâ€™s tough anytime of you lose a guy like that, heâ€™s a good friend, a really good teammate and a top Dman in this league.â€
Combining these two bits of information together, along with knowing that Dion suffered a major injury earlier in the year, we can conclude that his 2nd part of the season surge can be attributed to him fully recovering from the injury at the start of that surge and Keith Aulie complementing his game more than Beauchemin did in the past. Â Psychologically, Dion has to feel more like this truly is his team now but it had nothing to with Kaberleâ€™s supposed unwillingness to win or such nonsense.
About the sophomore slump phenomenon:
â€œIn your first year, youâ€™re so excited to play, you have countless energy and enthusiasm which enables you to play really well. In your second year maybe some of thatâ€™s gone, so you have to find that energy and that drive. In the summer I just got to work hard, the NHL is a dream of mine, thatâ€™s not going to change just because I played some games here.â€
I really like the fact heâ€™s recognizing that he needs to work even harder to avoid the sophomore slump and that he still sees the NHL as a dream. Talk about proper motivation going in to next year. I mean, this is probably the most levelheaded kid in the entire league so motivation is probably never going to be a problem but that kind of attitude is still refreshing to see in and around this team.
About the potential new deal and contract issues:
I sad before Iâ€™d like to stay here, with the team we have going forward I just feel like thereâ€™s so much positives to come from it, so obviously I want to do what I can to stay here. I hope theyâ€™re (management) thinking the same thing. Iâ€™m really excited about what we can do here in the next year or two. I never once said I wanted to hit one out of the park here (contract height). I feel like sometimes itâ€™s better to be happy than to be greedy. I think in a lot peopleâ€™s cases theyâ€™ll take more money in other places and the fun, love of the game goes away. It would be a tough place to leave, I donâ€™t think you could find a better hockey place.â€
By far my favorite quote from the bunch. Mac and Reimer seem to be the poster boys for the culture change that happened during Burkeâ€™s tenure here and I couldnâ€™t be happier about that. I mean, going from a lackluster bunch, to a hungry young team that loves the city and all this team represents truly makes this team one we can all identify with. Their modesty and willingness to stick together through thick and thin has a lasting appeal on fans of other franchises as well. I mean, who doesnâ€™t love Grabo and Kuli? Their quiet, low key, hard working approach reminds us of the hard working legends of Maple Leafsâ€™ past. Reimerâ€™s level headedness and handling everything with a big grin makes him quite possibly the most refreshing new face out there. Phil Kessel is an awkward, goofy mascot of this team (in a good way) and Dion seems to be growing into a great leader on and off the ice. Add personalities like Tim Brent, Clarke MacArthur, Luke Schenn and Colby Armstrong to the equation and youâ€™ve got yourself a team with chemisty and a big likeability factor, more so given their play of late.
About the quality on the organization:
Itâ€™s a good thing for every young guy in the organization, whether theyâ€™ve played one year in the minors or six years in the minors. Itâ€™s a team that doesnâ€™t really care about that, itâ€™s about performance.
About his NHL dream:
â€œAlthough there are some pretty lucrative offers in Europe because of the point per game pace in the AHL itâ€™s not what you dream of playing, itâ€™s not why you play road hockey when you were five saying Iâ€™m playing in Russia, youâ€™re Eddie Olczyk or Peter Zezel from the Toronto Maple Leafs.â€
Three things here. Tim Brent is also one of the cogs from the aforementioned culture change. Him being a life long Leafs fan of course means he loves this team and the logo in front. In my mind, that kind of player/person sometimes makes more difference than Marian Hossa in Detroit or Pittsburgh. Simply enough, his willingness to block shots, to fight for this team is increased by his love for the Maple Leafs. The other thing one could read from in between the lines (if itâ€™s not clearly visible in his play, and it is) is that Brent seems to be the kind of bread and butter guy who would sacrifice a lot to be on an NHL team. And that is the kind of person you build a winning team with. Last but not least, his view on the organization is probably shared by all the Marlies and guys in the system which can only mean good things and a bigger compete level for spots going forward. Whatâ€™s also really great to know is that our organization values players based on effort and work they put into their play.