Before we get to this morning’s thoughts and links, I just wanted to thank everyone for the feedback and well wishes. I’ve been a reader of MLHS since late 2009 and it truly is an honor to write for this awesome blog community.
First things first, here’s the tweet we’ve all seen by now from Ben Hankinson, Jake Gardiner’s agent from Octagon Sports Management, who sent this out as the Leafs were losing to the Winnipeg Jets:
Many thought the tweet was out of line and ill-advised, especially given the agent’s radio silence afterward, leaving Jake Gardiner to answer to a swarm of media prior to the Marlies‘ 2-1 win over the Lake Erie Monsters last night. Not that Gardiner broke down in the face of rampant questioning (Steve Simmons and a few others made rare appearances at the Ricoh to drill the kid), as the predictable cliches and cookie-cutter responses were on display in his answers. Athletes these days are generally pretty well-trained by the organization’s PR personnel and their respective management companies. They know what, and what not, to say in front of microphones and cameras. It’s strange that a sports management behemoth, like Octagon, would allow such a transgression in the client-agent relationship.
Having said that, we’ve all seen, and heard, about Gardiner’s performance in the AHL since returning from his concussion. By all accounts, he appears to be ready to make the jump back to the show. Last week, Darren Dreger floated the idea that perhaps Gardiner was simply not Carlyle’s cup of tea. I believe this to be a false narrative for a couple of reasons. History shows that Carlyle is not averse to the concept of a young puck-moving defencemen who might still be rounding out the other facets of his game, with Cam Fowler as a recent example. Another point, which I heard over at TSN Radio through a caller, was that in his heyday Carlyle was not dissimilar to the type of player Gardiner is today and is still developing into. Unless Carlyle harbours some sort of self-loathing, I can’t see why Gardiner would be in Carlyle’s doghouse, especially given the small sample he’s seen of him.
So, where do that leave us? Well, the recent stretch of shaky defensive play (28 goals allowed in their last 7 games, averaging 4.0 GA/G) accented by Tuesday night’s 5-2 beating by the Jets has exposed some of the AHL-ness in Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer. All the while, seasoned veterans like Liles and Komisarek continue to occupy the press box. Some have pointed to Carlyle’s coaching as the catalyst of their 15-11-1 start, but if recent results are an indication, that good start may be, more than anything, attributable to the above-average goaltending they were getting from Reimer and Scrivens. Either Carlyle is drunk on or blinded by the relative early success they’ve had, or something’s up.
I believe the latter. Just to rewind a little bit, we all remember the press conference where Burke clearly stated that him and Wilson were often at philosophical odds on how they wanted their teams to play. Obviously, this didn’t work out for either party in the end, and I venture to guess that Nonis and Carlyle probably aren’t making the same mistake. Let’s not forget Nonis, although his own GM (certainly less omnipresent), bears many philosophical resemblances to Burke. The scenario I envision is of Nonis trying to identify, showcase and shop his excess assets on defense while Carlyle undergoes an experimental process of his own with his team. Kostka is basically a kost-less asset and a pretty nice find, considering he’s been a career AHLer before this season. Holzer was a 4th rounder in 2006, and a Fergie pick, as Burke would often note. The Leafs still have glaring roster holes, and some important decisions will need to made beginning at the trade deadline on April 3rd. Basically, it’s not inconceivable that Nonis is trying to maximize the value of his assets before he goes to market this deadline and this summer, and before hurting his flexibility even further (only Holzer is waiver exempt among the current group) by letting Gardiner play three more games and having his waiver exemption expire.
No doubt, things are starting to reach a tipping point with Gardiner. It’s going to be interesting.
As always, I’m down for a chat and open to your feedback. Hit me up on Twitter @mapleleafmuse.
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Thursday Morning Links:
SkinnyFish: Randy Carlyle on Grabovski and Kulemin’s Production - How about we begin with more O-zone starts, Randy.
James Mirtle: Statistician Forecasts Choppy Second Half for Leafs - 12 of remaining 21 games vs. playoff teams. Leafs 4-6-1 vs. playoff teams so far.
Blue Chip Prospects: Internal Fixes for the Leafs - “Fenwick Close…This might be the most important number the NHL has for predicting future success”.
Cam Charron: What to do with Joffrey Lupul? - Lupul and Frattin flanking Kadri sounds tantalizing.
The Star: San Antonio (AHL) player drunk and asleep on strangers couch - #FreeJakeGardiner #AHLproblems
Leaf Matters Podcast with Matteo & Michael (3/13) - One of the fastest-rising TML podcasts on iTunes. Great guests. Give them a listen.