Scattered Thoughts: Eakins, Marlies, Komarov, Lessons from Boston

Scattered Thoughts: Eakins, Marlies, Komarov, Lessons from Boston

Even though the Leafs haven’t played a hockey game in weeks and the Stanley Cup Finals are about to begin, there is no shortage of storylines surrounding the team right now. Let’s get to them.

Losing Eakins

After four years in which Dallas Eakins served as an assistant coach for the Leafs and Marlies, and after a year as the Leafs director of player development, Eakins became head coach of the Marlies in August of 2009. He took a team that finished with 90 points and lost out in the first round of the playoffs to last place in their division with 78 points a season later. In fairness to Eakins, the Marlies had lost their leading scorer from the year before – Tim Stapleton — as well as their other offensive leaders in Jiri Tlusty, Bates Battaglia and Jeremy Williams. In fact, the best way to sum up Eakins’ first year as the Marlies coach is by pointing out that Andre Devaux led the team in scoring.

The following season, however, the Marlies were led by Mike Zigomanis, a yo-yoing Nazem Kadri and Christian Hanson, Matt Lashoff, Joe Colborne and Fabian Brunnstrum (both acquired half way through the season) along with Ben Scrivens in net, yet they still missed the playoffs with 85 points as the Marlies once again finished last in their division.

That takes us to last season, when the Marlies went to the Calder Cup finals and were swept. They finished with 96 points and were led by Scrivens, Zigomanis, Ryan Hamilton, Greg Scott, Marcel Mueller and a host of young players such as Jerry D’Amigo.

This was Eakins’ first time in the playoffs with the Marlies and the Leafs sent down all their young guys to help the run. The team was aided by Kadri, Frattin, Colborne and Gardiner as the Marlies lost just two games total in their first three rounds. Generally speaking, when a team dominates their way to winning a conference it has more to do with the talent on the team than anything coaching or luck related. The Marlies were a stacked team from head to toe.

That brings us to this season, which started with a lockout. The Marlies had Aucoin, Kadri, Fraser, Kostka, Gardiner, Scrivens and Holzer head to the NHL once the lockout concluded. From there, the team eventually acquired Drew MacIntyre who went onto have a .931sv% and 1.83GAA as he basically carried the team. The Marlies won their division and swept Rochester in the first round again, but were ousted in the second round.

In summary, under Eakins the Marlies finished last twice and first twice in their division. Players that played for the Marlies and the Leafs or another NHL team under his reign include: Viktor Stalberg, Keith Aulie, Jonas Frogren, Troy Brodie, Jiri Tlusty, Tyler Bozak, Ryan Hamilton, Tim Brent, Christian Hanson, Luca Caputi, Darryl Boyce, Joey Crabb, Matt Lashoff, Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton, Korbinian Holzer, Mark Fraser, Colton Orr, Keith Aucoin, Mike Kostka, Jake Gardiner and Leo Komarov.

If you want to give Eakins credit for some of these guys contributing to NHL teams by all means do so, but most of them are marginal NHLers at best. Other than Kadri and Colborne, most of the successful bonafide NHL players passed right through the minors straight to the NHL – Stalberg, Bozak, Gardiner, etc. The Leafs also haven’t been a very good team over the years so there’s been a lot of roster spots up for grabs.

The truth is that we really don’t know how good of a coach Eakins is. The players definitely seem to like him, he represents the new wave of younger coaches coming through, and he’s achieved modest results, but that’s not enough to be too upset about losing him. Scott Arniel, Guy Boucher and Glen Gulutzan are examples of celebrated young coaches who spent time in the AHL before being hired by NHL clubs. All of them are unemployed at the moment.

Losing Eakins isn’t ideal, but the Leafs will be able to survive it. As we can all see right now, there are plenty of good coaches without work. Even if the Leafs do get rid of Carlyle sometime soon, there will be plenty of good options available to them.

The Marlies

The Marlies are now looking for a new coach, which is of more interest to me than Eakins leaving.

Dreger tweeted this yesterday:

It seems more Dreger is speculating more than anything, so I’m not going to breakdown those options one by one, but needless to say there are more than a few interesting coaching candidates for the job.

Of course, many will remember JFJ hiring Paul Maurice to coach the Marlies before promoting him to coach the Leafs. A similar situation could easily play out again.

Beyond that, the Leafs have two promising young coaches on their staff in Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin.

Gordon just turned 50 this year and already has nine years of head coaching pro hockey under his belt (One in the ECHL, six in the AHL and two in the NHL).

Greg Cronin spent five years as an assistant coach with the Islanders plus another two as head coach of their AHL team on top of his eight years coaching in college hockey.

By that token alone, it will be interesting to see if Nonis thinks one of those two associate coaches should get back to being a head coach in preparation of eventually becoming head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Losing Komarov

According to various reports, the Leafs appear to be losing Leo Komarov to the KHL. The first thing to note is that we don’t know if this is happening for sure. Even if he does sign a contract, we don’t know if there’s an out clause for a possible return. Speaking in certainties at this time would be foolish.

Assuming the Leafs do lose Komarov though, that would mean Toronto is now without two of their top four penalty killing forwards according to ice time, as it looks like Bozak is going to hit the open market at this point. The good news is that McClement and Kulemin are their two best penalty killing forwards, plus the core of the defense is returning and their best penalty killer James Reimer is still in the fold. Bozak and Komarov they might not be crucial losses to the unit, but they do open up holes that need to be filled.

Penalty kill aside, Komarov is really an ideal fourth liner more than anything. He can move up the line-up in a pinch, play all three forward positions, be a pest, get physical, and contribute some offense. Most importantly, he’s not a liability on the ice despite his limited ice time.

That limited ice time and role is most likely why he wants to go back to the KHL since he’ll play more and get paid more to do it.

For the Leafs, they have internal options to replace Komarov; it’s not a huge deal even though Komarov is a solid player and contributor. The most likely and seamless replacement is Jerry D’Amigo, who has featured on a shutdown line and penalty kill role for the Marlies for two straight years now. A season ago he had 41 points in 76 games before putting up 29 in 70 games this season. D’Amigo started the season way down the depth chart due to the lockout, but once the NHL started back up he got more ice time and played better. While D’Amigo is listed as bigger than Komarov (around 15 pounds heavier), he isn’t as physical, but he is faster. The Leafs also have Carter Ashton, who is much bigger than both at 6’3 but not as strong defensively.

Maybe the Leafs hope to add both Ashton and D’Amigo next fall, or maybe they will acquire someone to fill the role, but right now it looks like those two will at least be in the mix of competition for a low roster spot. It would be unfortunate to lose Komarov, but he’s not worth overpaying to keep on the fourth line and the Leafs will be able to move on just fine if he does leave.

Boston Lessons

There’s this growing sentiment in Toronto that, had the Leafs held onto beat the Bruins, they would be in the Stanley Cup Finals right now in Boston’s place.

None of us can possibly know if the Leafs would have beat the Rangers and Penguins. I’m not going to go down that path, but what is worth discussing is what the Bruins series has taught us.

The first thing is that we can’t make huge generalizations about the team based on seven games. There are things to learn from the seven games, but drastic decisions shouldn’t be made based exclusively around them.

The most notable and eye popping thing about the Leafs’ play against Boston compared to New York and Pittsburgh is how much faster the Leafs are than all three. Boston was generally able to shut down New York and Pittsburgh at will, but the Leafs speed put them on their heels and opened up scoring lanes and opportunities. For all that’s made about the Leafs lack of size and snarl in their top six, they are the only team that has really been able to create and produce against Boston and they did it by getting to the dirty areas no less.

It would be awesome if the Leafs could find a top line center to play with Kessel, but if not we know they can score against the best anyways.

Conversely, the Krejci line dominated the Leafs. However, they have been dominant throughout the Bruins’ entire playoff so it would be unfair to say the Leafs alone need a better shutdown unit.

If anything, the playoffs highlighted what we already knew throughout the season – the defense needs to be deeper. Even when the Leafs ran their best possible top 4 in Gunnarsson-Phaneuf and Gardiner-Franson, the workload was too much and they were noticeably out of gas in the third period of game 7. Phaneuf in particular looked completely done by the time Boston tied the game.

The Leafs don’t have a monster like Chara who can play half the game and dominate, so they need to make-up for that with defense by committee and that means they need to be strong one through six. The aforementioned four can be strong and Fraser too will be in the fold. Some sort of Marlie – be it Blacker, Holzer, Ranger or Rielly — will probably start as the seventh man, but the remaining defense spot has to be filled by a reliable player in order to spread out responsibilities and give the Leafs three strong pairings. As long as Gardiner and Franson continue to emerge, the Leafs are very close to having a strong overall unit on defense.

In net, Reimer gave the Leafs everything they could have hoped for. He stood on his head in games 5 and 6.

Other than another solid defenseman, the Leafs looked in need of another strong center – maybe that comes internally via Colborne — and a few more defensive-minded forwards. As we’ve noted, the Leafs didn’t have a huge issue scoring, and they have a number of players who are strong “two way” players like Kulemin, Grabovski, Frattin and JVR, but could use another defensive specialist.

Nonis doesn’t have to make huge changes, but a few savvy moves will have this Leafs team competitive and ready to go.

Anthony Petrielli has been at MLHS since 2011. He is known for his weekly "Leafs Notebook" feature, and also writes specific analysis pieces. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli.
814 comments
Claymish
Claymish

The Leafs only need some tweaking.....

1. Bozak, please please let him walk. Sure he can win a faceoff, but is only an average passer, and is a C+ center. A 3rd liner on a good team, 2nd liner on a poor team.

2. Sign David Clarkson he will be an instant favourite much like back in the days of Wendel Clark, plus he wants to play for the Leafs, it's his dream. Some toughness in our top 6, and protection for Kadri.

3. Trade with the Islanders get Dipietro's contract to buyout, Casey Cizikas (Toronto boy, excellent on faceoffs, and hits, perfect 3rd liner), Matt Martin (awesome Windsor boy, lead the league in hits to replace Komarov), plus Nino and switch first round picks. In return we ship out Liles to replace Streit,  and Komisarek for the Islanders to buyout much cheaper. Who knows, maybe the New York native will get a shot before they buy him out. If Strome is available then jump at that chance instead of Nino, and offer up a prospect, Biggs at the most.

4. Say bye bye to Grabovski. He is getting paid way too much, which makes it hard to sign anyone such as Kadri for less money. Also, yes he provides heart and energy, but he also doesn't pass nearly enough or even hit the net when he shoots. He appears to create offense, but ends up missing the net and the puck goes around the boards and out of the zone. If we can find a suitor then great, if not then consider him a buyout. I would potentially keep him around till the end of the year only if we can afford it, and only as our 3rd line center.

5. a) Veteran Center. I have felt for years Stastny belongs, and with only 1 year left before he is a UFA, then it shouldnt be too difficult to make it happen. As soon as we get him lock him down to another 4 years at just under $6 million. He will be guaranteed to hit 80-90 pts each year playing with Kessel. 

 b) If the first option proves too difficult, then pick up a buyout. Choices in order should they become available Lecavalier, Richards, Cammalleri, or Briere. They can be had for cheap and a short term contract. If injuries happen we have Colborne to move up, when needed. 

6. Defence, pick up a big minute defensive D-man. Cut down Phaneuf''s minutes to 20 max, he is very effective if he isn't overused. Definitely resign Fraser, surprisingly his stats this year were very similar to Schenn's and yet Fraser also was tops in the league for fighting majors.

JVR               #1 Center         Kessel

Lupul              Kadri              Clarkson

Kulemin                *                 Frattin               *Grabo, Cizikas or Colborne

(Rookie)        McClement       Martin

MaxwellHowe
MaxwellHowe

Not adding any new blogposts today?  No one wants to talk about Eakins, Komarov nor lessons from the Bruins series anymore.  This thing is devolving into the usual crazy trade banter.  Fun, but the roads all lead to the same names and the same arguments.

ingy56
ingy56

Renaud Lavoie ‏@RenLavoieRDS

1m

Canucks and John Tortorella are talking. Is one of the strong candidates to replace Alain Vigneault.


Hahaha...Torts would make the Sedin sisters cry. Ohhh please, make this happen. 

ingy56
ingy56

Gare Joyce ‏@GareJoyceNHL

25m

Spoke to 3 sr scouts Mon., none w Seth Jones @ #1, 2 don't have SJ @ #2 & one has him #4 behind Barkov ("not sold on him, see Erik Johnson")

DWCMLHS
DWCMLHS

Current Leafs' D, assuming Komi is bought-out:

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf

Gardiner - Franson

Fraser - Liles

Not very good. And if we move Liles, we'll be in even more trouble. I get the feeling he's on his way out. Nonis has his work cut out for him. Fraser and a Marlie grad together would get lit the fuck up, even on the third pair. This has been discussed many times before, but I'm just scared shitless when I look at the D.

Bring in a #2 Dman, and replace Liles with a cheaper, but at least equally effective third-pairing Dman, and we'll be fine. Easier said than done, though. I think Hamhuis would be a perfect fit beside Dion in a shut-down role. McDonaugh would be sick, too. But both would cost a fair bit to pry away from their respective teams. We can't just sit around hoping that Gardiner and/or Rielly become top-pairing Dmen, though. Especially if our top pair continues to be used as a pure shut-down unit at ES like it was this season.

mcloki
mcloki

FriedgeHNIC

Excellent RT @mirtle: The @HockeyHallFame announces Harry Neale will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award this year.

A great announcer that is sorely missed on Leaf broadcasts. His wirk with Bowen set the standard for Leafs play by Play. At least in my opinion.

Savo43
Savo43

Would anybody here trade our 1st round pick with Komisarek and Liles for Strome and Dipietro? I would. We'd still have 2 buyouts left and we could probably acquire some prospects or 1sts of our own in the process. Not to mention Strome is easily a top 10 talent in any draft IMO. Kid has unbelievable skill. 

Dink
Dink

My brother came up with a good nickname for Brad Marchant..."Anal Itch"

KingKadri
KingKadri

Went looking through the ol' drafts for the Leafs and what is happening to Bradley Ross? I know some have talked about D'Amigo getting a look next year but.... And is it just me or was Kenny Ryan a waste of a 2nd rounder?


Dink
Dink

I wonder who the board thinks is the best defenceman in the league right now?

peterbleafs
peterbleafs

I say the untradeables are Kessel, Gardiner, Reimer, Rielly, Kadri, Lupul and JVR.  Everyone else can be packaged if need be but acknowledging that if we move a Phaneuf we better get something really good in return!!!

Cameron19
Cameron19

The buyout trades are still our best option at acquiring high-end pieces that will either develop into quality talents for us, or later be traded in for star players. If we want to get ahead of our competition, we need to explore those avenues extensively and make sure that the richest franchise in the sport finds a way to flex its financial power. Trading Kessel and Gardiner and Phaneuf are not moves that improve us - they are lateral at best.

daniel marois
daniel marois

We won't know until both Nilsson and Granberg come to the summer development camp and of course training camp in the fall to see where they are.  Gummar is an interesting piece to dangle if any of these defencemen are ready to step in.