2012-13 Player Review: Mike Kostka

2012-13 Player Review: Mike Kostka

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Mike Kostka

Mike Kostka: The undrafted 27-year-old rookie defenceman who went from little-known AHL journeyman to, for a while anyway, first pairing defenceman in the spotlight of the hockey universe, soon becoming a lightning rod of criticism amid Randy Carlyle’s perceived poor roster decisions.

In the interest of fairness and context, let’s take this story back to the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Coach Carlyle had to be creative in the early going – if not all season – in trying to assemble a steady top four group of defencemen. Recall that Jake Gardiner was not himself at season’s beginning, still recovering from a concussion suffered with the Marlies. Gards did not play in the season opener and came back to play only two games (17 and 20 minutes respectively) before being sent to the Marlies (until March) to rediscover his game shape, timing and confidence. Gardiner was a defenceman who, given the promise of his rookie season and the seeming ease with which he skated the second most minutes per game on the team the year prior, many of us were banking on to shoulder a heavy workload.

Gardiner’s ineligibility was a factor, but we also knew Gunnarsson had acquitted himself decently well beside Phaneuf the season prior. There was lots of talk at the time about Carlyle’s preference for matching handedness with the left/right side of each defence pair, and how that might explain Kostka’s time beside Phaneuf to start the season. Remember, however, that Gunnarsson was also not 100% since training camp, having returned from Sweden after the lockout with a nagging groin issue. After playing the first 7 games of the season, the injury sidelined Gunnarsson for 19 days in February.

With an already shallow defence suffering injuries to two of its top four defencemen, Carlyle’s idea was to ride Kostka, who had been one of the AHL’s best defencemen in the first half of the season prior to the lockout ending, for as long as he could while the Etobicoke native had the leg up on the competition in terms of game readiness. In a 2-1 stretch to open the season, Kostka put up three points, all powerplay assists, while averaging 24 and a half minutes of ice time. Regardless of his impending return to earth, it was impressive how the 27-year-old rookie handled himself when thrust into the spotlight on the top pairing in the very early going.

Evidence of Kostka being out of his depth in that role didn’t take long to rear its ugly head, however. In a pair of 7-4 and 5-2 losses to the New York Islanders and Rangers respectively, Kostka was on the ice for 7 of the 12 goals against while defending against the likes of John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Kostka played a shocking 31 minutes and 33 seconds in the Ranger game; his pairing (alongside Phaneuf) was scored on four times. And while he mustered a little powerplay production in the very early going, it became a growing and increasingly frustrating mystery as to why Kostka continued to receive first unit powerplay time for the first month of the season despite his simple game, average mobility and a rarely-used point shot.

The Kostka that settled into a more manageable role, after the failed Korbinian Holzer experiment and Gunarsson’s eventual promotion back to the first pairing in March, became a far more likeable one, to me at least. When left to play within his limitations – to win his one-on-one battles and make a steady first pass – Kostka’s presence was far more palatable. With Gardiner coming back into the mix, the Fraser and Franson pairing gaining more and more trust from the coach and Gunnarsson reassuming his role beside Phaneuf, Kostka eventually served spot duty in and out of the lineup from mid March onwards, which is the role he would’ve and should’ve served for the team from the get go if the circumstances surrounding the blueline were closer to ideal.

The last bit of controversy involving Mike Kostka was his inclusion in the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs over Jake Gardiner, who watched the loss from the press box. After finally being “freed” from the Marlies, Gardiner struggled down the stretch by Carlyle’s standards (as well as mine – didn’t like his, forgive the cliche, “compete level” defensively). Gardiner hadn’t played in the final few games of the season while Kostka did and looked OK, so Carlyle was likely hesitant to make the change prior to the onset of playoff action. Carlyle might also have been recalling a game in Boston in late March, where Gardiner got ran over a few times and lost a key board battle leading to the tying goal in an eventual shootout loss at TD Garden. In any event, while no one looked good for the Leafs in their game 1 drubbing, Kostka was totally overwhelmed by the Bruin forecheck, turning the puck over multiple times. It was a mistake in a poorly coached game by Carlyle, by his own admission. To RC’s credit, I thought he adapted well and went on to outcoach Claude Julien for much of the series.

We also later found out that Kostka badly broke his finger in the early goings of Game 1 and, with Franson already banged up having taken a shot to the foot, he only stayed in the game because the coach needed the warm body to send over the boards on defence. The following picture was passed along by a friend who saw Kostka in a Shoppers Drugmart a couple of weeks later… In addition to his busted finger, he seemed to be playing with a messed-up foot:

IMG_00000008

It’s always difficult to evaluate, and in this case grade, a player who was placed into a role that simply asked too much. You do have to keep in mind, though, that Kostka was a cheap UFA pickup from whom we expected very little and who played some big minutes in a bind while giving the Leafs blueline depth options.

Would I bring Kostka, a pending unrestricted free agent, back next season? No slight to Kostka, but only if Dave Nonis fails to add to the defence in any meaningful way, necessitating his return as a depth option. Hopefully that won’t be the case.

***

Play of the Year:

Be sure to give Kostka an extra half point for fighting Captain Doucheface:

***

RATE THIS PLAYER: Out of 10, rate Mike Kostka’s season relative to his role and the expectations for the player entering the season. Be sure to back it up.

812 comments
JackH
JackH

Hearing a great deal of the Leafs and Tampa making a deal that would land the Buds Vinny (*to be bought out) and the 3rd overall pick. In return 2 "mid-level players and a collection of draft picks to the Bolts.

Jim D
Jim D

Jim D here from Wisconsin. I glanced at this article and if I missed the point of it I apologize. I just wanted to say, I noticed today two articles one on top of the other. The first on Kostka, the other on Komarov. I have to say the most refreshing thing for me on this entire season was that the Leafs...led by Carlyle held a meaningful, albeit short training camp leading up to the season and these two players benefited. I have paid attention to a lot of camps and frequently hear about this player or that player impressing in practice and exhibition games, but ultimately, despite turning heads they head back to junior or the Marlies or whatever, because, well, that's where they belong. I love the fact that a player who maybe wasn't excpected to wear the jersey, was given the opportunity, based on his performance -- whether it was at the camp, or the AHL or whatever. That is what has made me respect Carlyle as a coach and I hope this is a practice that continues. It's what these camps are all about if you ask me...that's my two cents.

Loric76
Loric76

wow triple OT...I'm kinda bummed I missed it but at the same time relieved I didn't stay up past regulation

CanuckUKinToronto
CanuckUKinToronto

From a quote in Cox article- this is why we should try and get Horton: The second Lucic goal made it 34 Boston goals this spring with Horton on the ice against only five against, which meant when the Hawks scored two minutes later with Horton defending it was a significant event.

CanuckUKinToronto
CanuckUKinToronto

Anyone going to criticise Boston for blowing a 2 goal lead in the third?  They would if it was the Leafs. 

DJBrianBurke
DJBrianBurke

I wasn't able to watch the entire overtime, but every time I tuned in Crawford was making a great save. That or Bolland was saving a goal.

leafslunch
leafslunch

Someone should tell sequin that the number 19 is usually reserved for elite players.

Zep2
Zep2

Shaw had a great game, looks good on him

Alec Brownscombe
Alec Brownscombe

Just seems to snowball.. Get more and more exhausted, no one wants to make the mistake.. Go like 5+ mins without a scoring chance. Just need a flukey deflection.

And there we go.

Zep2
Zep2

Best team won. Geez, was that a 3-1 lead Boston had

mcloki
mcloki

Nice goal by Chicago. This is going to be a long series.

mcloki
mcloki

Shit that was close.

mcloki
mcloki

Jäger is 41. Still looks good out there with 20 year olds.

mcloki
mcloki

Boston can win it with early on the PP. but fatigue is setting in hard on these guys.

Cameron19
Cameron19

Well, don't think I've got a triple overtime in me.  Off to bed. 

mcloki
mcloki

Boston's best chance I would think.

mcloki
mcloki

These guys are dead tired.

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

SovSport reports Komarov refused to confirm signing w/Dynamo. 'I don't know if I'm gonna come over. I can't talk about it'

Cameron19
Cameron19

lol, Apparently he's not even watching the game:

-

steve simmons ‏@simmonssteve2m

According to the stats, Nathan Horton doesn't have a shot on goal in over 90 minutes. So I figure, he's due to score the winner.

mcloki
mcloki

Chicago is all over them.

Great Dane
Great Dane

Agree - Horton would complete the two top lines on the wings.

Still need another center to completment Kadri.

If Streit can get 4 years at 5.5 million then Liles suddenly has a lot of value at 3.875.

DJBrianBurke
DJBrianBurke

@canuckintheuk To be fair, this was game 1, if it was game 7 of the finals it would be the worst collapse in playoff history regardless of the team. It's still pretty bad though, they had a chance to beat Chicago in their own barn.

wyatt956
wyatt956

@leafslunch 

But he skates so well. Nobody circles the net (without the puck, doing nothing in particular) like Seguin

DJBrianBurke
DJBrianBurke

@Alec Brownscombe Deflections Crazy redirects

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

@Anthony Petrielli The fastest players seem so much faster now. Really seems to become apparent when everyone is on fumes. 

DWCMLHS
DWCMLHS

@DeclanK We were talking about that earlier today a bit. It would be awesome if he stayed, as long as he doesn't get a crazy-high salary. 

I still want McClement and Komarov to be two-thirds of our 4th line. Then either sign a UFA like Boyd Gordon, or just use a Marlie like D'Amigo to fill in the third spot. 

mcloki
mcloki

Unprofessional douchbag.

CanuckUKinToronto
CanuckUKinToronto

Understand. Just think media always on Leafs case that was all. It is just not the Leafs that can't hold a 2 goal third period lead in the playoffs. That from a team that may win the whole thing.

Alec Brownscombe
Alec Brownscombe

Seidenberg might have had Shaw tied up if he wasn't fetching his glove in the corner

DJBrianBurke
DJBrianBurke

@Alec Brownscombe True, loved the hit though. Got him right after he crosschecked the Hawk in the corner.

mcloki
mcloki

Ya overtime I just can't look away.

mcloki
mcloki

Yup. Can't imagine how tired these guys are.