Leafs Notebook – Season Opener Eve: September 30th

Leafs Notebook – Season Opener Eve: September 30th

Only three teams in the preseason had more points than the Leafs (Boston, Washington, Dallas), and you know what’s the best part about that? Nobody really cares.

It was only a few years ago that some kids named Bozak, Stalberg, Kadri, and Gustavsson wowed Leafs Nation with a strong preseason and had fans thinking “hey, maybe this team is better than we thought.” We all know how that ended.

This preseason though, nobody has really bothered to drum up the Leafs results or tout it as some big accomplishment and momentum boost heading into the season. Maybe it’s because the Clarkson ten game suspension really dampened the mood, but I think it’s more of a testament to how far the team has come.

There wasn’t much to get excited about camp-wise this year. At best the storylines were: the Leafs had an interesting NHL veteran trying out (and it was quickly apparent he should be signed), there was a goalie battle between the two guys we knew would be on the team, an unsigned key player in Cody Franson, and a high draft pick trying to make the team.

In other words, there really wasn’t much left to the imagination this training camp. Had the Leafs been unable to resign Cody Franson, we would have had a conversation about how the defense would all fit together. But he did sign, and we already knew Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, Ranger and Fraser would be on the team anyway.

The forward group was more or less set in stone. The top six was set heading into camp; Dave Bolland, Nik Kulemin, Jay McClement and Colton Orr were all but guaranteed spots in the bottom six. So there were basically two spots in the bottom six to fight over between a group that included Raymond (again, it was quickly apparent he should be signed), McLaren, Ashton, Colborne, Bodie, and a few other Marlies.

This wasn’t a thrilling camp and that’s the way it should be.

There wasn’t any wondering if a Mike Komisarek would finally have a good camp and become productive on this team. There was no looking toward a young kid to seize the opportunity and step right into the top of the line-up and make an impact (Rielly’s in a lesser role and it’s unclear if he’s with Toronto to stay), there was no AHL journeyman becoming the Leafs third line center, or concerns about the goaltending.

Camp was what it should be- an opportunity for veterans to shake the rust off, and a depth roster spot or two up for grabs for potential youngsters to snag. The Leafs still have a lot of work to do and this doesn’t change that, but it’s nice to be a team that finally has some pedigree to it and isn’t looking to youngsters and grinders to give them the world.

The Leafs aren’t where they need to be in terms of being Cup contenders – something Nonis has mentioned — but they are taking steps to get there. This camp was indicative of that.

***

Notes

– Last week, my first note talked about how Colborne has been bad, but the Leafs lack the center depth to justify getting rid of him. Alas, they got rid of him. When you breakdown the Leafs depth chart though, it’s pretty clear as to why they did. The four centers on this team are clear: Bozak, Kadri, Bolland, McClement; Colborne is not better than any of them. The four left wingers on this team are JVR, Lupul, Raymond, and Ashton; Colborne is not better than any of them either. The four right wingers on this team are Kessel, Clarkson, Kulemin, and Orr; Colborne could probably be better than Orr, but the Leafs value that role and it only plays five minutes a night anyway, so it’s really a wash. With a full roster, Colborne doesn’t make the team. The Clarkson suspension means the Leafs have to bring up another player with no cap relief and basically the Leafs have no cap room to afford that. Colborne got traded for something versus being waived for nothing.

– At the end of the day, it really comes down to this: Ashton beat Colborne for a roster spot and is one of the main reasons Colborne is no longer a Leaf. The other reason, of course, is that Colborne had a really bad preseason; there’s no sugar coating that. Ashton also fits the Leafs a lot better – he’s a natural winger, he’s been groomed as a penalty killer and grinder (he’s better than Colborne in a bottom six role), and he plays with more of a mean streak.

– Against Detroit, Ashton had a nice forecheck where he dumped the puck in, raced down to the corner, bodied a guy off the puck (didn’t hammer him, just moved him), regained possession, and started a cycle. That’s what he brings to this team. When I saw him last year with the Marlies in the playoffs (I attended their final game of the playoffs last year), the Marlies were pressing to tie and he did the exact same thing to get the puck and create a scoring chance. Ashton isn’t really going to forecheck and put opponents through the boards, but he’ll get down there, mix it up, and get the puck back for the Leafs. Along with Jay McClement and Colton Orr, I’m excited to see what that fourth line does.

– Have to give credit to CBC for their excellent segment with Barb Underhill. They showed a before and after with Carter Ashton skating wise (the before picture was from his time in Tampa!) and it was night and day. The Marlies basically use an NHL training facility (same as the Leafs, although different rinks within the arena), the team brings in world class instructors such as Underhill, they run an exchange program with teams in Europe (I believe D’Amigo went to Germany this summer?), and more. Nobody can say this team doesn’t put money into developing their own.

– One Morgan Rielly sequence that was really impressive was against Detroit (Grand Rapids?). He broke the puck out from the corner of his zone, the Grand Rapids defenseman pinched on Devane, and it resulted in a two on one for McKegg and Orr. The next closest player to that rush? Rielly. That’s the speed everyone loves; for him to start the rush, and then be the first guy to catch up, is… wow.

– Couldn’t help but smile when Rielly tried ripping a backdoor pass to Raymond that Mason couldn’t handle on a power play in that game. Rielly loves the backdoor play; it’s his first instinct when he gets the puck along the wall in the offensive zone.

– I won’t deny Kadri and Raymond appear to be clicking, but is there one player Kadri hasn’t clicked with on this team? Lupul, Kulemin, MacArthur, Kessel, etc. all played well with him last season.

– I don’t know if Raymond did this consistently in Vancouver, but he’s excellent at skating up ice, turning defensemen on their heels, then curling back to create space and time for himself off the rush. His puck management has been fantastic in the preseason, and if that continues into the regular season, I don’t see how he won’t have a great year.

– Was happy to see D’Amigo have a good showing in his final preseason game because he was great for the Marlies last year, but needs to start showing the NHL brass that he has what it takes. He’s an RFA after this season, so hopefully he can get into some games and prove he’s worth keeping around in a potential NHL capacity.

– Friday was a good example as to why I’m not extremely high on Ranger. He has all the physical tools (size, shot, speed, passing), but he’s what I’ll probably call all year a “free spirit.” He’ll join the rush on penalty kills, wire slap shots high when there’s a crowd in front of the net, and pinch without regard. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a good player, because I think all the ability is there, but he needs to reel in his game. Maybe it was just preseason and he was getting his feet wet in his own unique way.

– I remember the last time there was a preseason Lupul looked absolutely horrible and every single radio station in Toronto was saying, “this is the guy that’s going to play with Phil Kessel?!” I think Lupul had an okay year after that. While I didn’t really rip on Lupul that preseason, it’s a big reason why I don’t really dissect veterans in the games that don’t count. All they care about is preparing themselves for the regular season, and doing what they know they have to get ready for the real games.

***

Quotes

“To say that, unequivocally, he’s ready to play in the NHL is a tough question to ask and a tougher question to answer at this point. We know he’s played very well for our hockey club, he’s a talented young man and he’s only going to get better.”
- Randy Carlyle on Morgan Rielly

Well, he’s going to get at least nine games to prove it by the looks of things.

“I slid under the radar my whole life, so I think today was a pretty big game for me.”
- Josh Leivo after his two goal game on Saturday

You won’t be under the radar with a few more of those performances, Josh.

“It’s another opportunity to show the organization and the coaching staff that if need be they can be called upon to make a contribution to our lineup.”
- Randy Carlyle before the near AHL game on Saturday

That game alone might have gotten Bodie the recall.

***

5 Things I Think I’d Do

1 – I think Reimer has to start game one. He would have had to been notably worse than Bernier throughout camp for me to have said otherwise due to his play last season. He was actually better than Bernier, so it’s really a no-brainer for me. If Bernier starts Tuesday, that tells us everything we need to know about this “competition.”

2 – I think I’d keep Mark Fraser in the line-up to start the year simply because of his penalty killing ability, plus how he clears the front of the net. I’m not sold Gardiner, Ranger, or Rielly are any good on the PK, plus it’s worth it if playing Fraser down a man means preserving Phaneuf, Gunnarsson or Franson even a minute per game.

3 – I think I’d try Raymond with Lupul-Kadri, and keep Kulemin with Bolland. If Bolland’s line is supposed to be a shutdown/checking line, I don’t think it makes any sense to take the best defensive forward on the team off that line. Now, it’s fine putting Kulemin up (which is what it looks like they’re going to do), if they give that Kadri line a little more defensive responsibility as a result. But to me, when you set out a team system, you can’t let one thing all of a sudden change the entirety of it.

4 – I think, at the end of the day, I’d have Gardiner and Franson as a pairing. The reason is simple – along with Gunnarsson and Phaneuf, they are a part of the Leafs four best defensemen. It’s simple really: your four best defensemen need to play the most and that’s the way to do it; no need to reinvent the wheel here.

5 – I think no matter what happens to the Leafs this week, I won’t be overreacting one way or the other. I haven’t been this excited for a Leafs season to start in quite some time, which would make it easy to jump the gun and start making early conclusions. There’s been such a blend of positivity and negativity that you know, when the light shines on one side more than the other, the one segment of the fan base will be all over it. For now I’m just going to sit back, be happy the Leafs are playing again, and probably enjoy a beer or two while doing so. The twenty game mark is when I think we’ll start having a real indication of where this team is.

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.

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279 comments
LeafsForLife
LeafsForLife

I just watched a clip for OTR on TSN with darcy tucker. He made the host a coffee/coke mix. The guy tastes and asks to see the crazy eyes. Tucker says he dont have anything for him. The host says, "ill throw this drink on ya," and tucker replies, "you'll get a lot more than crazy eyes if ya throw that on me." ahaha lol Tucker is still Tucker even if he is retired. Never get tired of him.

Marlies Man
Marlies Man

For anyone interested, NoNo will be on the Fan590 with Jeff Blair (Ugh) tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. EST.

TOHockeyNut
TOHockeyNut

I was a little bored so I looked at the actual salary payroll (Not CAP Payroll) of the Leafs opening day roster as it looks now. With Liles demoted the Leafs will actually have one of the lowest "Actual salary payrolls for their active roster" in the league and that includes Clarkson who will be out the first 10 games. For the 22 man roster the total is only 54,835,000 plus potential bonuses. This number is pretty much in the same ball park as Colorado, Phoenix, Buffalo and Florida. Only Ottawa, Calgary and the New York Islanders will be paying significantly less for the actual on ice product in salary payroll.

This was quite shocking to see.

ingy56
ingy56

Butthead getting grilled about Ottawa on TSN right now about Ottawa financial situation...giving his "all is well" propaganda, right out of the Phoenix playbook.

JupJupLeafs17
JupJupLeafs17

@APetrielli I think with Naz/Lup/Kulie you may see Kessel line get more favourable match ups. Kadri with Kulie will get 1st liners more.

Zep2
Zep2

Bobcat wonders why League is split East and West not North/ South. Uhh Bob , its called time zones

Take the sunglasses of Dum Dum the suns gone down

ingy56
ingy56

Dreger says the Turds have set an internal budget and can't keep some younger players on the roster because the new CBA states the players get single rooms on the road and it costs the team an extra $2 million. Gene Gene must really be in a money crunch.

JupJupLeafs17
JupJupLeafs17

@APetrielli that line needs Kulie to do some grunt work. With him there they can play against other good lines. Without they can't.

theacs1966
theacs1966

@Bobsyouruncle Goals against, maybe.  Shots against, not likely.  But we have the goaltending to deal with it.  IN Reimer we trust.

ingy56
ingy56

@LeafsForLife I'm quite sure Tucker would love to sweater Landsberg and box him around a bit. 

Marlies Man
Marlies Man

Special edition of Leafs Today from Montreal going to be streaming on the Leafs website in a little bit as well ... with Henny and Big Daddy.

ingy56
ingy56

@TOHockeyNut I think some of that is because of front-loaded deals that expire this season. 

ingy56
ingy56

@Zep2 One of my all-time favourites. Was a kid when he was finishing up his career with the Hawks and I barely remember him playing but his legend is another story. Would love to met him. 

Marlies Man
Marlies Man

@ingy56 How come there was a vote on that and not on the fighting/helmet rule

B_Leaf
B_Leaf

@JupJupLeafs17 @APetrielli 

I tend to like Kule there as well...but then how do you send Bolland out there with Ashton and Raymond and expect a shut down line? 

APetrielli
APetrielli

@JupJupLeafs17 Glad you enjoyed it, cheers. I think Kulie is great on that line, but I worry about the shut down line without him.

ingy56
ingy56

@CanuckUKinToronto @ingy56 Yes...I remember you saying this before. I guess the stock in Biovail took a pretty good downturn and he's in a cash crunch.

JupJupLeafs17
JupJupLeafs17

@APetrielli prolly won't be used as a pure shut down line until he's back on it. Carlyle won't shy away from Kadri playin tougher comp. now.

Cameron19
Cameron19

@GreekGod @Marlies Man @TOHockeyNut Phaneuf will need a raise. He's not going to accept half of what Shea Weber gets to put up the same numbers.  Bolland will get 4 million or more of he goes to market, so he will probably need at least a small raise.  Guys like Reimer and Gardiner could see dramatic pay increases. Gardiner might take a bridge contract in the 3 million range (which is still signifcant - more than 2M in increases), but perhaps not - he will have a much larger body of work than Kadri.  Franson will need a significant raise, likely in the 4+ million range. 

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Plus, it's all well and good to just get rid of Kulemin, but we likely can't actually "replace" him with a rookie contract - only fill a spot on the roster. Then you still have the 3 million in dead cap with Liles.  And 6 million is a really, really optimistic figure.  

-

We have room to keep most of our pieces, but no room to add. Conversely, all our big time competitors will have oodles of cap space to retain everyone, sign a UFA or two, and acquire a name value player through trade. 

-

I never said it was "doom and gloom", I just said our cap is tight.  Some people have a hard time dealing with this because they believe I'm indirectly attacking Nonis.  I'm not, I'm just pointing out a reality. 

GreekGod
GreekGod

@Marlies Man @GreekGod @TOHockeyNut 

Yea but it's not all doom and gloom like some posters on here believe. Personally I don't see the Leafs resigning Mark Fraser and finding a cheaper replacement for Kulemin. That's 4 Million extra to go with the 2 Million that will be coming off the books from Tucker and Armstrong's buyouts. Plus the Cap is heavily rumoured to be on the rise. Roughly around 6 Million. That will give the Leafs around 12 Million to play with next summer. 

I think we can all agree that players such as Phaneuf and Bolland probably won't get a raise in cap. McClement will get a slight one. Both Kessel and Franson will each receive around the 2 Million increase from their current salary. Gardiner will most likely get a bridge contract like Kadri...

We have enough room to sign all our key pieces is what I'm getting at

JeffNB
JeffNB

@ingy56 @Marlies Man @wiski 

Wouldn't it be amazing if Ottawa couldn't retain and attract high end players because they only used bargain hotels. haha

Marlies Man
Marlies Man

@ingy56 @wiski Shit, is my math off. If they need hotel rooms for 23 guys, for roughly 60 nights on the road, that works out to around $1,400 a hotel room!

JupJupLeafs17
JupJupLeafs17

@APetrielli Bolland Ashton Raymond ain't no shut down line. Your totally right. Not sure what they are and that deviates from the plan.