Leafs Notebook – November 18

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AP Photo/David Duprey

You have to give Dave Nonis credit: The Leafs needed a center, so he went out and got one.

It was only a few weeks ago that I wondered aloud, in this very space, whether or not Nonis would pull the trigger to fill a position of sudden need, knowing he sat on his hands when he was faced with this same depleted center situation in Vancouver.

Every GM in the NHL had to know the Leafs were in a tough spot already with Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland down, only for Nazem Kadri to get suspended and leave the Leafs without their top three centers. I don’t care who you are, no organization survives that.

With one of their best wingers trying to play center and a career minor leaguer making up the Leafs top six center group, Nonis had to do something. He delivered.

Peter Holland isn’t a saviour at center for the Leafs by any means, but he’s going to help them. On Saturday, his presence alone pushed JVR back to the wing and that made all the difference as the Leafs winger looked more comfortable back in his regular position and potted two goals in a 4-2 win.

There are two great things about the deal to bring in Holland. The first is that the Leafs didn’t give up anything they’re likely to regret. Jesse Blacker is a player who has a chance to play in the NHL, but the Leafs have depth when it comes to defensive prospects so drawing from that well is hardly going to hurt them. It seems that all of Granberg, MacWilliam and Percy have passed Blacker on the depth chart, and the Leafs have a young defense in the NHL as it is with Gardiner, Rielly and even Franson (26) already there. Giving up picks is always dicey, but it’s a third that can turn into a second if Holland plays 25 games; if he does, that means he’s been worth it to the Leafs. A second round pick is a price you pay for a productive center any day of the week.

The second thing to love about this deal is that there’s a lot of upside and potential to it. As Alec noted yesterday, Holland has an impressive AHL PPG among his peers, along with a good pedigree as a fifteenth overall pick. What else really stood out was Holland’s size. At 6’2, and nearly 200 pounds, he’s a big boy who instantly became the Leafs biggest center with skill. Playing Holland with JVR and Kessel gave the Leafs a more prototypical top line than a Kadri or Bozak does because he’s the big, skilled, center most teams could use. Does that mean he’ll pan out there and usurp both those players? No, not at all. But the potential is there, and that’s why you have to love this move.

With the Bolland injury an unknown right now, Holland gives the Leafs a piece to play with down the line-up once Bozak and Kadri return. Expect to see Carlyle go back to playing the Bozak line against opposition top lines, and that could mean Holland will have the opportunity to eat up secondary lines while possibly centering Raymond and Kulemin (similar to what Kadri did last season).

He isn’t a perfect prospect, and that’s why the Leafs didn’t have to give up a ton to acquire him, but he’s going to get a good opportunity now to prove himself in this league at a time when he should be ripe to take the next step in his career at 22 years old. It’s up to Holland now to seize the chance.

This trade isn’t a sure-fire bet to pan out, but it’s the kind of gamble smart GMs make.

***

Notes

– Nikolai Kulemin does a ton of the grunt work for the Leafs, so the “it’s about time” attitude is a little frustrating when he finally scores a goal. Kulemin mainly played with Ashton and McClement this week until the Leafs added some depth. Ashton has one career point to his name, and McClement has one point this season. Why should Kulemin be expected to produce offense with these two? It’s no coincidence that as soon as he plays with Raymond he gets a scoring chance and buries. When he played with Kadri and Lupul against Boston, their line dominated for stretches and created zone time and scoring chances (remember the Kulemin slap-pass to Kadri where Rask robbed him?). Look at his other two assists: first one was against Montreal where he won a battle to Kadri, who passed it to Phaneuf off the rush for a goal; the second one he won a battle for Lupul, who passed it to Bolland for a goal. When he plays with skilled linemates he creates space and can wire the puck when given the opportunity, but often he plays with the McClements and Ashtons and that adds up to a whole lot of games not getting any points. He’s easily a 40+ point guy in a scoring role but he’s so valuable to the Leafs defensively that he’s asked to sacrifice points for goal prevention.

– All that said to stick-up for Kulemin, there’s no excuse for him to have only three shots on net in eight games. Kulemin has a cannon and has to let it go more often; he’s capable of getting the puck and quickly snapping it by NHL goalies.

I’d actually really like to see Kulemin make more of an effort to simply shoot the puck on net more, no matter where he is on the ice (i.e. scoring area or not), but the Leafs don’t seem to play that system at all so I doubt that happens. Ron Wilson used to harp on Kulemin all the time to shoot more. During Kulemin’s 30-goal season, he played 82 games and had 173 shots on net. In the 126 games since, he has just 182 shots on net.

– Credit where it’s due: Gunnarsson played excellent against Minnesota. On one three on two rush against, Phaneuf closed the gap on a forward coming down the boards, so the Wild forward slid it to his teammate cutting through the middle and Gunnarsson read the play, slid across, and then took away the cross-crease pass that would have resulted in a dangerous scoring chance. On Kadri’s five minute major, he blocked a huge one-timer from Jared Spurgeon, which might have been the Wild’s best opportunity throughout those five minutes. Then, on Saturday against Buffalo, Gunnarsson played a season high 26:14. I would still like to see from offense from him, though; he has one point through 20 games and only ten shots on net. Defensive role or not, he has more to give than that.

– Gunnarsson has one shot on net in his last seven games.

– Kind of surprising, Lupul has two points in his last nine games. Last week he had a good two games but only came away with a point, but this week was a tough one for him, JVR, or Kessel to get into a groove as a newly formed line with JVR playing center for the first time. Lupul was producing points at an insane rate and eventually had to cool off; his current season totals have him at a 54-point pace, which is more in line with what you would expect a guy playing on the second line to do. For what it’s worth, I think he’ll get hot again and bump up his point totals. As long as he’s on the top power play unit, he should expect to push 60+ points. But second line and second PP duty will make it tough on him.

– It’s much too early to talk about Holland in detail, but he had one play where he got the puck in his own zone, lugged it through his own zone, and went through two Sabres in the neutral zone before dumping it down deep (you might remember the play because Myers should have been called for interference on a late hit after he dumped it). If he can lug the puck up ice like that, he’s going to be extremely valuable to the Leafs; other than Kadri, the Leafs don’t really have any other centers who can do that, including Bolland. Another center who can carry the puck will help the breakout so much, but again it’s far too early to make that determination based on one play. I’ll be looking to see how Holland carries the puck in the weeks to come, though.

– Let’s get to another center: Trevor Smith. In the summer, JT Bourne over at the score wrote a blog on Smith and his unreal release which you can read here. His goal against Buffalo was a great example of that. Clarkson didn’t exactly tee him up, but he gave him a chance to shoot and Smith got it off quickly. Obviously he got a bounce by it redirecting off a shin pad and in, but the quick release made it happen. He later hit the crossbar in that game. The next night, Smith played 20:03, an NHL career high. All of a sudden, between Smith, signing Smithson, and trading for Holland, the Leafs have reasonable center depth.

– Sure, JVR didn’t look great at center, but what did people expect? He had never played center in the NHL before and he only got four games there, yet the mainstream media was all over him for a five-game pointless streak. That’s the Toronto market at its finest.

– You can tell Mason Raymond is just a well-coached hockey player. His give and go with Kulemin was textbook hockey; Raymond cut across the ice, Kulemin banked it to him off the boards, and then Raymond found Kulemin as the high forward. The first time I thought that about Raymond was this goal against Ottawa.

– He just played the down low game with Kadri so well. He set up down low, took the pass, Kadri hit the hole, and he realized there was no pass option there, so he skated to the half wall (instead of just standing still as so many players do), and then found Lupul in the slot. It’s almost scary to think where this team might be if they hadn’t signed Raymond. Maybe he’ll trail off as the year goes on, but his 15 points in 20 games to start the season has been huge in keeping the Leafs ahead amid all the injuries and suspensions.

– Raymond had a four point week last week. Clarkson actually had a two point week, despite all the heat for still not scoring. It’s coming Leafs fans, and once he gets one, he will get rolling. Another player that will eventually get rolling, too: Jake Gardiner. He has four points in 20 games, but he has played very well and is seeing steady second unit power play time.

– After Franson’s stick accidentally smacked the puck right to Steve Ott for an easy open net goal in Buffalo, Franson stayed back and explained to Bernier what happened on the goal. Some goalies like to have their minds cleared after allowing a goal by understanding what happened to get some closure before moving on. Just thought that was neat to see.

– Ranger made a great play in Buffalo to intercept a puck, and move it up to Ashton for a quick strike two-on-one, and then later lead a rush where he dished the puck off and received a really neat slap pass from Colton Orr. He’s really turning the corner for the Leafs and playing some solid hockey.

– Carlyle has been putting Smithson and McClement out together for defensive zone draws in case one or the other gets kicked out. I’ll be interested to see if that continues once Bozak returns. Like I said last week: I think I want the Leafs to run a Ashton-McClement-Smithson fourth line.

– A lot of people thought last week was going to be tough for the Leafs, especially after Kadri got suspended, but going 1-1-1 isn’t too bad especially when you consider the Leafs were a giveaway away from beating Minnesota, and JVR getting robbed by Ehrhoff, from getting points in all three games. Sometimes the bounces go your way, sometimes they don’t, but the Leafs were right in the games last week. Yes, Buffalo is really bad, but the Leafs have always struggled in Buffalo. With it being Ted Nolan’s first game back, that was always going to be a tough one for the Leafs, healthy or not.

– The Leafs are 5-4-1 in their last ten, which is tied with Boston and only bested by four teams in the East. No question the Leafs need to bank some points because their December schedule is crazy, but they’ve been hanging in there just fine so far and reinforcements are just about to arrive.
The Leafs currently have the third-worst power play time minus penalty kill time in the league, and they need to find a way to stay more disciplined. Some are getting on the penalty kill, but it’s really not their fault. When you’re in the box as much as the Leafs are, eventually teams are going to figure you out and bury.

– Not that it means much in terms of indicating how good a team is at killing penalties, but the Leafs actually lead the league in shorthanded goals with four. They are tied for seventh in power play goals.

***

Quotes

“I believe there is something out there that can help us make decisions. To date, I haven’t seen it. … We’re going to continue to pursue it… The biggest thing we use is going to watch a player play. I haven’t seen anything that’s going to stop that from being the primary source of our decisions.”
Dave Nonis on advanced stats in hockey.

The Leafs are 38-24-6 under Nonis so far, so whatever he’s doing is working so far.

“They might give up some shots but they give up a lot of shots from the outside. They do a good job protecting the inside.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo, commenting on the Leafs defensive play.

When the shot trackers show us this, opposing coaches note it, and the Leafs players believe that’s what’s happening, it’s probably happening.

“A little more comfortable playing there. Allows me to do different things [like] be in front of the net more often.”
JVR, on his move back to the wing.

Last week I noted how JVR was taking the puck and still veering wide off the rush despite playing center, but this is another excellent point.

***

5 Things I Think I’d Do

1 – I think, when Kadri returns, I’d keep Holland with JVR and Kessel just so that Kadri can finally start playing with Lupul and Clarkson and start growing some familiarity and chemistry. Provided Holland continues to impress, of course. When Bozak returns in a week or what not, he can seamlessly slide back in with the top unit and that way you can mitigate the constant change and roster shuffle happening within the line-up.

2 – On that note, I think I’d keep Trevor Smith up on the third line between Raymond and Kulemin until Bozak returns. He simply deserves it, there’s no other way to put it. Smith was arguably their most dangerous forward on Friday against Buffalo, and played well again on Saturday. He’s probably just running on adrenaline right now, but I’m a big believer in giving players opportunities when they earn it, and right now Smith is earning it.

3 – I think I’d put Rielly with Paul Ranger and keep the top four the same. The Leafs have had trouble putting pucks in the other net lately, not keeping them out of theirs, so I would keep the defense the same. Besides, Rielly is an upgrade on Fraser at this point. Mark Fraser said he’s playing with a brace, and it really looks like it is affecting him. He was struggling to skate with any sort of fluidity.

4 – I think, with the Islanders, Predators and Capitals on the schedule this week, I’d go Reimer-Bernier-Reimer based on familiarity and the fact that Reimer was the only goalie to win last week. All three Leafs games are at home this week. They need to come out ahead and should really be pushing to go at least 2-1-0.

5 – I think twenty games into the season is the first real time to judge this team, but it’s tough to get a read because of the rotating roster. That said, a few things are worth noting:

– The Leafs are the real deal in net.
– Paul Ranger is slowly turning into a solid defenseman.
– The team will probably get outshot more often than not this season, but can score enough to make up for it.
– Their special teams are excellent, but relying on them too much is a recipe for disaster.
– Eventually, this team will need to acquire a solid defenseman if they want to make a serious run. Based on recent reports, I think Nonis knows that.

  • Great Dane

    AP – always a pleasure to read your Monday Morning Notes.
    With Holland on the roster I would actually try to run Bozak on the third line when he returns. That would give Leafs three good lines to run and a more balanced attack:
    JVR – Holland – Kessel
    Lupul – Kadri – Clarkson
    Raymond – Bozak – Kulemin

  • lieffan

    Great Dane Don’t think Holland is at first line C out of any other reason than necessity and giving the kid some good linemates off the hop. Very little likelihood they don’t go back to Bozak, who, love or hate him, has played with JvR and Kessel every step of the way during their successes. Kadri returning to 2 line C and Holland down on the 3rd restores the balance with the Cs in their proper places.

  • Mind Bomb

    Good morning Folks,  I am seeing 3 wins zero loses this week for the Leafs !
    Thanks Anthony, nice write up, love the Kulie respect, about time around here :)

  • Mind Bomb

    One other thing on the Holland trade, I like it, we needed it, the funny thing though is he could cost us more than Bolland did lol

  • Burtonboy

    Great Dane Try as much as you like your not getting rid of Bozak GD . I give you credit for trying and being innovative though lol

  • Knights2Leafs

    Thanks Anthony. Interesting that you had positive comments for each of Gunnar, Mason and Ranger when these 3 seem to get the most derision sent their way by some Leaf fans.  I happen to like all of them of them.  None of them are stars but their contributions are real.  It’s guys like these that give the needed depth to take teams to the next level.

  • Knights2Leafs

    Burtonboy Great Dane 
    Agreed.  The thing I like about Holland in the 3C spot is that McClement is good enough that if we’re up later in games, he can come into that spot as the shut down guy.

  • Mind Bomb

    Knights2Leafs  Morning Knights, I am wondering if Raymond is playing himself off the roster lol. If he continues this play, we will not have the Cap space to re-sign him lol

  • Burtonboy

    -Keon- Would like to see that also Keon . Ya think Carlyle is going to go that route ? Play Smithson and Jay on the 4th line ?

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great insight Anthony, and I agree with your recommendations, especially concerning Holland and the suggestion he stay on that top line until Bozak returns.  I have raised this before, but if Lupul would switch to the right wide, then the wingers slot as follows:
    JVR – Kessel
    Kulimen – Lupul
    Raymond – Clarkson
    The second and third line wigners can switch, obviosuly – my point is that Lupul on the right side provides more balance and gives the Leafs perhaps the most lethal top 9 wingers in the league.  Ashton and Orr on the 4th line for energy.
    But, I do not agree that the Leafs necessarily need another defenceman.  It seems to me that Gunnar and Ranger are coming into their own, and Gardiner and Franson are once again playing well together.  The problem the Leafs have seems to concern the inability of the forwards to participate in the breakout, fight and win battles for the puck and get thru the neutral zone with solid passes and puck movement.

  • Burtonboy

    Mind Bomb Knights2Leafs Good point and I been thinking that myself . If he keeps going like this all yr he’s going to get a much bigger contract somewhere

  • Mind Bomb

    Burtonboy Mind Bomb Knights2Leafs  My buddies and I were talking about that on Saturday night, cant see him re-signing for a Million again lol. Some team out there will offer more, but, Nonis was the only one who gave him a chance, so I am hoping for the loyalty card here lol

  • MaxwellHowe

    Mind Bomb Knights2Leafs He can be frustrating to watch at times though.  Makes a lot of weak plays with the puck.  Maybe his injury spooked him or something, but he doesn’t handle physical pressure very well.

  • Burtonboy

    Mind Bomb Burtonboy Knights2Leafs If they are willing to give him some term they might get a much better price

  • Great Dane

    MaxwellHowe I do like your winger combination – spread the power and skill around the top 3 lines and we only need to sort the centers.

  • wendelsway1

    Good Morning All…..Thanks for the Notebook, Anthony….always a great read :)  Very happy that Nonis brought in Holland and if he sticks, I’ll happily give up the second round pick…like you said a second round pick is the price you pay for a productive C any day of the week…..kid has the tools, hope he’s able to put it all together playing for the home team.
    Still pinching myself over MayRay….what a steal….Kudos to Nonis!    GO LEAFS GO!!

  • Mind Bomb

    MaxwellHowe Mind Bomb Knights2Leafs Aye Max, but no more than others, but yes we will see how he does come playoff race and time. when the space is a lot more costy to obtain

  • Mind Bomb

    wendelsway1  Morning WW

  • Burtonboy

    -Keon- Good chance of that too.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great Dane MaxwellHowe usualy when I refer to Lupul playing the eight side I am remined that Joffrey prefers the left – as if that really is supposed to be the deciding factor.  But putting him on the left forces another winger to play on his wrong side – which puts two of the top 9 wingers on their backend against the boards.  On a team that has problems winning battle against the boards.

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat Still think there is something to be said for the fact we did make significant changes in the off season . Sometimes that take a litte bit of time to gel . There is still work to do of course but I’ve been encouraged with they way they have played overall the last 5-6 games

  • Burtonboy

    -Keon- Sure does .

  • MaxwellHowe

    -Keon- Imagine.  Once Bolland gets back, the Leafs may have 5 NHL worthy centremen.  Maybe we have no Eric Staal or Ryan Getzlaf, but the winger depth helps make up for that

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe -Keon- What do you think of Trevor Smith ? I kept telling people he should get a shot further up the line up . I hope we find a way to keep him around even if he plays with Marlies at times . He’s a lot better then people think

  • MaxwellHowe

    The key to obtaining a solid top 4 defenceman will be unloading Liles contract.  RC should get him in a few games for showcasing purposes.

  • Burtonboy

    Yaknowwhat Burtonboy I think so . Now to find a way to get Rielly in the line up some how lol

  • Burtonboy

    MaxwellHowe I don’t believe in this showcasing stuff for one minute . Most teams have scouted all these guys extensively . I would bet most teams have a pretty good idea what JML is and what he can do .

  • MaxwellHowe

    Burtonboy MaxwellHowe -Keon- He’s a solid depth guy.  Maybe not much in the way of upside, but he shows more effort than many others on this team

  • Burtonboy

    -Keon- Too bad . They are missing out on a pretty good little player IMO

  • Burtonboy

    Mind Bomb wendelsway1 Morning WW and MB

  • MaxwellHowe

    Burtonboy MaxwellHowe And yet, just a few nibbles on the bait.  JML needs to capture some attention.

  • http://hopeinthebigsmoke.ca/ hope_smoke

    “I don’t care who you are, no organization survives that.” I respectfully disagree Anthony: http://hopeinthebigsmoke.ca/depth-perception/

  • Great Dane

    MaxwellHowe Burtonboy Most GM knows what they get in Liles and that they can have him for free. Right now I believe it is a question about how much salary Nonis is willing to keep vs. much another team needs a PMD

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great Dane MaxwellHowe Burtonboy yeah, I know, its all about dollars and cents. But Liles playing well in the bigs might provide Nonis with some cap space savings.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Another nice notebook Anthony, Ranger is slowly winning me over after a rough start. Surprised you didn’t have any insight into this “Nathan” Kadri fellow Cherry was talking about :)

  • Dink

    I can’t remember Reimer being that great against the Isles…makes me want to lean to Bernier. Kadri has had good games against them too. A shame he will miss this game.

  • Mind Bomb

    hope_smoke  Good morning Mr Smoke. lets change the wording, Survive maybe, Continue to Win and beat top teams in the league. Respectfully Nope

  • wendelsway1

    @Dink  Meh…..as far as I’m concerned, both goalies give us a chance every night….not concerned with who starts….if the team shows up, doesn’t matter who’s in net.

  • Great Dane

    hope_smoke It only confirms the fact Leafs have had a problem at center for a long long time, probably back to the days of Sundin.
    I can’t see that will change in the near future.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe Burtonboy Even if he came in and scored a hat trick, that wouldn’t change anyone’s perception of him though.  That’s why showcasing is nonsense – especially with veterans like him. Everybody knows exactly what he is.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Burtonboy He hasn’t played in the NHL since last season.  He’s not getting any younger.  I think a few games might go a long way to settling any lingering doubts.

  • Cameron19

    hope_smoke More than half the players listed there are wingers.  You might as well count JVR and Raymond as legitimate centers if you’re going to count all the guys you listed.  Some of those guys haven’t played center in years.

  • wendelsway1

    To your point of putting Rielly with Ranger….I imagine that is the decision that makes the most sense, at this point, however I am chomping at the bit waiting to see a Rielly/Phaneuf pairing.  In all likelihood too soon, but would like to see him there before season’s end if/when ready.

  • Mitch_S2

    Why I like the Holland trade. This kid is big and can move, makes him hard to play against. 
    Likely the biggest knock on Bozak is that there is no aspect of his game that makes him difficult to contain. With Kadri you know you can get burned and Bolland is a prick. Similarly with Gauthier and Rupert they don’t necessarily create offense but they are tough to play against. 
    Hopefully Holland can turn into something decent, a 50 point player between Kessel and JVR ins’t too much to ask for. 
    If Holland looks good near the trade deadline I’d like to see Nonis make a play for a top defencemen.  
    Possible targets:
     Dan Girardi – pending UFA, hopefulyl he wants to come home, munches minutes and is exactly the type of player we need. 
    Brian Campbell – Old yes, Overpaid yes, but he can still play and if Florida would be willing to keep some salary I would be interested in seeing what he could do. Only two years on his remaining deal.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 Burtonboy Ha, since last season?  Way back earlier this year, you mean?

  • Uncle Otis

    Nice job Anthony..always nice to spend an early morning one of your two coffee reads
    Agree with you on most,but I believe the 4th line should have Orr in place of Smithson with McC and Ashton..they have looked pretty solid on the forecheck/cycle and we don’t want to lose that identity as a tough team…esp with Fraser out again.

  • mcloki

    Morning Gents. Another great Article AP. I did not know that Fraser was playing with a brace. That explains a lot. 
    And Phaneuf needs some protection and a little help from his team mates. To many liberties are being taken with him. Orr and MacLaren need to step up and law down the law.

  • Cameron19

    hope_smoke And yes, I know you put them in Italics to show they had proven themselves as centers, but in most cases, that’s a joke.  Only 2 or 3 of those are legitimate (Marleau, Carter, Zetterberg)

  • dlb eh

    hope_smoke 
    “no organization survives that” … we seem to be surviving.  i think the point is the impact of losing 2 or 3 top centres affects every team.
    doesn’t matter what depth you have in the minors, none of it replaces top line ability unless you’re already weak up front on your NHL roster (i.e. your team’s strengths lie elsewhere).
    for the Leafs, our strength is in net and on the wings.  our defense and centres have always been areas we’re looking to upgrade in order to hit the next level.
    i could only imaginge PIT without Crosby and Malkin, CAR without the Staal’s and COL without Duchense and Stastny.  they’re all going to tougher to beat with them dressed.  OBVIOUSLY.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Burtonboy Yes.  And he didn’t exactly stand out, did he?  This is my point.  Now he seems to be getting ice time and progressing with the Marlies.  If Nonis hasn’t moved him yet, a little showcasing may be the way to go.