What do the Toronto Marlies’ successes mean for the Maple Leafs?

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Photo: Christian Bonin at TSGphoto.com

Former Bruins GM Harry Sinden had a great quote on being a GM in the book Behind the Moves:

[quote_box_center]“I think the bottom line is pretty simple: who can play and who can’t play. That’s the bottom line. That is the fundamental job of the GM. Most GMs, if they didn’t have to make that call, [anybody] could do it, because administratively, it’s [straightforward]. There is a little more involvement because you have to play how you’re going to filed the team, make such things as a salary cap work, but that’s just mechanics. You read the CBA once and you go through a couple of incidents with it. ‘Capology’—it’s nonsense and a myth to think that that’s the most important part of the GM’s job, it’s definitely secondary… You’ve got to know who can play and who can’t, because you’re held responsible for that, and it’s very risky if you entrust that [to assistants] without having any input at all.”[/quote_box_center]

Who can play and who can’t play,” that’s really the bottom line for the Leafs.

With only five forwards under contract for next season at the moment (not including Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren), the Leafs have a lot of holes to fill and some internal solutions on the Marlies.

In my first piece on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ options for the Leafs to get better, I discussed their lack of depth scoring last year and how they are set up to easily improve, especially when it comes to their 7-8-9 forwards. 

The key for the Leafs will be determining, roughly, where to slot these players in the line-up so that they know what holes they need to fill elsewhere. In other words, Peter Holland being able to play 3C instead of 4C is a big difference. The same can be said for a few others in the Marlies system such as Carter Ashton and Jerry D’Amigo. Are these fourth liners? Can they reasonably pencil in one of these guys as a third liner and get good minutes and production here?

On the flipside, if they sign a bunch of veterans to good-sized deals, they will block opportunities and openings for these kids to move up the line-up. For example, if Bolland is locked up to a big deal, Holland isn’t going to push out any of the top three centers on the team in that scenario (Bozak and Kadri being the others). That means the only way he moves up is if there is an injury or he switches positions. These are things the management staff has to weigh this summer.

Marlies coach Steve Spott has been vocal in support of these young players receiving NHL opportunity. With so many open spots on the Leafs roster at the moment, it is a safe bet that they are going to at least receive some long looks. Here is a sampling of some of Spott’s comments this season.

On Carter Ashton:

[quote_box_center]“Anytime you get sent down it’s never a positive for a player that’s an NHL player. And he’s an NHL player.”[/quote_box_center]

On Jerry D’Amigo:

[quote_box_center]“Sometimes we underestimate how good of a goal scorer he is.”

“To get that call and be up there for quite some time, I thought did wonders for his confidence and he knows now he’s close to being an NHL player.”[/quote_box_center]

On Peter Holland:

[quote_box_center]“He’s a puck possession guy, he likes to move the puck and he’s just so dynamic through the neutral zone.”

“He’s an NHL centreman.”[/quote_box_center]

On Petter Granberg:

[quote_box_center]“Elite shutdown defenseman with the ability to kill penalties and I think he’s going to be a Toronto Maple Leaf at some point.” [/quote_box_center]

The last time the Marlies made a deep playoff run they were led by a handful of young players sent down by the Leafs after they failed to make the playoffs. Players such as Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin combined with veterans like Mike Zigomanis and Ryan Hamilton to push the team to the finals.

During that 2011-2012 season, the Marlies top 5 scorers were:

  1. Mike Zigomanis
  2. Ryan Hamilton
  3. Marcel Mueller
  4. Greg Scott
  5. Jerry D’Amigo

Almost every player in the top five we already knew weren’t going to be NHLers at that point. This season is a different scenario as the top five scorers were:

  1. TJ Brennan
  2. Spencer Abbott
  3. Greg McKegg
  4. Josh Leivo
  5. Sam Carrick

To say nothing of the seasons that D’Amigo and Ashton were having before being called up and yo-yo’d around. There’s a chance you’re looking at three NHLers, maybe four with the right bounces, out of that group above alone.

This team doesn’t have the same star power as the previous powerhouse Marlies team because there is nobody that compares to Kadri or Gardiner talent wise, but the depth here is impressive. They roll four good lines while legitimate contributors sit every night. They really have been led by their young players.

This team is young, big, and heavy. That should serve as a nice addition to one of the weakest bottom six groups in hockey last season, adding not only some scoring but the other little things to help push the Leafs forward such as an ability to create an actual cycle in the offensive zone and help kill penalties (Marlies were 11th this year killing a little over 83%).

Of interest on this note is the report that the Leafs interviewed DJ Smith for the Marlies coaching gig. Even though Smith signed a deal in Oshawa a day later, the report in and of itself is interesting because it might be foreshadowing a potential promotion for someone on the Marlies coaching staff (if it’s not head coach Steve Spott, it could be one of the assistants, Derek King or Gord Dineen). Usually when these promotions from within happen the kids on the farm team benefit tremendously. Just this season in Tampa we saw Cooper give a number of kids he once had in the AHL long looks and real opportunities for the Bolts, and it paid off.

Years ago, when he was promoted from AHL head coach to NHL head coach in Toronto, Paul Maurice brought up players like Johnny Pohl and Bates Battaglia, made Ian White a full-timer, and even provided opportunities to kids like Brendan Bell and Kris Newbury to show what they can do in the NHL. It comes with the territory of promoting AHL coaches because they fight for the guys who got them the promotion in the first place.

There are future NHLers on the Marlies right now, which goes without saying. With an average age of roughly 23, full of draft picks and achieving post-season success, nobody should expect anything less. But it is up to the Leafs to make the right decisions now on who goes, who stays, and who should be a Leaf next season.

Last Fall, Joe Colborne had an awful training camp and preseason and the Leafs ultimately decided to give up on him and trade him away to Calgary for what ended up being a 4th rounder. Is it a huge, franchise altering mistake of a deal? No. But Colborne’s 10 goals and 28 points would have ranked him as the Leafs best bottom six producing forward ahead of Nik Kulemin’s 9 goals and 20 points. They have to do a better job of integrating these kids into the line-up, setting them up to succeed, and ultimately developing them.

The final four teams in the AHL playoffs last season were Syracuse, Wilkes-Barre, Grand Rapids, and OKC. Syracuse and Grand Rapids both had seven players go onto play a notable amount of NHL games the following season (at least over 30), while Wilkes Barre had two and OKC had three. Syracuse is Tampa’s affiliate and Grand Rapids is Detroit’s, so those numbers are a little high considering their NHL team’s injuries.  Considering the Leafs have so many openings available for kids to snap up, though, it’s not unreasonable to think 3-5 kids on this Marlies playoff run can be productive in the NHL next season.

The challenge is figuring out who slots where and who is good enough to make the team. There are essentially four AHL PPG players there: Brennan, Abbott, Holland, and Ashton. Not to mention playoff leading scorer Jerry D’Amigo. Brennan is a UFA this summer while the other four are RFAs. There are three other kids on defence who figure to get good looks in Stuart Percy, Petter Granberg, and Andrew MacWilliam.

The defence will get its own separate column, but surely the Leafs can find three forwards on the Marlies capable of combining for and producing more than the zero points in the 99 games Smithson, Orr and McLaren played in as a trio. Holland already produced more than McClement in 38 less games last season.

It’s just up to Leafs management and coaches now to make the right calls on who to promote, where to slot them, and how to develop them properly in the NHL. In doing so, they’d help round out their roster to be much better than it was a season ago. That would be a big boost to a team that relied on their top line far too much in 2013-14.

  • peterbleafs

    Nice article, now give us the answers, who slots where????

  • Anthony Petrielli

    peterbleafs  Hah, what I’d do or what I think they are going to do?

  • peterbleafs

    @Anthony Petrielli @peterbleafsWhat they are going to do :) Lets get our authors up to mind reading capability.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    peterbleafs  Early guess would be Holland as 4C, one of D’Amigo/Ashton on his wing, and Granberg on D.

  • peterbleafs

    Anthony Petrielli peterbleafsIf Daniel Briere can center a 4th line so can Holland, then we can really roll lines and not miss a beat.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    peterbleafs Anthony Petrielli  I think Holland could push for 40 points next year as a 3C if he’s played their the entire season with some PPTOI, but it’s hard when the two guys above him would be Bozak and Kadri meaning none of your top 3 C’s would be good defensively.

  • mlclearwater

    At the very least Shanny and Nonis have to give Carlyle orders to play some of the younger kids in meaningful situations and minutes. As the writer mentioned, we have a great ahl team, that is young and has been winning consistently. They need to get opportunities and make way for the junior crop that will be looking to play pro next year.
    Our Management and Coaches need to get on the same page with what this team is trying to achieve and how we are trying to achieve it

  • Anthony Petrielli

    mlclearwater  https://twitter.com/Hope_Smoke/status/446756028965609472

  • martyzylstra

    MapleLeafsHS APetrielli last time the Marlies went deep in the playoffs the big club made the playoffs the following year

  • APetrielli

    martyzylstra MapleLeafsHS Helped to have those Marlies coming in hot from playing OCT-DEC while the lockout was going on though.

  • peterbleafs

    mlclearwater Well the GM controls who is on the roster, just take away all Carlyles preferences and order him to commit to a philosophy of rolling 4 lines.

  • Komas Taberle

    Anthony Petrielli mlclearwater  
    Get rid of McClelentan d have a 4th line of Komarov Holland Hartikainen.
    Big, plays hard, can hit and can score and play 12 mins a game and all for under 5Million.

  • mcloki

    Great Article Ap, As always. I just wonder what trades the Leafs are going to make? They are near or at their contract limit. They have plenty of guys that can play in the NHL on 3rd and 4th lines. So perhaps trading a few of the prospects might work out. We trade Balker for Holland =, if I remember correctly. And we were all high on Blacker. 

    Rightfully we have no stars but we do have trading pieces.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Komas Taberle Anthony Petrielli mlclearwater  Ashton????

  • Komas Taberle

    Anthony Petrielli Komas Taberle mlclearwater  
    I don’t think he can score at NHL level yet, but he is an option.

  • mcloki

    Also important. Spott runs 4 lines. 4 lines, that seems to be a big difference to all the teams in the playoffs now.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    mcloki  Depends how much they want to shake up. 

    I could see them looking like this at this very second:

    JVR-Bozak-Kessel
    Lupul-Kadri-____
    D’Amigo-___-Clarkson
    Ashton-Holland-____

    Gardiner-Phaneuf
    Gunnarsson-Rielly
    Gleason-Granberg

    Can probably fill one of those winger spots with Komarov, and maybe Bolland as that 3C. So then you have a bunch of other trade chips (Franson, Reimer, Gunnarsson??) to add a D-man and a top six winger. Do they want to trade a Lupul/Bozak/Kadri/Gardiner/etc though.

  • Komas Taberle

    Good article Anthony!
    I don’t think we see Orr or McLaren this year on the Leafs.
    We need to go with more speed and more scoring on the 4th line.

  • NotInsane

    Nice article, thank you Anthony

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Komas Taberle Anthony Petrielli mlclearwater  For a L4 spot would rather run with him than Hartikainen. Bigger and younger.

  • Komas Taberle

    mcloki  
    Blacker and a second actualy

  • Mcost61

    Great read, I’m excited to see more Marlies on roster this season.

  • Komas Taberle

    Anthony Petrielli Komas Taberle mlclearwater  
    You are right, he is bigger and faster too, I can live with that and perhaps he finds his touch around the net in the NHL.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Komas Taberle Anthony Petrielli mlclearwater  He’s been playing with Holland in the playoffs so wouldn’t mind just keeping that going. Tell them to get comfortable and used to each other.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Great stuff Anthony.  I believe e Granberg is the most likely to get called up.  Holland should be the 3C; I think Kadri or Bolland is leaving, and I hope its Bolland thats elsewhere next year.
    On Ashton – maybe I’m way off base here, but when I watched him play with the Leafs I was reminded of Clarkson – only because I was left wondering if the Leaf team woes in gaining and establishing ozone pressure  – forechecking and cycling – just left Clarkson and Ashton without the opportunity to excel in the way in which they otherwise could.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    MaxwellHowe  Kind of ironically, Ashton and Clarkson actually played really well together. Just dominated the cycle and boards as a duo.

  • Archie Vanlanda

    Anthony Petrielli MaxwellHowe  Holland would work well as their centre…

  • MaxwellHowe

    Anthony Petrielli MaxwellHowe Not ironic, proof of my incoherant point

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Archie Vanlanda Anthony Petrielli MaxwellHowe  Would take a leap of faith in Ashton+Holland to have both in your top nine considering neither have a record of scoring in the NHL (even if that’s not their fault).

  • Archie Vanlanda

    Anthony Petrielli Archie Vanlanda MaxwellHowe  Agreed. I was thinking just in terms of puck possession not in terms of Randy making it a reality.

  • ProfessorRance

    Archie Vanlanda Anthony Petrielli MaxwellHowe  Komarov-Holland-Clarkson 

    Would be a great line I think.

  • Burtonboy

    If you never got a chance to listen to the Holland interview on Leafs lunch you should try to listen to the podcast when its up. This guy is real sharp and an excellent interview . Very poised and confident

  • TheGroobster

    I have a beef about the Colborne thing. How were we supposed to know he was a 30pt guy when he had a brutal preseason?

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Archie Vanlanda Anthony Petrielli MaxwellHowe  Ashton-Holland is already a thing with the Marlies so logically they should just keep that together. Who knows with the Leafs though.

  • ProfessorRance

    Burtonboy  Future 2nd line center. I really like his size and possession game.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    TheGroobster  Just came off a 42 point season in 65 games with the Marlies, looked good in the playoffs for the Leafs and is 6’5, so it was reasonable to assume he’d be an okay scorer. Definitely better than McLaren/Orr.

  • TheCanucksnaphook

    Now where was I?

    Fuckin McLaren Seriously?? !!

  • Komas Taberle

    ProfessorRance Burtonboy  
    He’s good on the boards too, can shield the puck well, just a matter of time before he is a regular NHL centreman.

  • MaxwellHowe

    TheCanucksnaphook that yoga stuff is really working wonders. only one bad word.

  • Burtonboy

    Good piece Anthony . I see no reason why we can’t roll 4 lines . 

    JVR – Bozak – Kessel 

    Lupul  – Kadri – ????

    Komarov – Bolland – Clarkson 

    D’Amigo – Holland – Ashton 

    This is contingent on what Shanny’s view of how this team plays going forward . As long as Carlyle has his walking orders to play 4 line and gives all lines a decent chance to play there is no reason it can’t work . The Leafs and Carlyle especially have to wake up . The rest of league are rolling 4 line and we’re still stuck in the dark ages playing a 4th line like we did last yr.

  • MaxwellHowe

    TheGroobster Trading a C from a team with no C depth.  That move was a gigantic mistake.

  • Mcost61

    No McC in lineup, RC is beginning to twitch

  • Burtonboy

    Mcost61  Fuck RC . Should have fired that asshole

  • ProfessorRance

    Komas Taberle ProfessorRance Burtonboy  He’s a perfect fit for the second line or third since our first line as long as we have kessel will be mainly a rush line.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Burtonboy  Here it is: http://iphone.tsn.ca/tsnpodcasts/LL_Hour1_May21.mp3

  • Mcost61

    He is the fastest movable piece in the game. I think Shanonis will fire him when they see he is not able to change

  • loomx

    MaxwellHowe TheGroobster  Especially when you could’ve just waived McLaren or Orr. What a waste.

  • Anthony Petrielli

    Burtonboy  https://twitter.com/Hope_Smoke/status/450787974138327040

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Anthony Petrielli Burtonboy  *extends Carlyle 2 years*
    Carlyle must have really sold him on a willingness to change
    That or Nonis is an idiot

  • Mitch_S2

    Burtonboy I have no problem playing Holland on the fourth line like that, as long as the get 10-12 a night.  I think that would go a long way. 
    I’d also consider Broll in the top six spot.