Saturday, May 30, 2015
Authors Posts by Alec Brownscombe

Alec Brownscombe

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]

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Did the Maple Leafs miss out on a chance to include Cody Franson in their core going forward? Yesterday’s trade with Nashville has some asking the question.

The Leafs had two additional opportunities to do so: One came after his good season in the short lockout year, and the other was the negotiation before the current season began. Both presented an opportunity to sign Franson to some term at a value reflective of a bargaining position that was weaker then than it is now.

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Photo: NHLI via Getty Images

Peter Horachek is going with James Reimer in net as the Maple Leafs look to avoid sole ownership of the longest losing streak in the Leafs’ near-100 year history.

What’s really dejecting is that it’s debatable where this latest tirefire stands on the spectrum of Leafs lowlights in the just the past four seasons. The Game 7 collapse was also record-setting, for largest lead forfeited in the third period of a game 7, but starting the year 19-9-3 through 31 games before setting a franchise record for consecutive losses might be the worst of the worse; even more accentuated and dramatic than the 2011-12 and 2013-14 collapses, to be sure. Anyway, that’s something to debate amongst yourselves and your therapists.

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Carter Ashton
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 21: Marc-Andre Cliche #24 of the Colorado Avalanche collides with Carter Ashton #37 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Pepsi Center on January 21, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Previously sitting at the 50-contract maximum, the Maple Leafs have freed up two Standard Player Contract slots by moving Carter Ashton and David Broll for the closest thing to a bag of pucks in hockey trade terms.

Broll, a sixth rounder in 2011, was signed to a pro contract earlier than expected (just a month after getting drafted), and was tracking along fairly promisingly after finishing his junior career in Sault St Marie and having a pretty good rookie season with the Marlies, as well as coming up for a five-game stint with the big club to start the 2013-14 season. He has not been himself at all this year, consigned to the ECHL after going pointless in 21 games and, most worryingly, failing to impact games physically, which had previously garnered the attention of Leafs brass. 

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ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 14: Cody Franson #4 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles for the puck with Patrick Maroon #19 of the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on January 14, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

This from Bob McKenzie on the radio today:

As a capped-out bottom-10 team that has not been drafting enough in recent years (particularly the 2nd and 3rd rounds) and is headed nowhere fast, the last thing the Maple Leafs can afford to do is not maximize returns on every expendable asset on an expiring deal. No more losing a trio of productive top 9 forwards for literally less than nothing (negative one compliance buyout) in MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin, or giving up picks for Bolland and letting him walk, or getting a found wallet in Mason Raymond and not cashing it in.

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Jan 20, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Phoenix Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker (89) carries the puck as Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) and defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) defend during the first period at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

For those watching this game with an eye on draft positioning:

It’s been tough sledding of late watching the Leafs play, to say the least; the meaninglessness of the game as far as playoffs go and the fact that it was a classic Jersey game tempted the clicker finger of even the most devout Leafs fans last night.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 12: Justin Williams #14 of the Los Angeles Kings stands at the bench during warmups before a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at STAPLES Center on January 12, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs made one crucial misstep by being asleep to start the game, and ultimately paid for it in a hard-fought and tightly-contested game against the Cup champs on the road.

While the Leafs’ first shift was inexcusable and they were largely pushed around in the opening period, they have certainly won games where they’ve played much worse. The Leafs stuck to the gameplan after the early goal against and slowly found their footing in the game, dictating possession in the second half. There were a couple of doorstep chances for JvR and Panik in the third period, but the Leafs just couldn’t get one by a spectacular-when-called-upon Martin Jones. The Kings slowed the game down to a crawl in the third period, choking the Leafs out as the strongest third period defensive team in the League does. Toronto carried a decisive edge in possession in the final period, but any scoring chance had to be fought for tooth and nail with painstaking spells of board play.

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 9: The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during game action on January 9, 2015 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

This was more like the game fans were picturing following a coaching change.

Despite Franson and Phaneuf (falling over) teaming up for an early blunder leading to a Ryan Johansen breakaway goal out of nothing, the Leafs shook it off; an early bit of bad news going against a fragile team can sometimes end ugly, but the Leafs didn’t respond like a team mired in turmoil.

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Sep 26, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle watches play from the bench against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The only real surprise is that he made it all the way to 2015.

The same fundamental flaws haunted this Leaf roster despite a fleeting glimpse of progress in the first 10-15 games of the season, when the Leafs were actually playing some even games in terms of shots and possession share. That quickly took a return to the depressingly familiar:

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TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 29: Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning races against Dion Phaneuf #3 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at the Amalie Arena on December 29, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

This game might come as a shock to fans who decided to pick up Leaf fandom for the first time during the recent 10-1-1 hot streak; a stretch of five losses in six games might even seem like the type of blip that most teams have to play through at some point in the 82-game grind.

For Leafs fans with a memory, it was as predictable as it was depressing to watch. Over the past three seasons, fans and pundits have often wondered who the real Leafs are — the group that collapses catastrophically or the one that goes on the tantalizing, high-percentages-fuelled winning streaks. The right answer is probably “neither,” but It’s become pretty clear this team’s reality is closer to the former.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 21: Patrick Kane #88, Patrick Sharp #10 and Kris Versteeg #23 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate Versteeg's goal during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the United Center on December 21, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

In the game day thread before the Carolina game, we talked about how, in March of 2014, the Leafs were on a red-hot streak that included wins over the Kings and Ducks right before they played a weaker Eastern Conference opponent (Washington), lost, and began a long losing streak.

They had won a few games they shouldn’t have, and sure enough it caught up to them and then some; they went from the hottest team in the League to ice cold, and we all know how the season ended.

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BESTPIX RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 14: Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple checks Jay Harrison #44 of the Carolina Hurricanes during play at PNC Arena on February 14, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The league’s hottest team pays a visit to its coldest tonight in Carolina.

The two teams are riding opposite streaks, the Leafs winners of six straight and the Hurricanes losers of six consecutive.

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 16: Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates the puck away from Andrew Cogliano #7 of the Anaheim Ducks during NHL game action December 16, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

The opponent doesn’t seem to matter; no team has an answer for the Leafs’ four-line attack at the moment.

Tonight it was the League’s hottest team and owner of its best overall record rolling into town, and the Leafs lit them up for six goals.

Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images

With the chance to flip Wednesday night’s script, the Maple Leafs showed some killer instinct by outplaying a tired Wings team.

Even a hot goalie in Petr Mrazek couldn’t replicate James Reimer’s herculean midweek effort, however, unable to keep his team hanging around in this one as the Leafs, now the highest scoring team on a per game basis through 29 games, showed off their scoring depth by attacking the Wings relentlessly from the second period onward especially.

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Besides the Brian Burke connection and a few players who have played on both sides of this matchup (Dion Phaneuf, Matt Stajan, Mason Raymond, Joe Colborne who is out hurt), there are some interesting parallels between the Leafs and Flames in the past year.

The Flames, like the Leafs of early last season, are ostensibly a team on the rise, seemingly in the process of turning the corner. And yet there are the analytics folks in the background screaming “hold your horses.”

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 6: Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks has a second period shot get past him for a goal during NHL game action against the Toronto Maple Leafs December 6, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Games like these are tough to judge (i.e. tough to write about).

There’s the game that saw the Leafs build a 4-0 lead over one of the League’s best teams (particularly on the road) through 27 games. Then, there’s the game that transpired in the final 35 minutes wherein the Leafs were outshot 34-16 and were lucky (two posts in the span of five seconds on the penalty kill with the score at 4-2) not to find themselves in a one-goal game with a healthy amount of time left on the clock.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 10 - Toronto Maple Leafs Leo Komarov celebrates after Tyler Bozak scores a shorthanded goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Boston Bruins in game 5 of their first round NHL Stanley Cup playoffs series at TD Garden in Boston, May 10, 2013.

A point out of a visit with the league’s best and highest-scoring team (15-4-2 with a +27 goal differential after this win) is something any team in the League will take, no questions asked.

Especially if you spot them a 2-0 lead. The Leafs had yet another poor start, scored on in the first five minutes for the eighth time this season, with Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Bernier losing sight of the puck coming out from behind the net and Blake Comeau depositing his first of three goals on the night 27 seconds in.

TORONTO , ON - NOVEMBER 22: Mike Santorelli #25 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates the goal against the Detroit Red Wings during NHL game action November 22, 2014 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Roman Polak is out for what is being described as “a while,” which is not particularly surprising given the optics of the injury he sustained to his ankle on Saturday.

Also injured is the Leafs’ only defence call-up so far this season, Stuart Percy, who has missed the last three Marlies games. Hurt also is Petter Granberg.

Word is right-hander Korbinian Holzer will get in his first NHL regular season game since March of 2013, sliding in on the right side of the bottom pairing. While he can provide a right hand shot with some size and grit, replacing Polak, who was performing reasonably well for the team with the highest defensive zone starts among the regular D on the roster, is more of a task than it might seem.

In addition to his 39% defensive zone percentage, Polak was playing the second most ice time per game at 21:03. The injury is likely to ask more of Phaneuf in particular, who was starting a reduced 31.4% of shifts in the defensive zone this season and seeing some improved results in terms of his possession numbers.

In other news, there’s still articles being written about SaluteGate and the Leafs’ decision to go back to saluting except not at center ice on Saturday. The official MLHS stance on the issue remains unchanged:

Monday Links:

 

BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Buffalo Sabres fans celebrate a second period goal as fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs react on November 15, 2014 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s no such thing as a good team that is inconsistent. The definition of a good team is one that is consistent.

By extension, mediocre teams are inconsistent, and the Leafs are mediocre. Most people get that.

But then there’s this: In a week where this team dominated the Bruins, scoring 6 goals and allowing 25 shots, they let in six to a truly awful team that’s been scoring 1.2 goals a game.

If anyone can explain this, throw it in the comments.

Shot Location Chart

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Possession Chart

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