Here is the question facing management right now: Did they think this was a playoff team all along, or did they always believe it was going to be an uphill battle to actually make the dance?
If they think the 2013-2014 Maple Leafs were supposed to be a playoff team, they have to start asking some serious questions about what is happening here.
This is the second year in a row this team has experienced a jaw-dropping meltdown. If the team had stayed the course from last season to this season and naturally regressed, it would be a lot more reasonable to expect them to continue to stay the course, keep the coach, and continue adding. But they didn’t.
The team made major changes after making the playoffs in 2012-13, moving out key contributors and bringing in players that suit the coach better. Dave Bolland has missed most of the season, so it is tough to judge him, but Clarkson has been a disaster to this point and already there are rumblings that he and Carlyle aren’t getting along swimmingly. If that’s the case, add him to the list with Grabovski, MacArthur, Reimer, et al.
In New York last season, John Tortorella essentially pushed out Marian Gaborik. After bowing out of the playoffs rather easily in the second round (not even the first), the organization drew the line at him butting heads with Brad Richards. It would seem from the outside that Carlyle has already used his “I don’t want this player” card on Grabovski. Now, management has to decide if they are again going to make more major moves to appease the coach knowing last off season’s moves haven’t worked out at all (and have probably blown up in their face a little bit considering how Grabovski and MacArthur have played) and the team is actually getting worse.
The Leafs as a whole are on pace to get out-shot the way only expansion rosters do despite icing an at least reasonable line-up. Nobody expected this to be a good possession team by any means, but they are historically bad and have been dominated for long stretches of play nightly. Is it the systems being used letting the team down, or are the players simply tuning out the coach? Neither answer looks good on the staff.
In 2011-12, the season Ron Wilson got fired, the Leafs finished with 80 points after a midseason collapse. They could score, but their problems were attributed to a poor penalty kill, poor goaltending, and an inability to defend.
That was March 2012. Fast forward two years and what are the Leafs, in a nutshell?
They still can’t kill penalties, play defense, and their offense is actually getting worse in comparison to last year (3.02 goals/game last year; 2.78 goals/game this year). Except they no longer have bad goaltending. In fact, they have really good goalies.
What is the most important thing moving forward is that the organization is properly able to assess what, and who, their problems are. Everyone wants to trade everybody when things go south like this, but there are some very good pieces on this team and things to look forward to. Now it is a matter of better supplementing those pieces. If the solutions are trading away young guys like Gardiner, that’s not going to cut it.
As much as everyone wants to fire the coach and as realistic as that’s becoming, it is also vital for everyone to keep in mind that this team isn’t a great coach away from being a Cup contender. I’ve wrote about this earlier in the season, but the organization has been locking up this middling core in a weak conference and at the same time haven’t been developing young kids in the NHL to fill out their roster on the cheap (the AHL is a huge stepping stone, but players don’t learn everything about playing in the NHL there). The management staff, too, has to take blame for the changes they’ve made, especially when you consider Burke left them some pretty significant pieces and in decent overall shape, especially cap wise.
The good news is this team isn’t miles away from contention. The Florida Panthers similarly made the playoffs, lost to the ECF champions in game 7 OT of round one, didn’t make the playoffs the following season, and are again rebuilding. The Leafs aren’t the Panthers, though. At the heart of this team there are some fairly significant building blocks creating a reasonable foundation, but they really need to do some work to round out the edges and maximize what’s here.
Is the current coach capable of doing that? Can the management group bring in the right pieces to take the next step?
Maybe it is up to Leiweke to decide now.
– It’s important to always note positives at times like these. Not every single thing is bad. If you only look at the bad, you’re going to make decisions based on emotion and lose track of the plot. In saying that, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner have been very good lately. Rielly looked like he hit a wall after the Olympic break and he has looked a little out of gas at times, but against Detroit he was one of the best players on the ice period. Where he’s really been standing out is his play in the neutral zone, where he is able to find another gear through the middle of the rink and cut right through traffic to gain the zone. His setup to Joffrey Lupul for an easy goal was beautiful.
– Luke Schenn was hailed “future captain” after his strong rookie season, so that should serve notice for everyone to temper expectations and not rush to conclusions based on one season, but Rielly has been very promising. It is also noteworthy that he did not play in the NHL after his draft year. This is his second season after being drafted, which sometimes can be forgotten due to the lockout. He even had a brief stint in the AHL. So far, he’s developing smoothly and it is tough to contain the excitement.
– It was tough to appreciate this in a loss, but the play leading up to Bolland’s goal really was one of the Leafs better shifts of the season. Note the puck retrieval, winning battles, driving the net, cycling. Clarkson was a big part of this shift and Gardiner walks the line and roves intelligently.
– That goal came from their third line, but ultimately that unit didn’t play very much. Clarkson played 10:21, Bolland played 11:33, Raymond 16:56 and Kulemin 12:05. Conversely, Bozak played the lowest on the top line at 22:26. And we wonder why the top line is gassed the next game against Detroit? It was stressed all season it would be nice to have a fourth line considering they have the pieces. It has clearly caught up to them. Kessel doesn’t have the jump he had before (and we know he can score in big games, so let’s not make that a story) and can you blame him considering the Olympics and carrying this team on his back throughout the season?
– Against Detroit, the team called up D’Amigo and he actually played well. In the first period, the team rolled the lines, was energetic, and actually came at the Wings in waves of pressure and cycling. That was promising to see and I think if they spend the beginning of next year trying to grow a four line attack it will ultimately pay off in the long run. What’s most noticeable about D’Amigo is his forechecking and his hustle. He made a diving play to knock the puck out in the 1st period, and in the third he chipped it deep, beat the defenseman to the corner, and started a cycle that resulted in him getting a shot in the slot. He has been good whenever he’s been up. He looks like a guy they should be able to count on to play on the third or fourth line for all of next season, but again, we don’t know for sure because he hasn’t played enough.
– I’ll wait to see what, if any, injury Phaneuf has before passing judgement. He has been bad, though. There’s no getting around that.
– It was noted that Kadri got benched against Detroit, and on the merit of play he did deserve it (whether you bench your third lead scoring down two in the biggest game of the season is up for debate). By that token, so did Bolland for taking not only a bad penalty on an icing, but also another one to make it a double minor while down two in the second half of the game. Playing the accountability card is fine, but when it’s not equal it really loses all credibility within the room.
– Declan pointed this out to me during the Wings game: Franson is 6’5 and he was tops a few feet away from the much faster 5’11 Darren Helm chasing him while he was going down on a breakaway. He couldn’t have at least dived and went all out to try and stop that? He gave up the breakaway and skated back down the ice in a race everyone knew he was losing, and didn’t even really make an effort to stop the shot attempt.
– Thought Lupul had a strong showing this weekend throwing five shots on net, scoring, and generally looking dangerous. He was forechecking hard, retrieving pucks and even dropping his shoulder trying to drive the net. That will ultimately all get forgotten, and he hasn’t had a great year, but to me he was one of the few out there really digging deep and trying to turn things around out there.
– There was no better example of the Leafs always playing defensive than against Detroit when they started McClement-Kulemin as the combination for 4v4 play throughout the game. Those guys get a lot of unnecessary flack for being good workers that the coaches trust when really it is not their fault they are being put out there when they are. Those guys do their jobs and are solid in depth roles, but when you’re the Leafs, you’re at home, and your season is on the line, try to get goals.
– In the bigger picture, it allows the opposing coach to dictate the pace of the game as the Leafs receive it and react to it. This stems to even just little things; when the other coach knows the Leafs are line matching, he can put out his fourth line for a defensive zone draw knowing Carlyle will respond with his own fourth line.
– Was a tough break for the Leafs that they put Gardiner on PP1 and got scored on. When these changes are obvious for weeks and finally happen, there is a lot of unnecessary pressure created for instant results that really shouldn’t be there. This has been a story all year when it comes to certain Marlies playing depth roles with reasonable ice time versus three minutes a night or not at all. Once these changes are finally made, everyone screams “see what happened” or “look, it didn’t work!” Hockey doesn’t work that way. You can’t just make a change for one game or so and expect to receive instant results. There are tons of examples when it comes to teams acquiring a guy at the deadline and it taking five or so games for him to feel comfortable before really playing well. It’s the same when you call up a kid or make a line-up switch, and get frustrated when it doesn’t instantly pay off. Give these moves a few games before judging them.
“We hemmed them in for most of the game, and then when they got loose at the end, it was a little bit of a track meet. We did what we had to do. … It was a 5-3 game where I think we could’ve scored 10 goals tonight. We had so many scoring opportunities, and I thought for the most part, until we got careless and started to get fancy around the net instead of burying it, that we were really playing one of our top games.”
– Ken Hitchcock, after the game.
I don’t know if the Leafs actually believed their own quotes about “when we played our game in the third we matched up well with them,” but they are kidding themselves if they do. The Blues dominated that game so badly in the first few periods that they shut it down in the third and it got a little interesting as a result. In reality, though, the Blues looked like they play in a different league than the Leafs altogether.
“There has also been talk inside the Leafs dressing room and outside, that Clarkson has not fit in. Not as a player. Not as a teammate. Not in any tangible way. There has been concern that Clarkson spends too much time on his investments outside hockey and not enough time on his hockey.”
– Steve Simmons
Even though I think it’d be easy to make a case Clarkson hasn’t fit in that room, I’m not going to pretend I am in that dressing room or around it enough to know. But that line about concern that he’s spending time worrying about his money over his hockey really stands out. Again, that’s something I don’t know and won’t pretend to, but he looks out of shape. He’s routinely pushed off the puck by smaller guys and all week I was watching him take 20 seconds shifts.
“It’s not by chance, desire or intent, but we are dealing with a history and tradition here that have not been great. Sometimes, losing becomes a culture, an excuse. It almost grows into being acceptable. People have a fear about how you get out of it. The longer you learn to accept it, the harder it is to ultimately change it. It becomes a way of life. Like the old Seinfeld episode where the guy with the body odour got into the car and they never got rid of the odour. We were that car. We couldn’t get rid of it, so we had to say ‘buy a new car.”
– Tim Leiweke.
Tim has talked a massive game since coming here and has made some franchise altering moves for the Raptors and TFC that appear to be working. However, this is a Leafs city and all eyes will be on him to make changes after a third year in a row featuring a huge collapse. Nobody is accepting losing in Leafs Nation. Everybody is just pissed off. Your move, Tim.
1 – I think I’d put the lines through a blender right now and shake up just about everything. At this point, just completely mix and match to see if you can find some interesting combinations that give you thought for next season. Something outside the box like Kulemin-Kadri-Kessel, JVR-Bolland-Clarkson, Lupul-Bozak-D’Amigo, Raymond-McClement-Bodie.
2 – By the same token, I’d do the same thing with the defense. Pair Gardiner with Phaneuf for the entire game (not just shifts), Gunnarsson-Rielly, Gleason-Franson and see what happens. The team will throw out the company line of, “we’re not quitting, we’re still trying to make the playoffs,” but they need to start looking at combinations for next year.
3 – I think you eventually need to get Reimer back in there, if only because Bernier is clearly hurt. He’s admitted as much. I don’t know the details of the injury or how hurt he really is, but if it’s bad or has even a slight chance of becoming worse through playing, I’d just shut him down for the season. It’s not worth it. Simple as that.
4 – I think there will be a lot of talk of what to do next, but the first thing I’m thinking when I look at their roster and who they have under is contract is that they need to try and get rid of one of their two really bad contracts. Clarkson has six years left making over $5M. If you can convince a team to take him, pull the trigger. The other guy is Gleason. He’s making $4M for the next two seasons after this one and he’s a third pairing defender. It’s doubtful they can move either deal, but even if they are losing the trade value wise or have to sweeten the pot, it’s worth it.
5 – I think my core is Kessel, JVR (contract is too good), Gardiner, Rielly, Phaneuf, and Bernier. Kadri is more or less there, but you have to give to get and if you can move him in a deal for a young, stud two-way center, I think I’d be hard pressed to say no. Anyone other than that is game on and available. It’s going to be a long offseason, isn’t it?
When Tim Leiweke officially took over as President of MLSE on April 2013, the Maple Leafs finally made the playoffs after a long drought, the Raptors were awful and didn’t have a first round pick, and Toronto was pretty well done with TFC.
Boy, how things change in barely a year.
Really, is there any other way this team operates?
After pulling off a rare feat by taking four of six points on a West Coast swing through Anaheim, San Jose and LA, the Leafs lost to two teams chasing them in the playoff race in their Conference.
By no means could the Leafs have mathematically separated themselves from the Capitals and Wings for good, but they could have distanced themselves to the point of only looking ahead from here on out. Instead, everyone is back to looking behind them in the standings and calculating what bare minimum of points is required for the Leafs to still make the playoffs.
Here’s the bigger issue: The Leafs have the worst road record of any team in an Eastern conference playoff spot right now. The Leafs are 14-15-7 on the road. Their #1 ranked home PP unit is 18th on the road. They don’t get their match-ups, they don’t execute their special teams, and they are under .500.
The Leafs really didn’t have much pressure on them at this same stage last season. They weren’t expected to make the playoffs, they did, and everything after that was gravy. This season, the expectations are, rightly or wrongly, much higher. The East is bad and the Leafs really shouldn’t fear any team other than Boston. If they make the playoffs, for example, and lose to Tampa, heads won’t roll but people won’t be happy.
The good news is that seven of the next nine Leafs game are at home. The bad news is that pretty well none of those games are easy. At home, in order, the Leafs have Tampa, Montreal, St. Louis, Detroit, Calgary, Boston, and Winnipeg. Mixed in are road games against the Devils and Flyers. In the East, only Pittsburgh and Boston have better home records than the Leafs 22-11-1 mark, so hopefully that can carry the Leafs through to at least splitting those games and putting them at or around 90 points before taking off on a three game road trip to end the season.
To end the season the Leafs are going through Tampa, Florida, and Ottawa (which is pretty well a home game). You don’t want to be going into those final three games looking to solidify a playoff spot. You want to be going into those games already in and just looking to move up the standings. Tampa is having a good year and that game could decide where these two teams finish in the standings. Luongo and the Panthers won’t be easy no matter who is actually playing for them. And you just know the Sens would love to play spoiler amid their disappointing season. Heck, if it comes down to the final game of the season and Ottawa has a chance to ensure the Leafs don’t make the playoffs, that will be their Stanley Cup. You don’t want it to come to that no matter how successful the Leafs have been against Ottawa lately.
For now, the bigger concern is that the Leafs had a chance to really suffocate teams behind them only to come out flat. The Washington game looked like the Leafs were going through the motions; against Detroit, they didn’t necessarily come out flat, but they didn’t come out and take control of that game, either. The Wings out-shot them in the first and ended the period with a lead. Fans were making jokes about losing to an AHL team, and while I wouldn’t go as far to say they were an AHL team, I wouldn’t hesitate to call that a preseason roster. There were some veterans in there, Howard started, and from there it was a bunch of fresh faced kids that were apparently nervous in the morning skate. That’s a preseason roster. The Leafs could have put their foot firmly on the throats of Washington and Detroit, but instead both teams are still standing with life remaining.
Last season, the Leafs had a chance to clinch a playoff spot against a team chasing them at home, the Islanders, scored two early, and lost 5-3. The next game they clinched against Ottawa. Maybe they needed a wake-up call and last night was it. Maybe it’s a sign of things to come.
Hopefully, though, some home cooking is just what the doctor ordered, but these are not easy home games the Leafs have coming up and teams are inching closer to them in the standings.
I guess it wouldn’t be the Leafs if they did things the easy way without making anyone worry or stress down the stretch. With seven of their next nine games at home though, they have to secure a playoff spot before heading on the road to end the season.
– So Kessel is still human. He’s pointless in four straight games, but with seven shots on net against Detroit you have to think that he’s turning it back up and is going to snap out of it soon. The four-game pointless streak matches his season long, which was in November, when he actually went 7/8 games without a point. It’s going to be trouble for the Leafs if that happens again.
– Since the first game of the season the Leafs have been trying that bank play off dump-ins. Against the Habs in the season opener, it was Raymond sending a long one in for Bodie that Price stopped, but it was nice to see Rielly and Gardiner connect with it since they’ve been trying that play for quite some time. Even more impressive for Rielly was the rush leading to Phaneuf’s goal against the Kings. He patiently regrouped the rush with Anze Kopitar on him in his own zone, moved up ice, read that the penalty killer was cheating for the drop pass play, skated it into the zone, took a hit, and still made contact with the puck so the Kings couldn’t easily dump it back down. Kadri swooped in and made a hang of a pass to Phaneuf for the goal.
– Rielly has really been coming on lately, so it was surprising that he only played 14:50 against the Wings yesterday. Gardiner was the only Leafs defenseman with more shots on (3 compared to Rielly’s 2), and Rielly notched an assist. The Leafs were losing a little over halfway through the first, too, so it’s not like they were holding a lead and went with veterans. They were losing pretty well the entire game.
– Didn’t fully understand the Sportsnet panel linking Clarkson and Joel Ward of the Caps and noting that Ward is a guy Clarkson should try to play like. Clarkson is listed generously at 6’1, 200 pounds. Joel Ward looks to have been lowballed at his listing of 6’1, 226 pounds. Even if he is “only” 226, that means he’s at least 26 pounds heavier than Clarkson (who I’d bet isn’t even 200 pounds, to be honest). That’s a massive gap. In game style they might be similar guys as in they are grinders, both are supposed to get in on the forecheck, and both are two-way type players, but Clarkson is literally physically incapable of doing what Ward can do because Ward is a truck who is extremely strong whereas Clarkson isn’t a physical specimen at all. In fact, Jack Hillen (5’10, 190) pushed him off the puck a few times in the game against the Caps.
– That being said, Clarkson strung some really nice shifts alongside Peter Holland and Mason Raymond in the game against Detroit as they dominated the cycle and threw some pucks on net. Last season, Clarkson played with Elias and Zajac more than anyone else. Now, I’m not saying Holland is Zajac by any means, but stylistically they are similar… they aren’t extremely flashy but they are skilled, they have size, they are good along the boards, and they are two-way type players. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Clarkson has fit in more with Holland because that’s the type of player Clarkson is used to playing with from his Jersey days, versus the flash and dash of Kadri.
– All that said, Clarkson is on a 10-game pointless streak. With the way the Leafs play (high offense, rely on goalies to bail them out defensively), it’s pretty clear that this lack of secondary scoring is what kills them. This is what they were counting on when they brought in Clarkson and Bolland… that they’d augment the top scorers and also help in other facets of the game. Bolland’s replacement has been a mash of players, but the guy they want it to be –Holland– is pointless in his last 13 games. Everyone knew Phil and JVR would cool down eventually and it’s these guys who are supposed to be picking up the slack.
– Here’s the thing I didn’t understand about the final faceoff play with McClement in to take it. Besides the fact that he wasn’t having a great night at the dot (7/19), what was the plan? There was under four seconds left and he’s a lefty in the left faceoff circle. With Kessel on the wall it seems the plan was to win it to the outside and Kessel was going to try cut in and shoot. By no means did that play cost them the game, but boy that’s a tough thing to ask to do and think it’s going to be successful. The tough part isn’t winning the draw to the outside or cutting in for the shot, it’s holding off the Wings players lined up on the inside and charging through. With seconds left in the game you don’t have time to make passes or force any Wing to respect your other options; you’re just trying to get it on net and hope for the bounce. More than anything, that’s why I was surprised Bozak wasn’t taking that draw trying to tee-up Phaneuf in the high slot for a one timer in the middle of the ice. Maybe the plan was win it to Phil on the far wall, who would one touch to Dion at the blue line for a one timer. Seems like that would be asking a lot though with limited time left.
– The other thing that was a little confusing — on the 6v5 the Leafs had against the Wings where they pulled their goalie — was Franson and Phaneuf switching sides to both open up for one timers. Why then? All year they’ve been on their strong sides for power plays, but suddenly they switch sides? They play their strong sides to keep pucks in better, that’s pretty obvious, but Dion used to make a living from that right side of the ice launching bombs. He really hasn’t been allowed to do that in the past two years (He’s on pace for 35 points this season)..
– Points by Leafs defensemen over each of their last 20 games:
Nothing there should make it unanimous to split up Franson and Phaneuf on the PP, but Franson is getting PP1 time and is tied for third in defense scoring over a quarter of the season. He has one point in his last 12 games. The PP has had some zone time, but they aren’t dangerous or generating enough chances that the Leafs can build on when the power play ends. Everyone understands the philosophy of sticking with the group that has been getting the job done, but eventually Carlyle has to pull the plug. We’ve seen these long holdouts on things that aren’t working since Carlyle has gotten here (Kostka, Holzer, etc. etc.), so we’ll see how long this goes on and/or if they can turn it around. This team relies on their PP more than almost anybody else in the league. If it’s not clicking, they are going to struggle.
– The other worry has to be goaltending, but not in the sense that you’re thinking. Reimer has been a good solid goalie this season. He has a .913sv% and has won this team some games on his own. You can’t ask for much more than that for a guy in his role. He has been good this year, maybe even really good if you factor in how bad the Leafs are defensively. But Bernier has been great this season. In 2012-13, it took Reimer with a .924sv% to make the playoffs; this year Bernier is at .925%. That’s the kind of goaltending this team needs to be successful. It is just the reality. If they are getting ~.913% goaltending the rest of the way, it’s going to come right down to the wire. That’s a lot to ask of Reimer considering he’s barely played in 2014, but that’s just our reality. Good goaltending doesn’t cut it for this team. They need great goaltending.
– Not sure what to make of the Leafs bad starts lately, but do know that the Leafs got out-coached against Washington in their slow start on Sunday. The first time the Leafs played the Caps they blanketed Ovechkin on the power play and it caught the Caps off guard because they still tried to force feed him and looked terrible in the process. In second game against the Caps, Washington did it again but instead tried to get Ovechkin to bring his checker to the front of the Leafs net to create traffic while launching pucks on net. The third game –Sunday– the Caps just completely ignored Ovechkin, went 4v3 on the other side of the ice, and they exposed the Leafs. Hey, the first time it worked and the Leafs looked like geniuses, and the second time the Leafs lost but Washington didn’t have any PP goals. The third time speaks for itself. If you give an NHL team three kicks at the can, they are probably going to figure it out (one of the best PPs, to boot). The Leafs looked as if they thought they could come out against Washington, blanket Ovechkin on the PP for a third time in a row, and Washington wouldn’t figure it out? Instead, they got out classed. The Washington players were ready and didn’t even look at Ovechkin on those PP goals. Washington scores two power play goals, the Leafs score none on their PPs, and they lose the game 4-2 (with an empty netter) in regulation.
– Yes, Gleason got caught flat footed on the Nyquist breakaway goal, but if he just turned around and tried to skate with him from the start… he still would have been blown around. He went for it all or nothing to start instead of just prolonging the inevitable. That puck bounced on Phil when he tried to make the quick pass, and Gleason and Franson were caught. There was just no chance either of them were ever going to catch Nyquist on that quick turn of play.
– Starting to think the Leafs tried to make a move for Vanek because they don’t think Bolland is coming back this season. Even with the Leafs asking the Isles to retain more salary than they did to send him to Montreal, the numbers just didn’t add up to me or make sense when factoring in a Bolland return. It’s just food for thought. Have a beer with a buddy and discuss that one.
“So he said I was just okay. I thought I played good, but obviously you’d like to make at least one of those saves in the third.”
– Reimer, responding to Carlyle’s comments about his game against Detroit.
I don’t think Carlyle was unfair in that assessment. I don’t think Reimer was wrong in defending himself, either. But are these two communicating to each other through the media? What is going on here? We know Carlyle and Grabovski weren’t on speaking terms by the end of last season, so is that going on, again? I don’t know why the Leafs feed the media beast like this. They make this a story, we have to hear about it all day, and every post game from now on they will be asked about each other. You also have Reimer’s agent throwing out tweets. It’s just high-school drama. Speak to each other face-to-face behind closed doors. Be adults about this.
“I still think there’s some room for Nazzie to grow. But I still think you’ve got to give the kid credit. He’s under a microscope. He’s under a lot of pressure to come in as a young player and play those minutes. We have all kinds of confidence [in him]. [But] maybe not as much confidence as he has if you know what I mean.”
– Randy Carlyle, on Nazem Kadri.
I actually thought this was a subtly nice endorsement for Kadri. The Leafs have been patient with him and they know there is still another level for Naz to reach, but they are letting the process unravel. He’s playing just under 18 minutes a night, getting steady PP time, and is on pace for over 50 points in his first full 82-game season. He still has his problems and can be a frustrating player that, as Carlyle alluded too, thinks he should be playing more than maybe he should, but this has been an optimistic season of growth for Kadri as far as I’m concerned.
“We know they play one dimensional … Cheat for breakaways”
– Drew Doughty, on the Leafs top line.
Sorry, but he’s not wrong.
1 – I think I’d still keep the same line-up the Leafs had against the Wings, except maybe swap Ranger with Ashton and run a conventional 12-6. JVR-Bozak-Kessel, Lupul-Kadri-Kulemin and Raymond-Holland-Clarkson is the best the Leafs can do in the top 9 right now so Carlyle just has to run with it and hope they get the job done. I thought Carlyle did a nice job of shaking the lines up against the Wings when it wasn’t working, and I don’t blame him for doing that, but at the end of the day that’s the best the Leafs can do. Just have to run with it now and get some results.
2 – I think I’d put Rielly on the top power play unit because he’s done a great job lately of rushing the puck and gaining the zone, which has been a huge problem for that top unit. The only bad thing about Rielly compared to Gardiner is his shot, but Rielly has been so good at carrying the puck and moving it that I’d reward him over Gardiner. That said, either one is a nice option and worthy shake up. I said this last Notebook and it still applies three games later; PP1 looks bad and needs a shake up. I suspect they’ll get the home game to show what they can do since they’ve been so good at home, but if they don’t produce in the ACC in short order, Carlyle would really seem to have no choice but to mix it up.
3 – I think I’d run with Reimer all the way unless he really gave me a reason not too. Reimer has carried the team before. Let’s see, if we get some games under his belt, if he can gain some confidence and really carry the workload. Anyone who thought he would step right in and be great was dreaming. With a few games strung together now, hopefully he really gets rolling. You have to trust him because he’s done it before.
4 – If there’s one thing I could change about this team, I think it would be the forwards leaving the zone early and Leafs defensemen going high off the glass into the neutral zone, where the opposition just regroups and re-enters the Leafs zone. I can understand doing it in November against Edmonton, but it’s March. Playoffs started last week in my mind. It’s not going to fly.
5 – I think, with 12 games left, anything close to a 6-6-0 record should get the Leafs in. But getting in by the skin of their teeth and playing Boston again in round one can’t be acceptable given where they’ve been at all season. There was really no sense of urgency at the start of the Detroit game and it has to change starting tonight against Tampa. They need to push for a top three seed in their division so they can play the Habs or Tampa. The difference between playing the Bruins compared to the Habs or Lightning is gigantic.
I don’t think I’ll panic unless the Leafs lose tonight against Tampa and again at home against Montreal on Saturday. I still think they are okay for now. That changes if they lose these next two.
Alec and I took in the Rotman Sports Industry Conference yesterday, which is of note because the Leafs VP of scouting, Reid Mitchell, was a conference speaker.
Now, personally I can’t handle when these sorts of events happen, the quotes get transcribed word-for-word, and the guy is ripped apart for saying something wrong. I’m not going to do that here.
On a day where pretty well every team around the Leafs got better, there wasn’t a whole lot out there that made sense for this team to do, in part because of cap constraints.
The Leafs are still firmly in a playoff spot and, other than Detroit (who has three games in hand on the Leafs, but are also missing Zetterberg and, for the moment, Datsyuk), the 4+ point gap the Leafs have on everyone else is a much tougher hill to climb than it looks because of the “three point era” in the NHL. It’s extremely tough to make up ground at this stage of the season in this day and age.
Thanks again for all the questions. My apologies if I didn’t get to yours.
Thanks for all the questions. Part 2 will follow a little later on in the day.
There has been plenty of debate already regarding Dave Bolland and whether or not he should be re-signed, a subject that will only continue to gain steam once Bolland returns after the Olympic Break and plays out the stretch on an expiring contract (as it stands).
With the hockey world’s attention firmly fixed on the Olympics, it’s easy to forget that the NHL is quickly approaching a significant date: Trade Deadline Day on March 5th.
You can’t convince me otherwise: Boston’s dominance of the Leafs and elite standing in League the past few seasons has made the Leafs better.
It’s kind of amazing how the Leafs’ awful penalty kill has flown right under the radar this season.
It’s amazing how much a week can change, in the minds of some fans.
Some may say Carlyle is no longer on the hot seat, everything is fine now, the team is heading in the right direction, and everything is turning around at the right time. “They aren’t even fully healthy yet.”
Another perspective sees it as just a hot streak. The team has won a few shootouts, they’ve got some bounces and some good goaltending, and it’s really not a big deal. “It’s unsustainable; the averages will catch up to them eventually.”
Even the most optimistic Leafs fans weren’t expecting David Clarkson to be great throughout the entirety of his seven year deal, but this is just getting crazy now.
Heading into 2013 training camp, Dave Nonis had two massive clouds hanging over his head as his best forward and best defenseman were both scheduled to become UFAs after the season. That’s no longer a problem as both have been signed to long-term contracts locking them in until 2021 and 2022 respectively.
With tomorrow’s game vs. Buffalo representing the 40th game of 2013-14, the Leafs are nearly at the halfway mark of the season. The Leafs, 18-16-5, currently hold the final playoff spot in the East, are 3-5-2 in their last ten, and will try to fend off the Flyers and Hurricanes who are both three points behind them with games in hand.
Although the Leafs went 1-2 last week, it really was one of their better weeks of hockey this season. They handily outplayed LA but just weren’t able to bury, and they laid a beating on the first place Hawks. It’s true that St. Louis completely outclassed them, but two pretty dominant games against two of the top five teams in the league is really impressive. The Leafs have to build on that as a positive.
The Sunday game threw off the timing of the Leafs Notebook (along with life, work, and so on), so I apologize for the delay. Hope it was worth the wait at least.