Summer has officially entered the dog days in the hockey world and there’s little in the way of new developments to discuss. However, seeing as I was away on vacation for most of July, I wasn’t able to contribute here as much as I normally would so I figure now is as good a time as ever to catch up on some Leafs topics that have been on my mind.
– It’s pretty clear the Leafs are going to roll with one a 1A and 1B model in net where Reimer and Bernier split starts, which is fine. The only thing I hope is that it’s a fair competition as opposed to Bernier getting starts pushed on him and Reimer getting relegated to spot duty to try and justify the trade and contract (and it will be obvious if they are favouring Bernier over Reimer for non on-ice reasons). Whoever is better, so be it, but I hope that is discovered through a fair competition and a split of starts especially early on in the season.
– In the 2008-09 season, Carlyle split starts between Giguere and Hiller with Giguere starting 44 times and Hiller 38. I’d be happy to see that even of a start differential between Bernier and Reimer, provided they are both up to the task and play well.
– A lot of fans have noted that the Leafs haven’t really added that top four or top pairing defenseman to take their defense to the next level, but has there been one defenseman who has changed teams you’d rather have in the Leafs top 4 than Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, or Franson? Some of the better D to move teams: Gonchar, Ference, Sekera, and Tallinder; while some pretty good UFA D are still available in Hainsey and Lydman. None of those guys are studs first foremost, and secondly, if the end goal is to win a Cup, the Leafs have a better chance at doing so if guys like Gardiner and Franson are growing in heavy minutes and learning because those are the real difference makers.
– I saw Ranger live at give or take five Marlies games and if I’m being honest, I never really came away truly impressed with him. That said, he’s smooth out there, and he makes an effective first pass, is able to get the puck out of the zone cleanly, join the rush, and he has a heavy shot. He’s also effective at playing the body, not in terms of hammering guys but in the way he shields opponents off the puck and veers players into the boards. He’s turning 29 this year so he’s far too young to have lost the ability to play at the level that saw him logging 25 minutes a night in the NHL, but he still has work to do to get there. It’s a great low-risk move and even if he never becomes a top four minute eater again, he should be a solid third pairing guy who can jumpstart the rush and add some offense.
– Frankly, I like the Leafs defense all things considered. There are still unproven commodities (can Franson repeat last season, how will Gardiner do in the top four, what will Fraser look like if he’s not with Franson, what will Ranger do, so on), but the ability is all there. Cronin mentioned in his interview with MLHS that they needed to do a better job of getting the puck out of their own zone quickly, and a full season with Gunnarsson paired alongside Phaneuf, Gardiner playing full-time, and the addition of Ranger should all help that dramatically.
– The Leafs defense is also huge now. As per TSN bios: Franson 6’5, Fraser 6’4, Phaneuf 6’3, Ranger 6’3, Gunnarsson 6’2, Gardiner 6’2, Liles 5’10.
– This season will tell all, but the “Carlyle doesn’t like Gardiner” story just doesn’t compute to me. Yeah, he only played 12 games during the season, but he averaged over 20 minutes a night in those games and even played with Phaneuf for a chunk of time. To me, that doesn’t scream “I don’t like him,” because he wouldn’t have played that much if it were the case; he would have played 15 minutes a night like Komisarek did before being banished. While he didn’t play the first playoff game, he averaged 23 minutes a night after that – second most on the team. Was he sat because of the concussion, or was it something else? I don’t know, but I’m suggesting there’s more than meets the eye there. Carlyle gave similar players like Visnovsky and Fowler a ton of ice in Anaheim, but like I said, ultimately this upcoming season will paint us a better picture here.
– As an aside, there’s no Leaf I enjoy watching play hockey more than Gardiner; not even Kadri or Kessel.
– In mentioning all these defensemen, one guy noticeably absent is Morgan Rielly. Personally, I’d like to see him sent down to junior pretty well no matter what. I don’t think there’s any point in him playing in the top four over any of the incumbents, and I don’t see much use for him on the third pairing considering he’d get little to no power play time with Phaneuf, Franson, Gardiner, Ranger and Liles all more established. Moose Jaw was in the playoff hunt until he left for Team Canada and Leafs training camp, so if he could drag them to the playoffs this year I’d say that’s a pretty lofty challenge. He could also possibly be Canada’s top defenseman (another challenge), and he could aim to lead all defensemen in scoring this year in the WHL (he was fifth), and be the overall best player in the league. There are things for him to do in the WHL and with Team Canada this season. Even if Moose Jaw still sucks, they’ll trade him (Moose Jaw’s GM said they didn’t trade him because of the possibility he’d return next year; obviously if they struggle again Rielly isn’t returning the following season, so logic dictates they’ll trade him). In other words, I don’t think it’s a waste of time for him to go back, but I do acknowledge the drawbacks there too because he is better than most in the WHL and is already a high level player there.
– That all said, it sounds like the Leafs will give him a look and if he shows that he’s ready to be an impact player already, Toronto will pretty well be forced to keep him.
– One thing I’ll be looking for in preseason with Rielly is how he handles one-on-one attacks off the rush. I saw him get beat numerous times in the WJC and AHL to the outside off the rush and that will need to be cleaned up. He’s great with the puck though and loves the backdoor pass.
– The funny thing about the forwards is that I think swapping MacArthur with Clarkson, Frattin with Colborne, and Komarov with D’Amigo, could all be upgrades (I think Clarkson brings more to the table than MacArthur, Colborne can play center and wing and is a monster on the cycle, and D’Amigo is just as good on the PK as Komarov but faster and brings a little more offense). However, it sure does feel like the Leafs have lost some depth on offense.
– Here’s their lineup on opening night of the 2013 season:
– Here’s their lineup for the last game of the season- game 7 against Boston:
– Here’s what I think they’ll look for the first game of the season, as of right now:
– That’s quite a transformation and a lot to wrap our heads around. I like the defense better and the goaltending has two good options as opposed to one (however unnecessary that might or might not be). The forwards are anyone’s guess right now, though.
– The roster makes more sense in terms of Carlyle’s image of a top line, shutdown line, scoring line and energy line. To that I say, “Randy, you have your roster now, so you better win with it.”
– A lot of fans said “who the hell is Trevor Smith” when the Leafs signed him, but he’s an underrated acquisition. Last year Smith had 54 points in 75 games a season after putting up 69 points in 64 games. The Marlies have lost veterans Ryan Hamilton, Will Acton, Mike Zigomanis, and are going to be a young team overall. They need some guys who have some game and pedigree, and Smith will score which will take some pressure off the young guys. He also pushes Greg McKegg to the 2C hole, which is where he should be. A 1-2 punch of Smith-McKegg is actually pretty decent by AHL standards. I also think there’s a chance we see Smith with the Leafs at one point or another this season.
– There are a couple of other veterans on the team like Troy Bodie, and I’d consider D’Amigo and Ashton veterans at this point, but other than that this team is extremely young. That’s exciting to me because I thought the Marlies were old and lacked the sizzle of having tons of prospects on the team last season, but this year there will be a ton of guys to watch and see grow. I’d hardly put this group of rookies against the Marlies of two years ago that had Kadri, Colborne, Frattin et al in the playoffs, but they’ll be fun to watch because there are a ton of kids. I’m far more interested in the Marlies this season than last season.
– If there’s one player on the Marlies I’d say to watch out for that’s not getting enough attention it would be Stuart Percy. He’s so smooth and smart with the puck that he’ll be ready for a look with the Leafs once he’s physically ready to compete against men and he adjusts to the speed of the pro-game. I’m excited to see what he does in a full season with the Marlies.
That’s it from me for now. I hope you’re all enjoying your summer so far.