Some notes and links for your Thursday evening:
– There was another Lupul injury scare this afternoon, as Joffrey sustained a bruised foot after taking a shot to the skate in practice. No skate guards, Lups? You’re lucky the Leafs haven’t permanently placed you in a protective bubble by now. Put on the damn guards.
It doesn’t sound too serious, and Lupul traveled to Columbus with the team, but his status for tomorrow night’s game isn’t certain.
– In unsurprising news, Morgan Rielly is staying past 9 games. It could just be me thinking of a few anecdotal examples (Hamilton, Grigorenko), but it seems teams are less hesitant to burn the first year of an entry level contract these days. Could it be because bringing the second contact a year closer for top youngsters isn’ t necessarily a bad thing for the team? If you can sign these high-potential guys when they’re really young to a longer term deal and keep the AAV on the cap hit down by pointing to a lack of experience/proven body of work, there might be a benefit there for the team over the long haul. JvR broke the league at 20 and played full time from then on, but his contract is a bargain for the next several years because of the timing of his deal – signed at a younger age.
– For now Rielly’s presence on the Leafs benefits both the team and player to my eyes, but it gets more interesting when Mark Fraser returns from injury.
The Rielly-Franson pairing has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Phaneuf-Gunnarsson; Gardiner-Franson; Fraser-Rielly, with Rielly moving to the right (As Anthony mentioned on the Hangout, he played some in junior). Ranger, Fraser and Rielly can rotate in and out as performance or injury dictates, but will the Leafs be hesitant to sit Rielly if only for the bad optics?
As for Gardiner, he’s put together a quietly solid last four or five games to my eyes. I’d see if Franson and Gardiner can rekindle what they had in the playoffs. For me, the veteran in Franson has been as big of an issue defensively as the rookie has.
– In saying that, it’s amazing how Franson continues to produce offensively. He’s now at 8 assists in 10 games, and he’s done it pretty quietly. He’s tied with Erik Karlsson for 4th in scoring among defencemen and has an amazing 37 points in his last 55 games played. Prorated, that’s a 55-point pace over 82.
– Mark Fraser has started skating, by the way. The other member of the walking wounded, Nikolai Kulemin, skated yesterday and is 7-10 days away from returning.
– The HBO 24/7 start date has been announced: December 15. Check out the broadcast schedule here, as well as a 24/7 clip from 2011-12 where Dion literally ends Michael Sauer’s career and John Tortorella instructs his team not to, “shit [their] pants on Kessel.”
– David Clarkson returns tomorrow, and the Leafs are showing no hesitation in hyping him up as if the second coming of Christ himself. Seriously, it’s exciting to finally get the $5.25 million man in the lineup.
Clarkson has yet to play a meaningful game in a Leaf sweater, but what I’ve liked about him so far is his total embracing of the market pressures and leadership role he’s supposed to play on this team. Even if his contract will make it tough to live up to expectations, he’s done nothing but own those expectations. It will be nice for this team to have another leader in the dressing room to go along with Lupul and Phaneuf.
Phaneuf is a tank and played a huge role in the Leafs’ comeback on Tuesday, but it can be awfully hard to provide that intangible contribution called “changing the momentum for your team” when he’s tasked with shutting down the opposition’s best players from shift to shift. Clarkson is an easier position to lead from. I hope he ramps up the intensity level a notch tomorrow night and that his teammates feed off of it.
Rielly after getting the news that he’s staying:
Carlyle after practice: