One Game Left.


  • Interesting piece by Thomas Drance over at TLN on executive compensation and the Leafs. Essentially, if the Leafs fire Nonis and hire someone away from another team to help conduct the draft, it is going to cost them a second round pick. That hardly seems worth it any way you slice it. The Leafs head office is completely inexperienced at the NHL level, which is to some a big deal and to others means nothing. The team has had a poor season and a few PR nightmares, so how they proceed is anyone’s guess, but this could potentially put a wrinkle in their plans to hire someone specific. It could also influence who they bring in to be head coach, and should it be Dan Bylsma the current season will have been a waste, to some degree, considering he was available last summer.
  • Cody Franson still leads the Leafs defense in scoring.
  • Casey Bailey recorded his first NHL shot on goal against the Ottawa Senators — his fourth game since signing. When the signing was announced Bailey’s attribute most discussed was his shot, but four games in he only has one on net to show for it and it was a floater from the blue line with no traffic in front. It is definitely early and he’ll need to spend the summer working on his skating –- it’s the biggest reason he isn’t getting shots on net -— but he is turning 24 this year, so time isn’t on his side. Christian Hanson’s five game debut was notably more impressive, but debuts do not decide whether a player will be successful long-term.
  • Two goals and five points for Richard Panik over the last 23 games. His shooting percentage is down to just under 13%, which is more reasonable and leaves him with 11 goals in 74 games (and to be honest, 13% is still high for him). Panik was getting a lot of attention earlier in the year, but he was shooting over 25%. Now that he has come back to earth, ironically at a time where his ice time and power play time has increased due to trades, there is a much clearer picture being painted of the 24 year old. It appears the Leafs found an NHLer for free, but some of the expectations need to be tampered. He does have reasonable possession numbers on a weak team and some good splits, though, and he has also shown the ability to draw penalties, which is underrated and valuable.
  • The goal Lupul scored on Sunday was his first in the year 2015, in his 27th 2015 game. He has three other assists to speak of since the turn of the calendar. Peter Horachek noted he was still banged up; Lupul has always been poor defensively, but that is unprecedented poor play from the noted scorer. He is turning 31 and is making almost $7 million in real money next year, and then has another two years left on his deal after that.
  • Jonathan Bernier’s save percentage in 56 appearances: .912%. James Reimer’s save percentage in 34 appearances: .909%.


[pull_quote_center]I think the perception of the ECHL is that the player is going there for punishment or he’s really struggled. We want to use it as entry level to pro hockey for younger players to start out there. It’s a slow change. We would like to have it where first-year players start in Orlando and graduate to the Marlies and then to the Leafs. That’s going to take time for the buy in and the mindset for how people view pro hockey.[/pull_quote_center]

– Kyle Dubas on making use of Leafs’ ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears
There have technically been 563 ECHLers that have played at least a game in the NHL, but the number is a little deceiving at face value. For example, players like Chris Neil and Daniel Winnik each had small ECHL stints that were under ten games combined, but are counted among the alumni. There have been some notable actual ECHLers such as David Desharnais, Matt Hendricks, Andrew Brunette, Vern Fiddler, Dwight King and Andrew MacDonald, but largely the league has produced goalies due to the nature of only one goalie playing per team, per game. The ECHL is growing in quality, but any reasonable player prospect should be making the Marlies immediately with a chance for ice time; the team is on the outside looking in on the playoffs with a negative goal differential.

There will always be players that fall through the cracks that would benefit from this type of route, but generally speaking for Toronto it seems unnecessary if it’s just to nurture the next Matt Hendricks. Especially considering the Marlies are located in Toronto right under the organization’s guidance and NHL facilities. The idea originates from the baseball chain of development, but it doesn’t hold much water in the NHL context; baseball has a 40-round draft and each organization signs three teams worth of (some promising) players to minor league contracts, compared to hockey where it is seven rounds and there is a 50 contract limit with the ability to sign largely journeymen and undrafted over-agers to minor league deals. There is a difference between being different for the sake of change, and being different for the sake of being different.

[pull_quote_center]Laterally, he’s so mobile, he can look one way and skate the other way and accelerate.[/pull_quote_center]

– Peter Horachek on why Morgan Rielly can play the right side as a left handed shooter.
Last season when Jake Gardiner tried right-defense he really struggled in part because he is such an upright skater and that hinders his lateral movements. Rielly is a much more hunched over skater, giving him a lower center of gravity and making turning a lot easier. He also played some right defense in a few WHL games I saw, whereas Jake Gardiner played primarily with Justin Schultz, who is a right handed defenseman.

[pull_quote_center]I’ve had tough seasons. I don’t think I’ve had a season like this year, but that’s what summers are there for.[/pull_quote_center]

– Jonathan Bernier on his up and down season.
If there was one thing I thought would be money in the bank for the Leafs this season, it would have been goaltending. Currently, they are 25th in the league in team save percentage. Last season stellar goaltending almost got them into the playoffs, and while poor goaltending hasn’t been their undoing this year, a return to form would change things in a hurry for the Leafs moving forward.

5 Things I Think I’d Do

  1. I think sending down Sam Carrick and TJ Brennan was the right move in order to try and help the Marlies make the playoffs. It is splitting hairs, but I would suggest there is more value to be gained by getting Connor Brown, William Nylander and co. into playoff games than there is in seeing those two with the Leafs at this point.
  2. I think, when we look back on the last 25 games or so of the season down the road, we will see that the team made a mistake not experimenting more. Dion Phaneuf is playing with Eric Brewer to close out the season. The top line has remained intact, including starting every power play. Nazem Kadri is playing with Joakim Lindstrom. It was nice to see Komarov play center (he can handle it but is clearly better on the wing, where he can work the walls), Booth move up the line-up (he still has some game left), and Rielly on PP1 (that should be a thing moving forward), but there was more to see here and it was left off the table.
  3. I think it was just one game back, but I’d put Peter Holland back on the penalty kill. Barring a trade, the big center is only 24, he’s returning next year, and he’s a player who can help moving forward. Earlier in the season he started to earn more ice time by playing on the PK and forcing his way up the line-up, however when he returned against Ottawa he was not on either unit. There is a lot more to gain playing him there as opposed to, say, Zach Sill.
  4. I think Stuart Percy, who is in the minors, should be looking over his shoulder at Tim Erixon. Percy had a nice debut earlier in the season, flashing some nice skill and actually being tasked with shutdown duties with near regularity. However, Erixon has come in and begun to settle in. He’s playing on the second power play unit, his partners have shifted almost by the shift, but his most common partner has been Andrew MacWilliam. The near 70 minutes they have played together has been painful, but in Erixon’s 417+ minutes without him his corsi-for percentage is over 50%. He’s 6’3 with first round pedigree, and he has shown nifty skill pinching into the zone and leading some rushes. Maybe there will be room for both, but at the moment there are five NHL defenseman already signed for next season.
  5. I think, if Rielly is going to play RD moving forward, that possibly makes one of Robidas-Polak expendable. Even without Phaneuf, Rielly-Polak-Robidas down the right side is extremely poor if you are trying to be even remotely competitive next season. If Robidas isn’t expected to be healthy to start the season, though, it would change things.