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The Leafs, Kadri, Brent, Caputi and the “final inch” decisions

Over the years I’ve stressed to our sons what I call “the law of the final inch”.  That is, how difficult it is sometimes in life to push yourself to face things when you feel like you’ve already done enough, or you don’t have much more to give.  This “law” (it’s not really a law) plays out in things like your last exam in high school or university, when it would be easy to tell yourself you’ve already accomplished a lot, and you don’t want to have to push even more.  That last exam stands in the way of getting on with celebrating, your summer, and things that are much more fun than studying even more, especailly when the weather is gorgeous.

The "final inch" also happens to those who need to push a little further when it comes to exercise, a diet, or the demands that go with being an elite athlete.  It’s part mental, sometimes physical, almost always a difficult challenge to push yourself through.

The Leafs are now, in their own small way, facing “the final inch”.  In their case, it’s making the last couple of decisions to get their roster just they way they want it, as they prepare to kick off the 2010-’11 NHL regular season.

Now, in this scenario, any decisions they make are hardly irrevocable or life altering.  If, for example, they decide (as they should) to send young Kadri down for AHL “seasoning”, they can turn around and bring him back up pretty much any time.

Teams can make last-minute trades, gain or lose a player on the waiver wire.  Injuries play a part, too (e.g. Sjostrom is still not available, from the sounds of it, so one more player than would otherwise be expected will get a shot at making the, for now, “final” roster).

Nonetheless, these decisions do matter, as an organization.  You generally are sending a message when you name your final “roster” and when you ice your team for that first regular-season game.

The Kadri thing has been over-talked, by all of us, to be sure, but after all, that’s what these forums are for.  This is hardly life changing stuff here.  But in hockey terms, it helps pass the time to talk about young stars who are—or aren’t—emerging as hoped. (Look at Vancouver…they’ve been hoping for young Hodgson to not only make the team but have an early impact, and by all accounts he will have to spend considerable time in the minors to earn his shot later this season.)

Myself, I agree with Burke, Wilson and all the analysts who say Kadri hasn’t been great in pre-season.  But c’mon, what were they and we expecting?  Why should a just-turning 20 year-old be your second-line center?  If he is, chances are your team is not very good.

Just look at the teams who advance even to the quarter-finals in the NHL playoffs every year.  Look at their second-line centers.  You’ve got to be pretty good to compete with those guys.  Kadri, and others, will get there when they get there.  Development usually takes time.  It doesn’t have to be today.

We also are dealing with a shifting, often unfair standard.  In Leafland, a young player is almost always over-hyped, then just as quickly knocked aside in the minds of fans if things don’t progress smoothly.

If Kadri had potted a couple of goals—even lucky ones— this pre-season, his so-called defensive liabilities would have been more easily forgiven, perhaps.  His “give-away” the other night, for example,  that led to a Sabre goal was a play a lot of veterans make, too.  He was trying to set up a guy in the slot for a scoring opportunity.  Yes, it was picked off by the Sabres who turned in into an odd-man rush, and a goal.  But it’s not like he gave the puck away in front of his own net on a lazy play.  He was trying to make an offensive play, and it didn’t work.  Stuff happens.

But yes, I’m among those who have said, dating back to last season, let’s let this young man play quietly in the minors, and then, when he is ramped up, bolstered with confidence and has results to fall back on at the AHL level, bring him up— hoping he’ll never have to go back down again.  It only makes sense.  It’s not like his presence will assure the Leafs a playoff spot, much less a Cup.  Presumably the plan is for him to be here when the Leafs actually are good.

In the meantime, Grabovski is the "number-two" center.  While a nice player, he is not the long-term answer.  The Leafs, as expected, will head into the regular season rather light up the middle.


This leads, though, to the interesting decisions Wilson made about the Monday night lineup.  Brent as the third-line center seems to suggest that Mitchell is not Wilson’s first choice at this point, that Hanson will be the fourth-line guy and that Kadri is indeed looking at significant time with the Marlies. (Brent played more than 16 minutes Monday night, including time on the penalty kill.)

Also, Caputi seems to have the inside track on the “extra” winger spot, at least until Sjostrom is ready to return.  To this point, he is the one guy, along with Brent, who has seemingly done what the Leaf brass has wanted the young guys to do—jump up and play the way they want, and grab aggressively at their opportunity to make the team.  That can all change this week, of course, but as of now, those two players (Brent and Caputi) would be the only “surprises” or adjustments, personnel-wise, to come out of camp.

1 comment:

  1. VLM-
    Pretty sure I heard that Sjostrom is ready to go for Wednesday.