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Cherry, Kadri and ten games in; Asking readers and Leaf fans: How good is Phaneuf, really?

Two losses against goalies who were playing at the top of their game is not a reason to change everything around. Unlike Don Cherry, I guess, I’m not among those clamoring to “bring up Nazem Kadri”.  Kadri has had some success with the Marlies, but has not been too good for that league, from what I have seen.

Cherry is correct that many young players, at 18, 19, 20, have made the jump in recent seasons and had an immediate impact at the NHL level.  But I’m of the view that Kadri should be beyond the AHL when he gets the call-up, and should never have to look back—or go back—once he makes the Leafs.  It should be for good.

In other words, dominate there first, then, if he is the best guy available, he can assume that much talked-about second-line center position with the big club.  I don’t think, after 8 games in the minors, he is suddenly ready— if they didn’t feel he was ready three weeks ago.

Kadri aside, it strikes me that the Leafs did a lot of good things in these last two games, and could easily have scored on a few occasions.  It certainly wasn’t lack of effort.

We can say they aren’t getting enough traffic in front of the net, but guys tried to get there, they simply weren’t successful often enough.  The other comment will be that they lack guys who can finish, but it is obvious to anyone following the club that this was quite likely going to be an issue.   Despite his remarkable start, MacArthur is not a natural goal scorer, at least based on the first few seasons of his NHL career.  So to expect him to score 25 or 30 is probably a big stretch.  That means, beyond Kessel, Leaf fans are looking for Bozak, Vertseeg and Kulemin to score.  Again, these are young guys who have never before in their life been close to being big NHL scorers, or first-line players.  So how realistic are we being?

I remember posting, just before the season started, that the team just does not have strength down the middle.  It was clear to everyone.  We all like Bozak’s youth, vision and potential, and Tim Brent has heart, but even with that, can they win enough with that and Grabovski as their second-line center— and little scoring prowess on the wings?  Surely we didn’t think Armstrong was going to suddenly be a big goal-scorer?  He brings a bit of that, but he is here for the other important qualities that he has.

As watered down as the East is, you still need people who can put up numbers.  And the Leafs don’t have that yet.  But they are better overall, and they will score some goals, if they stay healthy.

So yes, Kadri’s time will come, maybe sooner than it should come.  But he won’t be the "answer".  He will be one more small piece of an ever-emerging puzzle.

One thing:  I do believe they are “harder to play against” which has been one of Burke’s mantras, and that is certainly important.  But there is, not surprisingly, more work to do.

The team is 5-4-1.  If you eliminate overtime, they are 4-4-2.  It would not be shocking to see them slip below .500 after their next ten-game stretch.  Be prepared.


Through Brian Burke’s stealth in the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf last January, I was among those who applauded the move.  I still believe the trade was stunning and favored—and still favors—the Leafs significantly.

Phaneuf was and is still very young at 25 and had been, not long ago, a bonafide end-of-season NHL All-Star.  My belief that the deal was amazing for Toronto was not only based on Phaneuf’s skills and potential to make a difference in Toronto, but what little Toronto seemed to be giving up.  I was sorry to see White go, because he is a guy who can do a lot of things for a hockey club.  Stajan was a popular player in Toronto, and Hagman was a skill guy.  But at the end of the day, none was a so-called “impact” player in Toronto, and Phaneuf seemed to be just that.  (Bringing in a good penalty killer in Sjostrom helped, too.)

Now, I’m not a fan of making premature judgments.  And I think you generally have to give a player—and a team—about 20 games into a new season to assess how the rest of the season may potentially go.

So we're not there yet.  But ten games into the current season for Toronto, I wonder how Leaf fans feel about Phaneuf now? Various analysts seem to have focused on a couple of things, one being his relative lack of offensive point production (actually dating back to his time with the Leafs last season), the other being his penchant for high-risk forays into the offensive zone.

Personally, I’m seeing a guy who is working hard, who takes a lot of shots and with a bit of good fortune would have been in on more goals.  He still seems dangerous on the power play, though the numbers suggest a lack of finish—so far.

But I’m interested to hear thoughtful opinions about the new Leaf captain.  We really have no idea if he is a good “leader”, it’s just too early to really know that in any meaningful way.  But I’m talking about his overall play—his defensive positioning, physical play along the boards and in front of the net.  Is he as tough as you thought? What about his skating ability, his vision, his passing and that big shot.  Is it exactly what you expected…or more?

And yes, his “lack” of big-time point production.  Is that a concern?  How do you assess his play so far this season? Are you concerned that he is a minus 6 already?  Is he playing like he did in his best year in Calgary, or is Dion a different player now?


It’s early and things can change in a big hurry, but right now, I don’t like how things look for New Jersey, Buffalo, Florida (despite their win in Montreal on Saturday), Carolina, the Islanders and Ottawa.  They will all win their share of games in a really weak conference, but I would be surprised if they were standing come playoff time.

Out west, Calgary seems to have talent and has a “winning” record so far, but is also facing  issues aplenty—with their coach calling guys out already.


  1. Honestly I think the media and outsiders have been overreacting about Phaneuf, and I think it comes as a backlash to all the press he's gotten thus far in his career.

    The Leafs defense has made huge strides since he's been here, and he's played the bulk of the minutes on the back end for the team. If he was as bad in all three zones as people are claiming, the team would be giving up a ton of goals. Since his arrival as the top guy on D, however, they've been among the best in the league in that sense. He makes mistakes, often all-too visible ones, but playing his minutes against top opposition bad things will happen on occasion. Bringing up his plus/minus in the media reeks of reaching for a story, he can't control the whole offense and it's sputtering ways.

    In terms of offense, I really think it's hard for defensemen to put up points without some help from the forwards. Dion needs his forwards to move defenders around and give him lanes, he needs guys to stop the goalie from seeing pucks, he needs guys to get their sticks on some shots. His decision making could be better, but at the same time the way this group is playing is making things challenging for the whole defense. It's one thing to call him out for missing the net, but when he's looking down a lane of 3-5 bodies and knows that a block is likely a turn-over it's hard to put the blame on him for pulling his shots wide.

    I think Dion's come as advertised, a guy who plays high risk but who has the size and skill set to make it seem worthwhile. I certainly think he's an upgrade over White in every way except his outlet pass, which is nothing special.

  2. VLM-
    I think this whole little freakout about his skills might be mitigated to a large degree if the Leafs were winning and scoring. I find it difficult to judge him on whether or not the entire forward corps can't find the back of the freakin' net.