I want to be clear: Like most observers on the “outside”, I have no idea what Brian Burke and his management team really think about any number of Leaf-related personnel issues. Oh, we all know what they feed the local media, and what they say, tactically, for public consumption.
But do we really know what they want, who they like, which players may disappoint them? Not really. We might get a glimpse once in a while, if they’re trying to light a fire under someone’s butt, but most of the time, no, we have no real clue.
That said, I have to believe there are things that the Leaf brass is thinking but won't disclose, for obvious reasons. Here are, in my view, some of those things:
- I think, fair or not, the team is disappointed in Kadri. I’m not sure if they expected him to play a lot better early last season (we have discussed this here, of course). They claim to have been satisfied with his late-season efforts. But I believe he was “on the table” when trade talks were taking place this past summer, and I have to believe that, if the right package was offered up, Kadri would be gone—even though he was indeed Burke’s first “first-round” draft selection with the Leafs. He is coming back from a relatively minor injury now, but I wonder if they are really feeling as patient as they would like us to think they actually are.
- My belief is that the organization has tired of Gustavsson as well. (Just a gut instinct.) While, like the much younger Kadri, “The Monster” is just now in his third season, his health woes, combined with his inconsistent play would seem to make him expendable in a league where most teams have a decidedly clear “number-one” and a “fill-in-the-blanks” back-up. I just have this image of Allaire scratching his head -and Gustavsson doing the same- before and after their chats. (Some of you will know that I have opined in the past that Jonas may well be better off playing somewhere else, where the organization would just let him play, make mistakes, develop—and not try to “change” him.) If the Leafs can find someone in the system who they think fits the Allaire-can-work-with-him mold (Scrivens?), they won't even try to re-sign Gustavsson. (Personally, I'm a big Reimer guy, but I'd love to see The Monster gets a chance here at some point, and not just a game here and there. If not here, then somewhere else...)
- Wilson really does have to have success this season. (He's certainly off to a great start...) Not that Burke doesn’t like Wilson, simply that this is a results-oriented business and winning is the bottom line. So, the minimum expectations, one would think, as part of the coach’s survival strategy in the fourth and final year of his current contract, is real improvement this season on special teams- and a playoff spot. Anything less would surely lead to changes.
- For reasons I don’t really understand, I think the organization is ready to move Gunnarsson. I’m not saying that they desperately want to, just that he seems to be the guy (Burke did not draft him) they would be willing to part with to as part of a deal to obtain an impact forward. Those who follow this site know I'd like Gunner to be here for a long time. I like him right now, and I really like his potential as a two-day defenseman.
- A recent National Post story (Traikos?) suggested the Leafs may be shifting their thinking on the third and fourth lines; as in, there may be less and less need for Orr/Rosehill, and more for guys (if these two can be those guys, great) who can disturb, play tough but also create at least a little offense. My sense is that’s exactly what management is thinking, whether stated publicly or not. (Brown, for example, can play tough, fight and make the occasional offensive contribution so he stays in, for sure.)
- I think they are preparing for life without Connolly. No, I’m not dumping on the guy, or saying he isn’t a good player. I acknowledge (why wouldn’t I) that I was not thrilled with the signing in the first place (check out earlier posts…), but I recognize that if he catches lightning in a bottle, 4 million a year could be a pittance if he gets the Leafs deep into the playoffs. And not to over-react to what may well be a minor training camp injury, but I’m pretty sure the people in Buffalo (not that we should care) are saying…”I told you so…”. I just think the brass is already making plans in the event that Tim comes back but is injured in some other fashion as the season wears on.
- I sense the team is wishing they had just started Jake Gardiner in the minors. They clearly love him, but their decision to rush him into a stacked line-up has already caused some ruffled feathers, and if he stays up with the big team, that won't end. I could well be proven wrong, but I think they'd like a mulligan on that one...
- I think management is praying for another season like last year, when the Leafs avoided the serious injuries that plagued so many NHL teams, including many clubs the Leafs fight with for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Yes, Toronto has some young depth on the blueline and even up front now with guys like Kadri and Frattin, but I don’t know how comfortable they are with the current configuration of the “top-six”. Maybe they’re giddy. I’m not just yet.
- I think they’re hoping last week's schedule break and planned retreat pays dividends as the season wears on. I certainly won’t want to hear in a few weeks that they haven’t had much time to practice or work on special teams because of a busy schedule. The whole week better have been about bonding, yes, but also about systems, the penalty kill and the power play. They had their normal roster available, a healthy line-up, and time to implement said tactics. Just do it.
- You have to thing they are hoping the local media won't make too big a thing about the early season "winning streak". We all know what happened last year and while this feels different, we can't be too far off from Wilson chastising the local scribes for building the Leafs up too much...
It’s early. We’re three games in. But it’s never too early to think, and that’s what I believe the Leaf
decision-makers are thinking about….
decision-makers are thinking about….