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10 issues the Leafs face going forward, despite a win in Tampa Bay

The most heartwarming aspect of the win in Tampa Bay had to be Reimer’s performance. (Some of you will recall that, after the last Leaf game, another loss, I posted here saying I was confident that Reimer would rebound next season.  Can I be called a prophet—for one night, at least?)  It’s just good to see the young man excel.  He deserves any success that comes his way, including at the tail end of a difficult season.

There were other hopeful signs as the Leafs broke off their skid, but I’m guessing some fans will be torn between being pleased about a nice win and wondering if it will damage the now much-discussed hopes of landing a big fish on draft-day in  June.

In any event, a win always feels better than a loss.

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Especially in this market, there is forever the tendency to over-analyze everything that happens with the Maple Leaf hockey club.  And I don’t mean just the “big picture” stuff.  I refer as much to the tiniest little things that happen game-to-game and even shift to shift.

A defenseman gives the puck away, we see it and have an instantaneous reaction.  At the very least, we are upset; at worst, we want the guy traded; Chances are a few disgruntled fans will look at some kind of “advanced stat” to prove the guy is lousy because, well, he plays almost all of his minutes on the right hand side of the ice (or is it the left?) when the puck is faced-off in the offensive zone and that proves that…..whatever they want it to prove.  Usually, that the guy is a bum.

My point is simply this:  when I was a kid following the game 50 years ago, fans noticed mistakes, of course.  (Eddie Shack, for example, used to drive me crazy.  I often complained about Eddie Shack to my Dad—who couldn’t have cared less, he was a Montreal fan—quite regularly, demanding that Shack be traded, as though Dad had some influence with then Leaf General Manager and Coach Punch Imlach. I guess Shack made too many "mistakes" for my liking at the time. Having said that, Eddie was indeed an "Entertainer"- check out the great old early '60s photo at right of Shack in action and up in the air against the Bruins at the Gardens...)

Back then, a fan might especially notice an individual player’s “faux pas” if, say,  they were at the game in person at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Or, fans maybe happened to see the game on TV (the parts that were actually telecast; they did not televise entire games in those days) and noticed a give-away via the TV screen.  They perhaps read a newspaper write-up the next day and if the beat reporter was in a particularly specific mood, he may cite a particular error an individual player might have made.

But to state the obvious, it was nowhere near what we have today, and I include myself as part of the modern-day reality, and maybe even part of the “problem”.  Every game is on TV, starting with pre-season.  We not only know what the big team is doing, we know what every guy on the Marlies is playing like.  We have replay after replay of every little miscue.  We have the Pierre McGuire’s of the world yelling in our ear about match-ups, bad plays, providing more breathless observations than we could ever possibly need.

Daily, we hear and see dozens of “analysts” on television and radio—24 hours a day. Throw in the newspapers (they still exist, it seems) and all the online and blog reporting, and well, it can be overwhelming just to say “current”.  Imagine coaching or playing in this market.  It’s no doubt pretty neat when things are going well—but not so much when the Leafs are going through what they have gone through these last few weeks, until the victory in Tampa.

By the way, this is not to excuse the mess the Leafs find themselves in, or how they got here.  Simply to acknowledge that we are all (albeit an awfully tiny part) a part of the Leafland syndrome, which sometimes appears to become a self-fulfilling prophecy:  having seen the disastrous end to this movie, in one form or another for the past 45 years, we assume that if anything can go wrong, it will.  We think the team may, for example, be good enough to make the playoffs, but fret that, if they go into a slump, they won’t make it.  Before you know it, when they do get into that slump—early-season, mid-season or late-season—the whole thing becomes like a vortex that they can’t get out of—until it’s too late, yet again.

It’s not the fans, or the media, that causes this, no.  But everyone is a kind of an un-intended co-conspirator.

All this said, standing still is rarely, if ever, an option for an NHL General Manager, even if you are coming off a season where you win the Stanley Cup.  But no one in the situation the Leafs find themselves in can afford to just wait for something good to happen.  They need to address certain issues, make changes- and move forward.

Now, there are no doubt all kinds of things the Burke and his people will be looking at this spring and summer.  We know he already has a coach in place.  I am assuming he likes his scouting staff so we won’t see changes there before the draft.  No, this is all about the on-ice product now (goodness knows we don’t need another “voice” in the front office, eh?) and what management will do to either “fix” the problems, or, putting things more positively, enhance the team’s present roster by plugging in certain apparent holes.

We all have our opinions—and here are a few things that, from my perspective, need to be addressed between now and September:
  1. The leadership void.  Sure Lupul helped, and Phaneuf wears the “C”, but it’s hard to miss the fact that this team has seemed rudderless through its recent doldrums.
  2. A strong veteran presence—and preferably more than just one player.  We keep hearing the Leafs are so young and so talented.  Well, they’re young.  And that’s a good thing—in a way.  But while a team with speed is nice, unless you have somebody who has “been there”, it’s hard to envision this group becoming a Cup contender, even if the young kids mature as hoped.
  3. Much better center-ice play.  I’m not going to debate (though I welcome your views) whether Grabovski is a first-line center or not.  At this point I barely care.  He’s one decent center on a team that, it if really wants to compete at the “elite” level, needs at least two more.  Someone better, the same, not quite as good as Grabbo, again, I don’t necessarily care.  But we need three NHL centers-  right now.
  4. A really, really, really good defenseman.  Call him a shutdown defenseman, a game-changer, a hard-nosed guy, whatever.  We have lots of defensemen at the moment.  That's good. And we have lots of depth on the blue line.  That's nice, too.  What we don’t seem to have, unless I’m watching the wrong team, is a guy that is more than just reputation or potential.  Gardiner has all that potential and should be pretty darn good (witness the great individual effort on his goal against the Lightning Thursday night).  But Phaneuf, for all the talk from the brass of him being the best defensemen in the league in the first two weeks of the season (we should never, ever listen to anything anyone says in the first month of the season—it invariably means zilch…) is still more reputation than consistent excellence.  Komisarek (and I’ve tried to pump his tires for three seasons) has been consistently just OK.  Fairly or not, half the free world wants Schenn traded.  Franson evidently is not Carlyle’s kind of player (though he finally got into the line-up against Tampa and acquired himself just fine).  And even Gunnersson at times looks like he is caught in a maze lately, not knowing what just happened.
  5. Another top scorer.  I’ve never quite understood the notion that “well, we already have Kessel, we can’t have another player like him….”.  I’m not suggesting we hire another one-way, one-dimensional player that only scores goals, but there would probably be worse things.  We definitely need another guy who can score, besides Lupul and Kessel.  What happens if Kessel gets hurt?
  6. You probably wondered how long I would go before I cited goaltending.  Hey, as I’ve said often here, I like both guys.  I always wanted Gustavsson to get a shot at playing a string of games in a row and when he has, he has largely played pretty well.  Reimer has not been himself but could be by next season.  (The shutout in Tampa bodes well, maybe?)  Still, it is difficult to picture a scenario where Burke brings both goalies back and starts with the exact same goaltending duo next fall, considering what the team has gone through this season.  A veteran goalie?  I see no one that excites me in free-agency, which means a trade.  But I couldn’t tell you who we should get.
  7. As I posted here a while back, where will the Carlyle-Kessel relationship go?  Management will have us believe all is well, that Carlyle is just making a small tweak to Phil’s game.  The fact that Kessel is playing less at times while Grabovski’s group takes first line minutes should not escape our attention.  Not that the first two weeks of the Carlyle era indicates any long-term certainty when it comes to future decisions, but I need to be convinced the two—the newly-signed coach and the team’s most talented and explosive player—can get along without it being a distraction.
  8. While I recognize that there is still a very strong base of support for Burke and company, and much belief in his “vision”, there is also the risk of heightened fan fall-out if things don’t get significantly better.  The fan base has put a great deal of trust in Burke.  He was the “chosen one”, the guy who was going to return the Leafs to prominence.  So far, they have not, bottom line, done any better than during the Ferguson regime (though surely this is a better team), and have had nowhere near the level of success experienced through the Quinn era.  Goodwill only lasts so long.
  9. Can the Leafs help players—specifically individuals like Schenn, Reimer, Armstrong, Komisarek, Connolly, Liles and Franson—regain their at-times lost confidence?  Each of those guys is NHL players, but it feels like each of them has regressed badly this season.  Does Carlyle have the approach to make each of those players be what they can and should be?  Or will they be moved out, instead?
  10. Will all those fine young prospects down on the farm (Kadri, Colborne, et al) be solid NHL’ers come October—or still just “prospects”?
There is much, much more, I realize, that we can discuss.  But I’m leaving that up to you.

Send your thoughts along…

21 comments:

  1. You've broken it down nicely Michael. I would have simply stated they need more high end talent at every position. That's probably why you have the blog and I just read it. They need a true number one at forward (read center icemen), defense and goalie, although at goalie they could probably get away with a veteran and Riemer. Exactly as you call it.

    The true number one guys would adress some of the other concerns like leadership. It would aslo make some of the current players better (Phaneuf) because they would be playing at a level where they should be. It just seems to me me we have heard this song and dance before. The Leafs have a surplus of middle guys but no true high end guys who bring the whole package. Sure some of them are are elite at some things (think Kessel and scoring) but sorely lacking in other areas. It is just a mystery to me how a team can go so long and never have a premier player in his prime.

    Look at Stamkos tonight, he is a better scorer that Kessel yet he plays physical, plays defense and by all acounts he is the hardest working player off ice on Tampa. Kessel scores goals and that's it. Last on the ice at practice first off, the next bodycheck he throws would be his first. This isn't to knock Kessel, he is what he is, but just try to imagine if he was the centerpiece of the second line in TO, he would thrive. If he wasn't "THE GUY" but just an important piece he would be enough to put a team over the top. The same goes for Dion, he would be an excellent number three guy, lots of powerplay time, some penalty killing time and about 6 minutes less a night than he currently plays. That's the biggest problem with TO right now, they have the support guys but no building blocks. It would be like building the house walls before putting down a foundation. That is what happened and the whole house of cards just came crumbling down.

    To be honest I'm not feeling real good at where TO is right now. To me it looks like Burke went all in on a pair of twos and was called. I just don't have the high opinion of the youngsters that many seem to have. To me it looks like more of the same. No high end talent or building blocks if you will, just more support guys. Nice pieces for sure but still not a foundation. I just can't see Kessel being a Leaf 3 years from now. Even if he does resign it would mean he would be getting well over what he is now and I can't see paying him more than what he gets right now.

    Maybe its just despair talking but it seems like we getting further away from being a contender and just perpetually spinning the wheels to finish 10-12 every year hoping if everything goes just right we might get to 8th spot.

    I want to see the Leafs be a true contender. I want to see a Leaf player be in the running for the MVP, Norris and Vezina every year. I want them to be good but in truth all I see is mediocracy staring us in the face for years to come.

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  2. You've aptly described where the Leafs are right now, Willbur. A year from now, hey, they may be markedly improved. But I absolutely concur with your assessment. We have players like Phaneuf and Kessel in leading roles when, at least right now, they indeed would likely be best as strong support guys. Maybe these guys will grow into roles and become a Scott Stevens or Steve Yzerman, but I think we all know that is unlikely.

    I'm with you on Stamkos. He is "the man" in Tampa now, and I don't mean just statistically. He busts his backside to get back most times on the back check, and has kept his team (albeit barely) afloat this year. When Phaneuf hammered the old veteran, St. Louis, late in the game, who right away went to St. Louis' aide? Stamkos.

    What you are "seeking" as a Leaf fan is not unreasonable- a true contender with high-end players in all the key positions- defence, forward and in goal.

    Thanks Willbur.

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  3. Leadership

    I thought it was a bit telling last night on the LeafsTV broadcast when Greg Millen mentioned that the had talked with Keith Aulie and one of the things Aulie mentioned was how impressed he was with the leadership of the core guys in Tampa - St. Louis, Lecavalier - guys who have won a cup.

    It's really tough to get that on the second youngest team in the league.

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  4. Good point, Anon. And good catch on the Aulie comment.

    You can develop that "leadership" internally, but it takes an awfully long time. Sometimes you need to import it. Thanks,

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  5. Good points. The only one I would comment on is number 7. I think that Kessel and Grabovski's ice time has changed because their roles have changed. Carlyle seems to be using Grabo to check the other team's top line and he also line matches religiously so I think that explains the difference in ice time. It should actually help Kessel in the end too. Kessel is never going to be an elite two-way forward and that's totally fine with me. I've been quite happy with the progression in his defensive game so far. He needs to be better still, but he should at least be OK.

    Also, if Carlyle can match him against the right players and get him more o-zone starts his point production should stay high and his +/- should improve. I know +/- has a lot of flaws as an analytical tool but the fact that he has 53 even strength points and is -4 on the season really says a lot.

    According to nhl.com The Leafs have had 149 5v5 GA, 6 4v4 GA, and 6 empty netters against giving a total of 161 goals against that would have affected his +/-. 53 points and -4 means he was on the ice for at least 57 5v5, 4v4, and EN goals. 57/161 works out to him being on the ice for at minimum 35% of those goals against and it's probably a fair bit higher.

    Also, what did you think of the Ashton-Grabo-Frattin line? That has the potential to be a killer checking line for a good long time.

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  6. Excellent post, Anon, including the breakdown on Kessel.

    I've liked a lot of what I've seen of Frattin this season. He has some of that power game, can finish checks, has speed, clearly, and some offensive flair, including on his off-wing. Grabbo would be a very well-paid checker as a third-line guy, but he's shown he is a dependable player who can provide very nice offence, so I'd be fine with that, given, as you say, he'll get his minutes.

    It's early for me to judge Ashton. If he can maintain the adrenaline-related performance beyond a short sample size then, yes, that line could be an awfully effective checking unit- and one that provides offensive pop, as well.

    Thanks Anon.

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  7. An emerging consensus today has the Leafs lacking true elite talent, with the likes of Phaneuf, Kessel and Grabovski occupying a second tier of NHL talent. (I am not sure how Lupul would fare in this assessment as he is not on our radar now due to his absence.) It appears to me that the true NHL upper tier talent is usually drafted and locked up long term, and less likely to become available through trade or free agency. I would also say that those upper tier players are showing those abilities prior to the draft and likely go high, usually at least within the first round (given today’s scouting on steroids).

    This scenario, if it is accurate, runs counter to Burke’s “rat’s ass” philosophy regarding the necessity of retention of early draft picks. I mean, a lot of GMs refuse to part with their number one picks, perhaps for that very reason. And recall, Burke and JFJ in particular parted with these first round picks like they had the value of fast food trading cards. Quinn gets a flyer because he was working in the pre-salary cap era. I have always thought, and read others write, do not trade your early draft picks whatever the case! … The way it has been for several years now, Morrison has usually had to sit and wait before he could do anything on draft weekend. Of course, what may well amount to a “rat’s ass” in July, could mean a lot more in May several years later …

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  8. I guess there are always exceptions, but I think you're right, Bobby C.

    Nowadays, scouts don't generally miss too often via the draft. The NHL is getting closer to the NFL, where they just don't make many mistakes. In the NFL, if you get drafted, you generally play in the league. (Of course the players are generally older, drafted as they are after their college career...)

    I'm guessing there will be tons of discussion in the weeks ahead as the Leafs prepare for the draft (and we'll hear a lot of dis-information from lots of sources, about what the Leafs will or won't do...)

    Thanks Bobby....

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  9. @Wilbur, you can't see paying a top 5 NHL scorer more than $5mil per year? The Leafs will never EVER EVER be successful if they don't retain their high end talent. Think about what would have happened to the Leafs had they decided to let Sundin go. This whole notion of Kessel not being worth keeping is absolutely and completely ludicrous. I'm sorry, but it's infuriating to read ridiculous comments like "It's not worth keeping the one player who is miles and miles better than every other player on the roster."

    If the choice comes down to Kessel or Carlyle, you choose Kessel every single time. If it's Kessel or Phaneuf, you pick Kessel. You better hope to see Kessel as a Leaf 3 years from now, because if he isn't then it will mean the Leafs are kicking off another 5 year rebuild with a roster completely devoid of top-end talent.

    This whole notion of "Kessel isn't worth keeping because he's not Stamkos" is absolutely insane. I don't understand how anybody can intelligently make the point that a superstar player is worthless because he's worth less than another superstar player.

    To me, Kessel and Gardiner are probably absolutely the only pieces of the roster that cannot and should not be moved. I'd probably hang on to Gunnarsson as well because he's likely to continue to be relatively cheap and a great value.

    The tone of my post is probably pretty angry, and I'm sorry for that, but it's just absolutely silly to read some of the things people have posted regarding Phil Kessel.

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  10. Hi Darryl,

    Right off the top a couple of things. I always enjoy your posts here but today, I think you have unfairly criticized Willbur and in fact might actually be misquoting him. I don't see where Willbur ever said what you quoted him as saying.

    I saw Willbur as quite reasonably saying that, while Kessel and Phaneuf are good players, he doesn't see them as elite in all-around terms. I agree with him. (Kessel is a scorer but far from being a proven, dominant playoff performer who can handle tough checking, etc.)

    I think Willbur's point (and he can certainly speak for himself) is not that he is opposed to keeping Kessel around, but wonders what the value factor will be if we have to pay him 7 and 8 million a season, because he will surely want a big raise in two years.

    We can look at Tampa Bay...they pay three guys extraordinarily well, and still have a lousy team.

    Maybe you are confusing Willbur's post with something written elsewhere (The Star??) because a piece there, which I have not read but I've been told about, has seemingly got a lot of people upset with regard to Kessel.

    This post wasn't about Kessel. But I did discuss Kessel and Carlyle, yes, and a lack of leadership- comments I stand by.

    Hope you understand my response Darryl. I don't want this site to move in the direction of posters criticizing one another. That would change the tone and I won't let that happen here.

    We all can have our views without diminishing what someone else is saying.

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  11. Sorry Michael, my comment was more of a general rant about the trade mongering that has been going on regarding kessel, and my comment to willbur was just related to whether kessel was worth the $7 mil he's likely to earn, and my point in that regard was that yes, he is worth it. Here is a guy in the top 5 in offense, playing with a center who would be the 3rd center at best on every other roster in the NHL. There's really no doubt that if Kessel has a top-calibre, pass-first center, he's a 40-45G PPG player. Those players are unequivocally and undeniably worth paying $7mil.

    The sentiment I don't understand is people using the argument that because he's not as good a player as Stamkos or Crosby that he somehow isn't worth being paid like a top player. People who make this argument must absolutely hate guys like Rick Nash and Alexander Ovechkin. For goodness sake Kessel is 5th in pts and 4th in goals. Since 2006-2007, when Kessel entered the league, do people realize how many people his age or younger have scored more goals than him? The answer is 4. Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Stamkos. I'm sorry, but the notion that Kessel isn't worthy of being paid more than he gets right now really is just a bit silly.

    Also, Kessel's defensive play and back-checking have noticeably improved this season, and he's likely to continue growth in that department, as defensive responsibility is one of the slowest developing skills among young players. One thing people seem to forget since Kessel is already in his 6th season is that he's only 24. 99% of players do not follow the same development curve of Crosby, Stamkos, Malkin, etc. and it's just silly to say, oh, Kessel isn't a top tier player and will never be just because he's not where Stamkos and Crosby are right now.

    Anyway, I do apologize to Willbur, i got a bit hung up on that one point he made, when the rest of his post is actually quite true and applicable. There's a total deficiency of leadership on the roster. Phaneuf isn't getting it done as I posted, and Kessel is not and likely never going to be a vocal locker room presence.

    Ironically, Tampa Bay's problems are pretty much the same as ours. Weak defense and pitiful goaltending. Put league average goaltending behind Tampa's forwards (which are actually even better than ours), and they're probably running away with that division.

    I'm also of the opinion that Burke has failed to successfully address the single biggest issue that has plagued the Leafs since the lockout - poor goaltending. He tried with Gustavsson, and failed. Toskala tanked and he moved on too slowly. He's brought in Owuya and Rynnas, but neither are NHL ready. He rolled the dice with Reimer, got great goaltending to end a season, and then went double or nothing on him with Gus this season, and he lost. We're certainly not in a position to say that he hasn't tried. If anything, it's pretty obvious that he has tried to address the goaltending situation, albeit unsuccessfully.

    If Burke fails to address goaltending this offseason, I would say he's not long for this job, but fortunately he's setup a large contingent(Nonis, Poulin, Loiselle) that could end up being MLSE's contingency plan should Burke fail to get the job done.

    Anyway, again, apologies for the tone of my last post, I am probably just super-frustrated by the combination of Leafs being awful, getting a badly un-needed win last night, and mostly the nonsense of the MSM (namely Cox who is an absolute idiot, who actually had the wherewithal to use the Yankees as a comparison to portray the Leafs negatively).

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  12. Thanks for that, Darryl. I appreciate the tone of your second post. I understand the frustration behind your initial post today, and I'm sure Willbur will understand as well.

    As I've said (and others here as well) many times, we can certainly disagree on particular points regarding the Leafs, the team, certain players and how management is addressing the challenge of making the team a contender. That's healthy and part of what makes the fan experience worthwhile. I just always want to ensure that when we cross swords, as it were, we do it on the high road, with respect.

    I think your points on Kessel are well made. I may not quite be in your camp, but I get what you're saying and respect that perspective.

    Things like this site wouldn't much much fun, eh, if we were all in lock-step on every issue! I appreciate that you took the time to write back.

    Thanks Darryl.

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  13. Long suffering Leafs fanMarch 16, 2012 at 7:33 PM

    Great topic Mike. Here's my personal opinion.
    1. Agree! I don't see anyone on this current roaster who can grab a team by the throat, so to speak, and carry them through adversity.
    2. This team could most certainly use a leader like Bret Olmstead, Dan Maloney,or Gary Roberts.
    3. Far as I'm concern I thought that Mr. Burke overpaid for Grabovski. He and Bozak would be a nice fit as a second and third centers.
    4. Can we say Shea Weber? When you compare captain Phaneuf with the other top D's in the league, he falls considerably short. More of a 3-4 D-man. As far as the rest their ranking falls somewhere in between 4-7.
    5. Sadly, Kessel came 12 years to late.
    6. It's not so important that he gets a number one, but someone who can be a mentor. Say someone like Johan Hedberg, Chris Mason or Martin Biron.
    7. I believe that it is time for Mr. Burke to admit he made a mistake and see what he can get for Kessel.
    8. I couldn't agree more. I for one was never a Burke fan. He reminds me of a used car salesman.
    9. I honesty believe that Carlyle and Farrish are already doing an excellent in that regard.
    10. Living close to Missouri, I'm slowly beginning to adopt their mentality, "enough talk,show me".
    Thanks again for this website Mike. You're like "meatloaf". Comfort food for the weary Leafs fan.

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  14. About Kessel, I agree he is a an elite scorer. Too me however that is all he does. Now I'm not saying this makes him a bad player just a one dimensional one. I would keep Kessel here in Leafland at a reasonable cost but I certainly would not pay him much more than he gets right now. At this price he is an effective player, at more he becomes a drag on a Team's salary structure. If your saying he needs another elite player to reach those 45 goals a year totals where do you take the money from to sign that player? You can't make the rest of the contracts on the Leafs just magically disappear and they are a cap team already. If you are going to trade a bunch of guys to build around Kessel then aren't you re-building anyways?

    Where is the evidence that he has been much better defensively this year? The broadcasters keep saying it, and it was true for about the first month or so but now I keep seeing a winger who gives up the puck along the boards way too easy. During this latest train wreck I have seen him wave at players at the blueline as they walk around him to score.

    If your going to pay him the 7, 7-5 million a year then it is absolutely fair to compare to other players earning that salary. Just because he is your teams best player doesn't mean he should automatically be earning what other top players make he really. Being the best player on a crappy team doesn't automatically make you amongst the best in the league. To that point, yes I think Nash is vastly overpaid for what he brings to the table, as is Ovechkin this year, just like Stall is in Carolina. Doesn't mean they are bad players just overpaid and remind again where all three teams are in the standings. Would Columbus really be worse off with out Nash? I don't see how, they are already in last place.

    Where has Kessel's leadership been in the last 6 weeks? How about the game against the Flyers where he is caught yawning on the bench in the third period of a must win game? If your going to be the best player and want to paid accordingly you had better bring the whole package and to me Kessel just doesn't do that.

    From my perspective we are guilty of always over rating our players. I happen to think that Sundin was a very good player but not an elite one. Just like Kessel there was always an excuse for why Sundin didn't reach those 100 points or 50 goals, if only he had better players around him we would have seen how good he was people say. Aren't elite players supposed to make others around them better? You ask what would have happened if we had got rid of him and I say who knows? What I do know is they never won anything with him. Would they have been worse without him, probably but we'll never know. Please don't think I'm bashing Sundin because I'm not he was my favourite player in the late 90-00's. What he was though was a very good player but not elite. That is the biggest problem right now with the Leafs player evaluation. Are you really sure the Kessel is amongst the very best in the game, amongst the truly elite players like Malkin, Crosby, Iginla, Stamkos? I'm not and I wouldn't pay him like he is. Point totals are not the end all be all of an NHL hockey player. There was a player who was consistently ranked amongst the most skilled players to ever play the game. He regulary scored a PPG and was amongst the highest paid players. Yet in every city he played in the team and the fans couldn't wait for him to be gone. His name Alexi Kovalev. To me Kessel is more along the lines of Kovalev than the players I mentioned above. To me 5.5-5.7 million is a fair price for Kessel. 7.5 million a year is just too much for a one dimensional player. To get elite money you have to bring more to the table the Kessel does. Teams that mis-identify players(Columbus, Montreal, Carolina and Wshington off the top of my head) and pay elite money to good players don't do very well. I just don't want the Leafs to go down the same path.

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  15. I wouldn't worry about being or sounding angry Darryl. Crikey, you should hear my Brother and I argue about the Leafs. Until the Leafs actualy start winning we are going to argue about the way to get there. Hopefully, one day in my lifetime they may actualy start.

    I actually had this paragraph first but apparently my post was to long. So here it is now.

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  16. Excellent breakdown, Long Suffering. Well said.

    And thank you for the kind words as well.....

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  17. Thanks for your response to Darryl, Willbur. And I'm glad you guys have worked this discussion out respectfully.

    I see Darryl's perspective, as I mentioned earlier, but I also see what Willbur is talking about here when it comes to Kessel: he is an excellent offensive player, but at the moment, he is pretty much a one-dimensional guy.

    Will he get measurably better? He may. Anyone with the "will" can improve dramatically defensibly, though it is unlikely he will ever be, say, a physical player who competes in the gritty areas.

    Thanks to both of you.....

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  18. I'm curious as to why you've drawn a distinction between (1) and (2).

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  19. Hi KiwiLeaf

    I think as I was drafting the piece, I was simply trying to work through the issues I felt the organization was facing. The first thing that stood out was leadership. Being "young" is part of it, certainly. But Bobby Clarke in the early 70s was a leader when he was 22. Steve Yzerman was at an early age as well. There are many modern-day examples, also. You can be young and be a "leader". But I'm not seeing any of the current Leafs in that role just yet. Maybe it will develop internally.

    At the same time, (and the two may be connected, but not necessarily so), this team, I feel, will need players who have been around the block. A Mike Knuble, for example. Not necessarily a star, but someone who has played a lot of hockey, has been to the playoffs and can share with the youngsters what is required to compete at that time of year.

    If that type of player comes with leadership skills, too, all the better.

    Thanks.

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  20. Thanks, Michael.

    I do like the fact that your first feelings were to treat the notions of leadership and veteran experience as different: too often in sport (although admittedly not in hockey) leadership roles are doled out as long service awards, seen as something earned by one's years when the reality is there is so much more to good leadership than simply a volume of experience.

    I have thought at times that hockey has tended to go too far the other way: pretty much always giving the 'C' to someone who is a leading performer rather a performing leader. Sometimes going with your best player even when they're young works out great for the team (Orr, Yzerman, Toews) but other times not (M Richards, Phanuef). I'm sure you would be able to provide far more examples of both than I ever could.

    On balance I would not draw a distinction between the two however, and my reason is this: being a veteran is only important if it enables and inspires you to be a leader within your team and is thus a subset of good leadership rather than something different. For every Mike Knuble theres a guy with the same basic background who either wont or can't bring them to the locker room for the benefit of a young team.

    For me this isn't just a matter of splitting hairs because I want my Leafs to follow your advice and go looking for someone like this (I had my heart set on Brooks Laich who was RFA last summer and rumoured to be a massive voice in the Caps dressing room) but I'm terrified they're going to go and pick a veteran on the wrong criteria. Having a Cup ring doesn't automatically make able to impart to others how you got it, for example. If memory serves, they've already made that mistake with some acquisition made just after I left Canada around 2003/4

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  21. Kiwi Leaf- well said. Great post.

    I think you've identified something important: a veteran presence sometimes is just that- an individual with experience on the ice, though not always someone with the traits that help lead or inspire others.

    Those qualities can come form a young player, for sure.

    This is partly what the Leafs are experiencing right now. From the day the Leafs acquired Phaneuf, as I posted here at the time, he was the Captain "heir apparent".

    Now, whether is the right - or best - guy to lead this squad, I have no idea.

    I do know this: even if he stays as Captain, and I'm sure he will, it surely will help this team if they bring in someone that others will naturally look to - and look up to - for guidance and also as an example of how to handle themselves on and off the ice.

    Laich may well have been a great addition. There are guys out there that fit this bill (either a veteran presence, or a player with real leadership skills), and hopefully the Leafs can land at least one of them over the summer....

    Thanks Kiwi Leaf....

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