While there is no truly “big” news in Leafland, some things are still happening. And there’s also plenty going on in the NHL playoffs. While the second round, for me, never reaches the dramatic heights of the first round, it’s always good to be reminded just what it takes for a team to be successful at this time of year. I trust the Leaf players are taking notes…
Some wide-ranging thoughts:
- I’m not concerned that Leaf exec Rick Dudley is leaving. He’s clearly a well-regarded guy, with a strong personnel background. But it was evident from the day he arrived (less than a year ago, right?) that he wasn’t going to be here long. I think he has been a solid GM wherever he’s been, but he’s a guy that has moved—a lot. Whether it was a question of butting heads with ownership (in the case of the Thrashers, he couldn’t help the franchise leaving town, obviously) or other issues, I have no idea. But I expect his stay in Montreal (if he does indeed sign there) will be short as well. Some owner will like his management pedigree so he may well get another gig as a GM somewhere. From a Maple Leaf perspective, as good as Dudley is at recognizing talent, surely we have plenty of other guys who also do that well, right? There’s no cap on hiring top talent evaluators…
- My interest in how various Maple Leafs (including Phaneuf and Schenn) are playing at the ongoing World Championships will increase as the games begin to matter more. The tilt between Canada and the U.S.A. had its interesting moments, but results against France, Norway, etc. mean precious little. I’m keen to know more about Nikolai Kulemin’s work with the Russian team. His minutes decreased last year as the event unfolded. So far this spring, he appears to be playing just over 14 minutes a night, and has already scored his first goal of the tournament. Maple Leaf Finnish hopeful Leo Komarov (a “prospect” though he is already 25 years of age) is getting regular minutes in the event and is worth keeping an eye on, as well.
- It’s good to see Leaf fans excited in the spring about playoff hockey. While it’s “only” the Marlies, they sure look like a well-coached team, which is a big factor come playoff time—as we see every year at this time at the NHL level. We all know the names of the primary “prospects” in the Marlie line-up, but I’d be interested to know from you which players, based on what you are seeing in these AHL playoffs, seem most ready to jump into an NHL spot at training camp next fall. There’s a long summer of training and preparation ahead, but these games usually provide for us a glimpse into the future- and some sense of what the brass might be thinking. We know Frattin will be here for sure, and Gardiner is already a full-time Maple Leaf. Beyond that, it looks like Kadri is “next up”. I don’t see Colborne as a prime time “top-six” guy just yet, but I could be wrong.
- The Leafs do have some nice young prospects in the system. But we shouldn’t forget that other organizations do as well. I thought Carolina, for example, was not a very good team this past season, yet they finished higher in the standings than the Leafs. More importantly, they have some outstanding prospects themselves, like Brandon Sutter and Jeff Skinner along with Justin Faulk. (They have Cam Ward in goal, too, which doesn’t hurt their chances going forward). Virtually every NHL team has these kinds of prospects in their systems. The Leafs are far from alone. So our hope for help from “within” should be tempered with a dose of reality.
- I enjoyed getting your responses to a recent post here on which of the potentially available players you would most want to see join the Leafs this coming summer. Names like Staal, Luongo, Getzlaf (who seems to be enjoying his time in Europe, eh?) and Semin could well be “out there”.
- I guess I fail to see how the Shea Weber head smash was not a suspension at all but the Raffi Torres hit was worth, on the other hand, 25 games. Meanwhile Ovechkin leaves his feet the same way as Torres, delivers a "head shot" and gets nothing. I mean, I understand there is a historical double-standard for “stars”, but, well, it just seems odd to me. I’m sure not everyone agrees…
- This year’s playoffs remind me a great deal of 1993. Most of the big-name teams—or at least those I anticipated would still be around by the time we reached the “final-four”—are gone. It’s entirely possible that an underdog team will win the Stanley Cup, like Montreal did in the spring of 1993. I didn’t see that one coming, and I haven’t seen much of what’s going on now coming, either. Leaf management’s earlier stated concern about “just getting into the playoffs only to lose four straight” sounds reasonable on the surface, if the longer-term vision actually works out in the end. In the meantime, though, some teams that just “squeezed in” are having a pretty good run, eh? (Though I’m not suggesting the Leafs have the skill level of the Kings, for example, who did indeed barely make the spring dance. But if they played as hard as LA does most nights, well….)
- As much as Sutter was responsible, as General Manager, for the mess the Flames find themselves in now, he should get credit for his apparent impact on a Kings team that looked lost and often listless earlier this season. Something’s happened and he has to be part of it. I sometimes forget he took the Flames to Game 7 of the finals not that many years ago.
- While I absolutely give full marks to the Senators for an unexpectedly successful season, will they, I wonder, fall back next season?
- I know a lot of people find John Tortorella entertaining. But while I don’t question that both he and Dale Hunter are excellent coaches, I find them both singularly (and unnecessarily) agitating, which makes them, for me, un-likeable. Not that that matters…
- Despite what management is saying publicly, I think Tim Thomas is done in Boston. The team has some very good young players, but also has some needs. Who knows how long Thomas will be as effective as he was most of last season? He is an asset they could likely get something substantial in return for.
- It’s funny, the Flyers have had some very, very good teams off and on over the years, but they haven’t had a true elite goalie since Bernie Parent. Last summer, they paid Bryzgalov all that money, but I don’t know that he has provided the playoff goaltending they were hoping for—and needed. I can’t pretend to be able to assess the guy’s mental toughness, but I wonder how his teammates feel? He’s played some good games, but the consistency has not been there, at times, when they perhaps needed it most. They likely don’t have much left to give, at this point.
- After a wildly successful regular season rebound under new coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues sure came crashing down to earth against the Kings. Some analysts shave suggested that Hitchcock didn’t make the necessary in-game adjustments, for some reason. Hard to believe he missed something obvious. He’s been coaching forever. I did notice that ex-Leaf Carlo Colaiacovo, who had a nice season with the Blues, did not dress for Game 4 against the Kings. I didn’t think he was injured. Not sure if he was a healthy scratch or not.
- Everyone stand over there that predicted a LA/Phoenix Western Conference final back in September.
- I feel the need to say it again: I was very wrong about the Devils (as I was about the Senators). They obviously are much better than I thought they would be.
- How long does Doug Wilson get to have really good teams that rarely win come playoff time in San Jose? GM’s sure get more rope than coaches, eh?
- The last time Steve Tambellini took this long deciding about his incumbent coach, he changed coaches. I’m guessing he will fire Tom Renney soon.
- It would appear the predictions that Scott Howson would be fired in Columbus did not turn out to be accurate. It’s too late now for the team to change GM’s, with some huge decisions upcoming in the next few weeks…
- I usually wait to say this until training camp every year, but I sense the Red Wings are finally (really, this time) headed in the wrong direction. They can’t win with what they have, and I don’t see amazing prospects coming in to save the day. Maybe they’ll splurge in free agency, but that is rarely a panacea for NHL teams.
- I think Florida will fall back next season. They need goaltending and lots of other things, too. More room for the Leafs if both Ottawa and the Panthers step back...
Finally, where does Roberto Luongo end up this summer?
As always, send your thoughts along….