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Asking some tough but fair questions about the Maple Leafs

I’ve enjoyed a lot about the Leafs in their first five games of the season.  Mike Kostka, though being maligned somewhat lately, has been a nice story. I still think he’ll be a good player here, though maybe not always at 25-30 minutes a night.  He has a bit of flair, too.  Despite a couple of iffy goals in the Steel City, Reimer has looked to be much more on his “old” game.  Grabovski is finding the back of the net.  Kadri has been, until the Ranger contest, the most dangerous offensive player the team has (which may not be a good sign, I realize).  And overall, the team has competed pretty hard.  They blew a tire against the Islanders, but by and large are giving what they have.

And, hey, nobody’s caught Phil yawning on the bench.  Carlyle is pushing them but they’re hanging in.

As I’ve said here often through the years, I’m not much interested in any deep analysis until we’ve played a good chunk of the schedule.  Typically 10 to 20 games gives us a window into what type of team we have, though last season’s second half debacle kind of threw that theory out the window. But in a compressed season, it’s hard not to fall into the trap of rushing to judgment.

That said, my thoughts today are not so much about judging this particular team’s work ethic, which seems fine, for the most.  They are clearly endeavouring to do what Carlyle is asking of them.  It’s more about trying to understand exactly where this organization, now run by Dave Nonis, thinks this team is - and where it's going.

Nonis took over from his predecessor only a couple of weeks ago, mere days before the current regular season began.  Does he get a free pass because it is now “his” team and he is obviously “new” to the job?  For me, I’m more of a mind to ask him to accept a fair bit of responsibility (not all, of course) for where the organization is at—good or bad—right now.  I say that because he was, previously, the supposed right-hand man and was involved in essentially every decision, acquisition, signing and draft pick the team has made since he arrived from Anaheim.

Some Leaf fans look to the Marlies (and our draft picks still in junior, like Rielly) and say we’re in good shape, that the plan is unfolding as it should.  My response is generally that virtually every NHL team has loads of promising players on their top farm club, or in junior hockey.  The Leafs are hardly unique in this regard.

It’s nice to have a pipeline but the proof is in the pudding, right?  You can have, say, ten former ‘number-one’ picks in your system, but how many of them can—or will—play and contribute as more than replaceable parts at the NHL level?  That is always a central question.

Hey, I get it.  I’ve been observing the Leafs since the late 1950s.  That’s, a pretty long time.  Doesn’t make me an expert by any means, but I have followed this ship closely and have seen a lot of coaches, players—and fans—come and go.  I can, like many of you, look at this roster and tick off all the forward lines and  and say, “I like Kessel, I like Lupul.  Bozak is really coming around.  Grabbo has a big heart.  Brown works so hard.  Kadri looks really good.  Love van Riemsdyk’s size.  Kulemin should be better this year.  Isn’t Komarov gonna be good? McClement is really helping the penalty-kill….”.

In other words, when we do that, we’re back to, well, just being fans that are easy to please.  When we win a few games, everyone on our roster is “good” or “great”—or will be really good some day.  But it’s all hope and puffs of smoke, waiting for the new “Pope” to arrive to really turn things around.

But let’s cut through the a) hope and b) ever-present and often unnecessary Leaf world negativity.  Let’s just ask some simple questions about this roster.

What is our aim?

For me, the aim is to have a team that, as in, say, the Quinn years, is good enough that we can assume the playoffs are a certainty every season.  Full stop.  A team good enough that the question is:  can we actually compete for a Cup?  In that Quinn era, we twice made it to the “final four”.  In 2002, but for peculiar circumstances, would have been in the finals against Detroit.

For me, that’s the standard.  A team that is always there—good enough to, in any given spring, make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.  I don't expect us to win every year, but be good enough that the thought, at least, is not unrealistic.

Right now, it feels like the bar for Leaf fans is much lower than that, and that's not good enough.  I hear many fans saying a) let’s tank and get a high draft pick or b) just making the playoffs would be great.  (I understand that players and coaches never "tank" - I'm talking here about fans...)

I understand the sentiment, but don’t like what those fan 'options' represent.  It still doesn’t get us where I think we need to be.

Where are I going with this?

Well, to be an elite team, you need certain things: 

  • Generally speaking, elite goaltending (teams have won a Cup with less, but by and large, if they don’t have superb goaltending, they have an absolute shutdown roster…)
  • Legitimate playoff—and winning—experience somewhere on the roster
  • Authentically strong leadership
  • A truly top-end first line, often (not always, I concede) with big (preferably physical), talented players; legit game breakers
  • A true shutdown defense pair.
Of course, teams need depth, a solid second and third line, etc.. Those are all givens, too.  But I’m simply trying to highlight the qualities a really good team has that even we everyday fans can easily recognize.  It doesn’t take a ton of in-depth analysis or statistical breakdowns—or being an NHL-level scout—to know what we’re talking about here.

So here is the question:  whether you want to talk about first line, “top six”, “top nine” or whateverwho, in your mind, are truly elite forwards on this Leaf roster?

I’m talking about guys who can fight through tough checking, who can compete and produce at key times (including playoffs, though we can’t make this assessment with this roster, really).  And obviously, players with a big-time skill level.

Names, please.

Next question:  Can you name an elite defenseman on this roster?  What about a true shutdown defense pair?

Name/names, please.

Where is our “proven” experience coming from?

I’ll leave room for your answer.

Who is the team leader?  Who do other players follow?


Do we have an elite goaltender? (I love Reimer.  I always feel I’m defending the guy.  But I‘m just asking the question.)

My point in all this? We can talk about prospects.  We can talk about our great player pipeline.  We can talk about Gardiner being an untouchable and Rielly being ‘can’t miss’.  Maybe that’s so.  Maybe.

But if we step back and ask the simple questions, as I posed above, what are the answers?

And since no elite, proven NHL free-agent has chosen to sign here since, well, Curtis Joseph, let's not bank on that - or having lots of 'cap space' -  as our salvation.  Or, for that matter, on some “big trade” where we give up nothing in return…or the notion that a good draft pick will save the day.

For today, let’s stick with answering the questions that have been asked.

Nonis has been part of this ‘development plan’ for most of the four plus years that his predecessor was here.  By the way, I like (a lot) the lower volume level coming from the manager’s office these days.  That’s great.  But we're talking about results today.  That’s what this business is about, right? 

Four plus years in, are you honestly satisfied with saying, “Hey Grabbo is a really gutsy little player.  We sure beat Montreal on that deal. “  Or, “Yeah, Rielly will be great…what a pick”.

Can we even use the excuse that we haven’t had super high draft picks?  Based on poor on-ice performance, we have been able to draft 5th, 7th, 2nd and 9th , if I’m not mistaken, in recent years.  That’s four top-ten opportunities the last four drafts.

I think the Leafs can make the playoffs this season because the Eastern Conference is filled with teams just like Toronto, who have rosters with holes.  But that’s not my debate today.

Do we have a first line?  Who’s our stud center?  A game-saving goalie?  A stand-out defenseman?  The grind-it-out Draper-McCarthy-Maltby-like third line?  A voice of wisdom and experience in the locker room?  The leader who has winner written all over him?

And not to unduly lay “blame” on Nonis, because I like what he has done in his short time as GM, but I think it’s fair to ask this, also:  with all the fanfare about the bright “future”, should not at least one of those above-mentioned areas have already been well and firmly addressed by now, more than four years into this “program”?

I await your thoughts - and answers.


  1. Michael,

    Awesome idea. Here goes.

    There are 3 elite or legitimate top 6 forwards on the current version of the Maple Leafs. Grabovski, Lupul and Kessel. I don't see any of them as top line Stanley Cup winning talent. But, I feel they would make a synamic second line on a championship team. On occasion they could all play up in the linuep and they all could be asked to play down. To exploit another teams shortcomings.

    Elite defenseman. We don't have one. I see our best d'man (Phaneuf) as a 3 or 4 on my ideal Leaf team. If Rielly or Gardiner, really improve over the next 3 years. Perhaps, one of them is the Scott Niedermyer to someone elses Pronger. Other than that none of the current Leafs qualify. Once upon a time I saw Gunnarson as a shutdown reliable guy. He seems to be a little lost this year. Not sure why. He could be part of a very reliable pair if he gets back to where he was, and then makes a leap.

    We have no proven experience, zero, zip, nada. I am sure that a couple of guys have playoff games under their belt. Lupul played in the playoffs but this was many years and many injuries ago. I don't see him as fitting the question you asked. If I remember Lupul was traded before the cup run in Anaheim.

    Phaneuf is the captain. I am not sure that his team sees him as a leader of men. Don't know why, I just don't think that when he has something to say that his team isn't rolling their eyes in the background. Maybe he is the next Messier, but, it doesn't look that way from here. Maybe someone gets traded or steps up and takes the reins. I don't know.

    Maybe, right now the answer is no. The future might be something different. I think they need a veteran backup for Reimer. Someone like Martin Gerber of a few years ago. A stable, decent professional NHL goalie. Someone who costs us a 5th or 6th or a conditional.

    That is the biggest problem I see with Leaf fans. As a whole we spend far too much time speculating on what a player may become, instead of focusing on what they are right now. Example, Reimer has played 2 games this year. Fans are already talking about how he might be back, or finding his game. This amuses me, he wasn't an elite goaltender before Gionta ran him. He was decent. Nothing more, nothing less at the time. No one, Leaf fans excluded, thought of him as one of the best in the League. He was and needs to return to being an average NHL goalie. Not the best, not the worst. Consistent, might be a good word here. From there, and only from there can we expect or think that improvement is possible.

    Nonis clearly has a boatload of work to do. I think that given the control of the ship, he can do it. Preferably quickly, an offer sheet to Subban would be a good start in my opinion. If the Canadiens match, you have tied up payroll they might not want to commit. If not, you get a potential superstar, right shot defenseman. A true top pair, possibility. An all situation defender, with offense and flair, and all that jazz. Its time, in my opinion for the Leafs to stop playing nice in the sandbox.

  2. I am perhaps more hopeful about Reimer, Jim, but I hear what you are saying. And this is partly what I am getting at when I said in the post that, as fans, we tend to say, "I love this guy, that guy is really good..." and before you know it, we've said that about most of the roster- and we're in 15th place. Something is not right with that picture.

    Yes, it's Nonis' job now. Lots to do! Thanks for posting on the questions I posed.

  3. Top six forwards:

    Kessel, Lupul, Grabovski and Kadri. They are all top 6 but maybe only Kessel qualifies as top three.

    Elite Defensmen:

    None.Phanuef is a very good dman but is not elite. Makes too many mistakes to be be an elite guy. If you were to pick one defenseman to start your team with where would Phanuef fall? Somewhere in the 10-15 range maybe.

    Shutdown Pair:

    A bit of a misnomer as most shut down pairs have the elite guy on it. There is no such thing as 3-4 shut down pair. Get an elite defenseman and you will have a shut down pair.


    None to speak of. That is what you get when you have the youngest team in the league or one of. Experience is going to come from them actually doing it.

    Team Leader:

    Supposedly Phanuef but I'm not sure how well he is doing. Then again I'm not in the dressing room so I really can't say what is going on there.

    Elite Goalie:

    No. Riemer is good maybe very good but not elite. Much the same as Phanuef is my best guess. I may be wrong and hopefully I am.

    As you know Michael I have been one of the biggest guys harping about the depth of the farm team and the idea of a boat load of prospects. However, I have to say there is a world of difference between prospects and the super prospects. The Leafs haven't had a super prospect that they drafted since Wendel Clark, they have one now in the person of Rielly. This is a guy who is not just pumped up by the Leafs but by every single scouting report out there. Could he still fail? Yes but the odds are he will have a very good career.

    The reason I advocate failing and getting another super prospect this year is for one simple fact. Elite young talent is almost never traded. In fact the last elite centerman traded in his prime was Mats Sundin back in the early 90's. You can get elite centermen on the market but usually at ridiculous price and for declining return as they are on the downside of thier career.

    To get to the point where the Leafs are like the late 90's early 00's they need a foundation to build on. In the salary cap world the only way to get that foundation is to draft it. We need at least 2 building blocks, right now we have one in Rielly. This year we can get another one.

  4. Great post, Willbur. I understand what you are saying about the need for another high-level pick (and having a poor season to ensure that happens). The players will never "tank", of course, but you make a fair point: the organization needs another superstar building block (if we assume Rielly can be a foundation piece).

    Thanks for chiming in.

  5. Again, with the undervaluing Leaf players. Sure we lack depth. But I do believe Kessel, Grabovski and Phaneuf are all proven elite talent in this league. Other than that.......I'm not too sure. But I'd be more than happy if those 3 spent they're careers with the leafs. Kessel is in the top ten in the past 4 years. How is he not a first liner? Grabovski is one of the best defensive centermans in the league and puts up decent point, a good first line center on any team. Phaneuf is an offensive defense-man. I believe if we could rely on anyone else to be our shutdown guy he could excel at that portion of his game. Again I'm going to say only 3 players I truly love but I think they are harshly undervalued by all leaf fans

  6. I'm not sure I am under-valuing anyone. (Your response does seem to acknowledge that there are only three elite players on the roster.) I think I'm being honest - and trying to look objectively at roster that clearly has not been good enough for years. (Ironically, Leaf fans are often accused of vastly over-valuing our players and prospects- which I think is some times true.)

    The one question no one is answering is the last one I posed: should not at least one of the key areas I addressed today - leadership, a real centre, goaltending, experience, etc. - have been addressed by now?

    And that does not even include a long concerning notion: real overall team toughness.

  7. The Rangers game rattled my cage. The reason it troubled me so much was because I am less inclined than most serious fans to observe a team as constituent parts -- which is the mental exercise Michael has given us today. I normally think of a team more like an organism. Framed as constituent parts, I am not sure what we have, but I am sure it is not enough.

    While I like these guys, I have lost faith in their ability to become a winning organism, in other words, it will unfortunately require different constituent parts. While a Kessel "fan" I was never a fan of the trade, something I am becoming increasingly vocal about. I just do not see him as a good fit with this team at this time. There is nothing wrong with Phil. On another team he could be the difference between a Cup and a first round exit.

    For that reason I found mainstream writer Damien Cox's article today interesting. Two points there -- deal Kessel now and retain existing draft picks. The trade Kessel idea kind of dovetails with Michael's article because it could provide some of the ingredients that are by implication in Michael’s article to be missing. The primary target should be unfortunately, potential in those principle areas highlighted here. I know, there is risk and it is more of the same but now we are stuck on that path. Burke’s “now and later” strategy clearly missed the boat on the now. The missing experiential winner dimension that Michael refers to will likely (albeit not necessarily) have to come via better free agent signings which, because of the new CBA and without being handicapped by Burke's former intransigence, will at least find a more level playing field. The problem, of course, is the team's history, none too appealing to winning veteran's I suppose. The question then becomes one of Nonis' salesmanship. Can he overcome the Leaf's image in elite hockey player circles as North American hockey's black hole?

  8. Lots of great points, Bobby C. As a fan, we can really "like" certain players, but that doesn't have to mean we think they are untouchable when it comes to trades, etc.

    And we can like players but also recognize that the overall meshing is just not there. No one's "fault", just something that doesn't work, for any number of reasons.

    I, too, like Kessel, but wonder about the fact that he has been here through prime years and we will likely have zilch to show for his now four seasons- except for watching Seguin and Hamilton thrive in Boston on a really good team. Not to suggest is hasn't been fun watching Kessel. But fans want more than glimpses of fun, presumably.

    The question for me is: what was the plan when we got him? Where was the follow up?

    I know a lot of Leaf fans dislike Cox, but, as with my post today, if we are invested about discussing this organization, as fans, we have the right to ask questions and raise possibilities. He is not a fan, but I assume (I have not seen the piece) he is raising possibilities that the organization - and we, as fans - may consider.

    I think you well captured the inherent challenge in the previous GM's "now and later strategy".

    I wonder, Bobby, If Nonis can be any better a 'salesman' than his predecessors. For reasons that still largely elude me, we can't seem to attract experienced, elite UFA's. I get the "we're not very good" reality, but this is such a tremendous hockey market.

  9. Your questions are fair Michael, but fair for teams that are in a position to compete for a playoff spot. This team is not there yet. Burke started the process but never finished the job. Maybe if he had started a complete rebuild when he became the GM, people would have been more patient with his progress. Instead he made some decisions hoping to accelerate the team's development, and some of those moves did not pan out as well as they would have hoped.

    The team is younger, faster, and has more depth than it has had in many years. The organization has some prospects in the system, which is something it severely has lacked in the past. But we still lack some "elite" forwards, and a #1 center, and a premier goalie, and a shutdown defence pairing. How to get them (or recruit them, or trade for them) is the tougher question and one Nonis (and his management team) needs to address. The only thing firing Burke did, was buy Nonis some time.

    Nonis is at a crossroads. Lets look at his options.
    A) Trade away assets and do a complete rebuild.
    B) Make a few moves/trades in hopes of adding one or two key pieces, and hopefully have one or two prospects step up to assume important roles.
    C) Sell the farm (trade prospects, players and picks) to get a few key players now.

    Most would agree option C would be foolish and suicidal, especially in a Cap system. Option A (a complete rebuild) would be a very bold move, and out of character for Nonis (Burke's assisant GM and #1 apprentice). They built this team to this point, he's not going to admit failure and start over. I'm not suggesting a complete rebuild should be considered, but it would certainly buy Nonis a lot more time (assuming the MLSE board would agreed to let him rebuild the team). So by default we are left with Option B.

    Every move/trade Nonis makes will be scrutinized and second-guessed. He's on borrowed time. This season he gets a free pass. Next season, if the team fails to make the playoffs, he may be faced with firing Carlyle to buy himself more time. If not, MLSE will probably give the both of them one more year, and again failure is not an option.

    I don't envy Nonis' position at all. I hope he can make the right moves. When Burke took over the team, fans were filled with optimism as to how he might improve the team. With Nonis, fans are cautiously waiting. Tick-tock.

  10. MIchael,

    Leadership and experience often go hand in hand. I am not sure it is possible to distinguish them. Was Crosby a leader before the cup win? Is he more of one now. I think so, but was any leader better in our eyes before they got the playoff experience they are known for? Don't think so. It is unfair to me to think that the youngest, or second youngest team, who you ask seems to determine where they are, to be chock full of seasoned leaders with a tonne of experience. Its just not fair, they are trying to build on the backs of youth.

    I would add to Willbur't point about elite centres, Joe Thornton. He may not set the world on fire, but I would take a point a game player for the next 12-15 years. The only way to get one of these guys, realistically is to draft one. Finish last or second last and draft one. The other draft option is get really lucky and take Mike Richards 24th overall. The team has taken lots of forwards with first round picks, for whatever reason, they never seem to prosper. Or become more than middling 2nd or 3rd line guys who are full of potential, and on their way to being great.

    Along the same lines, the Leafs keep drafting goalies. Sometimes with high picks, Rask, sometimes not so high. There are free agent signings to address the problem, Gustavsson, and more, trades Raycroft. None of these guys have worked out, and become an elite guy. Rask maybe, but alas the Leafs traded him away. I still have hope for Reimer. He possesses many of the qualities I think he needs. Its up to him and the coaching staff to get him to the promised land. The fans can't through their cheering make him stop the puck and win games.

    Should Nonis and by extension, Burke have addressed these issues. Yes, I am sure that they tried. They failed, they can only continue to pursue the avenues that will get these deficiencies filled. It sure seems to me that at this point in time. The Leafs would have been better off not making the Kessel trade at all. I can't make any argument that it was the right decision. We got hosed, badly. In two trades with Boston, they got a starting goalie, a potential franchise type d'man, and a point a game centre. We got Kessel, an enigmatic goal scorer. Very talented, but it seems people will always find him lacking.

  11. Noni's options are not, as you say Don (TML_fan), easy ones, for sure. But I do think today's questions are fair, because Nonis has been in place for much of his predecessor's time here, and we are where we are. I believe at least one of the major "needs" outlined above should have been addressed by now, and not simply by being bad enough last season to be in a position to draft Rielly.

    Your assessment is likely correct: Option "B" appears to be the path available. Nonis will work his tail off to try and get this as close to "right" as he can, I'm sure. Thanks Don, good stuff, as always.

  12. For me, Jim, it's not that I expect these young players to suddenly have playoff experience or to be leaders. it's just that I believe the team could have/should have acquired one by now. As with goaltending, it is an essential to success, And to (not intentionally, I realize) not make hard choices and bring in the right pieces tends to doom a team to mediocrity, despite having some nice young players sprinkled throughout the roster.

    Unfair? Maybe. But I think there has been time to find leadership and experience and we haven't done it. Will the organization be able to acquire leadership and experience once this team is ready to compete? Will some of these young players emerge as leaders? We'll see.

  13. Let's say 'elite' is top 5% of players. With 14 F, 7 D and 2 G /roster, that's best 20 F, 10 D and maybe top 3-5 G.

    Elite Leafs? I'd say Kessel might be based on his consistent 30+ goals every year numbers. JVR and Gardiner have a chance to evolve into elite players. That's it. I don't consider Lupul, Grabo or Phaneuf as elite.

    Kessel may not always look like he's working extra hard, and he is streaky, and he can be put off his game. But, he is consistent. He plays top-line minutes and he produces as best he can. I don't mind Bozak or Lupul, but let's face it Phil is not cushioned by having other elites. That's not to take anything away from the Crosbys, but helps him to have Malkin et al.

    As for the Cox article, haven't read it but I don't see the point personally. The Leafs are thin at forward, period. Kessel is as I just said... a consistent 30+ goal scorer. He is streaky, he will go games without scoring. If he had a centre who could continually put up 70-80, maybe we'd see 40 or more out of Phil. But what will you reap from trading Kessel? Jeff Carter net what, a borderline bust defenceman and a conditional first round pick. Nash plus a player and a 3rd round got Columbus 3 decent players and a first. So let's ask the question back... what do you really expect to get for our only reasonably considered elite player? Will it be worth more than what Phil might contribute if you can put him on a proper first line?

    Defensive pairs, no, no elite players. I think Carlyle is still feeling things out. I hope that's the case. I do like Komisarek's game so far, I am hopeful that we'll have something more like pairings that may not be shut-down, but better than just average.

    Proven experience, no. There is little. Lots of guys with decently-longish careers. Also, little in the way of strong leadership.

    No elite goalie either.


    We have prospects. Guys in the pipeline. Yes, lots of teams have that. Some develop their guys, others don't. Things are bleak frankly. At least at the NHL-talent level. That's why I realize now trading Bozak and Kadri plus for Luongo makes absolutely no sense. They just are not deep enough.

    There's the beginnings of a decent core here. Resign Kessel if you can. Make Kessel and Lupul the donut line, until you can acquire a top-flight center. Bozak, JVR, Grabovski, Kadri, Frattin... all decent 2nd/3rd line type forwards.

    Phaneuf, Liles and Komisarek may be holdover types, Gardiner and Rielly will develop and next on the draft list will be big hulking defenders.

    See what you develop with Reimer, Sparks, Scrivens.

    This is the time to do the proper rebuild. No 'on the fly'. Keep your draft picks, shrewdly evaluate what you have in Biggs and Ross and Ashton and Colborne and Blacker and Percy and Holzer and etc etc. Trade what you can live without, or what gets you upgrades you want.

    It's going to take time. Look at Edmonton. They have boatloads of talent, still haven't seen any success out there yet.

    As for free agents... I don't know that it is a tremendous market. It is when you win. But it's been documented here and elsewhere...
    Kadri, Larry Murphy, Ron Wilson, Brian Burke, Kaberle, McCabe, JFJ, Paul Maurice, Mike Murphy... many many people have been through here and seen fans love them and then want to rips them to shreds in the same night. Sure, they're big boys, they know what they sign up for in pro sports. But, few people are really held in high esteem here... Sittler, Salming, Lanny, Dougie, Cujo, Andreychuk maybe, Wendel, Burnsie, Quinn... few others. Everyone else... they're running you out of town. So why not play in Vancouver, or Boston, or Detroit?

    And I suspect it's not really much different than some other places. Dallas with the Cowboys. NY with the Yankees. When those franchises sucked, how many truly great players were eager to go sign with those teams? Thing is, they didn't suck for 40 years.

  14. The Rangers game highlighted our desperate need for elite forwards. Kessel is a wonderful player who, with a little space, can be an effective offensive weapon. But he is not big enough, nor aggressive enough, to make that space. Forwards that I'd consider "elite" in the league right now are those who have talent and are big enough to create space for themselves. We saw on Saturday night (and I'm sure we'll see it again in Philly and Boston) how opposing teams can easily shut down Kessel simply by not allowing him the space to control the puck and get up to speed. He needs to be able to fight off those checkers to be effective.

    In my opinion, Reimer did very well, and if they let him settle in to the starter's role he should be fine. He may not be one of the top goaltenders in the league, but I would argue that other teams regularly succeed with goalies in that category (see Ottawa). I would be quite happy if they kept Reimer there and sought to improve the team elsewhere.

    While I appreciate the skill and size of Dion Phaneuf, I objected to Burke bringing him in and slapping the "C" on his chest. I believe (and maybe this is idealistic) that leaders should emerge from a group naturally, after earning respect for that player's on-ice play, or rather from his off-ice demeanor. I don't think you can artificially create leadership by bringing in someone from outside and giving them a title. The truth is we don't know who the leaders on the team are because we aren't there in the dressing room, behind the scenes, and these days it's often not obvious even by the play on the ice.

    We don't need elite defensemen with today's systems-oriented play that requires all 5 skaters to participate in the defense, but we need forwards who have the skillset and strength to be dangerous offensively and responsible defensively.

    Where is our Stamkos, our Tavares, our Crosby? We need at least one player strong enough to dominate.

  15. I like your analysis, Mark. Well done. I'm hopeful -but not sure- about our prospect pipeline. Interesting names. We'll see if any/some turn into NHL players.

    It has been a "churn" market, for sure, Mark. Lots of players who were solid elsewhere struggled mightily here. Not many held in high esteem, eh?

    And it's true. When the Yankees were in their down periods, they didn't generally attract high-end free-agents. And they never went 45 years in between championships!

    Thanks Mark.

  16. Thanks for a really strong post, Anon. I was particularly interested in your comments around Phaneuf's sudden appointment as Captain. Not to unduly criticize the previous regime, but it was one of many acts of hubris. The assumption was that Phaneuf embodied what the former GM wanted as a "Leaf"- and what the former GM saw himself as. "Tough", I guess- and loud.

    Not sure he found the right fit. As you say, leaders usually emerge naturally from their peer group. That didn't seem to happen i this case and now we have a guy wearing a "C" who may not be the spiritual leader of the clubhouse, as it were. As you point out, we don't really know who the leaders might be, but we seem thin along those lines.

  17. Hey Michael/Everyone else,

    interesting quesitons and I believe just the right time to ask them (as in this season), because the organization is at a crossroads.

    This team can change dramatically for the better or the worse in the near future.

    #1. Elite Forwards. (Long/Short=Contract length)
    1A. Long Term: JVR, Grabo, Lupul, Kadri
    1B. Short Term: Kessel (1.5 yrs)
    1C. Potential: Colborne, Ashton, Kulimen
    1D. Lost in the recent past: Steen,
    Stalberg, Boyes, Versteeg, Tlusty
    (Am i missing someone?)

    #2. Elite D.
    2A. Long Term: Liles (maybe??)
    2B. Short Term: Phaneuf (1.5 yrs), Franson
    (Maybe someday a poorman's Chara - he has
    a hard shot - i know pretty weak sauce)
    2C. Potential: Gardiner, Rielly, Finn, Percy
    Maybe Blacker.
    2D. Lost in the recent past: Colaiacovo,
    Schenn, Aulie (Am i missing someone?)

    #3. Elite Goaltending:
    3A. Long Term: ..........
    3B. Short Term: Reimer (Maybe, 1.5 yrs)
    3C. Potential: Rynas, Owuya, Sparks
    3D. Lost in the recent past: Rask
    (Am i missing someone?)

    Proven Experience??
    LOL..... Experience Yes; Proven None

    Team Leader/Who ppl follow?

    Lupul/Grabo for the forwards (Follow)

    Phanuef/Liles/Komisarek for D (Follow)

    ......./St. Croix for Goaltending (Follow)

    Phaneuf is the supposed leader - not sure how affective he is - sigh....

    Coming back to my little point:
    Quite a bit of the supposed leadership/elite players are without contracts past June 2014, except Lupul, Grabo and JVR.

    This will be the test of the leadership of Nonis and where he wants to go, what HIS plan is, what is his road-map, and what the overlords at MLSE want.

    I believe he will do all he can to go with the "Option B" mentioned previously, 1st step - sign Lupul for 5 yrs - means this move was for Kessel as a bit of a carrot for him to stick around and sign. But time will tell.

    Let me know what y'all think.

    Anon from Scarborough.

  18. I liked the thoroughness of your post today, Scarborough Anon. Also glad you highlighted some of the guys we have "lost" in recent years.

    As Don mentioned above, "Option B" appears to be it right now. Whether Kessel re-signs, for example, is a huge question. What will it take (if he even really wants to stay here) and is he a guy we should spend 8 million a year on for five years?

    There is talent here, and hope for the future. Lots of teams face challenges and the Leafs are in that category...Thanks Scarborough Anon.

  19. Thanks Michael,

    most of my posts have been rants, lol, this was a more frank analysis.

    Also, to add some more names to the lost players list but not sure if they are that big on skill but they could have better fit into what Carlyle wants - Antropov, Ponikorovsky (I know I misspelled this).

    I seriously think, Burke hurt the long-term health of this club because it seems he never sat down and built a proper plan.

    He was way too impulsive and that helped him with some of his trades but one set us back for a while - ala the Kessel Trade, because he did not follow-up with anything of equal magnitude to back up his mouth.

    Now i honestly think we should trade Kessel soon, and maybe even Phanuef - some of the teams that might take one or both from us and we may get something decent in return - Blues, Wild, maybe Sharks or Coyotes lol maybe even Philly (although there cap situation looks bad) - these teams wanna/need to win now.

    What do u think?

    Anon from Scarborough

  20. Oh and just a thought that came to my mind now.

    How would you feel of JVR as captain.

    Anon from Scarborough

  21. Lots of great comments today. My thoughts:
    Goal: We don't have an elite goalie. We don't even have a goalie who's played a complete season in the NHL. So all we can say is that we may have a decent goalie in Reimer, or a great one, but there's no proof in that pudding yet. In fact, there's barely a pudding!
    Defence: It's difficult to assess because, prior to this year, our forwards have been so spotty in helping out with the defensive part of the game. If Phaneuf played on the Hawks, say, would we think he's an elite player? He's certainly shown flashes of it, and I think he's our best guy. After that, we have a bunch of good, solid players who may thrive under Carlyle's tutelage. I don't think it's fair to dis Kostka at this early stage - 30+ minutes of ice time against the Rangers? That's All-Star minutes. I'm guessing that was Carlyle matching them against the Rangers top line, but...
    Forwards: Kessel is definitely an elite player. If he ever gets the linemates who can open up some space for him, he'll deliver again. He's also a terrific playmaker, as long as he has a linemate who can score. We'll see if JvR fits the bill. That alone makes him a more dangerous man on the ice. I don't think anyone else can be termed "elite", but we have plenty of good to very good guys. Almost all of them are on the smallish side, which doesn't help. I think this will be Nonis' biggest area of concern going forward, no pun intended.
    Team Leader: On the ice, I don't see one, that one player who will just refuse to lose and inspires his teammates with his intensity, although I feel it from Lupul. What I don't see is that team mentality of "all for one, one for all" that is apparent on many other teams. As long as teams can take liberties with Kessel, say, without fear of retribution, then we'll never advance to the top tier. In the dressing room, who knows? I've met Phaneuf, and I think he has leadership ability. Does he seem awkward on camera because he's consciously trying to live up to his role as Captain? Did it hurt that he was just awarded the Captaincy by Burke? Who knows?
    Proven Experience: as noted above, lots of experience, none proven.
    This year is a work-in-progress, as we see the kind of team Nonis and Carlyle envision take shape.

  22. Ideally, Scarborough Anon, we would build upon what we have (Phaneuf, Kessel, etc.) rather than sending them away for other emerging players or futures.

    My thought last year would have been to bring in Nash (if he was willing). We need Kessel, a Nash, plus, plus, plus.....

    If we move those guys - recognizing pending free-agency, if we can't re-sign them at reasonable money, is an issue - then we seem to be standing in the same old spot, just building with newer versions of the same thing.

    Even if we added Crosby, would we be a Cup contender?

    As for van Riemsdyk, I'm not (with exceptions, granted) a fan of " "kid" captains, especially someone who is far from proven in this market.

  23. Your measured, thoughtful commentary is always appreciated here, Gerund O'. Yes, work-in-progress, for sure. Emphasis hopefully on "work" and "progress"!

  24. Oh damn, i wish crosby was on our team.
    I see ur point but don't see the point in keeping the young guys and these old guys here together - either the team gets rid of bozak, kulimen, Mac, brown, orr, komorov and then leave some kids on like kadri, JVR, and then they need to sign good/elite players from free-agency and how in the world that happens i'm not sure. And if that is the path forward to build around these middling/aging guys then bring in luongo/another older elite goalie and ship out reimer or make him a back-up.

    All i ask is clarity, one way or another - lets just be clear about it.

    Anon from scarborough

  25. That's entirely reasonable, Scarborough Anon. Fans like to know what they pulling for- and a clear plan helps.

  26. Thanks Michael,

    And i must give you lots of respect for being a fan of this team for so long and yet being able to not be angry/ranty, lol.

    I can't help myself, i'm only 24.

    Anon from Scarborough

  27. Oh, I feel frustration sometimes, Scarborough Anon. (I remember being 24 and a Leaf fan- that was the Sittler, Lanny, Borje era...) But after about 55 years of fandom, I've seen most of these Leaf movies before! Glad you enjoy the site.

  28. Oh wow, 55 years, damn you have patience, and u get props for that.

    And how lucky to be 24 and get to watch those guys on your team even if they didn't win the cup.

    I think what this team lacks besides skill/star is work ethic which i feel Randy can help but it will take a longer amount of time for the results to show.

    Anon from Scarborough

  29. "who, in your mind, are truly elite forwards on this Leaf roster?"

    Kessel, Lupul, Grabovski, JVR and Jay McClement.

    Kessel, Lupul, Grabovski, JVR could all play top six even on some good teams.

    Jay McClement is elite at what he does..kill penalties and play defense. Our PK has gone to 84.2%, the 10th best in the NHL through Sunday's games. It was 28th in the last two seasons and 30th in 2009-2010.

    We need more elite defensive guys for the bottom six to play against the top lines in the league and better support our defense. Guys you can sent out for a shift with no need to score but just to wear down a top line. We need another McClement.

    "Can you name an elite defenseman on this roster?"

    Phaneuf...he needs a better partner. Give him that and he becomes better. Seabrook has Keith etc.

    "What about a true shutdown defense pair?"

    Nope that's why the Rangers beat us.

    Where is our “proven” experience coming from?

    Lupul, he has skill and 39 playoff games.

    "Who is the team leader? Who do other players follow?"

    Lupul...that's why the injury hurts so much.

    "Do we have an elite goaltender?"

    No, but I think Reimer could be ok and not our weakness.

    In short, I think our best/most reasonable bet might be to bring in a better defensive bottom six guy to play more minutes and keep Brown and Orr out of some games.

    Trading Liles to a team that needs offense for a better two way player might also be a good idea. If you have Gardiner and Reilly in the system you can afford to trade Liles.

  30. Interesting post, DP. And your suggestion about building up the "bottom six" has merit.