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Randy: set Kadri free— the classic case of addition by subtraction for the Maple Leafs

Earlier this week, I wondered aloud whether Tim Connolly, with the Leafs, could possibly recapture the form he had earlier in his fine NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres.  We got our answer on Thursday when Connolly was placed on waivers by the blue and white.  Earlier, another veteran center with an unfortunate injury-hampered past, Matthew Lombardi, was dealt to the Coyotes for what could become a third round draft pick.

In one of my earlier columns here, I had also opined on the challenge Randy Carlyle faced with so many guys ready to line up at the center position.  When you have veterans with significant, guaranteed contracts like Lombardi and Connolly, where do you find room for aspiring younger players?

Well, GM Dave Nonis took care of part of Carlyle’s decision-making issue by moving two pieces out of the training camp roster. 

Now, we won't really know until game time on Saturday night what direction the Leafs are moving.  Are they going young?  They will post their 23-man roster on Friday afternoon though things will no doubt change in the days ahead, once the team has played some regular-season games. But the bottom line is, there is an opportunity to see some relatively new blood on this roster, and for me, it can’t come a moment too soon.

I very badly want to see some legitimate veteran leadership here—you know, guys that have played and played well at playoff time over a period of years.  But it did not appear that Lombardi and Connolly would be able to play that leadership role under Carlyle, so in the absence of some experienced guys ready to step in and nudge the younger players along, I’ll be happy if Nonis and Carlyle at least give a shot to youngsters who I feel deserve to be here.  For me that includes Kadri and Frattin, though I realize one of them may not be here to start the season.

I’m higher on Frattin than some Leaf observers are, I realize.  I just go by what I saw last season, and I felt he showed moments where he could become a winger with ‘mini’ power-forward potential.  He can use his legs and size to cut in on his off wing—something not all wingers can do.  He certainly has acceptable (and sometimes better than that) NHL speed and obviously has an NHL shot.  If (these are always big “ifs”) he uses his decent size consistently to create space for himself and to go to the net, then I see no reason why he won’t be on the roster—at least as the season wears on.

As for Kadri, I’ve probably written about him too much in this space for a player who, essentially, has accomplished nothing so far at the NHL level.  I just don’t see how yet more time with the Marlies (after spending parts of the past three seasons in the AHL, including all of this year) will do him much good. (To be clear, I have said here many times that I wanted him to spend all of 2010-’11 with the Marlies and last year as well, for that matter. I dislike the fact that they have moved him up and down as much as they have...)

My feeling is simply this: Kadri needs to play—a lot.  He needs to play with the same linemates as much as possible.  He needs legit power-play time.  And he needs to be on a longer leash, so one or two mistakes don’t see him pinned to the bench, or heading back to the Ricoh Coliseum.

As I’ve said before, I want to see the Leafs let him play his game.  Work to be defensively responsible, of course, but let him play.  If you’ve “coached him up” as they like to say in football, and he refuses to—or can’t or won’t—do the things the coaching staff wants him to, then we have an issue.  But I don’t see how that’s the case.  The Leafs have given up a lot of goals the past two seasons and Kadri sure wasn’t on the ice for all those goals.  He wasn't even here most of the time.  There must have been other guys not doing what they were told.  So let Kadri do what he’s good at and remind him, as needed, what you need him to do at both ends of the ice.

Here’s where I’m at:  if the organization really and truly feels he’s not ready now, trade him.  Now.  Tomorrow.  Today,  if possible.  Because I really believe that, at some point (and that point is not far off) fellow GM’s are going to figure:  if this kid, now 22 and in his fourth NHL camp, isn’t ready to play on what has been one of the worst rosters in the NHL, how will he play on good teams?  Why would a GM give up something “good” to Toronto in return for a guy that can’t even get a regular shift with the Maple Leafs?

No, it’s time to go with Kadri.  Has he earned it?  Probably no more or less than other guys in his situation.

While we’re on the topic, I’d rather he finally play his natural position, which is center.  But I know we already have (pending other roster moves or trades, etc.) Bozak, Grabovski, Steckel and McClement. (I know Komarov is playing the wing, but I still think he should be a center, too, where he could be that in-your-face Esa Tikkanen type, he of those great old ‘80s Oiler teams.)

Most of the Leaf faithful are thrilled that Nonis has managed to move two older, expensive players.  I don't know what the full financial implications are, because I don’t know what Connolly’s status is as I write this.  I also am not sure if the Leafs are responsible for some of Lombardi’s money on their cap.  (I admit it—the new CBA has me utterly baffled…)

I’m not ready to canonize Nonis based on doing what he should be doing—moving guys who don’t fit Carlyle’s needs.  (Given a new CBA, Burke, if he was still here, may have done the very same thing.)  But I’m hopeful that Nonis will continue to quietly make the necessary roster moves to build the roster, while providing a real opportunity for young guys to thrive.  I could handle, for example, Komarov with Frattin and Kadri on a line.  It’s not exactly a “kid line”, as Frattin and Komarov are both 25.  But while I know the mandate—and organizational objective—is to win, I also know fans in this market need something to get excited about. 

Gardiner is an exciting player to watch, for sure, as is Kessel.  A lot of us like Grabovski’s feistiness.  But it would be really nice if we had a relatively young third line that would provide hope—and make fans want to at least wait for the commercial breaks before heading to the fridge.

What say you, with the Habs up on Saturday?



27 comments:

  1. I am happy for a number of reasons.

    The first is living out West, I have tickets to our corporate box for the home opener of Ottawa at Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon. When the puck drops on the NHL season I will be there in one of the loudest, most fun environments.

    Regarding the Leafs, I am happy with the youth movement. I think Kadri will be fine.

    "if this kid, now 22 and in his fourth NHL camp, isn’t ready to play on what has been one of the worst rosters in the NHL, how will he play on good teams?"

    I actually think he would be ok because on a good team he might be slotted in on the second line behind a true franchise level first line center with size.


    I actually think Kadri can produce like a second line center. The problem is that the Leafs have not quite a first line center in Bozak and an elite second line center in Grabovski.

    The natural place for Kadri has be taken. Some good teams have a bit of a hole in the second line, but you just don't notice it as much on those good teams because of the big first line, better defense and goal tending.

    However, with the talent that might surround Kadri, I think he could produce from the third line on the Leafs. JVR, Kadri and Frattin or Komorov could be a very dangerous third line.

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  2. All I can add is it finally seems the Leafs are doing what they should have done 4 years ago. They are not going to make any moves for the right now, instead building for the future.

    I have to say so far I was wrong about Nonis. Hopefully he stays the course, the Leafs get another high end top pick and in 2-3 years become the team we all hope they can be. It does me good to see dead weight finally being cut loose instead of clogging up the system.

    The last couple of days have made me hope (not for this year I still fell 14-15 in the east, maybe dead last overall, definitly top 3 pick) the Leafs are finally going to do it right, no shortcuts, no future for right now trades.

    A Kadri, Frattin, JVR third line would be friggin great. Let them play in sheltered offesive situations and I think you could really have the makings of a decent line. Just stay the course. I think we have a rough year ahead of us and maybe next year, but then we could see the start of something.

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  3. Michael,

    It sure is going to be an interesting first few weeks of the season. The direction this team is taking has me puzzled. If I didn't know better, I would figure that they are already trying to drop in the standings. Let me explain.

    Scrivens is getting talked up in net. Don't know why, but he is. I thought they made a huge commitment to James Reimer. Now we hear that Gentle Ben, I really want that to be his nickname, is likely to start on opening night. Puzzling, Scrivens has never had any success in the NHL, yet, they are giving him the net, at the possible expense of Reimers confidence. Its not like James is being asked to back up Bobby Lou.

    The exodus of less than stalwart veterans continue. Yesterday, when news broke on the Connolly front that it was a buyout. I hated it. Why pay the guy big money to help a competitor? As a strict waiver claim, this is ok with me. I think it hurts the team competitively, because I don't think Frattin and Kadri specifically are ready for the league in anything more than limited minutes, press box kinda role. I hope I am wrong and will concede without argument that I might be, but I know what I saw last year. Also, I put no weight or importance to what happens in practice. 'Are we talking bout practice?' These results mean nothing, lots of veterans are biding their time until the real puck drops and I am ok with that. 10 year vets know what they need to do. Maybe, Connolly and Lombardi forgot that they have to impress the coach.

    As I see it, the Leafs are less deep than they were at the end of last season, on the front end. This is good, they really need to finish dead last overall and have a run at drafting Jones or McDavid. I know it is really early, but, I am starting the tank, tank, tank cheers today.

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  4. You make a good point about Kadri, DP. He is caught in a roster crunch here. He's not so far advanced that he can bump Grabbo or even Bozak. Maybe on another team he would slide into a second line role more naturally. We'll have to see him produce, first.

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  5. I sense they won't be moving kids for old guys, Willbur. I would still like to see the team add some legitimate experience at some point, but Nonis may feel that's something he will do when they reach the contender stage.

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  6. As I write this, it appears as though the lines are settled for the time being at least. It looks as though Kadri begins the year centering the third line. Yes I'd have to agree, we have talked too much about Kadri. But only because we have been waiting for so long for him to show his potential/get a chance to show his potential. Whether he has been lazy, a bust, or just caving in the spotlight, it is his time. For the organization as well as for him. If he can't make it with the Leafs now, I agree that it is time to get as much value in a trade as they can.

    I still have my own thoughts on how things should be, rather than what they are going in to the season opener tomorrow. I think Bozak is a hard worker and likeable person, but he is not a number one center. His stats look better than they should be only because he is getting top line minutes with Lupul and Kessel. It was my hope when they traded for van Riemsdyk that they would give him a shot at his original position at center. I had hoped that he and Kadri could both audition for that spot to see what happens.


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  7. I applaud Nonis for his moves. They have opened some interesting possibilities.

    Assuming that the first two lines remain intact (Lupal-Kessel-Bozak and Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur) we seem to have 8 players for the six remaining slots (van Riemsdyk, McClement, Komarov, Kadri, Frattin, Brown, Steckel and Orr). There are several possibilities but I would prefer a kid line of JvR, Kadri and Frattin and a checking line of Komarov, McClement and Brown.

    This would give us a scoring line and a shut down checking line in the so-called bottom six.

    One other possibility would be to move JvR to the Grabovski line and Kulemin to the kid line.

    I am looking forward to this season, not so much because I expect the Leafs to make a huge impact, but because I expect a gradual improvement. Some of the pieces are being added in the aforementioned kid line. Carlyle's system and the additions of McClement and Kormarov and a healthy Reimer should lead to a marked defensive improvement.

    Finally, it will be a relief to have a GM who will play by the rules of the NHL and not by his personal dogma. A lack of confrontational press conferences will also be refreshing.

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  8. While it seems early to talk "tank", Jim, I really do understand what you are saying.

    I still believe the Leafs have a playoff shot, not because I'm looking at things with rose-coloured glasses, but simply because a) the East is weak overall and b) a short season can lead to peculiar outcomes.

    That said, I can't argue that we are, on the other hand, not as strong as others may try to suggest. If they make the playoffs and can actually do well once they're there, great. If not, your view of being in a position to draft a potential difference-maker comes into focus. Thanks Jim.

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  9. Thanks Pete. Just in case people think I'm trying to pump Kadri's tires, I'm not. I just want him to get a prolonged look. At some point we have to find out if he's an NHL player, which he should be. If so, wonderful. Then we can stop "talking" about his potential and he will be just another guy on the team, day to day.

    I'd like to think Bozak has more upside. He certainly has some flair, but as a true first-line guy? Unlikely.

    As for van Riemsdyk, hopefully he will find his niche and a role that allows him to thrive. Weird training camp, eh? We'll see as the season moves along.

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  10. Your "lines" would work for me, PeteCam. I'm sure things will get shuffled around at times, but hopefully a modified "kid line" could work. Personally I'd like to see both Kadri and Frattin stick, but that can change after opening night as well.

    Gradual improvement -and less bluster- would be nice, yes. Thanks PeteCam.

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  11. Sensible moves. You either go young and build or you don't. Part of Mr. Burke's failure was trying to drive on both sides of the road, if you will.

    Players need ice time to develop and it all can't be had in The A. With players like Kadri, Frattin et al you must evaluate them on how they adapt to and grow in the NHL. Nobody comes into the NHL and plays the best hockey of their career in year one. All players, be they great or merely average grow, adapt and progress (or go). There is simply no better way of assessing these abilities than to give a guy good NHL ice time.

    How does a player grow and show you he can adapt with 5 minutes of ice a night? How do you find 12-16 minutes a night for a bunch of kids when your roster is lettered with marginal vets making huge $$$? Well you don't. Not saying kids don't benefit from vets. It has to be the right veteran however, somebody who plays, works, leads and gets results.

    Good move by Nonis, at least he has decided which direction the team will go. None of this trying to fit two different hats on the same head with this guy.

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  12. Your "driving on both sides of the road" analogy is apt, Bmaximus.

    A young player, as you say, needs to get some ice time. At some point, the NHL is where they need to be allowed to make mistakes, develop and grow.

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  13. So once again the "T" word appears. Appropriate that it is a four letter word.

    High performing athletes are that way and rise to their sport's highest level for a number of reasons. A big one is their competitiveness. "The guys has a great compete level" blah blah blah.

    And it is true, you can't excel if you do not have a killer competitive will.

    So when a team tanks (pardon my English) how does one turn off this seemingly innate trait? How does a coach retain his legitimacy leading an organization who has the objective of not winning? Why would any professional team want to have anything to do with an athlete who can, with the snap of the fingers, turn off their competitive will. Why would a sports organisation even want to table such a thought and foster such a mentality?

    My guess is the concept makes for good fan conversation fodder allowing one to drool and dream about a top draft pick. The sort of fan who looks forward to a weekend in late June more than Saturday night in February. I struggle with the idea that a sports team can and would foster this attitude. Seriously , players, coaches etc at the NHL, NFL, MLB level just willing turning off their compete, en mass? Hope none of them ever don my favourite colours or jersey.

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  14. I think Jim's reference to "tanking" above was not a suggestion, Bmaximus, that players or coaches ever take that approach.

    I think we all would agree that elite athletes play to win every night. Coaches coach to win. I think Jim is just acknowledging what fans see: a team still a ways away, and if it happens that the Leafs finish low enough this season, a pick is there that may help down the road.

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  15. Michael,

    Please allow me to explain how I think the organization could be tanking. i agree that pro athletes cannot turn off this competitive trait.

    An analogy may help. I play hockey with a group of guys, about 20 or so are regulars. None of us are really good, some better than others. But, we are not by any means hockey players. We are guys playing hockey. Let's suggest I, as GM of this team, schedules games against the Rangers, Penguins, Bruins and Flyers. Try as hard as we can, we are still not going to win any hockey games.

    That is how an organization 'tanks' They put a team on the ice that is only competitive in the best case scenario. Which, I think describes the Leafs and their moves this year. I am happy with this, a proper rebuild through the draft may get us out of the endless cycle that we are currently in.

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  16. Apparently Carlyle thought Frattin wasn't consistent enough during training camp to merit a place with the Leafs right now. So it looks like Kadri may center JvR and Komarov. That should be interesting! I'm one of those who thought Frattin was superior to Kadri last year during their NHL stints. He went after the puck harder, hit harder, and was equally creative offensively. That's also how he looked to me at the last Marlies' game I saw, in December. So... we'll see. I'd love to have Kadri finally deliver on his promise, but I'm still seeing the brilliance compromised by the flaws - a tarnished diamond, if you will. Perhaps Carlyle has the polishing cloth to let him shine, to torture the metaphor further.
    I'm sure we'll see Frattin at some point over the next few months, and I'm sure his time will come.
    BTW, I see they've cut Rielly as well. Another good move by the new management team!

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  17. I get what you'e saying, Jim. Thanks.

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  18. For me, too much emphasis is placed on these camps, which often mean nothing, Gerund O'. But if they are "sending a message" to Frattin, I get it.

    Like you, I think he will be back soon. I'm not too concerned about the opening night roster one way or the other. Results is what I want to see, along with youngsters getting a real chance.

    Glad Rielly is back where he belongs.

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  19. This just in: forward lines will be: Lupul-Kessel-Bozak....MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin... JVR-Kadri-Komarov.... Orr-McLement-Brown with Steckel as the extra
    The D pairings in practice are Phaneuf-Kostka; Fraser-Holzer; Franson-Liles, Komisarek/Gunnarsson/Gardiner.

    If this is the lineup we see tomorrow, I'll be fine with it! Nice bunch of new guys added to the mix.

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  20. Agreed, Gerund. I sense Frattin will slide in later in the season...

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  21. I think there was only a partial message sent to Frattin. An important factor was that Frattin was waiver exempt.

    I suspect that Holzer will be sent down as soon as Gardiner is healthy, not because there has been problem but because he is also wavier exempt.

    I think Frattin only has 2 more games before he is subject to waivers so this will be the last time he will be sent down.

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  22. Frattin will get some shots in over the course of the season, I'm sure. The games are so tightly packed, some rotation will be inevitable.

    I have to say, I love the look of our third line right now. JVR should provide ample torque in the corners, and I'll be surprised if Komarov won't feel right at home in the NHL. In Finland, he always got the "crap" duties, and performed them well enough to wade his way into our national team. He's never been a natural scorer at senior level, but in KHL he actually started scoring more than he ever did in Finland. To be fair, it probably had something to do with getting better linemates, but in continuing with that train of thought, he now gets handed his best linemates yet. And Komarov can, and I dare say, will, draw attention on the ice with whatever means he has, which should benefit his linemates, especially Kadri.

    The only worry I have about Komarov is how he'll adjust to not getting caught up in the aftermath once the whistle has been blown. European referees tend to issue penalties much more easily in those situations than North American ones, and he will need to curb his instincts to lash out if his face gets a glove rub without it drawing a minor.

    But he has proven to be adaptable. He speaks five different languages (well, he's not completely fluent in German, but gets by), made an effortless leap from playing in Finland to KHL, and I'll be genuinely surprised (and disappointed) if he, for some reason, can't cope in the NHL. He's a World Champion 2011 and Gagarin Cup winner 2012, so he's actually won something at senior level. Those won't make him a veteran leader for the Leafs, but any semblance of a winning culture could be useful at this point.

    In closing, I'm very happy to see Kadri with the Leafs on day one. I know he hasn't been in the organization for all that long, but it's a great change after seeing his chain yanked by Wilson and Burke to no end. Something to be said for tough love, but if you're constantly just setting up a young, high-end prospect to fail, that's just being mean in the stupidest way possible. We'll see if he sticks, but hopefully he now gets an honest shot at it. It's not as if our hopes are riding on him to lead the team at this point.

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  23. I was nodding in agreement throughout your post, CGLN.

    Komarov already has expectations around him, but he has the experience to cope, I'm guessing.

    But maybe the point that stands out most is simply your concluding comment about Kadri. The team does not need to rely on him. He can be just another guy that contributes, hopefully at both ends of the ice.

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  24. Ahem, yes, well I really meant to post about Kadri getting a shot with the Leafs at his natural position. I just tend to get carried away with Komarov, because I've followed him closely enough for years now. And he is someone who I've had the privilege to follow without the media personnel responsible for NHL coverage in Finland, who tend to put a whole new meaning to "a shameless homer". Jarkko Ruutu was actually presented here as "an excellent agitator" instead of "a lazy, shameless coward".

    But the actual deal is this; Komarov's means of getting under the opposition's skin are not traditionally limited to bounds of good taste. For Kadri, who, as I understand, was recognized partially for his feistiness in OHL as well as his scoring ability, this should be a boon. He'll be able to concentrate on his game without having to worry about "the Pronger response", himself. He can be feisty if it feels natural, not because it'll be expected of him. I hope we'll see at least a few games to see if the pairing will work out.

    Could there be some very pale shades of Dougie and Wendel, there? Probably not. There are some theoretical similarities, there, though. Komarov will, possibly, fight once or twice over the season. Unlike Wendel, he won't win those fights. Kadri will, given the chance, make a couple of stunning energy plays over the season. Unlike Dougie, he won't score over point-per-game.

    But hey, let's give a cheering start to something that could reap results in the long run, right?

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  25. Good to hear from someone, CGLN, who has actually seen Komarov over the years. He is kind of "new" to us in the Toronto area, but I sense there is a level of expectation around him already as, yes, an agitator of sorts. Leaf fans will embrace him if he plays hard.

    I know coaches change up lines at their whim, and I get that. But I'm hoping the lines will stay intact for a bit, to see if good things will develop.

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  26. Lines should be chopped only if there's an apparent lack of chemistry. Wilson did that at a whim, and he's now a former head coach of the Leafs. Call me a romantic, and I don't know, but Komarov and Kadri just plain fit together in my admittedly limited mental image.

    Kessel-Lupul will be the best scoring duo, no doubt. But in my mind, I can see Kadri and Komarov scoring points together in the future, and making some enemies in the process. Would that not be a great step towards creating an identity?

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