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?