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After they roll in Philly and now 20 games in, what’s the limit for Kadri and the Leafs?

O.K. I’ll just say it.  We’re now 20 games into this new and sprint-like NHL season and I’m struggling to determine why I should not like the Leafs. As I posted last night, the team's flaws have not been exploited by opposing teams in the East- at least not yet.  The playoffs may tell a different tale.  We'll see.

I have a question for you in a minute, but first some very brief observations:
  • How can you be anything other than extremely impressed with Kadri.  For a young player that (and I don’t think I’m wrong about this) the Leafs would have moved in the right deal to acquire a prime-time player a year ago, he has quieted any critics who wondered if he could be a factor at this level.  I’ve long said here that I just wanted a chance to see this youngster play with steady linemates for a long string of games with decent ice time, and then we could talk about his game.  Well, he has earned the ice time and has shown a ton. 
  • Even if you set aside the points and obvious offensive productivity, it’s the subtle little plays that are helping set Kadri apart.  Virtually every game he does something that makes me do a double take—a sudden shift from his off wing to the middle of the ice while unleashing a quick shot; a no-look pass on the tape; jumping into open space because he is seeing the play that may develop.  That's a trait not all players have.  Against the Flyers, the pass to Kulemin for the 2-0 goal was sublime.  His deft touch was evident on the third Leaf goal as well.  How good can Kadri become?
  • Scrivens made some huge and very timely momentum-killing stops on the penalty-kill after the Flyers had narrowed the gap to one late in the third period.  He battles. Guy has guts.
  • Gunnarsson and Kostka were each a plus 3 on the night.  
  • The Leafs just seem able, more often than not, to outwait their opposition.  In a second period with few shots, the Leafs made something out of nothing when Kadri somehow found Kulemin jumping off the bench and suddenly, the Leafs were on the board again.  Patience, patience.  And skill, too.
  • With just over two minutes to go and a tired group on the ice for the Leafs because of an icing call, Kadri outfought Giroux (and took a big hit) to clear the zone in one of those small but crucial plays that win games.
  • Kessel was on the ice helping to protect a lead in the dying seconds.  It’s a brave new world…
  • McClement wanted to puck more (was that Giroux again? Not sure…) and his determination created the empty net goal to clinch the deal.
  • Bozak hasn’t been a minus in a game since what, ten games ago?
Mostly tonight, I wanted to hear from you.  What did you see in the Flyer game?  What impressed you?

And at the 20-game mark, what do you project as this team’s limit? 

It’s not a case of putting on blue and white blinders.  I’m simply wondering why this team can’t be even more than it seems, since they are playing playoff hockey every night anyway, and they are beating the teams in front of them on the schedule.

I’m not predicting, but I won’t mind if you’d like to….


  1. Kadri has world class play-making ability and vision.

    To go with it all he has an extremely high compete level.He slashes. He hits. I actually think its rubbing off on Kessel.

    The vision, creativity and drive are rarely to be found in a single player. I am starting to think of Gilmour, Martin St. Louis and Theoren Fleury.

    He might even be a gem of that 2009 draft.

  2. That's a big-time ceiling for Kadri, if you're right- thanks DP!

  3. Kadri is making some great plays and really starting to show the elite level offensive skill they kept saying he had but never gave him a chance to show. What really impressed me was the solid play and hard work and not making mistakes. When the score went 2-0 I actually started thinking the Leafs are winning this game, against a team like the Flyers on the road I usually don't relax until they have a four goal lead. I'm really starting to think they are for real. A lot has changed in two weeks, I was listening to Blue Lunch and they were saying it was unfortunate the Leafs were not good enough to make the playoffs but too good to get a lottery pick. My thinking is with players like JVR at #2 Kessel #5 Lupul #7 and Rielly #5 Phaneuf #9 and players like Gardiner they have more talent than most teams already. I think they have a team that can win a few rounds this year and will be even better next.

  4. I think we all understand, Alton, that it's easy to get swept up in the emotion of the Leafs doing well over a short period of time. But there's no question the team is playing pretty darn well.

    That's why I asked the question today about their "limit" - because I'm interested in what thoughtful Leaf fans have to say. Thanks for posting. Alton.

  5. I'm still under the thrall of last year's horrible implosion and, game to game, trying not to get ahead of myself in terms of excitement. But...

    This team seems to have more patience and more interest in playing a well-rounded game than last year's. I see JvR contributing in ways that must be around the ceiling of what any one would have reasonably expected in his play at TO this season. I see Kessel seemingly adding strings to his bow every time I watch: making great passes, battling the boards, even - God help me - showing an interest in the back third of the rink. I see an underwhelming defensive corps playing miles above their ability thanks to a single-minded fascination with not letting the other guy down.

    I'm starting to see a sense of unity and an expectation to win, regardless of the opposition.

    They're still a bubble team, but they're looking to me like a team that might scrap their way into 7th or 8th rather than one that will quietly slip away.

    Loving it.

  6. I predicted a cup coming to Toronto within 5 years after Burke was hired. He has built a team that will be a serious contender in the coming decade if Nonis and the suits upstairs don't screw it up and break-up the magic that our forward lines have (Lupul-Bozak-Kessel, Frattin and Kadri, Grabovski and Kulemin). The young-ish tandem of goalies is only gonna get better with experience and the same goes for the defense corps (Gardiner, Holzer, Kostka, Rilley etc.). I think Phaneuf is a very good defencemen and is the most underrated player in the league (which is good because there is no temptation to trade him). The goon squad makes this team difficult to push around and Steckel, McClement and Komarov are as good as there is in their respective roles. The only piece I would add would be a center like Getzlaf that is amazing and smart and strong and has a cup behind him but only as a free agent. The only way someone like him will want to come to Toronto, however, is if they feel that Leafs may be a contender. These are crucial times though and if the Leafs fall off the cliff in the coming months as they have the last few years (and I still cannot not fear that happening) the whole project will become threatened as what makes or breaks this team ultimately I think is the ability to develop a culture of winning as opposed to the culture of losing that the big club has been nurturing for the last 45 or so years. This culture of winning is what Marlies experience has created and now it is time to do it on the big stage. If Carlyle's Leafs starts losing and our playoff hopes become jeopardized it may be time to give Eakins a shot.

  7. Totally agree about Kadri. His backhand dish that landed on a pillow for Kulemin was just another example of what this guy can do. He is a very sneaky player and I would add Marchand as another player he plays like. A very skilled pest.

  8. It's perfectly reasonable to not get ahead of ourselves, KiwiLeaf. But as you note, there are legitimate reasons to see hope not far off. Thanks for chiming in.

  9. Developing a winning culture can't be overlooked, leafdreamer, in terms of importance. You're right. If that is indeed happening (though it's hard to know that for sure at this point) then we might we might be talking about a new era in Toronto. We'll see.

  10. A lot of hockey people saw the skilled part in Kadri, ushaped. I wonder if they expected the pest component? Well said, thanks.

  11. “I’m not predicting.....” Even though you state and restate your non-prediction vast majority of your assertions, observations and comments have consistently promoted the idea of Leafs making playoffs. Similar to the concept of “constructive dismissal” are we witnessing a constructive prediction by you Michael Leafs will make playoffs? I for one believe so and don’t think less of you. I don’t believe if you “come out of the closet” with your prediction that you will occupy a special place in Hades if such a prediction falls short. I think it possible you are high superstitious and similar to anyone saying the word “shutout” minutes before end of game you do not want to jinx Leaf chances, lol.
    I’m more cautious, I need to see more than I have. Looking at games against Carolina (Feb 14th) and Tampa Bay (Feb 19th) and even though you asserted “the team’s flaws have not been exploited by opposing teams in the East” well they most certainly were during those two games (and lesser extent portions of most games). Clearly we witness a Leaf defense easily crushed with more aggressive and persistent fore-check. Currently 2nd in the league with giveaways and excessive defensive zone containment this clearly is a symptom of a lack of skill, lack of planning and or lack of execution on the part of defense and offense to effectively transition safely out of defensive and neutral zones. I’m also not sold on Reimer and Scrivens as long term solutions for a Leaf team to move forward to post-season play. Current save percentage (Leafs are 3rd with a team save percentage of .926) success IMO has been due to unsustainable compete levels in defensive team play, Reimer and Scrivens beneficiaries of “puck luck”, and opposition unobstructed difficulties in accurately hitting the net. Of course Leafs were going to improve in goals against department with Carlyle defensive mantra but I don’t believe with Reimer and Scrivens plus team defensive focus they can possibly sustain 16 points above league average in team save percentage. Still this is not necessary in order to make playoffs as well. Of course compensation for increase goals against could come from snake bitten Kessel (in scoring goals himself, he has proven an important factor in JVRs success) and Grabovski along with return of Lupul and Frattin.
    Look I’m of the conviction Leafs must achieve a certain level of success before we can begin to talk about playoffs for our blue and white. In my book, they are out of the playoffs until they have actually won sufficient number of games. Yes the East is “compromised” and “awfully mediocre” and Leafs are currently in the playoffs, but they still need to win 15 more games, they still need to execute while at times looking compromised and mediocre. Leafs hit 4 games over .500 a couple of times this campaign to then lose next game. I believe target level of success is based on finishing with 54 points (last season Ottawa got in with 92 points or 54 points over 48 games). In other words it’s not where they are in standings today but what they need at the end of 48 games. 54 points translates to 6 games over .500. Achieve 6 wins over loses then rest of season play .500 hockey you’re in. Hit my magic number and sustain or improve over 10 games then I’m with you Michael. Until that point I’m the cup half empty guy. You may consider me overly cautious, but this is not because of ghosts of Leaf past. It is because of a serious lack of top NHL stars in Leaf roster, league leaders are more consistent producers. Second and Third liners still produce, as we’ve seen, but with less consistency. This maybe the case of most teams in the East, but that does not comfort me, until Leafs out-work their competition and actually put up wins in sufficient numbers I will hold on to my skepticism.

  12. My 2/5 of a nickel (doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?;) is that Kadri is doing what he's doing because despite the rantings of Don Cherry about how much of an injustice it was that he was left in the AHL, Kadri has had the time he needed to learn his craft and grow as both a player and a person under Eakins on a Marlies team that went to the finals. Would that Schenn had had the same opportunity, although JVR is looking mighty fine for us in that trade. I am curious to see how they handle Reilly next season, no doubt Cherry will be howling again if he doesn't start the year in the NHL...

  13. Great (and very thoughtful) post, Walter. And no, I don't think you're being overly cautious. (And thank you as well for giving me a smile- I loved your reference to Hades. If I end up there, I recognize it will be for other indiscretions- not for predicting the Leafs may finally make the playoffs.)

    My sense from reading your thoughts is we actually share a similar view of where things are at. I posted late Sunday that this team's flaws have not yet been exposed- and I'm surprised opposing teams have not done a better job preparing for how this Leaf outfit plays.

    That said, maybe a lot of teams in the East are soft and don't like having to deal with playing against a club that finishes their checks as often as the Leafs do.

    I'm a bit confused but find it hard to ignore the results- so far.

    Thanks Walter.

  14. Your two pennies of input was worth it, Sean. My thing with Kadri, as I've said here forever, is that I didn't like the bouncing bad and forth like a yo-yo the last two years- especially being called up in the fall of '10 to be the offensive saviour. It made no sense. I wanted him to stay in the AHL and develop- which, as you say, he ultimately did under Eakins.

    Agree on Schenn. That was the opposite of how you develop a young defenseman properly, whatever some may think about his "flaws".

    Not anxious to rush Rielly into the lineup- but I won't be as upset a year from now when he is 19 going on 20 as I would have been this season had they kept him around.

    Thanks Sean.

  15. The "limit" is hard to predict. Just thinking that Lupul, Reimer, Frattin and Gardiner aren't playing makes me think we can be much better. But what if their returns takes away chemistry? What will happen to JVR? Where does Lupul play? Same with Frattin and who he replaces on a line. What will happen to our D pairings? Will they work well together? I beleive if things go as planned, the Leafs are top 10 in the league.

    Some things I didn't like: Our inability to set up on the power play (as I've "whined" here about before), Phaneuf isn't hitting anyone (he actually has taken some good hits lately), alot of failed clearing attempts and Kessel had e few good forechecking hits lined up and just glided by.

    Good stuff: of course Kadri, Grabbo and Scrivens (good athletecism to spread eagle post to post on that puck in the air everyone lost sight of) and MacArthur had some jump.

  16. Chemistry is always important, for sure, portguese leaf. Winning seems to create it, losing kills it, eh?

    Those guys (Lupul, etc.) should make the Leafs even better but as we know, it doesn't always work that way. You raise some 'red flags' and some of the good things we're seeing, too. (I also thought Grabbo had some jump last night.)

    The "limit" is impossible to predict, of course. We're all just guessing. But it's fun to discuss when things are going well. Thanks, portuguese leaf.

  17. i am cautiously optimistic. i feel the leafs (for once) are getting the 'good bounces,' both on the offense and in front of their own net (with the exception of holzer redirecting a shot into the net the other night).
    JVR has been fantastic... kadri and kessel are doing great. i certainly like what i see, and i'm hoping the lupul quickly finds his niche once he returns as well.
    i think it's far too early to say that this team is ready to mesh together for a playoff run, but there have certainly been more than glimpses of a terrific team recently. here's hoping it keeps up (and the team stays healthy).
    michael, any thoughts on gardiner still being out of the line-up?

  18. Randy Carlyle has brought stability to a Leaf team that had talent but little direction. They are finally all playing defense and are being held accountable for their play at both ends of the rink.

    Brian Burke made many good moves (and some not so good) during his tenure. His biggest mistake, in my estimation was in retaining Ron Wilson.Burke has, however, left us with a good stock of NHL caliber players and a number of legitimate prospects.

    Goal: James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have been all and more than we could have hoped for. Reimer's injury afforded us the opportunity to see that Scrivens could handle the job. Reimer and Scrivens are 5th and 6th in save percentage ahead of such luminaries as Rinne, Rask, Price, Lundqvist, and Luongo. Small sample size yes, but still better than expected at this stage of the season. Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya are decent prospects with the Marlies and Garrett Sparks (Guelph) looks like a keeper.

    Defense: The defense is certainly benefitting from a more defensively responsible forward corps. Carlyle seems to have settled on three stable pairings (Phaneuf-Holzer, Gunnarsson-Kostka, Franson-Fraser) with Liles and Komisarek in the press box. Adding three Marlies and benching two veterans seems to be a recipe for disaster but so far it has worked out very well. The Franson-Fraser pairing has been a revelation. Fraser is leading the league in +/-. and Franson is right up there. Sheltered minutes to be sure but they are thriving in their role. Fraser reminds me a little of Alexander Karpotsev of the 98-99 Pat Quinn Leafs. He was a big hard-nosed defenseman who led the Leafs with a +39 and like Fraser, kept the front of the net clear of opposing bodies.
    Defense is also a cause for future optimism with Gardiner and Blacker with the Marlies and Rielly, Percy and Finn in junior.

    Forward:The Leafs finally have some depth on the forward lines. Losing Lupul was a blow but Van Riemsdyke has more than ably filled in. Losing Frattin was another blow but McClement and sometimes Komarov have filled in ably. I have stated previously that I believe Kadri is a rising star. Carlyle is bringing him along beautifully and as he gains experience and his confidence grows I can see no reason for him not to assume the role of #1 centre. There is nothing written in stone that a #1 center must be a big man, a la Getzlaf, only that he is an elite player, capable of scoring and setting up his linemates.
    Prospects are not as deep as those of defence in the minors and junior but there are a couple of gems and some with good potential. Josh Leivo and Connor Brown are scoring at over a point a game in junior. Tyler Biggs and David Broll show some promise as power forwards. Tony Cameranesi and Dominic Toninato are showing promise playing NCAA college hockey in the States. Spencer Abbott is starting to play well for the Marlies. The cupboard is not bare but most of these players are at least two or three years away. it is fortunate that there is good depth with the big team.

    There were three burning questions at the beginning of this season; goaltending, team defense and the penalty kill. The Leafs have shown marked improvement in each of these.

    I am feeling very optimistic about this Leaf team, both because of their performance this season and their promise for the future. Make no mistake though, this is a work in progress. There will be setbacks and the progress will be gradual but I believe that they can make the playoffs this year and build on that success to become a legitimate contender in future seasons.

  19. My guess with Gardiner, Alex, is that they already have two veterans sitting and they see no need to mess with chemistry. If one guy falters over time, or there is an injury, I think we may see Gardiner- and he'll stay, if he plays the way Carlyle needs his defensemen to play.

  20. You absolutely hit the nail on the head with your breakdown, Pete Cam.

    Work in progress. Lots of good signs. Long way to go. But cautiously optimistic!

    Thanks Pete Cam.

  21. Love Kadri's work ethic and his work on the boards during that late PK last night. He's also done some serious back checking the past 10 games. We always knew his offensive skill was there. I'm just liking his total game and it will earn him more ice as time moves on.

  22. As I understand, it the Leafs will be in a quandry with Rielly next fall. They only have two options; send him back to junior or keep him with the Leafs. They will not be allowed to sign him to a pro contract and send him to the minors. I do not think he will benefit from another year in junior so I think there is a pretty good chance he will be with the Leafs.

    I don't think this would necessarily be a bad thing. He will get managed minutes under Carlyle and will not be thrown into the fire as saviour a la Schenn.

  23. It's hard to fathom the thought of trading Kadri along with others for Luongo now. What we would want to see is if his current pace can be maintained which is probable considering the low minutes, protective play and his AHL time during the lock out. So far so good but I am more impressed by his determination and willingness to work on his game. It's refreshing given his transformation from last year vs this year under Carlyle. Rarely do we see a Leaf prospect grow and with a ceiling yet determined even with this year's good plays. I like to think he has yet reached the pinnacle. Time will tell.

    I am actually more impressed with Scriven's play then that of Reimer's. His positioning is better, seems more comfortable and sure. Lacking though is concentration when he's not as busy in games and tend to dwell on mistakes. A little experience will help this I am sure. He likes work which seems to elevate his game. I am glad Scriven is making it harder for both Reimer and Nonis. No doubt, if the Leafs lands Luongo, they would be better but given the performance of the leafs goalies and Luongo's asking price, I don't think Nonis is seeking the deal now which is completely valid.

    I see the Leafs ending the playoff drought this year. Likely in the 6-8 position given their current roster and more importantly the absent of Wilson non-structured play.;). However, like many, I believe they can really improve their chances if they CAN trade for a legitimate number 1 center. As much as I like Bozak and Garboski, one of them will have to go along with something tangible in order to bring in said center. I'd prefer to keep Bozak he doesn't always disappear.

    I think we'd be dreaming if that is Perry or Getzlaf given the Ducks' likelihood of playoff play. The Leafs do have assets, in particular on defense. I predict Gunnerson, Lyles and Hotzer will be that tangible piece. Maybe even Franson which might be the price the Leafs will have to pay. I hope that's not the case though. Or perhaps a combination of the above. Komo is not going anywhere, we will not be that fortunate. No one will want him at that contract nor even perhaps Lyle's (Burke mistake X for signing him to an extension during the injury). I can't see Kotsa nor Fraser or Franson being displaced in the near future and we have Gardiner ready.

    All in all a good future ahead. It was good win last night after that Ottawa debacle. I haven't been so upset in a long time. Refs were absolutely terrible../rant

  24. No doubt Kadri will get more and more opportunities if he plays like this for Carlyle, ingy56. Thanks for chiming in today.

  25. I wouldn't have been happy to see it with Rielly this season, Pete Cam, but within the scenario you suggest, yes, it could work next season.

  26. Good stuff, Lukas. I'd be shocked if any team gave up a number-one centre at the deadline. Last night's loss aside, the Ducks have been strong this season so far and I doubt they will move their elite guys. They may try to sign them if they can, I would think, though losing Schultz last year may linger in their memory when they apparently thought he would sign with them. Thanks Lukas.

    1. If there is a trade for a center man, my thinking would be O'reily rather than someone from the Ducks' roster but at this point it would be somewhat of a lateral move. Argument can be made if that is really much of an improvement but the upside is there along with youth. Pure speculation on my part but I think the following would be reasonable:



      2nd round

      I think the biggest sticking point with Nonis would be O'reily willing to take 3.5-4 for 2 years and more concerning might be his character in this stand off. The hockey world is small and I think Nonis do view character is a big factor.

  27. Interesting, Lukas. I'll be watching to see how the Avs move forward with or without the young centre...