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The Leafs: standings—and performance-wise—are they better, worse, or about as you expected this season?

Sometimes memory is an elusive thing, so every once in a while we think we felt something months ago when in fact we were actually thinking and feeling something entirely different.  So let me test your memory today:  when you think back to how you felt when this NHL season finally got underway in January, did you think the Leafs would be:

  • Where they are currently in the standings
  • Higher in the Eastern Conference
  • Lower than they are now

When it comes to their actual performance, the same question.  Are they, overall, playing:

  • As you expected
  • Better than you expected
  • Worse than you thought they would

Heading into the weekend, the Leafs will be 6th in the Eastern Conference, I believe, with a record (after the shootout loss in Buffalo) of 16 wins, 12 losses and 2 OT losses.  That gives them 34 points and from my perspective, they are certainly higher in the standings than I thought they would be, and they are absolutely playing better in most areas than I anticipated. 

(With regard to the Buffalo game, far too much happened to cover it all.  Brilliant moments—and also numerous eye-popping breakdowns at both ends.  There were so many breathtaking plays—some were just about playing hard (e.g. Gunner), some were about hustle (e.g. Kessel saving a late icing call), some were all about skill (Kadri) or guts (van Riemsdyk hobbling around yet creating havoc on the 4-4 goal). Both teams showed some of their best - and worst - traits.

It was alarming and breathtaking all at once—take your pick of the big moments.

Along the way, Reimer was Reimer, giving up goals early but shutting the door late.  He made some big-time stops late in the third to ensure an important point.)

I could cite any number of flaws in their play (they still give the puck away too much, lose focus and concentration, etc.), but I also think they have shown vast improvement in key areas.  I believe the goaltending has largely been better.  (Not always staggeringly good, but good enough to keep us in an awful lot of games.) We have all seen how strong the penalty kill has been (though they did give up some power player goals Thursday night, which was out of character for this team).  They are edgier and finish way more checks that the other side “feels”, if you know what I mean.  Komarov has certainly helped in that regard.  (I don’t know what Komarov’s status is after he was hurt in the second period. After Orr was tossed early and Komarov was injured, the Leafs largely played with three lines as the game went on...)  They are harder to play against most nights.  No one looks forward to playing the Leafs now, because they hit more and yes, they have guys who can fight.

The McClement factor has been huge, too. Mark Fraser has given us a strong, smart and physical  presence on the third defense pair with Franson.  That sure doesn’t hurt.  (Fraser is still a plus 17.)  Kadri has emerged as the most dangerous guy on the ice for the Leafs just about every night.  (Heck, just about every shift, it seems.)  And that’s saying something on a team that has Phil Kessel flying around as much as he does.  The opposition can’t have their shutdown defense pair on the ice against both their lines.

On that note, I’ll say this about Kadri:  you want to get a guy going?  Play him with Kadri—Frattin.  MacArthur.  Kulemin.  Lupul.  They have all benefitted from being on a line with the Leaf center with the sneaky moves and high-end vision.  You put Orr out there with Kadri, the line makes plays.  He’s making a believer out of a lot of guys.  (I’m not comparing him to Dave Keon, but like the former Leaf captain, Kadri draws a lot of penalties against the opposition, another sign of a guy who rattles the other team.)  He‘s a player who is fully benefiting from the emphasis on skill over size and also the fact there is less traffic in the neutral zone than there was some years ago.  He is free to roam and make those instinctive plays, without being constantly impeded.

As I said to someone here in the comment section this week:  beyond saying here often that Kadri was in trade talks off and on the past two seasons while he was being shuffled back and forth between the Marlies and the big club (and I still believe that was the case, whatever may be denied publicly…) I’ve consistently stated two other things here about the young center: I didn’t like the yo-yo he was on, and I didn’t like the public criticism every time he made a “mistake”. If you see my earlier posts, I said many times:  just let him play.  You cannot play with a piano on your back, and he’s finally being allowed to play his game.  And yes, the Eakins influence, plus maturity, strength, it’s all part of his becoming the player the Leafs were hoping for. (And as I used to ask: why was he playing the wing before? I always thought of him as a centre.)

But Kadri aside, this team has survived key injuries to Lupul, Gardiner, Reimer, Frattin and if they haven't always thrived, they have certainly survived. 

But what about you?  Are they where—and what—you expected?  Be honest about what you thought back in early January.  Now, more than 30 games into a sprint-to-the-finish NHL season (this year is like a short-track NASCAR race), what do you think about the questions I posed above?


  1. Slightly ahead of where I expected.

    I thought the kids from the Marlies would provide a boost. I liked Fraser, Kadri, Fratin, Scrivens and Kostka but I had no idea that Kadri would be blooming into the top 20 in the league.

    I though they would succeed in a different way. I thought Lupul and Kessel would have a similar performance. Grabo would produce like a 65-70 point player and Kadri would play ok on the third line at 40-45 point pace if this was 82 games.

    I thought JVR might breakout and play at a 50 point pace if this were an 82 game season ....instead he is more like a 65 point pace with almost 40 goals.

    Lupul's injury has changed things but the kids have filled in very well.

  2. Thanks DP. The kids certainly have made a difference. I do wonder if we'll have enough veteran leadership come playoff time, but so far, we are competing in the East.

  3. I didn't want to 'expect' Kadri to be all he has become and am pleasantly surprised to see him displaying his potential to the present degree! I did think Komisarek would have a bounce back year and thrive with Carlyle...

    Therein lies the reality of my assessment of a moderately successful bubble team that I believed would be on the right side of the bubble. The only problem with my assessment was that it was for different reasons than I had anticipated.

    Before Burke departed, I thought we'd see Lombardi, Connolly and Komi played and proven to be 'trade worthy' and that we'd get some more picks and prospects as a result. I expected to see the kids more as those guys were 'culled'. Burke departs - plans change!

    I'm glad things are being done the way we've seen (and we already have a pick for Lombardi... perhaps there's still hope for the other two as the deadline approaches, though now, I suspect salary retention will happen for both, but that's okay, if we use the cash to stock the cupboards a bit more for the future).

    I did expect a better PK along with overall improvements in defensive awareness that would translate into better goaltender save percentages. I'm glad the pressure to be spectacular has been removed from Reimer and Scrivens, so we can see them grow into their craft and gain some experience on a team that's growing together.

    I'm not surprised that we find the Leafs where they are in the standings... I am surprised about some of the reasons!

  4. Interesting, InTimeFor62. My guess is a lot of Leaf fans were expecting things to unfold differently. Not necessarily where we are in the standings, but how and why. You're not alone.

    I think it would be a feather in a lot of people's caps if we could make the playoffs with the two goalies so few Leaf fans wanted as "number one" in the off-season.

  5. the leafs are where i thought they would be, fighting for a playoff berth. the big surprise is Kadri, who thought or knew he would be this good? [Don Cherry I suppose!] I never saw anything in his game that would suggest he was this skilled,the best player on the ice most nights. Just imagine if they had traded him away for Luongo or some other stop gap measure! Proof to stay the course and be patient with young players,Kadri is only 22,not close to his prime yet. When the young talent all comes together this team will be very good. Look at Montreal, they have gone from the basement to a top team in one season. It can happen quickly in the NHL

  6. Btw Michael Cody Franson is another example of patience and opportunity. His confidence must have been shot the end of last year but look at him now.Playing great especially on the pp. I read this morning he is a plus 17, wow!

  7. I will say the team is more or less where I thought they would be in the standings. Although certainly not with they players I thought. Two, maybee three Marlies in the mix, but I (and almost everyone else I'd guess) didn't think we'd have 5 or 6.

    As for the way they are playing, I'd say they are better in the 40 or 45 minutes a game they don't break down and almost forget what the coach wants from them, and worse than I expected in the 15 or 20 remaining minutes.

    Last year until the wheels came off (all 18 of them as Burke said) we were pretty consistent. Then tragedy. This year tragedy strikes just about every game, sometimes we hold off the opposition for the win and other times (like last night) we get just about run over.

    I don't know if I heard correctly last night, but the Leafs are 1st in turnovers, 60 ahead of the 2nd place team? Could that be? If so, wow.

    It´s just very frustrating to watch constant good games by our guys go south because of some poorly played minutes and mental breakdowns. Where would the team be had they not broken down so many times this year and held on to those games they should have won?

    Will there be any Kadri sweaters left for people to buy in the offseason? I hope he just continues on his path. If he does... who knows.

  8. Good points all, purch. The Montreal example is another fair one. I scratch my head about where they are in the standings, but obviously I've not been aware enough of their player development in recent years to fully appreciate the job they've done. (Does this mean Gauthier did a better job overall than he was given credit for...? Folks a lot closer to that scene would have to answer than one.)

    Kadri has excelled, for sure. Nonis has been clear from the moment he took over: the Leafs will not deal promising young players for, as you put it, stop-gap measures. Thanks purch.

  9. That's an interesting way to put it, portuguese leaf. As you describe the team, they are actually less consistent than they were in the early going a season ago, but play better as a team in spurts. That may not be far off at all.

    Why the mental breakdowns and lax play, when this team is otherwise pretty committed and smart with the puck? I guess that's one of those questions coaches lose sleep over trying to figure out. Same guys, same team. Very difficult outcomes from one moment to the next.

    Sure has made things more entertaining, though, than I thought they would be under Carlyle. Not for him, I guess, but certainly for us as fans. Last night's game was a great example. Thanks portuguese leaf.

  10. Agreed on Franson, purch. And I admit, I'm one of those who didn't much care when he wasn't signed just before the season signed. My bad.

  11. Coming into this season I expected the Leafs would be an improved team, but it was difficult to assess by just how much. Standings-wise I was anticipating they would be knocking at the door for a playoff birth, but their fate would depend on a couple other teams also vying for the last two playoff spots.

    You've mentioned several times before Michael, that you thought some of the Eastern Conference teams were weak, and thus the Leafs would be in a good position to make the playoffs. Well, I think even you would agree that several teams have surprised most everyone with their performance and current position in the standings. You don't have to go any further than Montreal and New York. Who would have thought! I doubt anyone is surprised by Pittsburgh or Boston, both of which we expected would be high in the standings. As for Ottawa, I expected them to be better than last year and thus almost a sure thing for the playoffs. However, once they lost Spezza and Karlsson, I thought their chances of making the playoffs were gone. Most knew they had player depth in their organization, but I certainly didn't think they could make up for the loss of two star players (not to mention other significant injuries). I'm shocked they have held a playoff spot, and that team scares me going forward. They are going to be a strong team for many years.

    As for the Leafs play, there have been several surprises in my opinion. I thought Kadri would play well this year, but certainly he has surpassed my expectations. The kid has matured into a gifted play-making center, and he's learned how to play well at both ends of the rink. Who knows just how good a player he may become.

    McClement and Komarov have surprised me as to the impact they would have on this team. Both excellent additions. Fraser as well has been a pleasant surprise. I pegged him for maybe a 7th or 8th defencemen, whereas some nights he has played like a 4th or 5th D-man.

    On the down side, I have been pretty disappointed with Bozak. Coming into this season I was hoping we might see some improved 2-way play from him, with the team stressing a more defensive system. He has moments when he plays well, but his play is inconsistent, and he serious limits the effectiveness of that first line. It is time to separate Bozak and Kessel. We know Bozak is not a #1C, yet he has played almost exclusively with Kessel (the team's best sniper). The two are close friends now, and even room together. Bozak's future with the team is questionable, especially being a UFA at year's end. Kessel has another year in Toronto, and hopefully wants to re-sign in Toronto.

  12. The one thing I do hope is that Carlyle gets Colton Orr playing smarter hockey.

    I like Orr's toughness, but it doesn't do any good if he gets kicked out of the game over Kaleta. The result: Scott feels free to slash Kessel, they both go off (Buffalo will take that trade every time) and Buffalo scores on the 4 on 4. I pin some of that loss on Orr. They needed him even more when Komorov went down. The team was playing with three lines and looked tired.

    Paros didn't do that sort of thing in Anaheim, so I hope Carlyle can set Orr straight on playing smarter hockey.

    If not, let's hope Biggs or Broll develop really quickly and one steps forward to play better fourth line mintes.

    1. It's because of Orr getting kicked out that Scott feels free to slash Kessel? What about McClaren or Fraser? I thought they were supposed to be tough guys who made other players fear cheap shotting Leafs? Isn't that the point of having three facepunchers in the lineup so if one doesn't get you the other two will? That whole incident illustrates the complete and utter uselessness of goons. How do they protect anybody if they can't play more than 3 minutes a night? Answer they don't, they just take up space that better hockey players could be using.

  13. Hi Michael

    There are a lot of surprises this season. The personnel changes, the Rangers, Capitals and Flyers playing so poorly, the Senators or Montreal playing so well. Burke being fired so early and Luongo didn't get traded to the Leafs. I didn't think Kadri would have been the traded for Luongo though. That said, I didn't think he would play at such a high level this year and the best leafs on most nights. I also didn't expect Kessel to struggle so much at the beginning and Gabbo practically disappear most nights. I didn't think Komo would not fit into Carlyle's system or that Fraser is the stud that Komo once was or Lupul missing so much time or Franson so steady and on and on.

    My expectations were that they would be better though standing wise, they are where I thought they'd be. But that on the account the above didn't happen. Weird that my expected result overall is still the same with so much variations.

    There are so many positives this season and yet so many disappointments too. There are times when you see things working but frustratingly never all 60 minutes.

    I really think this team still lack unity and PASSION aside from a hand full of players. Hopefully last night was something that united them much like the Canadiens were when they got beat 6-0 by the leafs. (Gorges taking on McClaren did a lot for them - check their record since)

    If I wasn't sold on Fraser before I am now after last night. I loved how he set the tone on Kaleta in response to a run at Gunnerson if I am not mistaken. Orr should have been smarter about taking on Kaleta though. Team toughness and unity is not just one or two players - See Boston, it is everyone and that was something nice to see.

    Passion is what drives everything. The desire to win the little battles. The willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. The unyielding strength in the face of obstacles. There are still many on this team that lacks this characteristic and is so evident in those that do.

  14. The goaltending has had a few hiccups the last few weeks (albeit against some pretty good teams and a streaking Jets team). However all in all Reimer and Scrivens' play this year has brought us from laughing stock to slightly higher than average. I think we owe them a lot of credit especially since Burke was endlessly mocked in many corners for his "real deal" comment re: Reimer

  15. You are right about the Eastern standings, Don (TML_fan). Surprises on both ends of the scale. I do wonder if some (credit to them, however) of the "success" of the Habs and Sens ,as with the Leafs, is that the Conference just isn't very good overall. Lots of good players but parity has struck in full force, which often means mediocrity.

    It will be very interesting, as you note, to see where Bozak ends up- here, or elsewhere, and the impact, if any, that that has on Kessel.

    McCLement and Komarov, for sure. Thanks Don.

  16. Passion and sacrifice: you just used the words that mean so much in sport, and certainly in hockey, Lukas.

    Even those of us who aren't "in the room" or haven't "played the game" at that level understand a bit about the absolute commitment it takes to survive at that level, much less be successful. It's hard to win, and especially so if not everyone is "on board".

    I acknowledge Fraser has a role. I don't like useless fights, but we can't let our guys be pushed around, either, as DP and you have noted today. (Ott is a guy I would like here; he plays with passion, but even there, he took two penalties which led to Leaf goals last night- he cost his team. You have to know that fine line, and like Orr, he maybe crossed it last night...)

    Great post- thanks Lukas.

  17. Very fair point, travisbarmour. The goalies have done about as much as we could ever ask. (Those who follow this site know my stand on Reimer.)

    As for Burke's comment and the subsequent reaction, people probably reacted because he made too many other blustery comments that could not hold water in his time here. In this case, Reimer has played pretty well. I hope he has a tremendous future. But I won't predict more than that.

    Thanks for visiting- and for posting, travisbarmour.

  18. Well I have to say I had them pegged as a bottom three team this year. I probably over reacted to the Burke firing thinking that the team was going sideways. Credit is due to Carlyle and Nonis for just running a hockey team without all the drama. That has helped a lot I think. They make personal moves without calling press conferences and generally just keep a much lower profile creating a much calmer and drama free playing zone.

    Other than that this team is probably ahead of where I oringinally though they would be. I still don't think they are a playoff team and I still am not comfortable declaring them one. I feel they benefitted from some surperb goaltending before Riemer got hurt and a lot of luck. Since his injury goaltending has been average at best and the record reflects that. I fear that the worst possible thing may be unfolding before our eyes. Yet another finish in 9-11 place. No playoffs and another mid round draft pick.

    As for players Kadri really sticks out for me. I admit I wouldn't have been sad too see him traded although I was more ambilavent than anything. As for team play they have been about expected. As Michael is so fond of pointing out, they play in the woeful Eastern conference although Boston, Montreal and Piuttsburg are far and away much better teams than he sometimes gives credit to. All three of these teams would smoke Toronto in a series. Overall they are still pretty bad defensively (8 of the last 11 games have seen 4 or more goals against, that's really bad), they can score and are more physical. The same glaring holes excist though, they need another center with size who can score and they need at least 1 more top 3 preferably top 2 dman. Gunnarson is all right as a stop gap but they need another big guy to play with Phanuef. I am not saying Bowmiester in Calgary but someone like that who can play 25-27 minutes a night. Unfortuantaly, those are few and far between.

    Really the Leafs are right in the mix for 6-11 place, which is probably about where they should be. They had a great start and have fallen back fairly drastically in the last 3 weeks or so. At the start of the month they were challenging for first in the division now they are on the bubble with most teams under them having games in hand. These two games against Boston could make or break them. If they loose both, then they have 1 win in the last 10 and are probably on the outside looking in. If they split or win both they have stopped the bleeding and greatly enhanced their chances. Big weekend, we'll see what the Leafs are made of. They just can't loose both games.

  19. I couldn't agree with TML_fan more. I knew McClement would improve the PK. I believed the hype with Leo Komarov, and it's turned out to be true. He's a gritty guy the Leafs have lacked. I was skeptical of the JVR trade. Schenn is still young and could be the better guy long term, but right now we look like winners in the that trade. Carlyle has proven to be experimental with the D, giving long looks to many guys. They were super cautious with Gardiner's concussion and I think he's still feeling out the pairings...but overall the D is eerily reminiscent of last years (Franson is a pleasant surprise, as is Fraser most nights). I'm a little perplexed with Carlye's insistence of having 2 goons on the bench most nights. I shouldn't be - I know it's his M.O. to keep one in the lineup for sure....but the Leafs could ice a good 4th line with McC-Leo-(Hamilton maybe?). I actually think Orr could be a 4th liner (his skating has improved, and can forecheck), but he takes dumb penalties and most of his fights are staged or have little impact. I wish he'd learn that to play physical/tough doesn't necessarily equate to fights. Now on Bozak.... I like him. I think he's likely a good team guy. He's great on the draws. However...he cannot drive possession. When that line is on the ice they are in their own zone for the most part, and most of their offense is of the quick rush variety, led by Kessel, and Bozak just can't fly with #81. He fits in better as a 3C/faceoff specialist. I'd like to see Grabbo with Kessel. JVR in front of the goal, and Grabbo in the corners and on the boards...Kessel finding the openings. I think it could work. Another of the pleasant surprises this year is Kessel's playmaking. Many of his passes are highlight reel quality passes... I'm cautiously optimistic. They have about the same record this year as they did last through 31 games. That's a little scary...

  20. Hey Michael,

    Only caught the overtime and shootout last night but from what I saw I was disappointed in the fact that bozak had two chances in front of miller to get the win in overtime but couldn't execute. These days bozak leaves me disappointed more often than not, I'm not sure why carlyle doesn't put him on the 3rd line and grabo with kessel.

    The leafs have definitely done better than I expected, I was one of those rooting for a top pick thos summer. But that said with both big Anaheim forwards off the market, what are our options for improvement for next year at forward?

    Surprises? Kadri and franson and scrives

    Scarb anon.

  21. I always appreciate your frankness, Willbur. I know I repeat myself but the East is not that strong. I'm just pleased that the Leafs are competitive enough to be serious about a playoff spot.

    Long-term, some of the past issues we've discussed here still stand: a big, physical center (Kadri has been outstanding but that's not enough up the middle...); a stud "d" man, a bit more toughness and true, veteran leadership. And we'll see about goaltending!

    But things are looking better, at least. Thanks Willbur.

  22. Really good post, JB. All I will add is we all probably have to put last year out of our minds! Every time we compare, we go a bit crazy, I think! Good stuff, thanks JB.

  23. People are really split on Bozak, Scarborough Anon. Sone love him, others not so much.

    Agree with you on the 'surprises'. Thanks for chiming in today!

  24. I know the playoffs look like the holy grail, I'm just not sure it is actually the best thing for this club moving forward. If they do miss then what we have is a team spinning their wheels. Since the last lockout is is almost impossible to trade for a young stud player (Kessel aside, and I'm not sure he is a stud, all-star yes, stud no). Teams are locking up all their good young players to long contracts and most don't even hit free agency anymore. The only way to get that number one center is to draft him. I think Kadri maybe on his way to that but I'm not sure. Adding a Mackinon or a Druin to this team would be the final piece. With Rielly on the way and Gardiner here this team is getting close, so very close.

    Ps I absolutely agree with you about the East. It is not real good compared to the West. I just want the Leafs to be one of those elite teams, not a Carolina or a Tampa Bay, where one year they are good and then the next they suck. I don't want them to perpetually be a bubble team which is what they have been since the last lockout.

  25. Well, the good news about comparisons to last year is that we would have made the playoffs if it had been half a season! This year.. still up for grabs.
    To today's question, we're playing better than I thought we would, so far. I figured this would be a "gimme" year for Carlyle, as we've often mentioned, so missing the playoffs was a distinct possibility as we made the moves necessary to making us a contending team. I guess it still is a possibility, but it feels as if we're on the way to being a contender. I think we'll know one way or the other by the end of the month.
    There have been some pleasant surprises. I don't know how many of us could have predicted the success of Franson, Kadri, Komarov and Fraser. They've been awesome. McClement has been everything promised and more. I'm eagerly awaiting Lupul's return - he adds a dimension we sorely need.

  26. I just feel and hope that the playoffs would show the young Leafs what they have to be to compete at that time of year, Willbur. It's not essential that they make it, but it will dampen Leaf fans' already sagging spirit even more if they don't. I agree a 9th place finish would not be good.

    Drafting will continue to be key, for sure. They'll have to make what picks they do have, count. They do have some young guys on the way who can play, as you note. Unfortunately, even middlish teams like Tampa Bay have three or four elite players. We'll need even more than that, it seems. Thanks Willbur.

    1. Although many thinks that this year is a luxury for both Carlyle and Nonis to evaluate the team and playoff is secondary, I disagree. This team barring a few selected FA and trades, has Nonis' finger print all over it too. I just don't think the market really are that forgivable for another year of non-playoff hockey. We're not talking about a completely new front office and coaching staff here.

      The ramification can be huge both at the corporate level and on-ice personnel. As much as people are so quick to malign Kessel and his 2 firsts and a second baggage(and no one in their infinite wisdom would have predicted a second overall and that turned out to be Sequin), I am not so sure if we would not lose him if playoff is not in the picture soon. As any competitor will tell you, losing only can be tolerated for so long. By the time the Mckinnon or Druin or whomever of the world is ready to contribute, Kessel will be in his 27-28 years old and likely would have to be traded. The Leafs will not be getting 2 firsts and a 2nd back especially when he has not elevate the leafs into a playoff, so you get some assets back and then what wait for Druin or Mckinnon and rebuild?

      Lupul will will be 33 and Phaneuf will be 30. Yes they should still perform at a high level, but then you still lack other pieces because you lost Kessel and that elite scoring talent in the trade. So now you need a scorer like Kessel to compliment elite center you now have. Remember Sundin?

      At 21-22, would this guy even in the position to push to Leafs into a real elite team? Will he even be the elite center at that young age or a Daigel? Even if these guys turns out to be a Toews, most importantly, people assume you will win the lottery and actually get to draft him.

      A perpetual rebuild is not going to be accepted in the Toronto market. Let's not forget this is the 7th year of non-playoff hockey. I think This team NEEDS to make the playoffs this year. There has to be elements of hope because the revolving door has to stop. Otherwise you will eventually lose the talents you already have. This team is as it stands will not survive another rebuild. There is a lot of decent talent here and they have already show that they can compete. The next level will require Nonis to make it happen and I don't think it will be through the draft. The Leafs are not that lucky.

    2. But the reply to that is maybe realize that with the the top guys we have this team really isn't that close. If you decide to trade Kessel your looking for a team's top two prospects that are NHL ready right now. With Rielly here next year and a whole year of Gardiner, along with Kadri, Frattin, the two top prospects and the top pick this year that would be your true core going forward. That is a team that with Phanuef on the back end is ready to compete next year.

      Top picks espicially top 10 picks don't fail in today's super scouted NHL. They may not become the superstar everyone hopes but almost every single one goes on to a productive, servicable NHL career. Top 3 picks almost always turn out to be what they are projected to be. Interestingly, your pick of a bust Daigle is now over 15 years in the past. This team doesn't need a rebuild but more of a tweaking. I just don't want to see them miss this year, suffer another mid round draft pick (which are much more hit and miss than top 10) and then be in the same boat next year.

    3. I am not sure what your definition of close is but assuming it's championship then I agree 100%. What I want to point out is that Kessel for all warts is currently 25 years old has a track record that has produced 11, 19, 36, 30, 32 and 37 goals seasons since coming out of the draft. In the two years that he was in the playoffs he had 15 points in 15 games. In terms of scoring, he has done everything asked of him. You mentioned top prospects. What are your returns for this elite scorer?

      I know what I've got in Kessel, the question is what will I get in the 2 top prospects? Now would I take Sequin, Hamilton and Knight? No question but you cannot say Kessel is not the core. He is not just top 6 but IMO top 3. I am not sure why some are so down on him. He is what he is and I can only believe it is because of the ultimate cost that it took to get him to Toronto.

      As much as I like Frattin, he is also 25 years, yet has 26 only points in 72 games with 15 goals. He has an upside but nowhere near the skill that Kessel possesses nor the history. How is he the core yet Kessel isn't?

      The reason I chose Daigle as an example is because he was the "no miss" 1st overall pick. How about Patrick Stephan or Rick Depietro? Look at the link below and you can find many top 10 picks that have failed. Some more eloquently than others

      I understand where you are about just missing the playoffs and not getting real talents in return and I would not like to see that either. Like you I see the coming of Reily (even with all the hype) and Gardiner, all to the betterment of the team but I also see that when they do, the leafs can afford to lose other multi mid to high level talents in order to procure a real center. Or if we are truly lucky we may be able to send Bozak, McAthur, Lupul, Gabbo or whomever and get what Boston got from us.

    4. The reason Frattin is considered core going forward is because he is much cheaper than Kessel and probably not going to price himself out of Toronto in the near future but still play in the top 6.

      I like Kessel and recognize he is a superb talent. However, he has been here for 4 going on five years now. What have the Leafs ever won with him in the lineup? They have never made the playoffs with him and he is a free agent after next year. Will you pay him Corry Perry money after next year? Is he going to be worth what he can command as a paycheque? For all of Phil Kessel's talents he has never won anything. If you pay him north of 8 million after next year is he going to be worth it or will we have Komisarek times 100( a player the fan base howls at because he doesn't live up to expectations of a big pay day)? It is not Kessel's fault the Leaf's wasted 4 years of him. However, the fact is they did. They are not going to win this year, but they do have a very good young group of players coming and if they get two players who are ready to play next year or the year after they would be in better shape in my opinion.

      Is it fair to Kessel to expect him to become an all around player just because someone is going to pay him a butt load of money? Not at all but as they say life aint fair. The reason the Leafs are where they are at right now is because Burke mis-read how good the team was 4 years ago. Let's not make that same mistake again. Unfortunately, the window on Kessel's oppurtunity as a Leaf is closing but they are going to be good 2 years from now. I firmly believe this.

      For what it's worth I have never been down on Kessel. I think he is very good at scoring goals but he is not going to be worth what it will cost to keep him after next year. The time is now to maximize the return on him and set the team up for down the road. Will it hurt, your damm right it will but this team as currentlty constructed cannot win in the playoffs and will be life and death to actually make the playoffs period.

      Ps both guys you also point out (Dipietro, Stephan) were also drafted over 10 years ago. I'm not saying busts don't happen, or that guys don't live up to billing. I'm just saying that is less frequent now and the top of every draft is usually pretty sound. A top 5 pick is a pretty good indicator of an NHL player. Secondly, you never trade for a top center unless they are past their prime. Thornton was the last top guy in his prime that was traded and how long ago was that? Before him I can think of Sundin. Basically the only way to get a number one center in his prime is to draft one. The best way to get that franchise center is to have a top 3 pick.

    5. Frattin is a lot cheaper because he is not remotely in the same league as Kessel. There are no comparison talent wise. You have a pure scorer vs a potential power forward. Until Frattin can score 30 goals consistently, he can't compare. Whether or not he will price himself out is pure speculation.

      In the four years kessel has been here it is true the leafs hasn't won but is this all on him? In the last 3 years Sundin was with the leafs, they didn't win either. Team success is not one player and should never be burden on one. Gretzky never won in LA or new york either. I am not going t o speculate how much he will get at free agency but do you really think gabbo should be making more than what kessel is getting? Honestly, how much over paid is phaneuf? As much as I like phaneuf, he is seriously overpaid by comparisom so by rationale he can't be part of the core either. IMO no players in the NHL should be making that kind of money but the market dictates.

      If your prerequisite is a young elite and consistent player, how does Kessel not fit into the core? It seams what Burke misread was the high price paid and not the talent regarding Kessel. As for playoff is concern, how is a point per game pace sound? This is A top 3 player. He can play on any teams first line. With that in mind, you'd trade this player for 2 potential players or picks? Logic dictates if that were true, every other team would trade a first line player for what youre suggesting but don't as you said it yourself. That said if you can guaranteed a 1 or second overall, then there would be some consideration which hackens back to the original deal.

      We lost out but we also got a pretty damn good one in return and would be pretty hard to replace.

    6. I'm not comparing Frattin to Kessel. I've said all along the Kessel is a very good player. I specifically said the Kessel was NOT to blame for the Leaf's failure to win. The fact is though the Leaf's wasted his 5 years here. They have a hard descion to make regarding his future. Right now his trade value is at it's highest since he has one year left. Next year his value will go down because he would UFA at the end of the year. Do you keep him, find out he isn't going to resign and then trade him for way less or risk loosing him for nothing? I'm not saying trade him for picks or mid prospects. I said for two NHL ready players right now.

      To me Kessel is a complmentary piece not a building block. Put Kessel in a situation where he is the third option and he would excel but you can't build a team around him (the Leaf's have tried for 4 years) because he is a one dimensional player. Kessel will command well north of what he is making today what I am asking is that price worth it? The market dictates the price as you said but Nonis gets paid to determine if price is worth it to Toronto.

      I don't care what other players make. So what if Grabovski is over paid, so what if Phanuef is overpaid? Just because they are doesn't mean you should hamstring the team going forward with another bad contract.

      Yes it is pure specualtion that Kessel will price himself out of Toronto. That is why Nonis gets paid the big bucks. To be able to project what this team will be in 2-3 years down the road.

      As for Burke misreading the situation, it had nothing to do with Kessel. It had to do with the rest of the team. He thought they were better than they were and so he made the deal thinking it would put them over the top. It didn't because the team wasn't as good as he thought and it set them back at least 5 years.

      Lastly, I think your talking to Michael about the playoff performance. I will note one thing though, his point a game record is good. The fact the Julien benched him, not just beched but didn't even dress for most of one playoff run isn't exactly a ringing endorsment either is it? Also note the Bruins won after they traded him. Is that his fault no, but you can't outright dismiss that it wasn't a factor either.

  27. We saw in the few games Lupul did play coming off an injures that he is still a difference-maker. The others you mention have been a revelation, indeed. Thanks Gerund O!

  28. I see what you are saying Lukas, and I recognize as well that others here (and elsewhere0 look at the Leaf picture a bit differently. And that's OK. All Leaf fans want the team to succeed- we just see how it might happen a bit differently.

    My point here the past few weeks is that I believe the Leafs can make the playoffs. Will they? I don't know, of course.

    Do they have to? Yes and no, in my view.

    I do believe this has been a year of experimentation for Carlyle. He wants to see what he has. He still has less than a full season under his belt behind the Leaf bench. He's still figuring out who can do what, who is a "must keep" and who can be traded for other needs.

    That doesn't mean, as I have also said, that he is not trying to win every night. He's not looking for a high draft pick. I understand that many fans see that as the preferred option, but it may be the case that the Leafs can build around Kadri, Gardiner, Rielly and yes, Kessel (if he re-signs) and Lupul with a blend of draft picks, youngsters in the system, and some trades and judicious signings.

    I think deep down all Leaf fans want to see the team in the playoffs. Always building for the future is a dangerous thing. The pieces that look like a sure thing now can change, no question. Injuries, attitude, money. Pressure. The cap.

    I always look at Mike Comrie in Edmonton. A beloved "local" star who wanted too much, too soon. His career was never quite the same yet Oiler fans thought they could build around him, as I recall.

    I don't have the answers, I recognize that. None of us does. I do believe the Leafs are getting better. Are they truly close to being really good? That I don't know. Thanks Lukas.

  29. We Leafs fans are passionate. Of course we want them to succeed and do well but like many, I am also a realist. This team is competitive as I've posted many times and I truly believe they have the personnel to make the playoff and I believe that they will given the structure play so far. Time will tell obviously. Not even taxes sometime is guaranteed. At the same time, I am not delusional enough to entertain the idea that they will have a run like the 2012 Kings or the 1993 Leafs.

    I just think there are more aspects within an organization beyond superficiality and scoreboard based. We try to understand but speculate on a daily basis more often than not. I am not saying that I think Kessel would walk or be traded if there are no result this year but the chances are high and I just don't see how missing the playoff to gain a chance at a lottery will help or that winning the chance to select the pick will even happen, in addition to select someone that is a guaranteed elite.

    In the sport world, the variables are so against anyone to think that A+B will definitely be AB. What I see is that the Leafs needs to show results. They cannot take a lateral move much less regress. If Nonis and Carlyle doesn't think that being the case, I am not sure how he would be able to survive. another year.

  30. And I think where the Leafs are caught, Lukas, is they know it's important to show progress (and yes, make the playoffs) but they don't want to move legitimate youth for, say, a rental, just to get into the first round.

    To your Kessel point, I'm not suggesting he doesn't care, obviously he does. But he has not played for Team USA in the spring recently, and part of me wonders if he is happy collecting his pay and well, if the Leafs don't make it, he can live with it. I may be way off base. But I do question if he will look to go to a contender. He may well leave if he's not a fan of being in this market and all the "pressure" this market brings.

    I do see your point. I'm just not absolutely certain it applies to Kessel as much as it might to some players. We'll see!

  31. Hi Lukas, I'm not sure if you are chatting with Willbur or myself. For my part, I don't see myself as down on Kessel- probably more that I'm not sure, as I've said here before, what kind of playoff performer he will be when the intensity is sky high. And despite what his agent has said, I'm left wondering how happy he is in Toronto. But as I said, I could be wrong.

  32. Agreed with the rental issue. I am in no way advocate to sacrifice any core area or good youth but also think that within reasons, they can entertain the idea of moving some assets to get a little better. I think you'd agree we have a lot of middle of the pack players; those who are decent but are not elite. I can only think of 1-2 players on the Leafs that are bordering on it. Perhaps 1-2 that have the potential. With that, I think a lot of these above middle players or serviceable ones can be move for more favourable returns. The point of quantity for quality. The Fransons, MacArhurs, Bozak, Kulimens, Gabbos,Frattins, Gunnersons, etc. Good to very good serviceable players that might be very useful for some teams and in combinations could yield a great addition or potential addition.

    I am a believer that great trades are ones that benefit both teams. It's just needs that being addressed. The bottom line is I feel Kessel is still a core player and that I can't see a pure scorer in the Leafs system that can replace him. I don't see Kessel as someone who is wilting in the toronto universe and that the pressure is the reason for him wanting to depart but more of him losing faith in the team as the reason for wanting to leave thus the important of progress.

  33. I certainly believe we need to add to our elite talent, Lukas. Last season, I was not a fan of the idea of trading Kessel for Nash. For me, the idea would have been to bring in Nash to complement guys like Lupul and Kessel. But acquiring top players, as you well know Lukas, is not easy without giving up skilled young players and or very high picks.

    Nonis has the job of finding that balance. We'll see how this evolves.

  34. The team is definitely doing better than I expected.

    The goaltending - even though both lads have regressed towards the mean a bit recently after a smoking hot start - is better than I expected. As you know, Michael, I've always felt there was a slightly manic quality to the way many fans began hailing Reimer early after his promotion and i had no idea whether Scrivens' form for the Marlies was transferrable. Form this you can gather that my expectations were that we would have sub-par goaltending and they've been better than that.

    All the defense, Frattin and JvR have been better than I thought they would be; Grabo has been worse (though I'm reading a lot about Carlyle's use of him and some "advanced" stats that suggest that he's doing a great job, just not in the role we expected). Komarov, McClement and Kadri have been high points where I had no idea what to expect. The fact that, when the team is fully fit, two of those players could be on our fourth line, has to say something positive about the team.

    You ran an excellent post pre-season Michael about what the Leafs' culture ought to be and it, as ever, produced much interesting comment. I said at the time that the two things I wanted were (a) a line that made other teams go, "Damn, they're probably going to score now" and (b) an organisation of our lines that never gave the opposition an easy shift. While no one would have expected Kadri to be the source over some combination of Kessel, Lupul and JVR, I think we're doing OK at (a) and (b) isn't too far off. We're harder to play against than last year, that's for sure.

  35. I appreciate your approach to the question today, KiwiLeaf. It's a measured view of where the team, and certain players, are "at". We're edgier, we're more competitive. There is improvement by the kind of yardsticks that are important to an old-time Leaf follower like myself. There's more to do, yes, but progress nonetheless. Thanks, KiwiLeaf.