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24 hours later: sober reflections and 10 crucial questions around the Maple Leafs—and the future

To be honest, I’m not sure that 24 hours is really enough time to step back and assess what we have witnessed when it comes to the Maple Leafs for the past five months, since the 2012-’13 NHL season finally began in January.  But we can perhaps provide some preliminary thoughts and views as to what transpired (including in the playoff loss against the Bruins) and what next steps may be around the corner for General Manager Dave Nonis and the Leaf brass.


I just want to be clear on one thing about the Boston-Toronto series that just concluded:  I don't buy the "fatigue" argument when it comes to what happened at the end of Game 7 in Boston Monday night.  Of course the Leafs looked tired at the end.  Whenever athletes play that hard night after night (three games in four nights at that point, under playoff pressure) they're going to be fatigued.

So when things start to sleep away, you will appear very tired.  And when you give up a lead and momentum shifts in a big game like it did Monday night, you start to lose confidence and the other team suddenly sees their confidence go to their legs.  The Bruins were playing desperate hockey, throwing caution to the wind.  Many of you have been in big games as athletes yourselves, and you know that while you may have wanted to keep playing "offensively" in the situation like the Leafs were in, something inside you was telling you to be conservative and just "protect that lead" to get the the finish line.

Was it inexperience, then?  Sure, I suppose.  But believe me, I've seen good, experienced teams blow leads (in games and in series) at this level.  The Bruins have done it themselves a number of times.

"Analysts" and even we fans always feel a need to find a reason why something happened.  We have to call it something so we refer to it as a "collapse".  I look at it this way:  of course some mistakes were made.  But they Leafs played their guts out to the end.  If one of those Bruins shots hits Reimer or misses the net, we'd all be in seventh heaven and talking about how great the Leafs played in the series- and in Game 7.

You know what? Sometimes stuff just happens in games, good and bad.  Fortunate and unfortunate.

I'm not going to hammer the Leafs because the Bruins somehow found life in the dying moments of a 7-game series that the Leafs controlled a lot of the time.  If we want to look at who was tired, who was really "gassed", who was actually running on fumes, we could have looked at Chara (and many of the Bruins) until well into the third period Monday night.  That was a defeated, tired team.  But they live to play another day.  Go figure.

(One add-on thought:  it's funny how we have to categorize things and players.  Rask - who I thought played really well overall in this series, but not as good as Reimer - will now be called a "winner".  But how he played is no different today than if the Bruins had not scored three goals to tie things up in the third period. If they don't score those goals out of nowhere, Rask would not be a playoff "winner" today.  His actual performance did not change one iota.  Now, maybe if he had made a series of brilliant stops when it was a one or two-goal game, he would deserve that nod.  But again, he's a "winner".  Oh, well.


I’m not sure if I’m in a minority or a majority, but overall I really like the job Carlyle has done with the Leafs.  Oh, I could pick at decisions here or there, and he was part of the breakdown Monday night, yes, but I’ve always picked at coach decisions throughout my whole sport “fan” life.  Wondering about some of Carlyle's roster moves or in-game decisions is what fans do.

But on the whole, I think Carlyle brought a mentality to the job that helped to deliver the outcome I was looking for:  the Leafs still used their speed and skill this season, but became, in my view, much tougher to play against.  They weren't - and aren't - a team other clubs look forward to playing any more.

Too, they weren’t as dull as I had feared they might be.  Sometimes mistakes and turnovers were the order of the day, sure, but when it really mattered, against the heavily-favored Bruins, they went toe-to-toe in terms of skill, physicality, match-ups and game-planning.  And 24 hours later, I still believe the Leafs were the better team, and deserved to win the series.  That’s not sour grapes, simply an honest reflection.  The Bruins managed to win, but they needed every conceivable thing to go their way in the last ten minutes (including the Leafs not scoring into a yawning empty net) and overtime to do it.

So for me, Carlyle, especially considering he has not even had this group for a full 82-game regular season, has done a hell of a job.  Perfect?  Of course not, but he deserves the opportunity to lead this team for the foreseeable future.  And if that means Dallas Eakins leaves, so be it.  There will be another opportunity, if Dallas wants it, to coach this team some day.  Carlyle won’t be here forever.


Regular VLM readers know that I’m a Reimer guy, so I won’t go on about this topic.  I’ve liked the guy from the get go, on and off the ice.  I’m sure I had my doubts at times, but in my mind, he is the guy.  I posted here weeks ago that Carlyle needed to give him the reins—and ultimately, he did.  Reimer has progressed and while there are holes in his game, like all goaltenders, he can play.    He has “compete”, a will to win and he has guts.  I like Scrivens' battle make-up, too, but for me, the goaltending debate should be closed.  I’m always open to hearing another perspective, but you’ll know my thoughts going in on this one.

We saw Kadri emerge in a big way this season.  The creativity and smarts we knew were there.  The physical play surprised me.

Gardiner did not progress at times, because of injuries (he had been marvelous with the Marlies), but he certainly played at a high level against the Bruins, my longstanding reservations about a couple parts of his game notwithstanding. (There is still, not surprisingly, work to be done in those areas.)

Young Colborne got a shot in the last two games, and that experience should prove invaluable in the years ahead.

We saw Kessel handle the playoff pressure.  We saw Lupul take on a major leadership role.  Phaneuf silenced (most) of his critics, myself included.  (Though I will still admit to some questions…)

I’m not sure van Riemsdyk could have done a whole lot more than what he delivered both in the season and in the playoffs.  We needed a presence in front of the opposition net, and he gave us that, and some soft hands, too.

Guys like Mark Fraser played with heart all season long.  Who even expected him to be here?  Orr and MacLaren, while maligned by many, did their job, as much as some Leaf fans did not like having them in the lineup as often as they were.  But whether those critics want to believe it or night, they were in fact a part of the new Leaf identity—an identity we needed—that displayed itself by being a harder team to play against than it had been for almost a decade.


So here we sit, wounded after losing a series that was ours, against an opponent that deserved to be put away, finally.  The Leafs were "this close" to shedding the shackles and memories of the recent past when we simply could not seriously compete with the hated Bruins.  But at the same time, as fans, we know there is genuine hope as we close the door on another Leaf season.

Some of the young ‘cavalry’ is already here.  In the next year or two, you have to believe Morgan Rielly (not as a saviour, but as a guy with talent and passion who can play) will be on hand and will help change the face of our defense, though we will always need sandpaper, too, on the back end.

So some young guys are on the way.  Some young veterans gained playoff experience the last two weeks.  What’s next?


Maybe you can help me out with the following questions:

  1. As a UFA, where does Bozak fit?  (For me, if he is back at 3 million, great.  At 4 million I’m somewhat less inclined, though we were sure looking for a guy who could win a faceoff at the end of Game 7.  At 5 million a year, I can’t see him with the Leafs but who knows?)
  2. Do you actively start to work on extending Kessel this summer, to avoid the old problem of having an elite skill guy enter the final year of his deal un-signed? More importantly, perhaps, how high do you go—8 million a season?
  3. Is Reimer your guy, or are some in Leafland still of the view that Luongo (or someone else) would be the guy to take us to the promised land?
  4. Can I assume that, despite the suggestion by a major Toronto newspaper columnist last week, Phaneuf will not/sopuld not be traded?
  5. Who was your biggest Leaf surprise this season?
  6. Who was your biggest Leaf disappointment this season?
  7. Can you name a Leaf that you think doesn’t get the respect he deserves?
  8. We all saw Grabovski this season, and in the playoffs.  Some loved his regular-season efforts and thought he was simply poorly utilized by the coach.  Others saw it as not a good season for him at all.  Most would agree he played hard and well against Boston, despite the lack of goal production.  What do we do with Grabbo?
  9. Carlyle gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down from you?
  10. What Leafs, after watching them this season and through the playoffs, are now expendable and not core pieces moving forward?

There is a lot more to say, but for today, I’ll leave it there.

I may soon be taking a break from my writing here at VLM, or at least posting less frequently, so I look forward to any thoughts you might have.

Thanks to all, by the way, who took the time to follow my musings again this past season here at VLM.  I hope this site has contributed a little something to your days, and to your experience as a Leaf fan. You've certainly made this enjoyable for me.


  1. After 24 hours to reflect I must say I am getting more dissapointed than I was. This was a complete and utter choke job by a team as I have ever seen. It was last season's slow motion train wreck condensed into 10 minutes of one period and 6 minutes of overtime. I don't want to hear about how they gained experience blah, blah blah. Any good that came out of this year is totally and completely wiped out by the way they lost. Why is it that only epic heartache comes from cheering for this team? 50 years of utter failure and it gets condensed into one period last night.

    1. Bozak is the best centerman this team has. He is the only one who can win a faceoff. That said with Grabovski getting so much money Bozak is probably gone. A bad signing by Burke is going to haunt this team for another year. Bozak should be making 4.5 plus per year not Grabovski.

    2. Kessel should be resigned at whatever cost it takes. He had 4 goals this series and was a plus player. He is by far the best player on this team and if we get rid of him there is no way we can replace him. He is among the very best in this game. After listening to his comments after the game he seemed to be one of the few players who gets it. There are no positives that come out of loosing like this.

    3. Reimer is a legitmate number one. While I don't think he out played Rask (they were even) he wasn't the reason he lost. Does he have holes to fix, yes he does. His rebound control is bad and he needs to fix it. Overall I am completely sold on him coming back as the top guy.

    4. Phanuef is good but after this series I am leaning to him being number 2-3 not an elite guy. I don't think he had a good series and in fact was out to lunch on more than one occasion. This is on Maple Leaf management. They need to recognize he needs help at the top end and quit pretending he can play elite minutes because he can't. For all the talk of Chara being old and slow I would trade for him right now any day of the week over Phaneuf. Chara had 8 pints (yes 8), was a plus 6 and averaged 29 minutes per night. Phanuef had 3 points, was a minus 6 and averaged 25 minutes. who would you rather have?

    5. Biggest Leaf suprise for me was Kessel. To me he bacame an all around player this year. I knew he could score but that was all I thought he could do. He is the best passer, skater, and offensive talent this team has had in a long, long time. Better than Sundin in my opinion. I also sense a quite leader is being born not one who is rah rah but one who is do what I do. This loss hurt him badly and you could se it when he spoke. By far the best player they have.

    6. Grabovski. His play this was way below what I expected. I hope he picks his game up because his contract is going to cause us to loose Bozak. He needs to be better.

    7. Reimer. I'm sick and tired of hearing all the so called pundits talk about how can't win. Today a number of them on the radio were alluding to him being the problem last night. What a joke. He is a number one and his numbers support that.

  2. Here's part 2

    8. I don't agree that Grabovski had a good series at all. Sure he skated hard but so did Colton Orr. He is expected to score and he didn't produce anything. What's worse is he is supposed to be a defensive genius and he wasn't. Not only could he not score he couldn't stop the other team from scoring. He didn't step up when Bozak went down in fact he got worse over the last 2 games. Couldn't win a draw. How on earth do we get people saying he had a good series? 2 points, no goals, minus 10 and averages the third highest time on ice at 19 minutes. That kind of production for 5.5 million is simply bad. He is one of the main reasons Toronto lost. If you can't produce offensively you had better be great defensively (MaClement). He wasn't a whole lotta of wasted effort. Name one play where Grabovski made a difference in this series? You can't unless you count the defensive miscues that led to Boston goals.

    9. Like all year ambiliavent. He did some good things in this series and some bad things. I would like to know where he was during the last 10 minutes last night? Perhaps a time out somewhere to maybe slow momentum down? Instead I think he panicked right along with his team. I don't really care whether he goes or stays. The Leafs could do better but they could also do worse.

    10. Grabovski, Phaneuf, Lupul, Kulemin, Liles and MacArthur. None of them had good series in my opinion and all can be replaced. Lupul could be the centerpiece in a trade that brings us the number one center we so badly need. Phaneuf would be very hard to replace but what he brings to the table is not justified by what he is payed. The rest are just pieces to be used as trade bait to make us better.

    1. Maybe I'm just too worn down from years of disappointment to be quite as harsh (truthful?) as you are in some of your assessments, Willbur. For me, Phaneuf, Lupul and Grabovski all contributed in the series a fair bit, but I do understand that Grabovski did not produce results offensively. And he does carry a price tag that, as I said often during the season, means he needs to be productive in the offensive zone, too.

      We agree on Reimer, and on some other areas as well. I always am glad to get your input, Willbur. Thanks.

    2. I can live with a guy not producing offensively if they are doing the other things to win like Komarov, MaClement even Orr, but Grabovski was atrocius defensively as well. For that matter so was Kulemin. I have been a huge backer of Kulemin over the last couple of years, but what applies to Grabovski also goes for him. If you can't score, can't counted on to be good defensively then how are you helping the team?

    3. I'd like to know what management really thinks about his play in the playoffs. If they agree with you, I wonder what they'll try to do this summer?

    4. Wilbur, I just don't understand the negativity. Let's take the analogy you cite, that "train wreck" from last year. Had the Leafs not experienced that, who's to say they would have made the playoffs this year? And because they blew a Game 7, does that mean that next year they'll be terrible? I think not.
      Look at Edmonton, back pre-glory years. They met Los Angeles in the playoffs and they were heavily, heavily favoured to win. They were up 5-0 in the third period of game 3, lost 6-5 in OT (yes, an even bigger collapse), and it preyed on them so badly they lost the series. Did they slink back into mediocrity going forward from that? I think we all know the answer.

    5. Hi Ken- I won't try to speak for Willbur, but he has been very positive and hopeful about the future for some time. My sense is the end of Game 7 made it difficult for him to find the positives. I was maybe too hopeful-sounding in my season-end posts!

      Not sure if I've heard from you before Ken- thanks for visiting.

    6. Well Ken that certainly is true. However, I think a better comparision might be the Florida Panthers from last year. A team not many predicted to finish in the playoffs, then once they got there most predicted they would be gone in 4-5 games max. They pushed New Jersey to 7 games and lost in double overtime. This year they finished dead last in the conference.

      I think the Maple Leafs are a lot closer in terms of talent to the Florida Panthers than they are to the highest scoring team of all time. One that had 6 HoF on it I might add. If your not an elite team just making the playoffs is very hard. The Leafs are in a group of about 6-7 teams that will fight for 5 spots. There are no guarentees they even make the playoffs next year let alone advance.

  3. After 24 hours I have come to the conclusion that we might have been done in by injuries.

    It's a game of inches. We missed Bozak winning face offs in the final minutes. We missed Mark Fraser. He was our best chance to push Chara out of the goal crease and unlike Phaeuf, Fraser would have gladly fought Lucic to take him out out of the line up for half of that fateful last 10 minutes. Fraser was a valuable guy and you don't realize how valuable untill its all over.

    I am mostly in favour of keeping this lineup intact for another year. Sign Bozak for anything under 4.5 million a year on a short term (2-3 years) and see if Kadri can improve take that first line center spot during that period.

    If we had to, I would sacrifice MacArthur( who might get some big UFA offer) and play Frattin and Colborne more to take up the slack.

    I was impressed with Carlyle, I just wish he had called a time out in the last three minutes. It might have prevented that tying goal.

    1. Thanks DP- Injuries took a tool, absolutely.

      And we do have some decisions ahead. I sense Nonis knows what he'd like to do. We'll see.

  4. Michael
    1. I liked the way Bozak played this year. He partners well with Kessel and was our best centre this year. I don't see Kadri or other home grown talent replacing him next year and am unaware of any pending free agent who is likely to be available that is any better. If no trade to improve at this position can be made, he needs to be resigned. If it takes 4 or 5 million, it better be for a short term.
    2. Kessel is an elite level player and absolutely the best player we have and needs to be resigned and at elite level salary. He showed me that he was prepared to compete defensively as well as to score. My impression of him increased immeasurably this year and in the playoffs. If he gets away, we are back to square one again in the rebuilding of this team.
    3. Reimer played well and is likely to get even better. He has some weaknesses he needs to work on but he deserves the chance to do so as the number 1 goalkeeper.
    4. I have not been a Phaneuf fan from the beginning but I must say I think his play improved under Carlyle. I think if he was not also the captain, fans wouldn't be quite so hard on him. A big mobile defenseman to absorb some big minutes would take some pressure off him. I would say he is a keeper building block.
    5. Biggest surprise player was Jay Mcclement. Never heard of him before but what a smart player and great addition to the team. One of Burke's best deals.
    Also to be mentioned as the biggest team surprise was the speed of the team under Carlyle when we were led to believe his defensive style would somehow remove the attacking speed from our game. That entertaining part was still there thankfully!
    6. Biggest disappointment player was likely Macarthur. He just never seemed to fit in but he did play well in the playoffs in limited minutes so maybe he has figured it out but I expected more from him all year.
    7. Reimer and/or Phaneuf
    8.I like Grabo's effort. Keep him and keep searching for appropriate linemates that can benefit from his hard work. Hopefully that will increase his offensive chances as well. He is a warrior.
    9. Thumbs up to Carlyle. I think he did a great job. I would like to think he can improve on our defensive zone play that seemed to require players to not challenge the puck carrier if they were at the point or on the sideboards. Opponents seemed to have too much time to make a pass and resulted in play being in our end for too long at a time and resulted in us being outshot in too many games.
    10. Non-core pieces are Liles, O'Byrne, Kostka on defence and McLaren, Macarthur, Komarov, Orr, Kulemin up front. We need the skills they bring so I'm not suggesting they NEED to be traded but they can be replaced by equivalent or better (hopefully) players so I don't think they are "core".

    Michael, thanks for providing this forum again this year. Even though I don't comment often, I am a faithful reader and appreciate the insight and opinions offered by both you and the many commenters. As I have said all too often before, "Wait 'til next year!"

    1. I was nodding along with your responses today, Ed. I appreciate your measured overview.

      By the way, thank you for the kind words about VLM. The posters here really are tremendous, and individuals like yourself have made the last four years (almost) of doing this worthwhile. Thank you.

  5. My biggest concern is that the Leafs are going to over-react to the faceoff numbers in the Boston series. Faceoffs are important BUT the Leafs were facing one of the best faceoff teams in the league in the Bruins. I get the sense that faceoffs at the NHL level are a question of experience, something that generally our centermen lack. In that series Grabovski and McClement (not Bozak) were our best 2 faceoff guys based on percentages, winning 45% of the draws. Bozak won a slightly smaller 42%, while Kadri won only 32%. To me, it reinforces my belief that faceoffs at the NHL level are a question of experience (in knowing how to successfully cheat on the faceoff). Boston had a tremendous amount of depth in that area with Bergeron and others.

    I think it's reasonable to expect Kadri and Colborne to improve in that area in the coming years, and hope that we don't keep Bozak simply because he can win faceoffs. You can to some extent buy faceoffs for cheap (which is why I was to some extent upset the Leafs traded Dave Steckel, as they could have/should have kept Steckel and played him over Orr as an extra faceoff/defensive specialist).

    1. I hear you on the face-off question, mapleleafmjt. While face-offs are certainly a key part of the game, there is more to the center-ice position than that, for sure. Good thoughts, thanks.

  6. After giving myself another day removed from this collapse, I am doing my best to put it all in perspective. I suppose in the end, I'd be less heartbroken had the Leafs been swept in four straight than to lose this way. Inexperience, absolutely. They got away from the game that was working for them, just as they had a couple games prior, letting Boston dominate them in the third. But on a full scale, I have to remember all the talk we did during the extended off-season. We wanted to squeek into the playoffs and give them some experience there, we wanted to be a tougher team that could compete with teams like Boston. Done. They proved in a big way that they can do this. Maybe this experience is what they needed to realize the 60 minute game it takes to win in the playoffs.

    As to your questions...
    1) I don't think Bozak should command $5 million, but the market just might dictate that unfortunately. There will be few available centers available, and someone, if not the Leafs, will give him that money. With the shrinking cap, the Leafs might have to decide between him and Grabovski, given the huge contract they're already on the hook for there.

    2) You've probably guessed that I am a bit of a Kessel guy, especially after his play this season and how he took his game right at Chara and the Bruins. If they don't extend him, he will likely be content to ride out next year and go completely free. That is not a distraction the Leafs need.

    3) Reimer has definitely won me over, and proven he is over the injury that plagued him last year. Having a coach show faith in him didn't hurt either. No way is Luongo or any other so-called upgrade worth the extra cost in a trade and/or salary.

    4) I literally laughed out loud when I saw a column the day after Phaneuf's ill-timed pinch in overtime that raised the question of trading him. Typical T.O. media, couldn't even wait for the Leafs to be eliminated before trying to poke at the body. Phaneuf has the confidence of management, he is not going anywhere.

    5) With a nod to Kadri, I have to go with Mark Fraser. Wasn't even projected to be here by anyone, and a solid season that made him look like he's been in the NHL at least five years.

    6) Clark MacArthur was invisible far too many times. Not only did he not exactly light it up offensively, he was a non-factor. Grabovski may have had a worse year offensively, but he sure made his presence felt all over the ice.

    7) There's a few players that come to mind, and in a tough call I'll go with Komarov. I'd really like to see him eat up more minutes in the third period when the Leafs are ahead. I think he will continue to get better too.

    8) I think Grabovski got better as the season progressed, without the end results. I really like this guy, and do believe he's worth another season to try to bring up his offensive production. That said, his contract is huge, and is an obvious candidate for trade or buyout if the money is needed elsewhere.

    9) I give Carlyle a thumbs up, if tentatively. He has instilled something here we have not seen in quite a while, and he is not afraid to hold his players accountable. I do wish we would have seen him do more at the end of the year to stem the tide of games being outshot on a nearly 2-1 margin as the Leafs got away from their system.

    10) As I had alluded to, MacArthur has done little to show he belongs. I like Liles more than most I think, but at his price tag, I'd have to say the money could be better spent elsewhere. I've started to lose some faith in Kulemin, as his checking game has not stepped up enough to erase the memory of his 30-goal year. If he can't show up more consistently and be a physical presence, we need to look elsewhere for a hungry checker.

    1. Good stuff, as always, Pete. Your first paragraph offered perspective. We did, after all, just pray for a playoff berth and some experience when games matter. They certainly gave us a thrill, and gained that experience to boot. (Remember when I said, after they made the playoffs officially, that fair or not, fan expectations would skyrocket? it's just the way it is. We go from being happy "just to make it" to expecting a lot more. We can't help it...)

      Good to get your responses to the key questions. On number 10, management will ultimately have to decide who stays and goes. Never easy...

  7. Hi Michael:

    I am more of a big picture guy, so I will leave the comments on individual players to those who see them on a regular basis.

    Liked your take on the "gassed" statement. As a great believer in Murphy's Law, "If it can happen, it will happen", I think we just saw it. Hopefully, many individuals will learn from it.

    Tweak Stage - Not yet
    The nature of your questions would suggest that the Leafs are at the "Tweak Stage". I watched some of the Kings - Sharks game last night, and it illustrated the difference between the West and East conferences which you have been alluding to re the weakness of the East.

    The nature of a short season and success in one series may have given the impression that the Leafs are further along than they really are. The next step forward often proves to be much harder.

    "Better a Wrong Standard than No-Standard at all"
    While this term may be difficult to understand, it was very warranted in the Systems Development Process. Under the Burke Bombastic era we knew what he was trying to create, but were very unsure of the execution. Under the new Nonis/Carlylle era things appear much calmer, but I certainly have no idea of what the big "PLAN" is?

    As you have probably guessed, I have tremendous respect for the Detroit Red Wings approach to building and maintaining a hockey team (22 years straight in playoff). Old time Red Wings are still involved, and that is really something when you look at the state of the city of Detroit. What I was really impressed with was the excitement in my own Hometown of Toronto. Imagine if the Leaf organization can carry on this enthusiasm. While I will get chastised by Don Cherry haters, I do agree with Toronto and Montreal having a core of Ontario, Quebec players respectively. While sports teams are primarily mercenaries, there are other factors that can be important.

    Your plans for VLM

    As I have stated before, VLM and your followers are part of my daily regime, and would say "Keep it going". However, having been involved in the computer business since 1963 (mainframe to PC to dot-com), I can imagine how difficult it is to build and create an almost daily blog and run a business at the same time. In fact, I am not sure how you can provide the topics, rapid response, time that you do?

    Without knowing what your true objectives for having and carrying on VLM, it is hard to provide advice.
    However, as Dr. Phil says "Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one".

    1. Internet followers are fickle. Shutdown for a few months, will see most disappear forever.
    2. Reduction in number of posts would be preferrable. Problem is that users don't know when you have posted, and they get lazy. Possible solution would be to obtain email addresses of your regulars (and these guys are important), and notify/link to your latest posting.
    3. I have got impression that you may have been spreading yourself too thin as you tried to expand into other aspects of social media? Perhaps many of us old farts that follow VLM are not into twitter, facebook, podcasts.

    Good luck in your decision and you are welcome to me email address if you think I can help.

    1. First, thank you for your comments about VLM and the helpful suggestions and perspective you provide, Ralph (RLMcC). (You are quite right, I was indeed spreading myself too thin, and not focused enough on my own day-to-day business, which should never be the case!) I will be in touch.

      With regard to your post, your comment on the Leafs in the context of the "Western Conference" reality strikes home. I liken it a bit to golf. If you work at it, getting your game into the 90s and then the 80s is pretty easy. But once you hit 80 or the high '70s, you're into a whole other level of competition- and it is much, much harder to "improve" by 2 strokes than it was by the earlier 20 strokes, if that makes any sense. That may indeed be where the Leafs are at, as you allude to.

      I appreciate what you said as well about the Burke/Nonis/Carlyle methodology. I would like to think we now have a bit of a team "identity", forged under Carlyle.

      I'm with you, by the way, when it comes to the Red Wings. Other than maybe the Devils, is there an organization in hockey (heck, in sports) which has been consistently that good for that long, truly achieving consistent excellence, as they have?

      Thank you Ralph- for visiting, for contributing and for your genuine interest in what I have tried to create here.

  8. Hi Michael,

    Just going to dive in

    1) Agreed completely with your assessment/proposal with one caveat. The UFA market for anything 'better' than BOZAK is slim this upcoming break so it would be the question of if Nojnis is willing to overpay or Bozak willing to be reasonable. It's too early to tell especially if Nonis is willing to trade.

    2)Talks should commence but I think the Bozak situation will be impactful as to whether there will be significant movement of the talks. You don't need the distraction but 8 Million a season is a little too high. I'd like to see a low $7 range with long term and limited no trade. Kessel is Kessel and he will always be maligned but few will complain at the number now. Looks like even Wilbur have had a change of heart since and no longer wants draft picks in return for Kessel...;)

    3)No reason to move beyond Reimer at this time. Yet I am one of the few that still feels that some of the goals given up in the 7 games have had bad an odour to them and Rask to me, outplayed Reimer overall. That said, Reimer is still developing and I can see him becoming a true bonefide No. 1. Next season over an 82 games will cement my true perspective. At this junction and looking at the totality of it all - Luongo, etc, Reimer is the guy.

    4)If I was Nonis, Phaneuf would be the 1st guy I look to trade unless I get a true no.1 D guy and/or someone to take over the captaincy department. I don't doubt Phaneuf tried and worked his ass off nor is his intention to serve does not warrant accolades. But the role of the Captain and the minutes to be the No.D is beyond Phaneuf's ability. Unless the minutes are reduced and is parlay into strong D by committee, which doesn't seem to be the case in Carlyle system, then a number one D guy must be in place. His role needs to be reduced to be truly effective and I have no trouble trading him.

    5) No doubt - Kadri, Fraser McClement in that order simply because of what was the expectation and what they delivered.

    6) Biggest disappointment is Gabbo. No excuses for the overall play and effectiveness considering the expectation and financial committment

    7) Reimer and Bozak (too little outside of Leafs Nation and too much within)

    8)'Since our head is already wet, we might as well shower' - Old asian proverb - in other words, stick with Gabbo, he can only improve.

    9) Thumbs up for system play. Thumbs down for over reliance on Phaneuf.

    10)I think the core pieces are:


    *See point 4

    Second tier

    Everyone else tier 1 down are replaceable.

    But if must ask unfortunately McArthur (since he is UFA), JML but I doubt we can get much and Gabbo (unmovable at this time)

  9. Thanks for your frankness, Lukas. All fair views.

    Everyone sees things a bit differently, as we discuss here all the time. There will without question be some roster changes next season. Not because guys aren't good or can't play, simply because teams are always tweaking- and as Ralph (RLMcC) said above, the Leafs are perhaps a little further away from just the 'tweak stage' than we might think, but they are getting there.

    Thanks Lukas!

    1. Hi Michael

      It was neglectful of me for not only congratulate you on this insightful blog. As many, I happened to stumble across it and have been a faithful reader since. I appreciate a rational take on many Leafs' issues that can be very polarizing and often is difficult to have rational discussion with the passionate Leafs fan base but it seems you've somehow negotiated the treacherous water quite well. Thank you and have a great break.

    2. Not neglectful at all, Lukas. I've much appreciated your involvement here, you've added to the thoughtful discussions and I thank you for taking the time to say what you did. Take care.

  10. Well, the sun still appears to be rising on a daily basis, so I guess the universe has survived the Leafs' collapse. And if the universe can, then so can I! After all, there's a reason we're known as "long-suffering" Leafs fans! I'm not an excuse maker when it comes to sports, so I can come to terms with the fact that we ultimately got done in by the weaknesses that plagued us all year. Lesson learned! I'd be willing to wager that next year, we'll see those areas addressed. And should the team make it into the playoffs after a full season - and I think they will - I believe we'll see a team a lot less likely to cough up a 2 goal lead with two minutes to go in a deciding game. It's definitely glass-half-full O'Malley today.
    As to your questions:
    1. I've been a Bozak supporter all year. He improves every season, and I have no reason to doubt he won't continue. I'd try to keep him, at somewhere between 4-5 million.
    2. I've also been a Kessel supporter (and Phaneuf, while we're at it) all year. He was on fire during the playoffs, and we haven't had an offensive threat like him in... well, since when? We must definitely start the process to keep him. I wouldn't blanch at 7-8 million. He's worth it. Losing him would severely cripple our development.
    3. I haven't been the Reimer supporter you've been, but mostly because the sample size was too small. I thought he was terrific post-trade deadline, and did well in the playoffs. Obviously he needs to work on rebounds and his catching glove - sometimes it seemed he couldn't squeeze the puck - but he's earned the #1 designation.
    4. I really like Phaneuf, both as a defenceman and as a Captain. Going down to the ACC and seeing a few games was the key - he was far and away our toughest D-man, game in/game out and, as we all know, played major minutes partnered with rookies hobbling him. Once Gunnar showed up, things got better. Let's hope Gunnar's 100% next year! Take Phaneuf off our defence, and what have you really got? Besides, the players seem to like him as Captain.
    5. I think Franson was my biggest surprise. And I bet he gets better next year. Next would be Reimer - he upped his game and became a #1 goalie. But I could also add Komarov, Fraser, and McClement.
    6. Grabbo and MacArthur were my two biggest disappointments, though both really brought it in the playoffs. But whereas Grabbo had more or less played the same way all year, the playoff MacArthur was the guy we saw two years ago. Where the heck has he been?
    7. Player who doesn't get the respect he deserves? Phaneuf.
    8. Grabbo was given a role by Carlyle that he seems to have carried out well enough, but the disappearance of the player we saw in previous years is a cause for concern. I'd make him available in a trade, particularly if it brought us someone like Clarkson, who I keep hoping will be with us next year.
    9. Thumbs up for Carlyle. He achieved many of his stated goals for this year. I'm looking forward to next year!
    10. I think we'll be saying goodbye to MacArthur, Kostka, maybe Grabovski, maybe Liles though I liked his play in the playoffs, and Komisarek and Connolly should be off the payroll.

    Finally, a big "thank you", Michael. I know the amount of time it takes to keep a blog going, and your constant attention to it, depth of knowledge about our team, and good humour in your responses are all a testament to why this site is a daily "must read" for me and many of us. You've earned a break - enjoy it!

    1. Well stated on all counts as usual, Gerund O'. I always enjoy the half-full O'Malley!

      Thank you, by the way, for your kind comments about the VLM site. Yes, a break was and is needed. You've been a huge contributor here but drop by over the summer. I'll try to post when the moment strikes!

  11. It's funny what you say about Reimer not squeezing the puck, I recall reading that Allaire taught his goalies to block with their glove hand, keeping the glove as large as possible (like another blocker) as opposed to squeezing down on the puck and thereby possibly reducing the blocking area of the glove. You can sometimes see Reimer do that. It may be that he is still un-learning parts of his Allaire curriculum. (Rick St Croix seems to be doing a good job with these goalies, BTW). Mike

  12. Thanks for chiming in, Mike. It may take a while yet to see the full "value" of say, the St. Croix impact versus the Allaire years. We can say that Reimer made some nice strides this season.

  13. First, I'd like to say that this is one of the best hockey blogs on the net. I just started reading it this season and have enjoyed it emensely. I love the style in which you write your analysis and how you don't overreact to a play or a game, but instead try to look at the big picture.

    One of your earlier articles you mentioned how you thought that this was an "experimental" year for Carlyle and Nonis to see what they have. Thinking about it that way has helped deal with happened in game 7.

    1.This is propably the toughest decision for Nonis. But I think he is going to walk. I think he played more minutes than anyone forward on the team. He is a good skater and good faceoff guy, but poor offensively and not very good defensively. I see him as a utility guy, someone who could fill in at first, second, or third line center for a period of time. This very valuable to have, unfortunately we already have Grabo, who can pretty much do the same. If they can get him for cheap, bring him back, but not for anything more than 4.5/yr.
    2. Without a doubt. He proved himself this year.
    3. Reimer all the way.
    4.Phaneuf is here to stay, and I for one am thankful for that. How can you replace him. Trading him would be a huge step back. He needs help though, and can't do it on his own. Getting him some help would be the first priority this summer.
    5.Kadri, He had a great breakout year, and is exactly what they need going forward. Him stepping up makes losing bozak easier to swallow. He has shown he can play with any of our wingers and succeed.
    6.Gardiner. Although he redeemed himself in the playoffs and a lot of dissappointment seemed to stem from his concussion and inability to get in the line up. However, the way he played in the playoffs was what I was expecting all season, and we didn't get it.
    7.Franson. He was really good all season and a beast in the playoffs. He has shown that he should be counted on more. He played physical and I thought he was good at both ends of the rink. I'm excited at a Gardiner Franson pairing next year.
    8.If we sign Bozak, then we need to trade Grabo. If not we keep him and give him a bigger role. He seemed lost out there this year and I think the emergence of Kadri and the insistence of putting Grabo in a checking role really messed him up this year. I think you can go with a Kadri, Grabo, Colborne and McClemment as a your four centers. A more offense role will give Grabo the confidence he seemed to lack. With his contract, we have no choice to really try to get him going.
    9.Thumbs up
    10.Expendeble: Bozak, Kulemin(I think Frattin can step in and do what he does, still love him though and would keep him unless we can use him to upgrade elsewhere), MacArthur(dissappears to often), Gunnarson(He's good, but we need a better #2d), Liles(not good at all this season, and with Gardiner and Reilly, there is no room for him), O'Bryne(Not a bad #7d for the right price)

    1. On question 1, Hattub, I think you're right. Nonis really will be weighing "value" when thinking abut an offer to Bozak, and where Grabbo fits in the picture- which, as you and others above have suggested, may well depend on what Bozak does.

      The expendable list is always tough. Guys for the most part played hard for Carlyle, but not everyone will be back.

      I appreciate your posting on this one, Hattub- and thank you for the kind words about the site. I'm glad you stumbled across it!

  14. Hi Michael, I just want to thank you for a wonderful blog and forum. Your articles are insightful and encouraging and you do a great job moderating the tremendous passion of diehard Leaf fans. Although I have been following VLM with ever increasing interest since the lockout (I stumbled upon VLM after getting tired of the propaganda from the official Leafs site), this is my first comment.

    Although the final couple of minutes of game 7 were a tremendous letdown, all in all this 2013 season has been a resounding success. From lottery pick predictions to game 7 hope, how could it be otherwise? Most players exceeded expectations and the team as a whole made great strides forward. Now that Leaf fans have a taste of current playoff success (I fully understand that many people will never equate an early exit as a success but looking back at the Boston series, it could have easily swung the other way with a puck on the other side of the post) let's hope that the team continues to improve. On that note, on to your ten questions.

    1. In general we should use free agency to improve on what we have. Provided we don't offer Luongo-type contracts, free agency doesn't cost us anything particularly a wealthy team like Toronto. In fact we should spend closer to the max, trading those who don't work out to keep the youth pipeline full and giving buyouts to free up cap space. As for Bozak, sign a better player if such a player is available otherwise offer him something sensible for the organization.

    2. Kessel is elite and has demonstrated his willingness to round out his game and compete. We should extend his contract and add others (in particular a #1 centre) of equal or better quality to enhance this asset. Letting him walk after the 2013-2014 season means you need to make a big free agency move just to stay in the same place rather than using that move as a big stride forward. On the face of it $8M a year for Kessel doesn't seem unreasonable given the recent contracts being signed. Plus with all the upcoming Winter Classic games and restored league-wide fan interest, hockey related revenue is sure to go up.

    3. Reimer has earned #1 status and hopefully will improve in the areas of rebound control and puckhandling. His reasonable contract allows us to improve other areas.

    4. We should keep Phaneuf as trading him away would probably only be a lateral change at best. Ideally we somehow acquire a #1 defenseman without costing us one of our current top 3 but barring that a couple of mobile true shutdown defensemen would go a long way for Phaneuf and the team.

    5. Jay McClement, a very smart and effective player. A quiet difference maker.

    6. The early season power play and shootout effectiveness. A few points makes a huge difference in playoff seeding.

    7. To varying degrees, Kessel, Phaneuf and Carlyle. None are perfect but without them this season might have been a lottery pick.

    8. That all depends on what happens with Bozak and/or any other centres we acquire. If Grabovski becomes expendable, maybe we can get a middlish 2nd round pick for him or veteran leader for a playoff run?

    9. Carlyle gets two thumbs up from me for developing the young players and giving them manageable roles, improving team defense, protecting his players from the media, and being forthright with the media without being overly arrogant. But my heart would rather have a neutral zone trap than a prevent defense when protecting leads late game =)

    10. Reimer, Scrivens, Phaneuf, Gardiner, Franson, Kessel, Kadri, van Riemsdyk, Lupul, McClement are core pieces. I personally can't comment on Frattin and the rest can be upgraded.

    In addition to the improvements mentioned above, a big physical forward and a couple of shot blocking forwards would be nice. Maybe we could also train our wingers to be better at faceoffs.

    I hope this additional comment doesn't delay your very well deserved break Michael. Enjoy the break. I look forward to more VLM when the withdrawal symptoms kick in, yours and mine!


    1. So glad you took the time to post, kanata_leaf. I won't go over all your points, but we see things much the same way.

      Kessel and Phaneuf did all they could. No players does everything but they have made strides and worked pretty darn hard to be Leafs we enjoy watching. They competed well against Boston.

      McClement was a wonderful surprise and yes, a difference-maker. Carlyle took a team last season with its confidence shot and he built something pretty good. Reimer has work to do but is driven to succeed.

      As I discussed with other posters above, as with all teams, some decisions will have to be made this summer. But while there are no guarantees of success based on playing well at times in one playoff round, I like our chances to get better under Carlyle.

      I want to thank you for the kind words about the site, kanata_leaf. I won't be posting as I have in the past this summer, but I will still look to provide pieces now and again. Thanks for connecting.

  15. I'm not going to go through point by point but I wanted to add my two cents after a couple of days of reflection...

    Any doubts/questions about Kessel have been answered - I was very impressed with his play at both ends, and he elevated his play in the playoffs and proved he is an elite NHLer - sign him now. And next year if anyone in Boston tries to start a "Thank you Kessel" chant they should be silenced immediatly.

    Phaenuf is solid but needs help from another stud defenceman to take some of the load off.

    Reimer proved himself as a number 1 "NHL calibre" goalie. Sorry Luongo, maybe Florida wants you.

    Bozak - a year or two ago I wanted him traded, but he has steadily improved and is the best centerman available - sign him.

    Grabovbski - I love his heart but this is the big leagues and he is not producing. 0 goals and a minus 10? Ouch. I'm sorry to say it is time to move on. (I loved his goal attempt though - my jaw was on the floor afterwards!)

    I wanted to also say I love your blog - I have been a regular visitor but rarely comment (in the words of Mark Twain "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt"). It is nice to see some intelligent, thoughtful articles and commentary that doesn't degenerate into a flame war like I see on so many other sites. I totally understand that we will be seeing fewer updates, with this being a Leafs blog and the Leafs season over, but I am looking forward to next season.

    As heartbreaking and stunning as the way it ended was, it was nice to finally see some playoff fever in Toronto, and I enjoyed our short playoff run immensely - I hope for a lot more next season!

    1. The Grabovski decision is in interesting one, for sure, Anon. What does Nonis do? Grabbo showed a lot of heart against the Bruins but to many, his play the past two seasons has fell short of his "salary"- and resultant expectations to be productive at both ends of the ice.

      All off-seasons have a lot of intrigue- this coming one may have a bit more than usual for the Leaf faithful!

      Thanks for the good words, Anon. I'll still post at times throughout the summer, just less, I think. Thanks for reading and connecting here.

    2. Re: Grabbo - I loved his effort, I just wished he got results to match. He was one of the most "noticable" Leafs out there (in contrast Kadri who was invisible for the first few games). No matter how many times he got knocked down, he popped right back up and into the play. But that minus 10 number really stands out - he was not producing offence and was a liability on defence. It may be time for some other players to get a chance.

  16. Some good news on Mark Fraser.

    There was no brain damage. He was already out of the hospital and available for last day interviews. All things considered, he seemed in good shape and should be fine for next season. You can watch the interview here:

    1. Thanks for the update on Fraser, DP. Good news. Guy played his heart out this season....

  17. In recent weeks, I find myself far too busy, drained and 'at a low ebb' to comment on your Leaf queries at this time, however, I would like to add my '2 cents' (or nickel's) worth regarding your choice to take a break...

    Perhaps I can commiserate regarding the level of effort you have put forth regarding Leaf "memories" and "matters"... sometimes we seem to find ourselves loving something and being almost 'driven' to exceed our energy in order to maintain a high standard when, in fact, there is not the energy available to accomplish the task we have set before us. Life adds pressures that are not always evident to those who seem to 'depend' on our demonstrable consistency...

    It would have been great if your passion had led to a commercially viable podcast and I lament not being in a position to help you to find greater success in that area. I am happy for you (on a personal level) knowing that you are taking the time to be 'intermittent' for the offseason. You need time to re-energize and relax, without feeling the need to satisfy our daily willingness to 'pop by'. Perhaps this will be like some of those old TV series that you had to 'look for' when corporate executives thought they had no audience, but different because it's more like having a friend who, we understand, is best served by a break, more than spending 'time together'. Hope this helps to some degree, if you're feeling any sense of unnecessary 'guilt' or the like!

    It has been a very taxing year with the lockout and the 'ebbs and flows'/'ups and downs' you have moderated for us all. You have provided a wonderful forum that will be the first place I look when any significant Leaf news happens over the summer, because I'm 'betting' you'll feel like 'opening up shop' when the mood strikes.

    If the new season comes along and you choose to write articles 'post-game day' (or pre-) I'm sure we'd all check in just as regularly (even if it's not daily). It seems quite likely that we could 'get used to' a different kind of schedule!

    I would like to take the time to say a special thank you for providing me with the opportunity to 'right an old wrong' with the Sittler apology. It just struck me, while writing this, that when Darryl and Wendel humourously emerged from behind the large masks of themselves a short while back, I never even thought of the old guilt I had carried for so long respecting the day I met Darryl.

    Your willingness to provide me your forum that day was a gift for which I will always have a Vintage Leaf Memory that holds a fellow faithful fan dear in the annals of my most appreciated Leaf Memories. Thank you for all you have done to enrich our lives in this area of common passion!

  18. I well recall your very personal post here regarding Sittler, InTimefor62. I was more than happy to provide the platform.

    You are thoughtful in providing some perspective on my desire to step back and post less frequently in the months ahead. I will still opine here on occasion, but not with the same degree of regularity, I sense.

    You have nicely captured where I'm "at" these days; I think regular VLM readers will, like you, generously understand a different (and much lighter) schedule in the days ahead.

    Good of you to take the time to show your support, InTimeFor62. Thank you.

  19. Going into game 7, I felt there was no way I could feel too badly, even if Boston had pretty much played us off the ice. Well, I was wrong. I've seen Finland blow a 5-1 lead against Sweden in the World Championships, and back then I thought that was as bad as it could get. Wrong on that account as well. The manner of this defeat was way, way worse. To get so close and eventually having nothing to show for it is just plain cruel, but I can't really find it in my heart to lay blame on anyone. It just wasn't meant to be.

    But now that I've had a bit of time to process things, I'll get to your questions:

    1. I'm pretty much on the same page with you on the subject of Bozak. He's a useful player, and I could get behind signing him on for a year or two longer if it can be done on sensible terms, and sensible for me would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3-4M. Going beyond that would make me wonder how irreplaceable he actually is, and if some of that money couldn't actually be better spent in other areas.

    2. I would make it a priority. He is an elite offensive player in the league, playoffs included. He's answered my questions and removed my doubts. He won't sign cheap, but replacing him would be exceedingly difficult, and losing him to free agency is a risk simply not worth taking.

    3. No reason to look for a starter beyond Reimer.

    4. Wouldn't seem too wise to trade our best d-man, unless we can get a direct upgrade. And that doesn't seem likely.

    5. Kadri is an obvious choice for me.

    6. Grabovski, for his lack of offense. But he was matched against top competition, so it's not a huge disappointment, and he generally handled his new role just fine.

    7. McClement, probably. He has gotten some well-deserved praise, but his role is such that he largely remains an unsung hero. I hope he sticks around for a while.

    8. I say we don't do anything right now. His value isn't high right now, but he had a spirited playoff run and in my mind remains a potentially important piece going forward.

    9. Tough one. I'm not impressed with everything he does (and says), and some of the Leafs' statistical shortcomings are troubling. That being said, the Leafs played much better hockey in the playoffs than they did during the regular season, and the most important statistic of all, wins, speaks in his favour. Changing a winning coach is not something I'd do, and if the players have his back (seems they do), I'll give him a tentative thumbs up.

    10. Komisarek, obviously, Liles and MacArthur. Kulemin didn't impress, but I'm not sure what should be done about him, he still has a year left and has little in terms of trade value right now.

  20. Thanks for stepping back and sending those thoughts along from Finland, CGLN. Grabovski and Bozak seem to be two of the central off-season question marks. But I sense some surprises lurk...

  21. hi michael, are you following any of the remaining playoff teams? any thoughts as things progress? btw, i'm proud of the valiant effort put forth by the leafs... reminds me of the end of the first rocky movie. apollo creed may have won that battle, but everyone was cheering for the other guy, knowing that he would be destined to come back more determined than ever. looking forward to next season!

    1. Doctor Alex- yes, I'm watching some of the playoff action. (I have a couple of teams I would prefer to advance, for what it's worth, and a few I'd be just as happy that didn't.) There are, as we all know. some good teams out west. And it will be interesting to see if the Sens can dig deep yet again and overcome adversity and make it a series against the Penguins. Every time I think the Senators are done (e.g. after Karlsson was injured earlier this season) they fight back. That's a resilient team.

      Yes, the Leafs will now move into a different category- in the minds of other teams, the media and of course their supporters. They'll go from surprising and a neat story to facing much higher expectations. How they respond will be interesting.