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The Dave Nonis 5-point off-season plan

In a way, it’s hard to believe hockey is still being played as the days grow hot and muggy, but this is the reality of the modern-day NHL. We’re just beginning the semi-finals, so hopefully this will all get done by, say, July. 

On that note, I always remember a comment that I read, as a youngster in the late 1950s, from then long-time Montreal Canadiens winger Maurice Richard. The illustrious “Rocket” (right, in a great old "posed" shot) told a reporter that he found it difficult to “get up” for hockey games in April when the weather was so nice.  He loved playing hockey in the winter.  (It’s a bit ironic that Richard felt that way.  Despite his protestations, he held the playoff record for most career goals—82—for many, many years after he retired in 1960.  That number, just like his old regular-season record of 544 goals, has always stuck in my head for some reason.  So Richard obviously didn’t struggle too badly playing playoff hockey in the spring.  He also scored mover overtime goals by far than anyone else in his era.  I could be wrong but I think he is still in the top ten on the all-time playoff “goals” list…) 

Things of course were different in those days.  The six-team NHL saw the regular-season end in late March, and the playoffs were always concluded in April, sometimes by mid-April. If I’m not mistaken, the longest season ever (before expansion) was the ’67 final between Montreal and Toronto that ended on May 2.  That seemed like such a long season back then.  Once expansion hit the following year, the NHL seasons have just seemed to get longer and longer.


In any event, on to the present.  While the four most recent Stanley Cup winners vie for this year’s championship in the weeks ahead, we in Leafland are more of a mindset to try and anticipate what the blue and white will do this summer as they prepare for the 2013-’14 NHL schedule.  Strides were made this past season—some that were quite surprising, in fact (not just making the playoffs but things like our penalty kill…).  That said, I think we all agree there is still quite a ways to go before any of us believe that the Leafs are legitimate year-after-year contenders in the Eastern Conference—much less for annual Cup consideration.

In the past, I/we have often commented here about what I felt were clear “needs” facing the organization:  a bonafide first-line center; a stud defenseman; team toughness; leadership; and the addition of players who bring successful playoff experience.

(A side note: the goaltending question for me is moot.  Not that there aren’t better NHL goalies out there than Reimer.  There obviously are better netminders around.  But in a 30-team league, I’m not sure there is anyone available who will make us appreciably better, so I think Nonis should focus on other more pressing priorities.)

Of the above issues, I think we have already largely “solved” the team toughness question.  We now have the personnel and the attitude/approach to be a team that is hard to play against, and that other squads don’t like to deal with.  We still have some players who may not be individually “tough”, but that’s the same with every team.  I believe we have enough grit and play overall with enough of an edge that we should be OK in the toughness department going forward.

We still, however, lack a top-flight center, and they tend not to grow on trees.  We can debate whether Kadri will be that some day, but as impressed as I was with his performance through most of this past season, I still don’t see him as a true number-one guy in the middle.  We'll see.

We desperately need another defenseman to ease the burden on Phaneuf.  Whether we feel the captain is a true “number-one” or a really solid “number three”, he needs help.  Gardiner will be able to log big minutes, and if he cleans up the defensive deficiencies in his game, he may be a partial answer.  Rielly may well make the big step this coming season, though he is still underage and I’m not super keen on an early full-time promotion.  He cannot provide the physical dimension we need at this point, however, so we still need another elite defensive defenseman with some size and meanness even if Reilly 'arrives' next season.

Leadership?  I’ll let others debate that one.  Is Phaneuf the guy to lead us to the promised land? 

As importantly, however, we simply do not have the playoff experience we need, so that remains an ache that has to be dealt with, too.  I refer specifically to individual players who help give a team that belief, that inner confidence, at crunch time in the spring.

Now, I recognize some Leaf supporters are more of a mind to “wait things out”, be patient, and let the youngsters grow into their roles and responsibilities and gain that vital experience required.  And while I see that perspective, and do believe the recent playoff match-up with the Bruins gave our guys a sense of what it takes to succeed when it really matters, I’m not of the view that we can just sit back, do nothing and let the youngsters learn on the job for the next several years.

To me, the Leafs still need a jolt, an infusion of talent and character- and grit.  You can never have enough pitching in baseball, and you can never have enough of that combination of talent and hard work when building an elite NHL team.

Some of you will recall a recent post here where I quoted longtime baseball star Don Mattingly (now a manager), talking about building a team.  He also later added a comment that I think fits when talking about a young team like the Maple Leafs:

"There's a touch of a difference between saying you're giving your best effort and you're willing to fight for something," quoted Mattingly as saying last Wednesday. "Some guys go to another level for that price, will do whatever it takes to win a game. There's something there you can't measure with sabermetrics."

I don’t think Mattingly’s comment is a knock on the advanced stats crowd in sports.  He is simply stating what those of us who have been around sports for decades know from experience.  There are some things you simply can’t measure.  And the Leafs needs players that have that desire, that determination, who do more than just think they are “working hard”.  As Mattingly alludes to, lots of players think they are giving everything they have.  But often, championship teams have those special athletes who go the extra mile—and it’s not something you measure by zone charts and all the other modern statistical stuff that supposedly reveals who the good or important players are.


So with that as a long-winded backdrop, here is a simple 5-point plan I expect to unfold from Nonis and the Leaf brass this summer:

  1. The acquisition, through trade or free-agency, of a notable defenseman.  He may be in the NHL right now, he may be hidden somewhere in Europe, whatever.  But it has to be someone who can play big minutes right away.  He doesn’t have to be an offensive force, but he must be a tough, uncompromising defender.  That will help our goaltending, too. We may do nothing in this regard (it's obviously not easy finding good defensemen), but I honestly believe Nonis will be on the prowl.
  2. I expect some interesting decisions around the center position in the weeks ahead.  Two obvious topics within the halls of the ACC will be Bozak and Grabovski. I’m not making a prediction, but I believe this:  Nonis will have something up his sleeve that may not have to do directly with either of those guys.  Yes, we’d miss Bozak for some of what he brings to the table most nights if he leaves in free-agency.  But will anyone really be gutted if he leaves because he gets silly money somewhere else?  As for Grabovski, as much as I have come to really like the guy over the years, I no longer have the patience for him that I did years ago, just like Kulemin.  Though none of Bozak, Grabbo or Kulemin are "old" and may have many good years ahead, I think we can win with other people.  We certainly have not won with them.
  3. After seeing the success they had with an under-the-radar UFA signing last July 1 (McClement), my guess is Nonis and crew will make another mini-splash which won’t be a splash at all, but will still be important for the team going forward.  Will it be a center, a winger?  A scorer or checker?  Will it happen through trade or free-agency?  I don’t know.  But the roster still needs something, so I’m looking mostly for skill and character.
  4. My sense is a Marlie will jump up and grab a roster spot next fall, and the Leafs already have some ideas as to who that might be.  If Komarov returns to the KHL, there will be some intriguing internal candidates from the Marlies to assume his role with the club as an agitating, if not a scoring, presence.
  5. I hope, I really hope, the summer will not be filled yet again with goaltending discussions.  I’m not interested in Luongo.  Unless you can get me Jonathan Quick for our mid-to-late first round pick (and that won’t happen), I don't particularly want to hear about anyone other than Reimer in the Leaf net for now.  Having said that, as much as I like Scrivens, I would not be shocked if Nonis made a move for a reliable, experienced back-up—who would, all things being equal, act as true a back-up and not a threat to Reimer.  (Maybe Someone like Harding was in Minnesota this past season.)

Let me add this as a bonus thought:  the easiest thing to assume right now is that the Leafs will not make a splash at the draft.  They'll simply pick the "best player available" when their selections comes up.  Unlike the past few years where the incumbent GM was always trying to get attention and create headlines (remember he was going to “move up” and go after Tavares in the draft??), Nonis will say little and again, simply take the best player available when the time comes.  I don’t see him trading pieces to move up.

I’m sure you have ideas as to what the Leafs may do next to take this roster to that elusive next level.  Let me know what's on your mind.


  1. "My sense is a Marlie will jump up and grab a roster spot next fall..."

    Based upon his playoff games, I say it's Colborne. His development might smooth the potential loss of Bozak.

    I'm watching Pitsburgh play against Boston and I am struck by one thought: Don't they have anyone to stand in front of the net like JVR did?

    It's making me realize that JVR might turn into a superstar. There just aren't that many 6'3" players with that kind of speed, hands and skill. He doesn't really fight, but he does show up in the playoffs. He may be that elite big skilled player that we have been searching for...and we already have him. He's only 24 maybe he gets a little bit better and really starts to dominate this year.

    1. Colborne is certainly an "heir apparent", DP. And if van Riemsdyk continues develop (and he should) there's no reason to suspect that he won't be a top-flight forward who brings the right kind of physicality to the table- especially as a guy who absorbs punishment in front of the opposition net. Thanks DP.

  2. I wonder, Michael, if the original plan was to have Luke Schenn as that big, minutes-eating defenceman that we are lacking right now. Obviously that changed when it was realized that his offensive production would never materialize and he was too great a defensive liability on this team, and the JVR deal filled the power forward need the Leafs had...

    1. Schenn may well have been "projected" to fill that role, Sean. He may still take on that role in Philly, but we'll see. (Despite some struggles, there were nights he logged huge minutes for the Flyers this past season...)

      For now, we have some very talented offensive guys (Gardiner and Rielly) who are or will be in the lineup. Can Blacker fill the gap as a shutdown defenseman?

      I'm not sure the answer lies from within, but I realize finding defensemen elsewhere is not easy! Good to hear from you, Sean.

  3. Re: Your 5 point plan

    1. I agree that the Leafs need to add at least one solid defenseman. I feel that the trade price would be too high but that a player who has been with the Marlies this past season would fit the bill. Paul Ranger is a 4 year NHL veteran. He is relatively young (28), has size (6'3"-210lb) and toughness, has playoff experience and has some offensive upside.
    If Gunnarsson is healthy, I am content with Phaneuf-Gunnarsson as a number one pairing and Franson-Gardiner as number two. A Ranger-Fraser number three pairing would provide toughness. Rielly could slide into Fraser,s slot when he is ready and receive sheltered minutes a la Kadri.

    2. It will be very difficult and expensive to upgrade the centre position. One possibility might be Brad Richards. If New York buys him out it might be possible to sign him at a reasonable price. If Bozak is not signed and no centre is acquired they would have to try Kadri as the number one centre. I also believe that Joe Colborne is ready to join the Leafs full time.

    3. Mini-splash is the key word here. I am very much opposed to signing big name free agents. They are usually greatly over priced and rarely live up to the hype. There are two free agents that I would give serious consideration to signing this off-season; David Clarkson and Cal Clutterbuck. Both these players would provide toughness and both could provide secondary scoring. They would not cost the Leafs any players and would add quality depth to the roster.

    4. My Marlie candidates are the aforementioned Ranger and Colborne. Players such as Spencer Abbott, Ryan Hamilton, Jerry D'Amigo and Jesse Blacker provide depth in case of injury.

    5. I believe Reimer will only get better. Scrivens provided reliable back-up and I feel he could step in longer term in case of injury. There aren't any veteran back-ups out there that I can see who would be an improvement over Scrivens.

    Sorry I haven't posted more often lately but circumstances (since resolved) made it difficult. I really enjoy VLM and it is my first hockey read of the day.

    Rocket Richard spoke at the Leaside Hockey Association banquet in the late 50's. He seemed like a nice guy and it was a thrill for me as a bantam aged player to meet him. He was the archetypical sniper.

    1. Ranger is a mystery to me, Pete Cam. He has so much of what we need on the Leaf blue line. Was he not "ready" to get back to the NHL this past season? It almost seemed as if it was his decision, not Leaf management, that he stayed down on the farm. I guess we'll find out at camp in September.

      Richards is indeed an intriguing possibility, if the Rangers set him free (as long as he is "low cost").

      I'll be waiting to see if Colborne grabs the brass ring at camp. My sense is the Leaf brass wants him to.

      Meeting the Rocket had to be a massive thrill, Pete. Talk about a true legend in the sport, the most explosive and gifted goal scorer of his era...

    2. I also meant to reply on the Clutterbuck (and Clarkson) reference, Pete Cam. Others have commented on Clarkson here, and I have always liked Clutterbuck's feistiness. (Thanks as well for your kind comments about VLM- I hope everything is good at your end now.)

  4. Michael, I have to say I'm kinda with Rocket Richard on the long season into summer. I find it so weird walking into rinks for my son's spring tournament team games wearing shorts. And now that it's just ended, we've only got a few weeks until his week-long goalie camp. I'm really trying to push baseball on him for the spring and summer!

    Okay on to the Leafs, on your points.

    I was looking over the possibly available defensemen this summer, and at first glance, it is full of either older or much less than first line defensemen. If the Leafs are going to take a run at a proven shutdown d-man, they will have to gamble that one of those guys closer to 40 than 30 have enough in the tank, at least until Reilly is ready (which I certainly hope is not until 2014!). The only other way I see them acquiring a top shutdown defenseman is if a team is looking to trade and take on Grabovski in return.

    Maybe this is a gamble, but I'm inclined to let Kadri take on the #1 center role and see if he can run with it. He was magic at times when he was out with a pure scoring line, and any combination including Kessel, JVR, or Lupul on a full time basis might show just how many points Kadri is capable of.

    I do think that Nonis will make a run at one premium center should he become available in a trade or due to a buyout by another team. This way he can let Bozak take his chances with free agency if he wishes, or trade or buy out Grabovski if he needs the cap space to make a big signing. He undoubtedly will seek another diamond in the rough, especially if Komarov does not return.

    Speaking of Komarov, you know how much I like the guy. I really hope he is replaced competently if he leaves for Russia. Hopefully Hamilton can make the jump next year and emulate him. Frattin showed a more diverse power forward game this year until he was hurt, and assuming he's healthy, I'd like to see him full-time in a Leafs uniform in place of say, MacArthur.

    I don't have much more to add on the goaltending that you haven't already said. At some point you have to commit to a guy and give him confidence, and I believe Reimer has earned that. Furthermore, we need to cap space much more elsewhere and I do not want to see $8-10 million a year tied up with a different goalie who would be a slight upgrade at best.

    1. Good luck to your son, Pete. I was a "sports Dad" for close to 30 years and I know how much fun it can be. I like your idea of a different summer sport. For a lot of kids, it only helps to play other sports in the "off" season. (On the Richard note, can you imagine what he would have thought if he was playing the Cup finals in mid-June, if he thought it was tough in April?)

      Kadri as a first-line could happen. Not my preference, but that may unfold. He does have remarkable hands and vision.

      The Bozak/Grabbo "decision" will be fascinating. They could both be back, or we could end up with someone entirely different in the middle come September.

      I'm with you on Komarov- I, too, thought he was a feisty, "hard-to-play-against" sort of guy, and we'll need to replace that grit if he leaves.

      Thanks for posting, Pete.

  5. Hey Michael,

    Point 1 - I agree but who is available at least in North America? If there is any chance is Paul Ranger a viable/sensible option?

    Point 2 - Agree on Bozak - but not ready to give up on Grabbo or Kuli just yet - maybe after next year if the results are the same. Who replaces them - well time will tell - I have no idea personally.

    Point 3 - Agree a 110% - heck I mentioned it last week in my own version of the 5 point plan for Nonis - I would like for him to search in the western conference to be specific - they are more used to the grind and play in a tougher group of teams than the east.

    Point 4 - Jerry De'amigo? Colborne? Abbot?

    Point 5 - Lol - agreed once again - some may laugh - but if there is even a little bit of a hint of wanting to play from Thomas - and he showed interest - would you sign him short-term (say 2 yrs).

    Bonus - I still believe they need to hit a home run with this draft - cause Nonis didn't exactly have a great record in Van city in this area from what I have read.

    Side Note: Wouldn't it be awesome to see a team try to draft Mackinnon and Drouin together on their team like Burke did with the Sedin Twins, I mean two awesome players to go in the top five having played together and having such chemistry - wouldn't it be awesome to see them play together in the NHL someday on a top line tearing it up.

    Anon from Scarborough.

    1. On point number 3, it's a bit like the old Church bazaars I used to go to and enjoy as a kid. You'd go to the fish pond or whatever it was called and drop your "line". You were always guaranteed a small prize, but sometimes you were surprised because it was really neat. I see Nonis finding something "really neat" that we may not expect this summer.

      On Ranger, Pete Cam mentioned that notion above as well. The guy can play, so we'll see. I know finding "D" men is tough.

      The Leafs may run with Kulimen and Grabopvski. I will understand if they do, but will be OK if they leave via trade.

      I always like D'Amigo when I see him with the Marlies, but I wonder if he is a bubble player, seen mostly by management as a short-term fill-in guy at the NHL level.

      My guess is Tim Thomas would want the number-one for me, anything that disrupts Reimer is not worth investigating seriously- but that's just me.

      I love your idea of Drouin and MacKinnon on the same team. The idea of building with two gems is enticing, for sure. Good stuff, thanks Scarborough Anon.

    2. I'm with you on Tim Thomas. Maybe if Reimer had continued the struggles he experienced in the 2011/12 season I would have supported the idea just to remove goaltending from the picture and sharpen the focus on other areas of need.

      But with Reimer's return to form (which is consistent with previous seasons, check out his stats) I really don't think the Leafs can do any better. And I don't say that as someone who is settling, I honestly don't see much difference between Reimer and someone like Rask.

    3. I wonder, Oliver, if the Leafs had managed to hold off the Bruins in Game 7, if there would be a universal view that Reimer had outplayed Rask in that series? It's amazing what a sudden shift in momentum will do to perception...

    4. I'm pretty happy that we can even have this conversation. Rask is probably about as close as you would get to being an indisputably top tier goalie. What about comparing Reimer to Corey Crawford? I admit, the Eastern Conference bias may be kicking in a bit when I say off the top of my head he's nothing special, but the stats do seem to confirm that opinion. It looks like a save percentage over .910 would be a good year for him. Not to criticize though, I'm a big fan of Carlyle's "just give us a chance to win" approach.

      Further bias disclosure - I'm a goalie myself. But I have reached this position more through my discomfort with being credited for a win than with being solely blamed for a loss (which has never happened, despite being factually solely responsible for a loss or two over the years - as an aside, this leads me to believe that if all the posters on this blog thought of themselves as teammates, which we kind of are, there would have been no need for your post on the perils of Maple Leaf blogging)

      I don't think it's appropriate for so much praise or derision to fall upon one member of a large group in a team game. Especially when everything is so dependent on specific circumstances. I can clearly remember roaring cheers as I made a "spectacular save" as the result of happening to lose my balance a particular way, as clearly as I can remember silence after exerting every last bit of effort to get a toe in front of a nearly impossible deflection.

      With all this being said, I think Reimer is better than a goalie who can only offer a chance to win. How much better? I don't know that it matters. With that, he's already reached the level required for an NHL #1.

    5. Those comments really caught my eye, Oliver. An outstanding poster here, (Bobby Craig, known as Bobby C.) often speaks of the very thing you are talking the goalie is part of the whole. It is a team game, as he stresses, and you make the point very well, too.

      I've often written here about how, unfairly, "perception" is often shaped by a fraction of an inch. In other words, a player or goalie does everything exactly the same way- makes a pass, a rush, a shot, a shot block, whatever- but if the end result is a cross bar, the shooter is a bum and the goalie is a hero. That's what people remember.

      Conversely, if the puck goes in off the post or crossbar, the shooter is "great under pressure", whereas the goalie is the bum and some "stat" will prove he is unreliable or whatever.

      To me, it's often a matter of location: a fraction of an inch, not necessarily skill, but rather good fortune, that sometimes creates reputations.

      Good stuff, thanks Oliver. And yes, Reimer is a good young goalie. How good, as you say? We'll see. I'd like to have Glenn Hall in his prime, but I'm happy to have Reimer....

  6. A lot of good comments here. Just a quick note on Ranger: he does not have an NHL contract and cannot be 'moved up' to the Leafs. The Leafs have the same contractual rights to him as every other team in the NHL - none.

    I spoke to a bunch of the Marlies last week and nobody knows what he's going to do. In my mind, he's a top four defenceman on the Leafs, easily. I hope he signs or continues with the Marlies.

    1. Thanks for the update on Ranger, Anon. He brings a lot to the table. Interesting to hear that he is essentially a free-agent....

  7. He was the best defenceman on the team almost all season and better than Gardiner, Rielly, Fraser, Holzer, Kostka, Komisarek.

    It's infuriating listening to the Star/Sun/TSN/Sportsnet talk about him like he's merely a potential contributor the Leafs might consider in the off-season.

    The facts are: (1) he's a UFA in the NHL as I said - and the media always misses this point, and (2) if he wants to play on the Leafs, he'll be on the Leafs. It's not a question about performance.

    1. I have to believe Nonis wants to sign Ranger....we'll see if Ranger wants to play in the NHL again.

  8. Man, you're a litle hard on the Big Grabovski. He shows up everyday and skates his butt off. He takes a beating and gets right back into the fray. Sure he needs some help to score but so does everyone else. He is a heart and soul guy and it wuld be a huge mistake to let him go. There's a saying "If someone hands you a hat (bribe) you take the hat". It's not G's fault the Leafs handed him a very fine hat - he simply obeyed the rules amd accepted it. It's not like his effort level dropped off.

    For once in many, many years, I'd like to stand pat and see what plays out. No more trading a Grabovski and a Kulemin for the corpse of Brad Richards or something equally foolish. We've done that in the past. And we did the big stay at home defenceman with Komiserak. Let's just let the pot simmer and see what we've got. Maybe Underhill can save Kost-ya and get a half-step for Fraser - Fraser sppeds up and he'd be a bit of a beast.

    If anything, I think we should be looking for some cheap young reclamation projects - we used to supply the league with them, now we should be snooping around for some of our on.

    1. I get what you're saying on Grabovski, buddha hat, and he certainly plays with heart. I just don't know that he is an integral part of what we need to "win" going forward. The league is full of hard-woking guys. That's how most NHL'ers survive. He's not alone. But some produce as well- on offense and defence, especially those with his price tag. I know lots of fans love him, and I've been in his corner for years. Just not so much now.

      I'm all for reclamation projects. Those kinds of signings rarely hurt - and usually help. Thanks for chiming in, buddha hat.

    2. I think Grabbo is the guy Mattingly is talking about. He plays every shift like it's his last. Need to find a place for him.

    3. You're solidly in the pro-Grabovski camp, JTL in MTL- and I can understand why some Leaf fans are. He does fit what Mattingly is describing...

  9. Some more thoughts on Ranger:

    I think one of the reasons he did not want to come up during last year (and stayed in the AHL) is that he would have to clear waivers. If the Leafs tried to bring him up, he would likely be claimed and have to move somewhere else, which was something he did not want to do. I think Ranger wanted the gradual steady return to the NHL and wanted to stay close to home in the TO area, where he had lots of friends, family and support. When you look at it that way, it all seems reasonable.

    If they manage to re-sign Ranger, they can avoid him being claimed on waivers as long as he makes the Leafs right out of camp. I think the rules still work that way, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

    Phaneuf-Gunnarsson, Franson-Gardiner and Ranger-Fraser seems like it could be a rather solid group.

    We will have a better idea what will happen as we get closer to free agent day. If Ranger really wants to stay in the TO area, you would think he would re-sign before the UFA deadline.

    1. I sense you're right, DP. Ranger seems to have wanted to take his time to determine if he wants the day-to-day NHL grind again. The issue never was whether he could play or not....

    2. No.

      The reason he didn't get called up is because he could not get called up. You can't call up a player you don't have any rights to and the Leafs didn't and still don't have any rights to Paul Ranger.

      The only way he can play for the Leafs is if he signs with the Leafs and that's something I hope and Leafs management hopes happens this season. And if they sign him, he doesn't have to clear waivers.

      It's all down to Paul Ranger. If he wants to play in the NHL, he will at least start in the NHL and I suspect play in the top 4. If he doesn't want to play in the NHL, I hope he stays with the Marlies - it was great watching him play.

  10. I guess it might depend on what you and I think comprises a winning team. I see the Leafs succeeding with a speedy, gritty, a little nasty team. The club doesnt have a core of Gretzky-types or a core of Messier/Pronger's. We can't be the 84 Oilers and we can't really beat everyone into submission (although a good efort was made this year).

    I see success coming from "60 minutes of Hell" - lotsa skating, physical play and some ugly, dirty goals. The lines should be sorta considered 1a and 1b, 3a and 3b with our current personel. Everybody chips in, 4 lines worth and McLaren is in the pressbox until Orr is injured or tired. We need all those little tireless indestructible Finns and Belarussians.

    My real concern is that we finally have a farm system with some useful bodies on it. If we let too many useful bodies go from the big club, we may be pulling up kids before they are a) ready and b) hungry. As much as I hate to say it, the Dead Things set a great example.

    Of course, we'd have to cultivate another Eakins but maybe the Marlies job attracts some top coaching talent now that the Leafs seem to be using the AHL francise more effectively.

    1. I agree with your 1a 1b and 3a 3b assessment, buddha hat. I'm all for being a hard-working, gritty team.

      I wouldn't suggest we start dismantling the farm system. But there will come a time when some moves will be required to get leadership pieces and players with legitimate playoff experience on the roster.

      When it comes to building a roster that always remains highly competitive, the Red Wings have indeed been the "standard" now for years, for sure. Thanks buddha hat.

    2. "I wouldn't suggest we start dismantling the farm system. But there will come a time when some moves will be required to get leadership pieces and players with legitimate playoff experience on the roster."

      Are we not growing these types of players from within? The lads on the club now got a great taste of playoff hockey experience. That was absolutely the best way to lose for this group. To get that close and then have to sit and watch as the Bruins killed the Rangers and are looking good against the Pens - this will be a motivated bunch next year - it'll be called the Black and Blue Disease.

      I dunno. I think if you draft for character and have a strong team identity, leaders will emerge, experience will come. I've been watching this group for about the same amount of time as yourself, I'm just worried that we'll be revisited by the ghost of Al Secord or Jason Allison.

      I'd like to let it percolate until we have a strong identity, a winning identity, something that we can call Leaf hockey (without meaning dump and chase or flail about in your own end for 8 minutes at a stretch - sigh). Then maybe those "pieces" will come to us by choice, jumping aboard for the playoff run.

    3. Agree, but I wouldn't let past "mistakes" (e.g. poor trades for over-the-hill veterans) prevent the team from adding the "right" veteran pieces at the right moment. It's fine to grow with the kids, in fact I applaud that approach. But they won'y all stay here forever- or be as good as we think in a lot of cases. Proven winners are just that- proven. If we can get our hands on some, it could help a great deal in terms of example and leadership.

    4. Good call. Some of those past "mistakes" are only mistakes because there was no parade at the end of the year. You only have to look as far as the Blue Jays this season to realize the extent to which hindsight can skew perspective. It was difficult to find a single person to criticize the moves the Jays made, until the season didn't start as expected. Now, half the fans "KNEW" this was all a terrible mistake and the trades should never have been made.

      What if Brian Leetch had been the answer 10 years ago? To help put it in perspective, consider the players the Leafs gave up to get him. Don't worry if you can't name them, I certainly couldn't without looking it up. Perhaps you could if they are a relative, otherwise I won't hold my breath.

      The Leafs have made some moves that look pretty boneheaded in hindsight, but the only one I ever knew at the time was terrible was the Rask-Raycroft trade. And even then, although I didn't like the trade I doubt I would have predicted the full extent of its failure.

    5. That's a subject that has troubled me for years, Oliver. Fans so often say, look at how the Leafs "traded away their future". They point to the Quinn years, for example. But there isn't a single trade I would not have done at the time in the four years he was GM. The team was actually going for a championship. That is precisely when you trade assets who may never "make it". I was dying to get a guy like Owen Nolan to get us closer to the Cup- and I'd do it again.

      My question always is: name all the "great" young draft picks or "prospects" that the Leafs dealt away (besides Rask) that went on to great careers? I can't think of one, and if there is one, fair enough- one guy. Even Brad Boyes, long used as just such an example, has been with what, half a dozen teams?

      Well said- thanks Oliver.

  11. Just sounds like media propaganda by someone who is really not in tune with what the team did and what the team is. This team was better than Boston in the end and we have all the tools now to win. It is just hard for somone sitting on the sidelines to see it.

  12. I don't want to seem mean but this seemed like a superficial tow the party line article. The party line was we needed Luongo and a number 1 centre to compete. This year proved different. We have a Big tough defensive defenseman in Mark Fraser. He is easily the answer on the first line with Phaneuf. Franson and Gardiner make a very scary 2nd pairing and we have a hodgepodge of 3rd pairing guys. As for the offense, this team always has scored. They score without Lupul, Grabo, MacArthur and Frattin so we don't need anymore offense. We only need toughness to protect people like JVR from getting hit in the head and put out of game 7 while everyone stood around and did nothing. MacLaren and Orr are the answer but not if they are not dressed or on the ice. We have all we need. There is no reason to mess things up now.

    1. "We only need toughness to protect people like JVR from getting hit in the head and put out of game 7 while everyone stood around and did nothing."

      It's the third period of game 7, so nobody is thinking about revenge. I think Chris Kelly was the perpetrator, and JVR is actually 3 inches taller and 12 lbs heavier, so no need for somebody else to do something stupid that could have cost the series.

      However, hockey players have long memories.

      At the right moment, JVR might deal an equally vicious elbow while the refs aren't looking. JVR, Fraser, Phaneuf or a call up like Biggs or Broll might grab Kelly out of a scrum and try to lay a beating. Heck, McLaren or Orr might even do something truly suspension worthy, but I think some revenge will be dealt and I am sort of looking forward to that moment. In those first few games against Boston, I will watching Chris Kelly on every shift.

  13. Superficial party line? Goodness, towing the party line- no one has ever accused me of that in almost four years of posting about the team here. Oh well, I guess we all see what we want to see.

    I've said for ages we did not need Luongo; I've supported Reimer from the get-go. In the end he may be great, but who really knows?

    I fundamentally disagree with Fraser being on a first-pair, but again, fans see things differently all the time. I'm not quite sure why Franson and Gardiner are "scary" good. Gardiner is talented but has holes in his game. Franson had a nice season and appears to be a solid, emerging player. But again, these guys have to prove they are high-end defensemen by being really good on a consistent basis, over time.

    Yes we could have (should have) beat a beatable Bruins team that was on the ropes. But we are far from a top team, as is. I have no problem with people being optimistic. There are good pieces here, but still, in my view, gaping holes on the roster. To say we don't need a top center based on a short season where we made the playoffs and lost in the first round is not a lot of proof to me that we're fine up the middle.

  14. Hey Michael,

    I find it very funny - that you are accused as someone having a media bias or towing the party line - cause if that was the case then you would have dumped Reimer after 2011-12 season like most of the media did and predicted the leafs to be a porous team in the net this past year. However, you were one of the few who believed even during the dark times that Reimer had it in him.

    And to those that are calling Franson and Gardiner scary good - yes perhaps in the offensive zone - but lets not forget both were on the ice right between the net and Bergeron when he stuck the final nail in the coffin in Game 7 OT.

    To think the leafs are set to make the playoffs as is - is foolhardy - the dynamics are changing along with the fact - you had some unusually high shooting percentages on this team that are bound to come back to earth and there is bound to be some regression to the mean for those that had career years like - Kadri, Franson, Lupul. The only person that has consistently been a high producer has been Phil - and heck he is the streaky one.

    To this anon guy - please have some decency to be civil - this is one place where any and every opinion is respected. There is a level-headedness to this site and please lets keep it that way.

    On a side note: Thanks for the appreciation of my drouin-mackinnon thought - I am kinda jealous of tampa, florida and Colorado but then again - Edmonton still hasn't made the playoffs so drafting can't be the only factor - I hope we can imitate the Red Wings model of drafting and have a steady supply of prospects that can play at the NHL level all the while making the playoffs.

    Anon from Scarborough.

    1. Thanks for the comments and for the support, Scarborough Anon. Agreed, the tone of this site has always been one that accepts widely divergent points of view. That won't change. None of us has all the "answers".

  15. They should move grabo asap, and if there's no trade partner, amnesty him. His ludicrous cap hit, offensive struggles, and defensive gaffes make him a player the Leafs need to dump. He no doubt has a big heart, but that's not enough to justify his contract. Take the 5.5 Mil and offer it to Ribeiro or Richards (if he's available) for a deal in the 3-4 year, 16-22 mil range. That would allow us to keep Naz on the 2nd and continue to grow, but let Bozak walk and have a better replacement for the 1C. McClement can rotate 3C and 4C with Colborne or/and a vet center who's good at faceoffs. Wonder if a guy like Pavelski, Bryan Little, or even Sean Couturier could be optained at a reasonable cost.

    Defensively, we need a guy like Dan Girardi; blocks shots, physical, and a minute muncher. I think Gunnarsson is overrated and unreliable. It seemed like every goal Boston scored was on terribly soft scrambles in front. Boston is no doubt tough, and playoff games are won by gabage goals, but jeez, the leafs - particularly Gunnarsson - were pushovers in front of reimer. I would be willing to move Franson or even Gardiner for a tough defenseman. Keep one of those guys, and Dion, there's 2 top 4 offensive dmen, and Reilly will be ready by 2014 likely. That's 3 offensive dmen. You don't need more.

    In goal, Reimer ia fine. A vet backup would be nice, but its a luxury that Nonis can't be focused on. If it falls into his lap, then fine. Otherwise ride Reimer. One guy i would ask about is Bernier of the Kings, just to know what the cost would be. He has a much higher ceiling than Reimer.

    Lastly, I think the Leafs should do everything possible to move into a top-5 pick (within reason). There seems to be a good amount of talk regarding teams moving out of the top picks, and the talent in this draft is through the roof. Moving Gardiner, our first, another later pick, and a prospect (blacker, percy, etc) would be amazing, albeit possibly unrealistic. Getting a Seth Jones or MacKinnon would be a dream.

    Nice article, and GLG.

    1. Thanks for posting, Daniel. You'll probably raise a few eyebrows with your comments about Grabbo and Gunner (and about possibly trading Gardiner) but I hear what you're saying.

      There's seemingly a train of thought that the Leafs just have to keep bringing up the Marlies and that will do it. While I understand that perspective, I'm not sure that is sufficient. Bringing in kids that can actually play consistently well at this level is good, of course. All the better is we drafted and developed them ourselves.

      But we often over-rate our prospects here. Bringing in guys who have won before should help. And I'm not saying we should trade all of our promising kids. A balanced approach makes sense. Some incoming veterans with a blend of our homegrown youngsters.

      While I like Grabovski and Kulemin, for example (and have long supported Gunnarsson), I believe we can also win with other players. We haven't won anything with them- not that they are to blame for the team's lack of success in recent years. But I'm not sure any of those three is currently the player I thought they would be at this stage in their careers. That doesn't mean we should necessarily trade them, but I'm open to the idea.

      I agree that we need a true defensive defenseman who will punish guys, block shots, play big minutes, etc. to go along with Phaneuf.

      I sure don't have the answers, but I've enjoyed hearing from other Leaf supporters on their thoughts as to what Nonis might/should do. Thanks Daniel.

  16. I see a lot of 'dump Grabovski' out there, and I have to admit, I think it's an unfair sentiment.

    I grant that he does have a big cap hit – he performed, he got the contract, he now does not produce the same numbers. But I tend to think it's a lot of just looking at his points totals and concluding he got paid and now he sucks. I think there's much more to it.

    Yes, in 2012-13, he produced at about half his career point/game average (2010-11 = 0.29, 2011-12 = 0.27, 2012-13 = 0.14).

    But it's also fair to see that his ice in 2010-11 was 19:22/gm, in 2011-12 it was 17:36, and this past season, just 15:34. Further, in previous years, he was effectively the 2nd powerplay unit centre behind Bozak. This year, the year started with Bozak and Kadri filling the powerplay unit roles.

    In fairness, those are not 'hard and fast' numbers. I do understand that a year-end average time on ice number will include the fact that his ice time may have been reduced for not producing. Similarly, his powerplay time also could be affected. But I think it cannot be ignored that Randy Carlyle had the option of using Bozak and Kadri as his 2 offensive centres. Bumping Grabovski to the 9effective) third line and then saying he's not producing as he used to is a little like chopping your grocery budget by $100 a month and then wondering why you're hungry.

    I'd let Bozak walk. I think he's going to get someone to pay him more than he's worth, I don't want it to be the Leafs. Re-sign Kadri, and temper the expectation of point-per-game production, but play him on the 'first line' with Kessel and JVR/Lupul. Move Grabovski back to centre the second line, and give him a JVR/Lupul on one side, maybe Kulemin on the other (they have chemistry, though I don't see Kulemin as ever scoring more than 15 a season again). I think if you consistently play Grabbo with scorers you'll see that offence come back.

    It may also be time to promote Colborne and he and McClement do the 3/4 centre duties.

    1. I always value your point of view, Mark- thanks for posting.

      I know there are still a lot of Grabbo supporters out there and you do a very good job of outlining his value to the Leafs. Those are all fair points.

      From my end, I see him as a useful player- hard-working, for sure. He may well have better offensive years in future than he did this past season, but my expectations were also higher than what he delivered the past two seasons. (I know it's just one superficial stat in isolation, but he was a minus during the season and a -10 in one playoff round...). I wonder if he may benefit from a change in scenery?

      The Bozak question you raise may be the domino effect, Mark. That will be intriguing to follow. Colborne seems like a certainty, but likely will still have to "earn" it at camp. Thanks Mark.

    2. Thanks Michael.

      I agree, and I'd love it if Grabbo continued to emerge as an 80 or more point guy. I think 60-65 is his ceiling though. I think if we're all fair about it, he cashed in on a contract because at the time, the Leafs were dangerously thin at centre and he was the best of them. That's kind of my fear with Bozak – they'll pay him because they figure he's the best they can get with just money and not sending assets away in a trade.

      And maybe that enters into my thoughts too. I do believe Grabbo is a consistent 60-65 pt guy and that's 2nd line territory. He is overpaid at his cap hit. But I wonder what the effect will be if they let Bozak walk, buy out Grabbo and start searching for replacements. What if they cannot acquire any? What if they best they can get is Tim Connolly 2.0? I am not sure I am prepared to go into a season where we're banking on Kadri, Colborne, McClement and something else to carry the mail. I'm all for putting guys in positions to succeed, but 2 still-young guys centring the 2 top lines without some shelter just looks like you;re setting them up to miss expectations.

      Just my thoughts... and who knows, maybe Nonis surprises and manages to sign 2 good young centres.

    3. This is the thing, Mark. It's a bit like baseball teams and their off-season pitching rotations. Every team (almost) talks about how much depth they will have in their "starting five" and wax hopeful about how promising things are. Two months into the season, two guys are struggling, two are hurt and you're down to one guy and a bunch of minor-leaguers we've never heard of. (Jays fans might find that tune has a familiar ring...)

      So I hear what you're saying. There would surely be risks in casting Grabbo and/or Bozak aside and running with Kadri and Colborne as two prominent pieces in the middle. That's why the summer should be fun to follow!

  17. "According to Newsday, sources say defenceman Mark Streit has turned down the team's best offer and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 5."

    There's a possible guy...wonder what he wants?

    1. reportedly $5.5 million. He's also 35, and plays the Left side (where Gunnar, Gardiner, Fraser, Rielly, and Liles play). I'm all for getting experience, but he's pretty likely to be declining over the next few years.

  18. I don't know about anyone else, but when I watch the Bruins dismantle the Pens, I can't help think about those fatal two minutes that killed our season. I don't think we could have gone much further without a #1 face-off winning center, but who knows? As we've said all season, I viewed this past year as a work-in-progress, and the playoffs were a bonus learning opportunity.
    However, I also think watching the remaining teams can help us be realistic in assessing where we need to make up ground this summer. We may not want to talk about Reimer, and maybe he'll learn to corral those rebounds and actually catch a few pucks with his glove hand - I hope so, in fact - but he's not at the level of Quick or Crawford quite yet. If we could acquire Bernier, let's say, wouldn't it be worth a try?
    On to the 5 point plan:
    1. Intriguing idea above that Komi could still be in our plans with a skating upgrade. I don't see it, but I'd be fine with it. Ranger even more so - and this one seems more likely if he's amenable. But as you state, we definitely need someone.
    2. Grabbo's a tough one. Hard to blame him for not scoring when he was saddled more often than not with non-offensive guys. But his +/- isn't good. I'd rather keep Bozak, who has improved every year, and I'd like to see Colborne make the leap. I'm not sold at all on acquiring a guy like Richards, who appears to be at the end of his top productive years, unless the price is very right.
    3. Not that he's under the radar, but Clarkson seems like exactly the kind of player Carlyle would like. And Clutterbuck too, for that matter, as someone mentioned above. They're the kind of guys we'll need in our playoff run next year. (Yep, glass still half-full).
    4. I hope we'll see Colborne, as I said above - he looked ready to me in his brief stint this year. I like Hamilton too - if Komarov does indeed decide to stay in Europe, I think Hamilton could be an effective - and bigger - replacement. I have no read on Holzer or Blacker, but if one of them can make the Leafs, it will be a bonus in freeing up cash in the search for a quality forward - or extending Kessel.
    5. As I mentioned above, Reimer definitely has upside, but he also has a way to go. Nevertheless, I'd rather we focus on D and the forwards than goaltending this summer.
    The thought that keeps nagging at me is that our assessments of this year's Leafs are based on just half a season. How will Kadri, say, hold up over a full schedule's pounding? How we can keep playing Phaneuf for almost 28 minutes a game over 82 of them? Maybe that's glass-half-empty O'Malley putting his two cents in, but I haven't seen it discussed much, and I fear it's a factor we need to consider.

    1. There's nothing wrong with sharing a bit of "fear" in my view, Gerund O'. It's only realistic. If we only always look at things with the glass half full, we'll usually end up awfully disappointed.

      You make a great point about Kessel- in fact, I could have replaced one of my points of the Nonis 'plan' with that: re-signing Kessel. Because, if the Leafs don't do it this summer, I think we're into a big mess as he "plays out his contract" and waits for a huge UFA pay day next summer.

      Your half-season assessment is fair, too. It's really tough to know what we have, based on that limited schedule (and never playing the West) and one playoff round against a Bruins team that is playing way better now, it seems, then when the Leafs caught them.

      Good stuff- thanks for posting, Gerund.

  19. Fire Carlyle, Hire Competence.

    1. I don't agree with this comment, but it's there if others care to respond.

    2. Carlyle is competent!! He also communicates with the players rather than through the media as we have seen in the past.
      Michael, you mentioned a player from the Marlies making the team, Could that be Hamilton to replace Komarov if he decides that he likes the KHL? As far as shut down defensemen go, does Fraser not fit the bill and even though I only saw a few Marlie games Ranger appears to be a solid fit for the Leafs. To me Lyles is a guy we do not need since we have Blacker that can move the puck and really skate as well as Rielly when he is ready to play. I would like to see a backup goalie and give Scrivens the opportunity to make it elsewhere.

    3. I like Fraser a lot, Anon, but he just seems better suited to a lower-minutes regimen, as a 5/6 guy. For me, a shutdown guy is more the classic 25-30 minutes a night defenseman. Fraser plays hard and smart and tough, but struggled in the playoffs at times against the Bruins.

      Hamilton could be the guy to replace Komarov, if Komarov leaves. He has a great approach and is certainly experienced. I think there are a couple of other Marlies who could fit that "agitator" role as well.

      I believe Nonis will have another goalie in place by camp, as a back-up to Reimer. There will be surprises, I sense!

  20. I realize there are some that aren't crazy about Carlyle, which is fine. Some wish they had promoted Eakins instead, and it appears we will soon watch him get his big chance elsewhere. I like his chances wherever he winds up, and certainly will wish him well.

    The Leafs made their choice, however, and that choice is Carlyle. He was brought in to a precarious situation, a team in free fall that had no apparent direction. In short order, Carlyle has done his part to reshape that team, give them a definable system, hold all players accountable, and in what still amounts to less than a full 82 game season, took this team to the playoffs and came ever so close to defeating the one team that has physically and skillfully dominated the Leafs in every way for the past few years.

    The two players who many thought would have trouble with Carlyle were Kessel, due to his defensive liability, and Lupul, due to past history with Carlyle. Well, Kessel played in my opinion his best seaso as a Leaf, while Lupul emerged as a near superstar, and just as important, a team leader.

    Even if you didn't like the choice Burke made I'm hiring Carlyle, you simply don't derail a moving train like this. All my blue-blooded eternal optimism aside, they are moving in the right direction. This is not the time to take things in a new direction. The job is Carlyle's to lose.

    1. I'm with you, Pete. It's easy to find fault with a coach. (And the longer you go in the playoffs in any given year, it is particularly easy. Same with goaltenders. Eventually a coach or goalie will do something and fans will point the finger....)

      Is Carlyle the best coach around? I don't imagine that he is. But he has the attributes we are all aware of by way of his "background" and experience: a long-time player,. long-time minor-league coach/executive, a Cup winner as coach...). And you described two situations that he should receive credit for in his short time in Toronto: giving Kadri a chance to play his game, and creating a seemingly better relationship with Lupul- who has indeed become a team leader.

      If Eakins has success elsewhere, great. It doesn't necessarily mean he would have had success in Toronto.

  21. Well Michael I have said in the past that we need a bold move and a Kadri for Malkin trade would be just that, a true elite number 1 centre to play with Kessel! I think it could be part of a bigger trade. I believe that if Pitt goes out with a whimper that this would be even more realistic. This would be kind of a reset for them and a statement trade for the Leafs like the Gilmour trade was. I would trade Grabbo for a Dman and resign Bozak but not for silly money. Bozak is one of those players who provides intangibles that are not easily measured. I also think Colbourne is ready. As constituted the centre position is a weakness, the Bruins showed that. If you had to give up Gunner in a Grabbo trade to get the minute munching defenseman then so be it. This is how they can move multiple assets to improve the team.

  22. Interesting, purch. Malkin is an elite talent, obviously. But would you still him him as part of the "solution" in Toronto if he he does not step up against the Bruins? Right now, he is surrounded by some pretty good talent. He has won before and been to the finals. Just wondering if you see him as "in his prime" or a potential under-achiever as he ages...?

    The other things you mention could happen. I could see Grabbo and/or Gunner traded. Colborne seems ready, though he needs to prove it over time.

    Bozak will be an interesting call....

    Thanks purch.

  23. Malkin is an elite talent, a change of scenery where he is "the man" I feel would rejuvenate hi> No more under Crosbys shadow. I believe he is in his mid to late twenties so still in his prime, more than a point a game player in his career.

  24. Hi Michael, thanks for all the great posts!

    I'm definitely excited about next season. I expect the Leafs to make the playoffs again, but I agree, it will take a few more key pieces (and probably seasons) before the Leafs can be considered true contenders.

    That being said, I'm quite optimistic about the young resources the organization has in Kadri, Gardiner, Reilly, Colbourne, Frattin, etc... Two of these guys have already improved the Leafs' overall C and D positions.

    Speaking of D, Gardiner should be back in, along with Phaneuf, Gunnerson, and Franson, as the core D to build around. Eventually Rielly steps in; Fraser continues as the sixth or seventh, moving up if needed. However, it's just a starting point, and another solid shutdown D-man would be sweet. I know Ranger requested an AHL-only contract specifically so he wouldn't be moved. If/when he does decide to join the NHL, I expect the Leafs would be on or near the top of the list.

    Up front, some more tough, scoring, defensively-responsible players would be great, but that's what every team wants. We hit the jackpot with JVR and McClement as far as I'm concerned. I think Komorov will be back, and the rumours about his return to the KHL are based on a joke he made to a Russian reporter, in which he also quipped, "They have hockey in Australia too, right? Maybe I should play there..."

    Specifically C: I've had high hopes for Colborne since he was brought over from Beantown, and Kadri and McClement shouldn't go anywhere. Grabbo is a tested (if fading) veteran who could help the young C's a lot. Bozak has good qualities, keeps improving, and maybe re-signing him helps to get a Kessel extension signed sooner/cheaper..? Thats a lot of C's, so, yeah, one or two may have to go to make a big trade (but not Kadri!!!).

    In a way, it's helpful the Leafs couldn't shut Boston down; I think a win might have led to inflated heads (Nonis & Co) not making bold decisions this summer or next year. Even more people would be talking about how we needn't change a thing, but next year will be longer, tougher, and... Detroit is coming back into the conference?

    Anyway, I'm with you, Michael, the team is STILL a work in progress.

    PS: Two huge reasons the Leafs performed so well last year: Randy Carlyle and, our savior, "Saint" James Reimer.

    1. To me, those are all fair points. You are neither unduly hopeful or unnecessarily pessimistic. Some roster changes would be helpful, of course, but that's the case with most teams. As we all keep saying, the Leafs now have some nice pieces- building on that is the next step. I sense some guys will go, but again, all teams face that. We'll learn to like the new players, just as many fans did this past season with Fraser, van Riemsdyk and McClement.

      Thanks Matty D.- good stuff.

  25. I'll say this... there's always lots of chatter in Leafland, but I think this business of finally making the playoffs and then looking like they might actually have gone on to win a series has only heightened the interest and in some cases division amongst the faithful...

    and that's good...