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Taking the late summer temperature of Maple Leaf supporters…

I’ve said this before but today it is true:  this will be brief.  I have a simple question but one that should reveal where our heads are at now less than a month away from pucks flying at Maple Leaf training camp.  And the central question is this:  On the heels of a pretty eventful twelve months which has included…

  • A frustrating lockout
  • The dismissal of Brian Burke
  • A first playoff appearance in almost a decade
  • The emergence of Nazem Kadri
  • Jay McClement leading the Maple Leaf penalty kill makeover
  • Reimer becoming the man in goal and holding down the fort for the Leafs against the Bruins in Round One of the spring dance
  • Kessel demonstrating he can play under pressure (and against the Bruins)
  • The often stellar play of ex-Flyer van Riemsdyk
  • The recent departures of Grabovski, Komisarek, Frattin, Komarov, Scrivens and MacArthur
  • The arrival this summer of David Bolland and David Clarkson
  • The much ballyhooed trade for Jonathan Bernier
  • The intriguing signing of Paul Ranger
  • The hotly debated re-signing of Bozak
  • The lack of a classic frontline center
  • The continued absence of that stud defenseman
  • Continued hopefulness around our prospect pipeline
  • Tim Leiweke’s takeover of the Leaf front office
  • Carlyle being in the unique position of entering his third partial season as Leaf coach, but first full season…

...where are you in terms of your own confidence levels when it comes to the Leafs and the 2013-'14 NHL season?

In specific terms:

  1. Are the Leafs a sure-fire playoff team?
  2. Who’s the number-one goalie?
  3. What surprise does Nonis have in store for us before October 1?
  4. Whose team is this—Leiweke's, Carlyle's, Nonis', Phaneuf's, someone else's?

No analysis today, but lots of questions. If you happen to drop by VLM, I look forward to your answers…


  1. Hi Michael, here's my take:

    1) No, but I'm not pessimistic either. I think the short season did us some favours last year but that isn't proof that we absolutely couldn't have sustained some of our better behaviours over a longer season.

    2) I think Reimer and I hope they give him a chance to play his way out of it rather than just putting Bernier straight in.

    3) I hate to say it (and it may not be much of a surprise) but he'll trade Franson for sweet FA

    4) Carlyle's, Carlyle's, Carlyle's.

    1. That's what I'm looking for KiwiLeaf- thanks for starting the conversation...


    2. I'm just struggling to see him thinking he can afford him. Given the way he's overpaid forwards all summer long (Bozak, Clarkson, Orr, McLaren - see my answer to point [4]) I can only assume he'll consider signing Kadri a priority over Franson and I can't see him getting both underneath the cap

  2. Michael,

    Great summary of a wild twelve months.

    My answers to your questions:

    1. Yes, the Leafs are a playoff team. My gut tells me Detroit and Boston might finish 1-2 in the division, but Toronto should finish ahead of Montreal for third, and if not, there are still two wild-card spots available.

    2. Bernier leaves camp as the number one goaltender, and by virtue of his acquisition and subsequent signing, will be given every opportunity to maintain it all season.

    3. Nonis re-signs Kadri and Franson to shorter term, "bridge" deals, before October 1.

    4. This team is Randy Carlyle's. Having Orr and McLaren on the roster, re-signing Fraser, adding Clarkson and Bolland...tough to see all of that grit being around without his input and approval.

    Coincidence or not, this roster is starting to feel a lot like Carlyle's 2007 Ducks...that season, only one player scored as many as 30 goals, a good goaltending duo and a lot of sandpaper up and down the lineup.

    Just sayin'.

    1. Yeah, about that... I take your point about sandpaper but he wrapped all those lovely irritants around:
      Niedermeyer (x2)

      and in the only names we have to be mentioned in the same breath as those (in my opinion) are:

    2. The Ducks did have a nice blend of skill and rugged play, KiwiLeaf. The Leafs are on that path, maybe not there yet. Certainly no Pronger or Niedermayer, agreed...

  3. Agreed, the roster feels as though it has been constructed to suit Carlyle's 'style' of play. Anaheim '07? We could do worse, eh? Good to hear from you, Paul.

  4. 1) I want them to be a "sure-fire" playoff team, but think they're an "embers-glowing" type of team. Last year didn't make me feel confident we would have seen the same results if it had been a full schedule. But I do feel hopeful!

    2) I don't think either goalie will be #1 out of camp. It will take 20 games, and then we'll know.

    3) I don't expect any surprises from Nonis. I do expect him to sign both Kadri and Franson.

    4) I'd say this is Nonis' team, and Carlyle is his coach.

  5. Thanks Gerund O'- Sounds like you're good with the current roster- at least hopeful!

  6. Happy summer, Michael! It is getting closer to hockey season, I'm already at the rink this week with my son for pre-tryout conditioning, so I'm starting to get the bug for hockey again. My responses...

    1) This is a playoff team. They are arguably no better and no worse than last year, and last year they made the playoffs by a comfortable margin.

    2) It appears clear from that outsider in charge's comments that Bernier was brought in to be the number one goalie. I am not convinced for a minute that he's better than Riemer, so as long as Riemer isn't traded, Carlyle will give him ample playing time.

    3) Maybe just wishful thinking, but I'm hoping to see Nonis pull off a nice salary dump trade like Burke did to Anaheim a couple years ago. I don't even care if he accidentally stumbles upon a goldmine like he did in Lupul and Gardiner. It would just be nice to see someone take on excess salary like Liles and take it off the Leafs books so they may secure Kadri and Franson.

    4) It pains me to say it, but Lieweke seems to be wrestling control of this team. The more he opens his mouth, the more he aggravates me. His latest comments gave me that sinking feeling that you had described about a month ago. Patting himself on the back again for bringing "Stanley Cup experience" to the team. That is if you're convinced that a backup goalie sitting on the bench through an entire postseason qualifies as experience that is being brought here. Then using his deluded sense of self and the team he feels he has now created to point out that Kadri and Franson should feel happy just to be here. Hell, they should just play for free. And finally, he doesn't even know the first name of one of the franchise's cornerstone players. Or he's arrogant enough to show that he just doesn't care what his name is. I have less and less faith by the day that he will step back and let Nonis and Carlyle do their job.

    1. Well Toronto made the playoffs comfortably thisyear, they were also only 2 points out of 8th place and only two points ahead of the Islanders and the Blue Jackets, the margin for error is actually very very small, especially as the Atlantic is far and away the harder of the two divisions.

      Ottawa/Montreal/Boston/Toronto are all going to battling it out for spots, though is possible all five could make it in.

    2. It's felt to me, Sensfan90, that the East has been wide open every year in recent seasons, with lots of teams on the playoff "bubble". Things can change quickly, but I certainly agree that the Atlantic won't be easy...thanks for taking the time to visit. Good luck to the Sens this season!

  7. I expect Reimer to be traded sooner than later. Bernier is the #1 goalie. I believe that this team is Leiweke's team now. Nonis just happens to fit his plan as long as the Leafs go well. I think that Leafs are contenders for a playoff and could go further than one round.

    1. As I've noted here before, I, too, would be surprised if Reimer is not moved as soon as Nonis can find a trading partner, drgreg.

      It's been a while since we've been past the first round- so that would be OK!

  8. Glad to hear that you're son is getting ready for the new hockey season, Pete. It's a wonderful time of year, and it's always fun to get the skates back on- regardless of how old we are. (And it can help us get in the mood for NHL hockey, too...)

    You're not alone (number 3) in hoping Nonis can shed salary somewhere- not only to be able to sign key players now, but for a little wiggle room to add down the road.

    On number 4, you've said it perfectly. I've made my views on that subject known. And no, it hasn't gotten any better with each subsequent public comment. The guy thinks he's the first executive here to care about winning, etc.. How unaware can a person be? Jim Gregory, Cliff Fletcher, Pat Burns, Pat Quinn, Brian Burke, none of those people had a vision or passion or cared about instilling the right kind of team culture? C'mon. Thanks Pete.

  9. 1. Are the Leafs a sure-fire playoff team?

    I remember answering this question before last season and was surprised by the Leafs' performance as well as several other teams in the East. Last year was unique for so many reasons and makes it tricky to predict how the team will do with a full 82 game schedule, and back playing western teams. Add in Detroit to the east and the landscape changes considerably. Leafs may be hard-pressed to finish in the top three of their division but I'd like to think they are good enough to be a wildcard.

    2. Who’s the number-one goalie?

    James Reimer. The only way that changes is if Reimer gets hurt, or Bernier manages to steal the net.

    3. What surprise does Nonis have in store for us before October 1?

    I doubt there will be any real surprises. Maybe some minor tweaks is about all we should expect. More likely to see a surprise before the trade deadline, and again next summer.

    4. Whose team is this—Leiweke's, Carlyle's, Nonis', Phaneuf's, someone else's?

    Ultimately this is Bell and Rogers team. For right now the focal point seems to be Randy Carlyle. The moves Nonis has made very much align themselves with the style and type of players that Carlyle prefers. If Carlyle is ever given the boot, the focus will turn to someone else. I see Leiweke as just a buffer for the owners. Bell & Rogers are trying to hide behind the curtain (like the Wizard of Oz).

    1. I want to believe they are a playoff team, Don (TML_fan) and perhaps even better than that.

      I'll be pleasantly surprised if Reimer is the man in goal.

      Like all GM's, Nonis is always on the lookout to make moves, as needed.

      Love the Wizard of Oz reference- thanks Don!

  10. Playoff: I struggle with their poor Corsi but I don't see them as being the second worst team in the NHL as that stat suggests. I sort of half support and half disagree with advanced stats. That is, they are a bubble playoff team.
    Goalie: I don't care. The cream will rise to the top.
    Surprise: I want an upgrade to the leaf defense though more likely Liles being traded.
    Whose Team: This is the coach's team and that is not a bad thing. However, the choice of coach maybe up for debate.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, leafer. Given the longstanding parity nowadays in the NHL, it feels most years that there are a lot of "bubble" teams when it comes to playoff possibilities- the Leafs among them.

      They should be better than that this season, but there are no guarantees, as we all understand.

  11. "The continued absence of that stud defenseman"


    1. Not sure if you disagree with the statement, Spencer, or are frustrated that we haven't landed one!

  12. 1.Are the Leafs a sure-fire playoff team?

    Not "sure-fire" something could go wrong and they could mis the playoffs, but I think they probably get in and get to the second round.

    I actually think last year's team with all that speed and depth at forward could have gone as far as third round, but they met the best team in the East in the first round.

    If Grabovski could have got scoring and like the past and they had just gotten past Boston, they could have beat somebody in the second round.

    This year's team is not as fast and the absence of Grabovski, MacArthur, Frattin and Komorov will hurt. However, I think they will be more consistent and play better defence. They will be very carefull about winning as many games as possible against the lower ranked teams, so that they get that good matchup in the first round. They won't make that mistake again. It may be a bit boring at times, but the play will be business-like and effective.

    2.Who’s the number-one goalie?

    Both...Riemer will prove to be a number one until he gets injured, which does happen to them. At that point Bernier will come in and look like a number one and Tim Leiweke and Noonis will look like an managment team that properly managed risk of injury. Hopefully both guys are healthy and fresh for the playoffs.

    3.What surprise does Nonis have in store for us before October 1?

    He's going to use the percieved problem of a lack of cap space to strong arm Kadri and Franson into shorter contracts that are quite reasonable. After he does it, people around the League will praise him for being bold, taking a risk and getting the desired result.

    4.Whose team is this—Leiweke's, Carlyle's, Nonis', Phaneuf's, someone else's?

    Leiweke's, Carlyle's and Nonis...It's a corporation, describe it as management by committee.

    Those three men will throw Phaneuf or any other player under the bus if they think there is a better set of assets coming the other way. We have already seen it.. so long Grabovski, MacArthur, Frattin and Ben Scrivens.

    1. Always enjoy your frank assessments- thanks DP! And yes, it looks like few, if any players, are irreplaceable...

  13. 1. Yes, we are a playoff team.
    2. Bernier
    3. Franson will become our Stud Defensman..already is did anyone see the playoffs
    4. It our team...lets go for it

    1. Thanks for visiting, Anon. Now we just need to re-sign Franson!

  14. 1. Unless the Leafs are absolutely decimated by injuries they are a sure fire playoff team. I figure they could finish anywhere between 5-8th in the conference. They have two emerging number one goalies, a top 4 group of D in franson phaneuf gardiner and gunnarson that looks better each and every year. Phaneuf franson and gardiner could easily all finish in the top ten in defensive scoring. They boast a talented and now big group of wingers with lupul jvr clarkson and kessel all potential if not sure fire 30 goal scorers. Despite not having an elite centreman they are extremely deep at this position. An elite role player in mcclement, kadri who has enormous potential and is pretty damn good as is. Dave bollands accomplishments speak for himself and just because bozak is not an elite number one center, doesn't mean he is a liability to the team. Compliment all that with Carlyle and yeah the Leafs are a surefire playoff team, one just outside the elite 4 in the league (as are many others)
    2. I believe Nonis truely does believe in the newfound depth in goal. When this season ends both will be Leafs and neither the obvious starter. I think both will step up to the challenge
    3. Liles will end up buried in the minors like Komisarek before him or they trade him for basically nothing and retain some salary but get rid of just enough to sign their two prized rfas.
    4. The leafs used a committee style approach with nonis calling the shots but taking Carlyle's opinion very seriously. Now that Leweike is in town, he's the big bad boss who will make or break these Leafs, however he has several other franchises to worry about so Nonis is trusted to make decisions for the most part.

    1. I enjoyed your post, Garey. I don't know if you have visited VLM before but hope you'll drop by again...

    2. Thanks mike. I stumbled across VLM just today and really enjoyed it. I am sure to be back.

    3. Thanks Garey- if you ever have some time, check back on some older posts. Lots to bat around!

  15. 1. I would be really surprised if the Leafs don't make the playoffs. I think that on paper we look like the best team in the East right now. If we stay healthy I really don't see us being pushed out of the playoff spot. The only thing that worries me is our lack of depth on the wings now that we've lost Frattin and MacArthur. If one or two of our top 4 wingers goes down we're in trouble.

    2. I think both goalies will get the chance to play just like Scrivens and Reimer did last season. I think they will both play well but I think ultimately Bernier will earn the playoffs job. In the playoffs he'll either turn out to be the next Tim Thomas or fail miserably and get run out of town.

    3. I think Franson will be signed before the season starts and Kadri will have to watch Colborne taking his job away from him for the first few weeks of the season before he finally realizes that he still has to prove he's worth more than a bridge-contract. I really hope this doesn't affect his performance negatively. I wish there were a better way to do this but I really don't think there is. Liles is pretty much worthless and Franson has proven himself and has already honoured his bridge-contract - he has to get paid.

    4. I think Nonis is delivering what Carlyle's asking of him so this is essentially Carlyle's team. It seems to me that Leiweke's pushing Nonis a bit out of his comfort zone in direction of going for more daring and splashy moves, however, and, although I don't think that's a bad thing in general, I am a little worried about losing a cornerstone player such as Kadri or Kessel or Phaneuf as it's looking like for the big man upstairs noone is untouchable. I'm already a little worried about the effect of big moves this summer on our team chemistry and making another big splash at the trade deadline may tip the balance a little too much. I think before the end of the season a move will be made - either a prudent move to shed some salary and get rid of one or two defencemen in exchange for a nice young winger or a big splashy Beckham-type acquisition that will up the media ratings but get us away from the hard-working team-first oriented road we've been on. Then we'll know who's really calling the shots - Leiweke or Carlyle. I hope that Carlyle philosophy prevails. I really like Carlyle and I think what he has done with this team in such short time is amazing. I fear, however, that Nonis's assignment is to get us a Crosby or Toewes and that the price may be too high.

    1. Appreciate your comments (as always), leafdreamer. Interesting notion, that Colborne could use Kadri's "holdout" (if that were to happen) absence to earn a spot.

      Franson's contract will get done, I think. I'd hate to see him elsewhere, given that he is seemingly now coming into his own.

      I also hope Nonis will be able to follow his own lead. We know what Carlyle wants in a team. Lwiweke can talk vision as much as he wants, but hopefully the hockey guys will be allowed to do it their way.


  16. A sure-fire playoff team?

    Barring major injuries, I don't see regression to the ranks of 'also ran' this coming season (even if Detroit excels in the East, which storyline does intrigue me...)

    Who’s the number-one goalie?

    I think Bernier gets the start in Montreal (unless his pre-season is awful), and Reimer takes his perfect (career record) into the game with Ottawa. I believe we'll get a 45-37 split of games for each to show his stuff and presume Bernier will get the most 2nd chances. If Reimer can do his magic and string some games together, he may just get the 45 (as long as he doesn't garner trade interest too soon).

    What surprise does Nonis have in store for us before October 1?

    My speculation juices are leaning to a big splash before the season. Nashville can't afford to keep Weber (and I'm not sure he's a huge upgrade on Phaneuf, but he is signed until the 22nd century at a circumventing 7.857M cap hit) with his 13M signing bonus hovering overhead. Toronto could afford this kind of heavy cap hit and Nashville could probably sell their fans on a captain-for-captain trade, though I'm thinking they would also get his D-partner Gunnarson in the deal.

    I think this allows us room to sign Kadri and Franson, giving us a Liles-Weber; Gardiner-Franson; Fraser/Brennan-Ranger/Holzer defensive lineup. Liles would probably up his trade value for the deadline and leave a space for Granberg/Reilly/?? after we glean some presently unexpected asset(s) for Liles.

    We may just find a significant change to the defensive lineup going forward.

    Also, I think the Komarov situation was set up as a win-win possibility. Leo gets more money in the KHL, while showing his wares to get on the Olympic team. Their season ends before ours and his contract rights are ours.

    We may be able to 'save up' some cap space by running a 22 or 21-man roster that could absorb a known quantity heading into the playoffs, WITHOUT trading away any assets. I think Leo will be back at the end of the season!

    Whose team is this—Leiweke's, Carlyle's, Nonis', Phaneuf's, someone else's?

    I think it's a 'stew' of 'all of the above' (excepting Phaneuf, even if he's still here, despite my best armchair GM-ing

    1. You've mentioned the Nashville trade possibility before, InTimeFor62. It remains an intriguing thought.

      I had not thought in terms of Komarov being back in time for the playoffs...

      Thanks for checking in, InTimeFor62.

  17. Yes, and this time realized Nashville might want a steady pairing, hence the Gunnar addition (I would think there may be picks/prospects, too, but it gets cluttered when you add in extras - just went with the principals).

    The Preds would save some significant coin, remain competitive and build for the future.

    The Leafs have a lot of cash and a splash for the media owners (and hopefully, two right side D to complement Gardiner and Reilly)... seems like a strong foundation for a D corps.

  18. The continued absence of that stud defenseman?

    What surprise does Nonis have in store for us before October 1?

    Maybe we did acquire the somewhat stud defenseman already and that is the surprise?

    His name is Paul Ranger and he might provide a substantial upgrade the Leafs defense.

    Here's a really interesting and very good article on that subject. After reading it, I see a new possibility for improvement with the Leafs:

  19. Well done DP! I was gonna' post the same link because it makes me think about my speculation that 'on the other hand' - pairing Ranger with Phaneuf (both of whom can play both sides on the D) for 5 on 5 might be the singular best thing we could do to improve next season. That post by Not Norm Ullman really got me thinking about what 'we already have'!

    Both could play the PK (with Gunnar and Fraser handling the 2nd PK pairing). They could maybe even be the PP 2nd pairing (thereby finally cutting down some of Phaneuf's minutes) and allow Franson and Gardiner to engineer the first PP...

    Of course, this leaves me hoping that Nonis has found a place for Liles, because I think he will have a pretty good year if given the chance. This wouldn't disrupt the core as much; we'd be building from within, and; I seem to recall Leiweke commenting that a move like Beckham may be more important in other sports than in hockey, though the Beckham comment made me think about Weber to begin with...

    Just like you, Michael, I'm not convinced we need a Weber, just started thinking about 'the big splash' that would be made if we extrapolated Leiweke's comment into Shea...

    Reviewing Ranger's pedigree (and remembering how the team seemed to be hoping he might be ready to join the big team) made me more excited about our internal options!

    1. As I think I've mentioned in an earlier post, on any given day, I feel hopeful about the roster, including our defense group.

      At the same time, there are still some unknowns (Ranger's long-term effectiveness, Gardiner's ability in his own zone, Gunner actually being able to take his game to that elusive next level, Fraser and Franson not being one-year wonders, etc.).

      It's summer, we can dream!

  20. I was thinking we might have these parings

    Phaneuf and Gunnar (worked before)
    Gardiner and Franson (scary offensive potential shown in the playoffs)
    Fraser and Ranger (ease in Ranger with lower minutes)

    Liles could be the guy who moves in when there are injuries, plus you could showcase him for trade in the first 20 games, espcially if Franson holds out.

    If Liles was getting points and Leafs were prepared to pay $1-2 million of his salary, he could be very tradable to a team with early season injuries or a need of an offensive defenseman.

    At that point the right shooting Jesse Blacker becomes our 7th defenceman and better balances our abundance of left-handed shooters. I'm almost sure Blacker is still waiver expempt so you can easily push him up and down as needed and really help the cap situation.

    It's not a perfect situation, but it might be pretty darn good and better than many other teams.

    1. On that note DP, let's hope there are no holdouts. It often seems as though players who miss training camp find it hard to regain their form. That said, as I write this, didn't Doughty have that long holdout? While he struggled at first upon his return, the Kings won the Cup that season, right? Maybe I'm not not remembering correctly...

    2. Yes...

      So as long as the Leafs get Kadri and Franson signed relatively early and it doesn't hamper them getting a good first round matchup, then all should be ok.

    3. Another thing that many people don't realize is that Liles' contract drops to 2.75 million in the last year.

      In that final year, two years from now, Liles is probably very tradeable. He's probably even very tradable a year from now. Just one million over 2 years in retained salary to the Leafs would take him down to 3 million per year for two years. With a rising cap, some teams could be interested in that.