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A nod to Elliotte Friedman: 31 thoughts about the Maple Leafs heading into a new season

Over the years, long-time Hockey Night in Canada regular Elliotte Friedman has become a fine sports journalist.  One of his mainstay forums is the weekly “30 thoughts” column at   Most fans appreciate his musings and insights about the game today, right across the league.

So with Elliotte in mind, I’ll pay homage by following a bit of his format while nonetheless focusing exclusively on the Leafs.  (Today’s post is also a glove-tap to a family memory that has to do with the world of professional wrestling.  One of my sons - Christopher, now an adult himself - and I used to watch wrestling together a quite a bit many years ago, as did our two oldest sons.  One night we were watching the old WCW, and a then young Chris Jericho talked about his rival, Dean Malenko, the “man of a thousand moves”.  Jericho said he stayed up all night counting his own moves, and he discovered that he actually had 1,001. My son and I got a big kick out of that particular wrestling ‘spot’.

So today, like Jericho years ago, I’ll try to go one better than Elliotte. (Just don’t hold me to his standard…)

  1. While they will say it’s a level-playing field competition, I really think the Leaf brass wants Jonathan Bernier to emerge as the number-one Leaf netminder. 
  2. Though he is a defensive-minded coach, Randy Carlyle knows the value of a puck-moving defenseman and I sense he wants Morgan Rielly to make the Leaf roster.
  3. Do I understand correctly that Joffrey Lupul somehow got hurt before training camp even officially started? It's sure not like the old days, when guys came to camp just to get into shape.  Today's players work out so hard in the summer they get injured before they even start.
  4. While I believe the Leafs should make extending Kessel a priority before he hits free-agency next summer, I fear the young winger will not sign before the season starts—and that means he will not re-sign here before early July. And that equals testing the free-agent waters.
  5. While David Bolland is not a savior, I’m not as negative on his arrival as some are.  To me, it’s just a question of having realistic expectations for him.
  6. I know Joe Colborne is signed to play here; I’m just not sure where he fits.  He’s a center, and I don’t like centers, including Jay McClement, playing the wing. We can’t go with five centers. Centers should play center.  Wingers should play the wing.
  7. Cody Franson, as I posted here a while back, has made a serious error in not signing.  I like him and he could be an important player here.  But if there’s a protracted holdout his season could be in jeopardy, at least as far as the Leafs are concerned.  These things tend to go as follows:  the player comes back late; they get injured; they are under a microscope; the coach is privately  ticked;  the player’s performance suffers; a negative cycle kicks in; his value drops off. Not good.
  8. We will hear no end of positive stories out of Leaf camp.  Everyone will be “bigger, faster, stronger” so they can handle the physical demands of the NHL—or conversely, they will have come to camp with less body fat, or lighter, to improve their quickness and agility.  Whatever.  Mostly I want the season to start.
  9. I wonder if Carlyle will go with Phaneuf/Gardiner (both can log big minutes; does Gardiner even breathe out there?), Gunnarsson/Ranger and Liles/Fraser?  If Liles is somehow moved and Franson does not sign soon, Rielly becomes the next guy up.
  10. On that note, if Liles is given a chance, I would not be surprised to hear, in the next week, that Liles “looks better" than he ever has with the Leafs.  He should be motivated, and hey, the Leafs will be looking to pump him up for public consumption.
  11. I have no feel for how Steve Spott will do as coach of the Marlies.  Some of you may, because you know him by reputation in junior hockey if you have seen him in action. I do know that Dallas Eakins was more than a coach—he was a guy who also developed players.  That may be missed.
  12. I don’t see Reimer and Bernier playing 41 games each.  I think one of the two plays at least 60.  (It will be Bernier.) This pre-supposes the team will play well, for the most part.
  13. I still don’t like Carlyle’s “win and you’re in” approach.  I just think it’s wrong-headed. Guys don’t generally play well with the threat of a benching or demotion hanging over their head.  You can “win” and play lousy and play tremendously well and lose.  It’s just not the smart way to make decisions.
  14. I wonder if Jay McClement can possibly be as effective a second time around in Toronto.  Last year he was a revelation to a lot of us, but for many, expectations going in were, well, zero.  So it’s hard to imagine he will be better.  As good as last year would be very nice.
  15. With Orr and MacLaren still around, Colborne will be lucky to get regular ice.  But beyond that, if Leaf officials were really honest, I’d love to know who they think/feel is truly the next best young forward prospect in the system?
  16. I know a lot of fans still want to ‘credit” Burke with whatever this Leaf team may accomplish, but for better or worse I now feel it is more a Nonis team than it was before the summer began.
  17. That said, it’s really a team that reflects Carlyle most of all.
  18. I keep asking myself who is going to have a breakout offensive season, you know, someone who will surprise us beyond the usual suspects like Kessel and Lupul.  Will it be Kadri?  Or maybe van Riemsdyk?  Will Clarkson deliver more than we expect? (Some have already lessened their expectations of him, it seems…)
  19. If Orr or MacLaren are hurt for an extended period of time, who is the next “tough guy” in the system that could get a shot? Broll?  Devane?
  20. I’ve been saying for years that parity throughout the league has meant for a watered-down Eastern Conference and that many teams, including the Leafs, have roster flaws.  This year should be no different.  There will be lots of playoff “bubble” teams. So if the Leafs have indeed improved, can they win their Division?  Can they finish third overall, sixth?  I’m not into predictions but they should be a serious playoff team.
  21. By the way, that’s the assumption we should have as fans, that this team at least makes the playoffs.  The bar has to be a lot higher than that.  Winning a round next spring should be the minimum expectation for this club, no excuses. We are, after all, now five full years into the former General Manager's tenure.
  22. Will there be a training camp “surprise” this season? I’m struggling to determine who the surprise player (as in unexpectedly making the opening night roster) might be.
  23. I still think Orr and MacLaren will play most nights during the regular season. Hopefully they won’t be limited to three minutes a night if they are in the lineup.
  24. After two less than stellar seasons, I guess I just have to accept that Kulemin will not be a major offensive threat, and see him as a strictly useful third-line player.  While many still defend him -and I did for years -  and I accept he won’t be a 30-goal guy again, I’d like him to hit more often.  (I do think he could be dealt at some point.)
  25. By the way, if you had to pick one Leaf who could indeed be traded during the season, who might it be, besides the guy everyone talks about—Liles (in terms of moving contract)? 
  26. Does Reimer last the season, or do the Leafs look to move him to a team that needs goaltending?  Some have suggested here that, for a lot of reasons, Calgary would make some sense.
  27. Many feel the Leafs would not have made the playoffs if last year had been a regular 82-game schedule.  Given that this will be Carlyle’s first full season as Leaf coach, it should be very instructive to see how the team performs over the long haul—and then, presumably, the playoffs.
  28. If Franson signs and Rielly still makes the team on merit, who is the odd man out?
  29. Bozak, despite all the criticism, is still a useful player.  I'm not sure he was worth the contract he received in terms of amount or term, but given the economics of the game today, I guess the Leafs wanted him back, obviously, even at that significant salary.
  30. I do have to think the Leafs will at least consider giving Kadri a chance to play on the top line at some point, if not necessarily permanently.  Maybe on the power play, to start?
  31. In recent years I was always concerned that the Leafs had too many 'bottom-six' forwards populating the top two lines.  I don't have that nagging feeling any longer. 

And a bonus: Carter Ashton or Mason Raymond?  Or both?

However positive or less than optimistic fans might be (most, I sense, are quite bullish on Leaf prospects), the good news is the pre-season (i.e. exhibition games, or as the league likes to call them, pre-seaosn games) is under way.  Before we know it, it will be October 1, opening night.

I never wish time away, but I do look forward to a new hockey season. So as always, if you have comments to make, don’t hold back!


  1. Coupla thoughts after tonights preseason tilt vs Philly:
    -Kadri is picking up right where he left off. It's only the preseason and half the teams are AHL and junior players but he sure looked good out there.
    -Paul Ranger dominated. Again with the above caveat but it may make Franson a non-issue. In a non-cap world Franson would be traded for a young forward by now.
    -Reilly showed flashes of brilliance but if the option is there to send him down after 9 I am betting that may be what happens...for the fact that there is a crowd on the blueline. One of those 'nice to have' problems I think.
    -Reimer gave up a 3 goal lead...again. Just saying. How much will these new smaller pads affect him?

    I will be watching tomorrow night's preseason game in person. Haven't been to a live Leafs game in 2 years, hope to get a better sense of this team by seeing them in the flesh.

    1. While I rarely put much stock in exhibition games (let's face it; it's pre-season- we have to go through regular-seaosn, the playoff push and then the playoffs before we can really see how good guys are when it matters), it's always better to play well than not.

      As for Reimer, I guess my question is: is it really fair to put that on him, or is it the team? We often pinpoint a goalie for not holding a lead, when it's the team in front of the goalie that stops doing their respective jobs.

      Let me know what you notice in person tomorrow, night! Thanks Sean.

  2. 6. I know Joe Colborne is signed to play here; I’m just not sure where he fits.

    Third line winger or fourth line winger or center. He may play with better players on the fourth line, McLaren might be injured.

    11. I have no feel for how Steve Spott will do as coach of the Marlies.

    I was leary because of the lack of gold at World Juniors, but he is winning me over. He isn't Dallas Eakins but he is quite competent and will do a good job of developing players. A good safe choice by Leafs management.

    13. I still don’t like Carlyle’s “win and you’re in” approach.

    It's more complex than that. He gave further explanation in an interview, talking about resting players and noting how well Reimer plays against Ottawa. He said there was a high probablility Reimer starts those games.

    18. I keep asking myself who is going to have a breakout offensive season, you know, someone who will surprise us beyond the usual suspects like Kessel and Lupul.

    Mason Raymond...He had a goal and an assist tonight in the first preseason game. He is going to be a killer in the bottom 6. It might only be 12 or 16 goals but they are going to be big goals from the third line.

    19. If Orr or MacLaren are hurt for an extended period of time, who is the next “tough guy” in the system that could get a shot? Broll? Devane?

    Broll first and maybe Devane but I am not sure that it will come this year. Broll had fight tonight. Broll also had an assist tonight on the winning goal and I think Devane got an assist on the second goal. Our future tough guys are better hockey players.

    Carter Ashton or Mason Raymond? Or both?

    Mason Raymond at a really low contract, maybe close to league minimum. Carter Ashton next year. He still hasn't dominated at the AHL level. He needs to do that this year.

    1. Thanks DP. I always value (and trust) your perspective.

  3. Hi Mike, good write-up.

    15. Losing or halting the development of prospects in favour of icing both Orr and McLaren is really sad. Not finding a comfortable place for guys like Colborne and D'Amigo to break into the NHL because you ice a "Liability Line" for 4 minutes a night is frustrating.

    19. Why does there need to be another "tough guy"? We still employ Mark Fraser. Bolland and Clarkson aren't scared to muck it up. Does this team really need to worry about replacing players that can't take regular shifts with players that can't take regular shifts? Why not have D'Amigo, Colborne or even Tyler Biggs replace the injured pugilist? Each brings toughness, and if we need to have a heavyweight fight we still have Orr or McLaren (whomever isn't hurt).

    23. Sorry I'm harping on the fighters, but a line with Orr and McLaren on it has to be limited to low minutes. Any other team's 4th line literally can skate circles around this line. Having it caught out on defensive zone draws against other teams top lines is a nightmare. If we could limit the 4th line to one heavyweight then maybe the minutes could inch up towards 10 minutes a game.

    24. With an expiring contract Kulemin is tradeable (I still hope he's in our long-term plans). Especially if the 3rd line is as good at shutting down the opposition as I hope it will be. Rumours (for what they're worth) have had Pittsburgh sniffing around for Nikolai for as long as I can recall. If he is truly not in the long term vision we should at least get something for him.

    26. If we're in the position to move a goaltender this spring then that means the Bernier deal paid off. I think the cart is way ahead of the horse here given how few games he's played in the NHL and considering the respective strengths of the Kings vs the Leafs.

    28. Liles, and we also won't go into game 1 with a full roster (don't think he can be moved).

    1. Good to hear from you, Alex!

      just to be clear, I'm not advocating for Orr and MacLaren; I'm somewhat ambivalent about their supposed "effectiveness" or overall usefulness. They are traditional protectors/enforcers but as you say (and as I have posted here many times before) there is a lot more to real hockey toughness than being able to fight.

      Kulemin probably would be a good fit in Pittsburgh. It would be nice if he was a good fit, still, here! Thanks Alex.

  4. Cody Franson needs to sign, Morgan Reilly goes back to junior (silly as the rule is - he should be with the Marlies), Mason Raymond makes the team and, fingers crossed, stays healthy, the goalies do the same and play well, and the Leafs have a solid season. Ah, wouldn't it be loverly?

    1. You raise a very good point about the junior player eligibility rules. Just as exceptions are made for 14/15 year olds who are deemed "exceptional" and are allowed to play junior hockey, surely there are players who may benefit from playing professionally but not necessarily in the NHL.

      I realize this would likely open a can of worms (and junior organizations would not like it at all). Generally speaking, I'm not in favour of players making the jump at 18 to the NHL unless they are Crosby-like. But it does kind of feel as though Rielly may benefit from exposure to playing at a better level. Thanks BCLeafFan.

  5. Michael, I think the "win and you're in" approach has been caricatured a bit. Carlyle wants to win hockey games and anyone who has spent his life in the game understands that a goalie who plays spectacularly in defeat does not deserve to lose the job. Carlyle will not declare a goalie a "loser" after a 1-0 defeat. "Win," unlike "play well," just happens to rhyme with "in."

    And while your more subtle point about having to perform under the threat of replacement is a more serious concern, I think he was just trying to say the message that both Reimer and Bernier have an honest opportunity to earn and keep the job with strong play.

    1. I think you may be right, Mike D. I've just heard him say it too many times.

      At the end of the day, as you mention, Carlyle will determine who he thinks is playing well. Thanks Mike.

  6. I'm pretty sure Pittsburgh would love to have Kulemin. He is best friends with Malkin and the two grew up playing together. In fact Kulemin netted 30 goals playing with Malkin during the lock-out. The problem is that Pittsburgh are over the cap and would insist on sending a player back. Having cap problems as well, the Leafs would likely want a pick or prospect. C.N.

    1. Cap issues certainly make "hockey deals" tough these days, C.N. - thanks for visiting.

  7. Hi Michael,

    Interesting points and I have to agree on Friedman. Often he is the most sensible and have insight-fulness that is not common amongst the many personalities.

    You've raised many interesting points and I think this year will be a very exciting and interesting one. On to the points of this silly pre season hype.

    1. Nonis didn't give up too assets and 2.3 Million in cap space extra for a back up.

    2. Unfortunately, I am afraid having Reilly making the team will be the case. Hopefully, it will at worst last only 9 games.

    3. Jeffrey is just cementing his reputation and giving Troy Brodie a chance to replace him

    4. He is going to test the market if he is not already traded by the deadline. Unless, max terms and dollars are in the equation and that obvious signs that the Leafs are now cup contenders. Sigh...or to Calgary for 1st in 2014 and 1st in 2015 and if we have to, we'll take that Calamari guy.

    5. Please don't be like Coby Armstrong then all is good.

    6. He could be with that Kessel package going the other way

    7. If Kadri "lost" as an RFA with him being the best offensive center on the roster, how long will Franson sit before "losing" too or traded when they have.....oh god no....Reilly available?

    8. With the performance of the Blue Jays, TFC and soon the Arg...never mind. Are you kidding me? Leafs pre season just got started!!!!!

    9. Please stop the Reilly playing in the show talk. It might (will) happen.

    10.It's hard to package $3.875 Million cap-space without a little glorified pumping.

    11.We don't care about the Marlie's coach since Wilson is gone....Not until the leafs are 2 games under 500 at the break and Carlyle implode with Damien Cox AND Steve Simmons while on 24/7

    12. Well Reimer will play 60 games too...including the ones with his new team..cough cough Calgary

    13. That's the only way to justify Reimer's position it until the season start.

    14. What have you done for me lately?

    15. Someone post the Franson, Kessel, Reimer or Phaneuf trade

    16. See point 15.

    17. And Burke's team if only Wilson wasn't there for that 3 7/8 years

    18. Kulemin...wait, lightning doesn't strike twice.

    19. That Fraser guy is looks a lot tougher now with the titanium cranium.

    20. Only if Afie gets boo at the New Canadian Tire place every time he touches the puck...even when the no Leafs fans are in the audience

    21. Just holding on to win if up 3-0. Pre season doesn't count

    22. Troy Brodie making the team...well not really if that was the case...the surprise part.

    23. Doesn't playing time include while you sit in the penalty box?

    24. He can definitely be a 20 goals man if not 30 if he gets to play with Malkin again.

    25. Reimer because it would be an too obvious not to let him be playing closer to home

    26. He's too friendly for the Leiwenke corporate structure and already married to someone not related to Tim

    27. But then these are the same people that probably said they would not have cough up a 3 goals lead if they had a 82 games season to realize not to put Phaneuf on the ice after only leading by 2 with 2 minutes left.

    28. Please at least consider Phaneuf.

    29. Especially if he can convince his buddy to stay by slipping a couple of stuff envelope under Phil's pillow after making his bed nightly

    30. He has to earned it first by making Jeffrey a 50 goals man.

    31. Yes but can you still not say that about the defence?

    Can't wait till the season officially starts.

    1. Good of you to read today's post closely enough that you could provide an interesting (and often tongue-in-cheek!) perspective on all the points! I'm sure your comments brought out some smiles as well today, Lukas- thanks.

  8. Don't worry about #13
    "Win and you're in" is just a soundbyte.
    It wouldn't sound too smooth to qualify the statement with "unless you lose but are also playing better than the other guy.... unless playing well but somehow still losing isn't a trend"

    Wilson made similar comments yet went with the goalie he felt would play better.
    Carlyle will do the same.

  9. Hi Michael,

    (4) Give him all the money. If the Leafs are serious about winning a Cup any time soon, the team needs Kessel on it. A quick look at forwards who will be UFA next year and who earn more than Kessel right now offers Heatley, Gaborik, Vanek, Thornton, Marleau, Statsny (?!), the Sedins, Iginla, Alfredsson, Cammalleri. On that list, only Vanek (29) and Statsny (28) are under 30 years of age and Statsny is simply not that good. Assuming we let Kessel walk off into the UFA sunset, who would really say that picking up Vanek instead was an upgrade?

    (7) I have a bit more sympathy for Franson than you, Michael. He took a one-year "prove it" contract and did as much as anyone could do with a shortened season and non-top line minutes. The fact they're balking on him now is purely about our cap mismanagement, not his established value to the team. If he's tired of how he's been treated by us and wants one year so he can test free agency, I don't blame him. It's also worth noting that your proposed hold out scenario is only one possibility: two other young defensemen immediately spring to mind who haven't had such a doom-and-gloom outcome to holding out in Doughty and Subban.

    (15) & (23) I would be very disappointed if Carlyle regularly plays them both this year. Having said that, I am preparing myself for said disappointment.

    (18) I have a hunch that it's JvR. Like most hunches worth the name, I'm struggling to rationalise why exactly, but it's something to do with him being settled and secure and past the point in his maturity where he's worrying about what's next. I liked what he accomplished last year and remember him being a standout in more than one of our playoff games. I'm hoping he can relax into this year knowing he's good enough to be on an NHL top line and just... lets go.

    1. Good stuff, as always, KiwiLeaf. (I understand your view on Franson; As I've said, I really like what he did last season. I just wonder if he is, strategically, doing the best thing for his career, long-term...)

      On JVR, sometimes, yeah, we have hunches and we're right. He may well feel a sense of comfort with a year in Toronto behind him. Thanks KiwiLeaf.

  10. Notes from what I saw live tonight:

    -Kessel is Kessel. Must be resigned and extended. His 2 way game is here to stay.

    -Reilly and Gardner are both offensive dynamos but need work in their own zone,no news flash there. Reilly is smaller than I thought but he still has time to fill out obviously.

    -Fraser is the dependable stay at home D we always hoped Luke Schenn would be. Speaking of, it felt nice to see Luke get a rare goal, even at our expense.

    -Drew McIntyre played very very well, Bernier didn't have much to do in the game's first half and McIntyre put on a show once everyone woke up.

    -Some youngsters of note: Brennan on D was probably the best all round player on the ice,(earning his chance in the shootout) young Ashton also stood out as did Brad Ross(threw a ton of big hits)
    The career AHLer I am pulling for(seems every year there's always one) is 28 year old Trevor Smith, who's had a cup of coffee with the Islanders,Penguins and Lighting organizations.Seemed he was always involved tonight. Most likely a character Marlie.

    1. We always seem to notice a bit more when we get to see a game in person, Sean. Thanks for sharing those observations from last night. (I, too, like to pull for guys who don't seem to have a chance!) Maybe Smith will be like the previous Marlie captains (Foster and Hamilton).