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Assessing the Maple Leafs, 20 games in…

Well, we’ve hit the ‘mark’ I refer to every season, the time when I invite VLM readers to step up to the plate and share their thoughts on where this team is headed, now 20 games in.  I’ll start with a few personal observations, and let you take it from there.

Some of my feelings about the team are influenced, naturally, by the fact that we have missed two of our centers (Bozak and Bolland) for extended periods. We all recognize that Bolland will be gone a long time. Clarkson also missed the beginning of the season with that suspension and Kulemin and Fraser have missed time as well.  (Fraser looks to be out again, which opens the door for Rielly to play full-time going forward, I presume.)

My overall view is that the team, while certainly owning a quite satisfactory record, still has not played many (any?) games where we, as fans, can sit back and say, “Boy, they were on their game tonight from start to finish.  Lots of offensive pressure, gave up very few scoring chances, played smart, aggressive, penalty-free hockey, etc…”

Instead, we have usually been reduced to saying, “Good thing our goalie was great again tonight.  Glad we got that power play goal.  Kessel (or Kadri or van Riemsdyk) came alive just in time. We really got outplayed but hey, at least we won…”.

Those are very general kind of overview comment to make, I realize, but I’m just trying to describe the feeling that I sense a lot of Leaf fans have at this point in the season.  On any given day, the cup will feel as though it is half full.  But it can also feel as though it is moving closer to, well, empty.

I doubt many Leaf observers will take umbrage with the notion that our goaltending has been pretty darn good.  I’d have to look up the individual stats, but it sure seems like both Bernier and Reimer have good “numbers”.  We have all observed Bernier’s calm demeanor in goal, the composed way he plays the game.  He inhales the puck more often than not.

For his part, Reimer creates palpitations, I’m sure, for many Leaf supporters.  But isn’t it time for even his critics to concede that, for all his alleged flaws and the criticism he takes (glove hand, too scrambly, rebound control, etc.) he’s a fighter and a heck of a young goaltender.

Now, I have no idea if this standard of netminding can continue, but for now, they have saved our bacon quite a few nights.  That said, that’s what goalies are supposed to do, eh?  It’s good that we are finally back in that group of teams (like we used to be in the days of Potvin, Joseph and Belfour) that can count on an inspiring performance most nights from the guys in goal.

I don't really know what to say about our defense corps.  On any given night, I feel they are pretty good. In the same breath, I will turn around and think, “We need to be better back there”. On an individual basis we can find plenty to like about each guy:  Phaneuf, with his ability to play against top lines and log minutes and play both ends of the ice; Gunnarsson’s calm, generally mistake-free presence; Franson’s emerging overall game; Gardiner’s sometimes electric (if high-risk a little too often for my liking—witness Reimer having to make a game-saving stop in the third period Saturday against the Sabres after Jake turned the puck over in front of his own goal) play.  Fraser has guts galore and is a a hard-working, team-first player.  Ranger has toughness and a high compete level as well, though I still see too many little errors that lead to scoring chances against.

As for Rielly, we’ve all seen his game now and he will only get better as time goes on once he is fully comfortable playing at this level. (Maybe he already is—he certainly presents like a confident young man.) So our defense group is either really good, pretty good, or needs to improve- take your pick.

It’s difficult to be too harsh on our forward group given the injuries we have sustained.  Kessel was lighting it up early on, but has been quieter lately (one point in his last 7 games, I believe). That’s standard stuff for Phil, who to me almost always plays much the same but tends to produce goals in bunches- and then is off the scoresheet for a while.

Bozak is widely disliked by a large (or just louder?) contingent  of Leafers. Yet surely we have come to see he is a contributing player who has actually been missed a fair bit.  Bolland’s absence, for me, leaves a very big gap in terms of the overall game he brings along with his versatility.  We will miss his experience and leadership as well.

I’ll leave it to others to review Clarkson’s work.  The heart seems to be willing—the “numbers” aren’t there, though that will likely be balanced somewhat as the season moves along.  It’s hard to miss van Riemsdyk’s value as an offensive catalyst—he’s not afraid to be around the net, and has awfully good hands.  Kadri continues to emerge as a dynamic threat.  Lupul is Lupul, though am I wrong in thinking he has not been quite the impact guy we thought he would be this season, after a sterling start to the year?  (Has he had many goals over the past dozen or so games?) Again, he may be missing injured teammates, I don’t know. I also wonder if he is worried about trying to impress the Team Canada brass?

We have plenty of skill players at this point—I just named some of them. Mason Raymond has been a solid overall contributor.  But I will say that, especially with the all the injuries, we have a lot of what I like to call “nice” players—guys who are certainly NHL caliber, but don’t excite me much.  Smithson, Bodie (now back with the Marlies), the newcomer Holland, Smith and of course the ever-present Orr and McLaren would be in that category for me. I still love McClement but I just feel like we have a lot of “filler” players right now.  Which is fine, every NHL team does.  I just wonder if we will have what we need for that much-discussed long playoff run.

I guess I can say, “Hey, bottom line, the Leafs are winning more than they lose”. And that’s true.  But while we have moments where we look great (the recent Boston game) there are times that we look a bit like the old, stumbling-around-out-there Leafs. That was in evidence on Saturday night as Toronto was seemingly determined to let the Sabres back into the game.  Had Reimer caved even a little, does anyone doubt, the way the Leafs were back-peddling, we could have lost that game in regulation 4-3?

So while I remain optimistic overall (goaltending can take you a long way), I do wonder if we have the scrappiness in our game to go along with the skill we possess.  Oh, we can retaliate by fighting, as I mentioned in my last post, but that doesn’t reassure me that we have the team toughness that I thought we had, to go along with the aforementioned skill and offensive prowess. (I haven’t even mentioned Carlyle today, and the good and not-so-good that he seems to bring to the equation—I know he’s a lightning rod for a lot of Leaf fans.)


I’ll turn it over to you—20 games into a new, hope-filled season, are you confident we are on the right path?  Are we just talking about that low-hanging fruit—making the playoffs—or can this Leaf squad do a lot better than that? Let me know…

21 comments:

  1. Michael,

    Thanks again for your work here at VLM, post to post the quality is outstanding. It's never easy to be a Leafs fan, and this year appears to be no different. For whatever reason, there is always more drama around the team than I feel necessary. In the past, it has been about ownership, and eccentric management, as much as the play of the team. Barring the coaches equipment thoughts, this has largely not been the case this season. It has allowed me to be more focused on moves, and direction, than on personalities.

    Before I get to kudos, and critiques, I would like to answer your big question. Can the Leafs make an impact in the playoffs? In the Eastern conference, no they can not. They may win a round, but a championship calibre team this is not. Its great that they are in the East, in the West they don't come close to making the post season. They really haven't played well, but are getting points. This is good, but it also needs to be pointed out that they are likely to outplay a fair number of teams and lose. It tends to even out in my mind. Some other teams, and goalies, are going to stone the Leafs this season. Will we be as willing to accept the moral victory, as readily as we have said, at least we won?

    The biggest limiting factor that will continue to be the achilles heel is depth. The team doesn't really have any of significance. We can say that in this era, no teams truly have depth. While I largely agree with that, it doesn't change the fact that two injuries have basically crippled this team offensively. Our best young players are already on the Leafs. There are no impact players on the Marlies. Two injuries and one small suspension and the coach is crying to the media that he is out of options at centre ice. For how many years have we lamented the lack of talented young centres in the organization? Forever, it seems to me. We do have a plethora of rough and tumble wingers in the minors, not really sure why we draft them, or trade for them. You can always pick up a Troy Bodie or Brad Staubitz, on a salary dump. I missed mentioning Staubitz in my comments over the weekend, I was looking to see how he was related to management. Couldn't find anything on him. Perhaps he is Tim's long lost cousin on his mothers side, or whatever. Centres always seem to be able to adapt to the wing, but the reverse is almost never true. My team would have some guys playing the wing in the minors who are decent centremen, in an emergency.

    Since Nonis never says anything even remotely interesting. I am left solely to evaluate this team by the moves that he has made. It is through these moves that I am able to discern his plan for the Leafs. And in all honesty, I am completely unable to tell you what the plan may be. Is this going to be an old school, beat the other team to a pulp, then score on them team? Is it going to be a talented puck possession team? Maybe a skating team? An in your face defensive team. Any of these are possible going forward as there are some of all these elements already present. The mix, to me, seems terrible. Are they going for the Cup in the next year or two, or playing the waiting game? He sure is trading a lot of draft picks that might have been used differently. Maybe even in a big trade for someone who will truly make us great. We used to see the Leafs as a young team. Saturday night it was pointed out on the HNIC broadcast, Toronto is the 14th youngest team in the League. Ouch, so much for all kinds of time in the future.

    Part 1

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  2. Michael,

    I have no idea what the coach is doing. He might be using a magic 8 ball to pick players at this point. Little he does makes any sense at all to me. At the forefront of this is the line juggling and the ice time for Rielly. I distinctly remember the coach making a big deal about how vital Morgan was to the ongoing success of the team. For a guy who is so crucial to the team, he sure does spend an inordinate amount of time in the press-box. At least he gets to watch the game from a nice place. Kind of a waste of his first contract year though, not to mention he could be actually playing in Junior. Then there are the pairings and forward lines. At this point the players must show up every day wondering who they will be paired with, and for the defense corps, what side they will be playing. Some consistency would help the team in my opinion. I won't say too much about the face punchers of the Leafs. Suffice it to say keeping so many of them around, and not having them punch anyone is a curious deployment of resources. Who do we think has a better future in the NHL, Joe Colborne or Troy Bodie? Lets just say management and the coaches chose Bodie, and gave up more assets than they received for Colborne, to get Holland, and leave it at that. For whatever reason the coach keeps putting two guys in the lineup who add nothing to the Leafs ability to you know, win hockey games.

    Some things have certainly improved since the previous coaching regime. Dion Phaneuf is making far fewer riskier pinches at the opposition blue line. So kudos to him and the coaching staff for making the adjustment and limiting opposition odd mad rushes. The penalty killing and goaltending have also been lights out. Laurels all around for McClement, Kulemin, Reimer and Bernier. The team is doing a great job when they are caught a man down. This to me is the Leafs most important change from previous years. I'm sure the coaching staff deserves credit for this as well. I am not learned enough to praise them more than this, so I won't.

    I was really growing to appreciate the acquisition of Dave Bolland. Even though I would call him a third line centre, he is by the way. He was capable of playing up in the lineup when needed. Nonis, Bolland, as well as the coach, get credit for him being here and playing well. His injury is a huge problem going forward. Will he even be able to come back at all? Will he be productive at the same level as he was before the injury? Just because Karlsson came back from a similar one, is no reason to believe Bolland, will also recover. I'm sure that if he can play again, the Leafs would love to have him back. Tricky situation paying him a fair price, especially after the blunder management made with Liles.

    There are plenty of talented scorers up front, some toughness as well. Its a shame really that so many of them are wingers. In the playoffs when the going is tough, the matchups for Toronto are tougher to get. Is there room for improvement here, yes there is. I would caution everyone to remember, every team has room for improvement. The Leafs are not alone here. Giroux and Malkin, to name only two, have had remarkably slow starts, and expecting world class players like that to continue along those lines is foolish. Twenty games in and they get a passing grade from me, mostly for their ability to win games while being hurt by injuries. They get no sympathy from me for the suspensions, stupid is as stupid does. They need to win some games without the desperate reliance on their goalies. Scoring more than one goal a game every now and again would be nice as well.

    End of Part 2

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    1. You've given us lots to contemplate, Jim. I'll let your comments stand on their own merit. I'll just say that the' mix' that you mention will be something to watch going forward. On paper, we should have a nice blend of skill, grit, etc. But will it be effective in the long run?

      And as you say, I'm not sure what the Leafs are just yet. I guess that's back to the identity issue I have raised here for several years. Thanks Jim- great post to kick things off.

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  3. Hi Michael.
    Twenty games in and with injuries and line changes,suspensions etc we still haven't seen the roster we thought we would have. We might have to wait another ten games to see where we are.
    I've always liked Bozak and he's a hard worker in all areas of the ice. The Leafs are built differently than many of the top teams are. They don't have their stars in the center but on the wings with the center in a supporting/checking role and Bozak does this job well.
    Still, we lack any depth in center with our most promising natural centers still in Junior. We've already taken what the Marlies have to offer in Smithson, a good solid defensive fourth liner, and Smith, who has been steadily improving and could turn out solid on the third line. I guess centers are hard to find even at the junior and AHL levels. No one is going to hand us one. Picking up Holland was a necessary move.

    Problems:
    Bad turnovers continuing to plague the Leafs ( I don't count most of those that happen while trying to create offense, they need to take some chances)
    Blind or rushed passes to nobody ( mostly by the youngsters. Veterans will usually take their time and turn around or backtrack.)
    Defensive zone break-downs- not being hard enough on the puck, not beating the other team to the corners, throwing the puck out front. I could go on. In the end it's not usually one mistake that leads to a goal but several bad plays after the first one. There's almost a panicked response. It's a team effort in the worst sort of way though we often put the blame on one or two players.
    Not continuing to fore-check aggressively and pressure the opponent when ahead, but sitting back at their blue-line and letting the other team mount attacks.
    Lastly, the ever widening space between the forward unit and the defense which is so confusing. I don't remember seeing this last year. More often it was quick passes up the boards. If this is the fast break-out, ( and it does sometimes give the Leaf odd man rushes) we're using it far too often and teams are ready for it.

    At the end of the day I give them a pass for effort, for not giving up when injuries have been such a constant problem and look forward to this discussion on Hangout. Thanks Michael. C.N. ( Today the C is for clueless.)

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    1. You well describe where the Leafs are right now, C.N.- some good, some not-so-good. Most of us remain stuck in the middle, in terms of where we see the team. Lots of potential, noticeable talent and hopeful signs, but some disconcerting habits remain. Thanks C.N.

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  4. Hi Michael,

    I had noted the other day that it's hard to assess this team by the last few games, as the injuries and Kadri's suspension have forced a different look upon the club. As you noted, Kessel is prone to streaks and slumps, and there's no guarantee that he wouldn't be slumping now without the injuries. All the same, the cumulative effect of Kessel being shut down is that Lupul and JVR et al become quieter as well as defenses are better able to focus on them.

    If I'm to give any A grades to individuals thus far, they go first and foremost to both goalies, and I don't think that would get much argument. As small a sample size as it was, Bolland gets an A too for his terrific all around effort here. I hope he's back. JVR gets an A in my book as well, as I refuse to fault him for feeling out of place at center recently, and he definitely brought an A game before and after that experiment. Phaneuf gets an A, mostly for playing the hardest minutes and very few glaring errors on his part.

    Lupul and Raymond get high B grades, but have not been quite consistent enough. Gunnarsson too for his steady mistake free play. Lower Bs for Kessel and Kadri, as well as Bozak, McClement, Kulemin, and Franson. C players thus far are Clarkson, Gardiner, Rielly, Fraser, and Ranger. I really don't wish to grade our face punchers, sorry. What standard am I supposed to hold them to?

    As a whole, I give the offense a B+, again discounting a recent slump brought on by a lack of centers. Defense gets a C overall, including our back checking forwards, but a B- if strictly grading the defensemen on their defensive zone play. Goalies get an A+.

    The team grade for me is a B-. I say this in spite of our record, and with indifference toward shot differential and advanced stats. My team grade is a little lower than one might think because I do not see them as improved over last year despite what have proven to be pretty good additions to the squad, and that is the standard I am setting them against.

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    1. I think it's fair to have higher expectations than a year ago, Pete, thus it's reasonable in my view to "grade" them a bit lower than we might otherwise given those expectations. You've taken in juries into account, and that's only fair as well. Thanks for chiming in.

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  5. "On any given day, the cup will feel as though it is half full. But it can also feel as though it is moving closer to, well, empty."

    No, I don't believe that is the case at all. I think the Leafs are into the second year of a 5-7 year cycle where they are a pretty good team. They should win the first round this year and maybe a second round. They may not win a Cup, but they may get close a few times. Like many good teams of recent memory, they are imperfect, have injuries and at times will play poorly. Vancouver, Pitsburgh, Boston and Los Angles are ussually good teams but they have played poorly at times. The key thing is to get eveything in order and be peaking for the playoffs while playing well enough to avoid Boston as the first round match up.

    Sometimes it's good for me to be out West because I see so much other teams and listen to their fans. When you watch other teams and see all their imperfections (other than the Blackhawks and St.Louis) you realize that the Leafs are in good shape. They have goalending, scoring talent and are well coached.

    In all, I think the Leafs are becoming a good organization. There is some good depth and prospects on the Marlies. Spencer Abbot has 19 points in 11 games in his second year in the AHL! Josh Lievo has 8 points in 12 games and looks like an NHL player. Even tough guy David Broll has 4 points already, remember he's only 20. Devane had a goal today and looks to be a better hockey player than Orr or McLaren.

    We have some nice prospect depth on defence: McWilliam, Percy Brennan, Grandberg and Tom Nilson over in Sweden.

    All that depth allowed us to trade Jesse Blacker for Peter Holland.

    I wish people could let go of Joe Colborne. He isn't doing that well in Calgary. He has 4 points in 19 games, -3, 42% in the faceoff circle and .059 shooting percentage after playing about 13 minutes a night and sometimes getting as much as 18 mintues. In 3 AHL seasons, his best was 42 points.

    Holland looks to be a notch better prospect. He's a year younger, but is very close to a point a game in the AHL with114 points in 129 games, with best year of 60 points in 71 games.

    "But I will say that, especially with the all the injuries, we have a lot of what I like to call “nice” players—guys who are certainly NHL caliber, but don’t excite me much. Smithson, Bodie (now back with the Marlies), the newcomer Holland, Smith and of course the ever-present Orr and McLaren would be in that category for me."

    I think Smithson as an ace faceoff guy is quite useful. When Bolland comes back our 4th line against a softer team in the playoffs might be Ashton, McClement and Smithson. I don't know about you but that sounds like a killer fourth line. With Kulemin, Bolland and Raymond as the third line, our bottom six culd be very good.

    I don't think Bodie is that useful. He has been rejected by lesser teams and never realy put it together anywhere including the AHL. Smith might be quite a useful depth call up guy.

    Orr and McLaren are somewhat useful, but I think we might have our best chance for a deep playoff run in a few years when they are replaced by Broll and Devane who seem better players.

    We might be similarly aided in our search for a quality defensive dman with the emergence of Percy or Grandberg in that role.

    That's where I think we are. A good talented team with skill and goaltending. We have a good organization that should continue to improve because of prospect depth and the Leafs should peak in 2-3 years. I'm not sure that we will win a Cup, (imperfect teams do get lucky...Carolina?), but there should be lots of good playoff series and a couple of trips to the third round.

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    1. That's a great post, DP. You provide a thoughtful western Canadian perspective. Sometimes those of us in the Toronto area may miss the bigger picture.

      Now, whether Leaf fans will be satisfied with a 5-7 year cycle of being a "pretty good team" after going through almost five years already of a major rebuild under Burke is maybe another question! Thanks DP.

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  6. The other day I said that, for me, the Leaf glass is both half empty and half full these days. That sums it up. If I wanted to be more precise, I'd say it's like one of those magic glasses that seems to empty of its own accord the more you look at it.
    It starts off full, with the goalies giving us everything we could have expected, if not more. Would things be different if we had kept Scrivens? In light of his recent NHL #1 star-of-the-week rating, it's tough to say. Would Frattin be a difference maker this year - or be back on the Marlies? So far, it seems that we'd be no worse off standings-wise, but nevertheless, it's a full glass situation for us.
    The glass looks a little less full when we get to the PK - recently. But overall, and particularly when Bozak returns, I think we'll see the glass is still full here.
    When we get to the defence, the glass looks a little less full - but fuller than it looked this time last year! Phaneuf and Gunnarsson are pretty darn solid. Franson has started pretty much where he left off in the playoffs, and is having his best season as a Leaf, I'd say. Gardiner still turns the puck over at least 3-5 times per game, but his physical play is a little stronger. Ranger has improved steadily. Fraser doesn't look 100% quite yet, but adds a needed physical element. Rielly shows promise.
    Our power play brings the glass to the half full/empty point. Not deadly, not terrible. At least we do get some shots off this year, rather than pass the puck interminably. But we still have a tendency to be a little too cute and fancy. A little rococo goes a long way.
    I'd say the glass stays at this level for the first line. Some nights a terror, others not so much. At least it really feels like a first line - there's almost always a threat they're going to score, and other teams are paying attention. Three other players - Bolland, McClement and Raymond, also keep the glass at the midway point.
    But now the glass starts emptying. No other lines have gelled. In fact, we don't really have a second line yet! Neither Kadri nor Lupul seem to have progressed from last year, and the assortment of Clarkson, Bodie, Ashton, Kulemin etc don't seem to have found their groove yet. It's unfair to judge Smithson or Holland yet.
    There are just some suds at the bottom of the glass when we get to the fourth line. I won't bother with the need/non-need for pugilists here, but if your fourth line isn't playing 8-9 minutes of hard checking hockey per game, what's the point of having them on the roster? It just increases the work load on the others.
    As an overall impression, I expected more this year. It feels like we're backsliding, somehow. As you mentioned, Michael, we haven't put one 60 minute stretch of dominating hockey together yet. I can only think of one period of dominating hockey so far, as I mentioned the other day. As in previous years, we know you can't get away with continually overworking your goalies or getting 5 shots a period. And the stronger teams are starting to hit their stride now, as well.
    The mitigating factor with these assessments is the number of injuries to key personnel, of course. Being a center with the Leafs is like being a drummer in Spinal Tap! Barring a continuation of this trend, I think we'll have to wait until game 41 to get a truer picture of where we are. But my sense is that we need to improve to refill that glass to playoff level.

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    1. I enjoyed all aspects of that well-thought out post, Gerund O'. You covered the whole gamut. I'll just acknowledge your conclusion: that you expected more. I think a lot of fans feel that way, especially given that the Leafs are in the middlish East, and some difficult opponents await! Thanks Gerund.

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  7. Hi Michael:
    VLM and your followers continue to an excellent job of keeping me informed of the peaks and valleys of the Maple Leafs. Since I do not get many in-depth views of games, I decided not to post until the 20 game mark.

    Points: 25 (2013), 24 (2012) 24 (2011)
    While there are different players, the results are not much different. Yet, listening to VLM and other sources there is a sense that there is underlying improvement. However, after so many years of futility, with the Leafs it is hard not to be a skeptic. The following are some observations.

    As Yogi Berra said "I feel deja vu all over again". It appears that VLM and its followers are asking the same questions this year as last, and one wonders whether the playoff series was an aberration. The team has certainly maximized points despite having a territorial disadvantage most nights.

    1. Top notch goal tending. While you may question Nonis handling of the cap, he obviously has hit the nail on the head with perhaps the best tandem in the NHL. If the Leafs continue to get outplayed nightly and/or there is an injury, this is a winner.

    2. VLM has been waiting for Leafs to find their identity, and here is Carlyle being interviewed today saying they are still looking to establish their identity. He has been here over a year now, and you would think there would be a better understanding and achievement of said identity. While injuries and suspensions make a convenient excuse, you wonder why his philosophy has not sunk in.

    3. While in past posts I have stated a preference for offensive possession hockey with defensive responsibility (old Islanders model - the philosophy of rope-a-dope / bend don't break defense seems to be a recipe for disaster is most team sports. As a coach and a player, I found that the breakout is a key to success and the defensive philosophy the team has practiced seems to work against this team getting to the other end of the ice. It seems like Gardiner and Reilly have the potential to be excellent in this aspect of the game but the shutdown defenceman is the major request. I know this defensive stategy was the cornerstone of the old Leaf dynasty, which probably explained my rooting for the Habs and Hawks many years ago. I have often wondered if Leaf fans could ever appreciate a Paul Coffey type player.

    Of the new players, Bolland seems to have fit in the best and unfortunately his future is the hardest to predict.

    Hopefully, the Leafs can somehow find themselves playing at the level of last year's Bruins effort and they can impact the East. I view many West games here, and virtually across the board their teams play a stronger brand of hockey.

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    1. I appreciate your sobering perspective on this one. Ralph (RLMcC). You see Western Conference games and we all know the hockey there is generally tougher- and better. So the current Eastern Conference measuring stick for the Leafs may be a bit of a delusion.

      The identity question is important to me, and I agree that we still seem to be seeking it, rather than having established it.

      As for possession hockey/defensive responsibility, you raise a fair point. We have young defensemen who can move the puck smartly. I might argue that the Leafs have had many defenders over the years who could move the puck, from Babe Pratt and King Clancy to Tim Horton, Carl Brewer, Jim McKenny and modern-day guys like McCabe and Kaberle. Hopefully Rielly and Gardiner will thrive here, too, while still playing well in their own end.

      I agree with your comment about Bolland. His loss is significant. Thanks Ralph, great post.

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    2. Hi Michael

      I didn't mean to stir up a hornet's nest that Leafs have not had "puck movers" in the past. Rather that the brand of hockey played by the Leafs has placed more emphasis on defense. Further, that puck luggers have often been criticized by the Leaf faithful.

      I have created a spread sheet that calculates goals per game and points per game of your list plus other players who have been considered offensive players.

      Here are some highlights:

      From your list
      Babe Pratt had highest ppg at 56.5% and King Clancy was most likely to score goal at 23.2% gpg.. Note: My wife's uncle pointed out Babe Pratt and Syl Apps in the men's grill room at the Vancouver Golf Club over 30 years ago.


      Of the more recent generation, Jim McKenny stands out at gpg of 13.6% and ppg of 54.5%. Kaberle achieved ppg of 57.2%. What does this prove? McKenny, McCabe and Kaberle received significant criticism over the years as they did not measure up to the Leaf brand?
      Interestingly enough two of the highest results were by players you did not mention.
      Borje Salming - 13.1% gpg, 68.5 ppg
      Ian Turnbull - 19.6% gpg, 70.1 ppg

      Horton and Brewer registered in the mid 30's% in ppg and very low in gpg. I believe Horton and Brewer were likely held back by Imlach's system, just as Gardiner and Reilly may be by Carlyle's - not to imply they must improve their defensive skills..


      I then went on to the greats. I used Paul Coffey for my earlier post as an example because using the "greatest" player ever, Bobby Orr, would not be fair. Based on my analysis, the best three players are in a class by themselves.
      Orr - 41.1% gpg, and 139.7% ppg
      Coffey - 28.1% gpg and 108.7%
      Potvin - 29.2% gpg and 99.2% ppg

      Players such as Niedermayer and Pronger were significantly lower.

      Of today's players, Karlsson, Green and Weber stand out in both gpg and ppg, but well below the big 3.

      Michael, sorry if I stirred your feathers. I will send you my spread sheet if you wish.

      This little exercise was a trove of vintage memories.

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    3. Not at all, Ralph (RLMcC)- I loved your post. It was not only fair but provided historical context in terms of how Leaf supporters sometimes see the team's defensemen. (Larry Murphy did not satisfy us, as I recall, yet he seemed to end up as a Hall-of-Fame defenseman!)

      You mention some of the all-time greats- Orr, Coffey, et al. Wonderful memories. And the Leaf names you cite - and the stats associated with them - tell a tale.

      For me, your posts represent one of the central reasons I still continue with my work here at VLM- those who appreciate this site most may in fact be those who share an interest in the historical aspect of the Leaf franchise. Thanks Ralph.

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  8. Michael, do you sometimes feel the Leafs are playing with too much caution? Whether it's fear of turn-overs, or something else they are tentative instead of aggressive this year. It's more than just not playing a tougher game. I know they have it in them, I wonder why they are holding back. C.N.

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    1. That's a fair question, C.N. - I do think the guys are working hard. I'm not sure if they are holding back/cautious or just trying to play a responsible all-around game. Lately a combination of factors seem to have made scoring goals a challenge. Also, because we have some new, incoming players or Marlies trying to make an impression, I wonder if that along with a lack of familiarity with linemates is part of the picture?

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  9. I know I'm late to this discussion (having watched 21 games, albeit that 21st one being the one in which the team finally plays 60 minutes of solid hockey and earns a hands-down complete victory against a pretty good opponent) and new threads have been posted but I really feel like I have to make this short contribution because, if I don't, the discussion will end without the optimistic voice. So, here, after a brief disclaimer about the early-season jitters that the Leafs (like many other teams) have experienced, I’ll give you a few reasons why I think our Leafs have looked like a team that may well win the Cup this year.
    First of all, I’d just like to remind you that expecting a consistent all-around flawless effort day-in and day-out from a team in the first 20 games of the season is probably ludicrous. Aside from the perennial contenders with hardly-altered rosters and consistent management and coaching staff every team in the league is looking a bit off, is making more mistakes than later in the season and is not playing their best hockey. In that situation, I really think that all one can fairly expect from a contending team is a winning record ‘by any means necessary’ and, although they haven’t looked amazing, the Leafs have delivered that. Focusing, as we are, on one team we see the mistakes and flaws and we tend to forget that those are present in every rink early in the season. What matters is not so much ‘how’ but ‘if’ the team has the heart to play the games out and come out on the top. What can be glimpsed through the scrambly early-season play, however, is a few trends that matter and that will matter as the season progresses.

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  10. 1) Goaltending. Reimer and Bernier are a real deal. They've stolen us a bunch of games and have been solid as all hell throughout the shaky start to the season. We have them for a full year and, if one miraculously falters, the other one will be there. At this point there is no reason to believe that they will not continue to play well. I don't think Bernier has ever had a bad game and the only reason questions about Reimer's play were ever raised is because he had a rough patch after Gionta handed him a concussion.
    2) Our defense is amazing. The captain is a star-slayer. In today's NHL most teams can only afford one offensive star-player and those guys are almost universally completely shut down by our captain. What Chara was managing to do to Kessel for a few years running (until last season in the playoffs) Phaneuf does to every single star-player of any given team on any given night - Crosby, Kane, Tavares, Hall, Perry etc. Behind Phaneuf we have a really good collection of very talented puck-moving, point-producing skilled players (Fransen, Reillly, Gardiner) supported by pretty solid shut-down stay at home hard working guys (Gunnar, Fraser and Ranger) and behind them a full team of guys in the Marlies that are able to step in and would be playing in the NHL if they were in the system of pretty much any other team.
    3) Our offence is stellar with a superstar point-per-game player in Kessel followed by 3 consistent, hard-working skilled forwards who are not far behind in Kadri, JVR and Lupul. Our bottom six is built to last and shut down top lines and many of them can score too (Raymond, Clarkson, Kuli, Bolland). McClement is hands-down the best PK specialist in the league and Bolland was not far behind. Now we again have a face-off (and a PK) specialist in Smithson and two very decent depth centers (Holland and Smith). The entire offense has learned to back-check and there is no easy way through for opposition anymore. For a long time now, the opposing teams know that they can’t push us around because we have the strongest fighters in the league - two top heavy-weights and a growing collection of middle-weights. And that does matter – it lets our skilled players play with a lot more ease and it allows them to take liberties and annoy the hell out of the opposition. Again, the depth in the organisation is very good at this point on the offensive side as well – the coach has the luxury of playing 3 scoring lines or 2 and the injuries to top forwards will only give an opportunity to the very big and fairly skilled collection of rookies to show us what they have (the glimpses of which in the preseason and a few games they got to play in the big league – Lievo, Broll, Devane, Ashton, Bodie – have been very encouraging).

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  11. 4) Consistency, humility, and hard-work. There are no surprises with this Leafs’ team. They struggle only against unfamiliar powerhouse or hot teams from the West and are able to beat weak teams almost without fail (losing to Buffalo in Buffalo is the only aberration I can think of but that was without top-3 centres, with JVR neutralized because he had to play centre, and Buffalo on a hot streak and playing for the new coach). In the East, the traditionally tough match-ups against Boston and Carolina remain a problem but we’re closing the gap – the games are not so lopsided anymore and when healthy and when it matters we can hold our own. Penguins look conquered. We’re regularly beating the likes of Ottawa, Montreal and Buffalo. No team in the East is out of our reach and that is why the Leafs will easily make the playoffs this year. More importantly, however, what makes me optimistic the most is the fact that I don’t see any grumpy primadonnas here – everyone is playing hard, everyone is playing a role and is comfortable with their place, everyone is back-checking, everyone is passing, everyone seems to play for the coach and not for themselves or the media. The ‘white noise’ doesn’t faze them. They are not concerned with their contracts and expectations of anyone other than Carlyle.
    5) Home-town heroes. An increasing number of Leafs are from Ontario and have grown up with a dream of playing in blue and white and winning the Cup in blue and white. There is no way that this is not a factor however much we all are forced to pretend that it’s all about ‘hockey’ or the money or the rings etc. Toronto may not be the centre of the known universe but it is a centre of the hockey universe and the Leafs are the team that has the biggest fan-following in the NHL (and that includes the players). These guys are playing for their dads and brothers and friends they grew up with. Of course, that ‘heart factor’ cannot be statistically calculated (as very few things that matter in hockey can) but it is there. It is one thing to play for a badly-coached and badly-managed Leafs team and sacrifice your career to be in blue and white as many NHLers were expected to do over the years but quite another to join a strong, contending Leafs roster and have the chance to shine every Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada and walk the streets of your hometown with all your friends and family watching you win and expecting the ultimate prize with star-studded eyes. I think this is it. I haven’t seen anything in the first 20 games to convince me otherwise. This team, as it is, can win the Cup.

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    1. Lots to think on in your posts today, leafdreamer- you covered the bases. Thanks!

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