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Leafs sleepwalk through Vancouver loss; Bolland injured—stop the parade…and Clarkson?

So this is what reality feels like, eh?  I wanted to wait a day to collect some thoughts before posting on the rather abysmal Leaf effort in Vancouver to conclude what had been a very promising road trip out west. (Goodness, there still are so many Leaf fans in Western Canada—good to see.)

Hey, none of us figured we would run the table the rest of the season (we didn’t, did we?).  Realistically, we weren’t even likely to sweep the road trip, especially given that we were hanging on by a thread against the identify-starved Oilers the other night and, as we all know, were due to be taken down by a decent team that did not have shoddy goaltending.  I’m not a paid analyst, but generally speaking, if you give up almost twice as many shots as the other guys most nights, take twice as many penalties and live on the edge constantly in terms of controlling the puck (and therefore the play, in most cases), at some point you’re gonna get pushed off the ledge.

I know it’s trite sounding to say but a “wake up” call is no doubt a good thing, considering we have lived a rather charmed life in a lot of ways so far this season. Even professional athletes can be like the rest of us; you may think you’re still ‘working hard” and doing your best, but if you get by for a while with your skill, luck and good bounces, you can start feeling pretty heady.  You just might stop working as hard as you had before.  In any event, a swift kick in the ass won’t hurt the Leafs in the long run. It will certainly give Carlyle ammunition—he’s been saying stuff about his team's play for a while now, and they still somehow had been managing to win. Perhaps now the players will pay a bit closer attention—to the coach, and to the detail generally required to win in the NHL.

At the end of the day, it's one loss.  In isolation, if it doesn't start a downward spiral, it won't much matter.

That said, what does hurt is losing David Bolland for a long, long time.  I don’t know if he can make a miracle return like Karlsson did in Ottawa last season (that was remarkable) but the odds are not good.  Even if he does somehow rehab and make it back by the playoffs or whatever, his wonderful early season work will be a distant memory by then.  Where will his inner confidence be?  It’s hard not to think about re-injuring yourself after such a serious setback. A shoulder separation, twisted knee, pulled muscle, yes, all those things are serious and nagging and can re-occur, but this is a devastating variety of hockey injury.  In the old days, it used to basically end careers.  It certainly did if your Achilles tendon was cut.

In any event, I was among those who had quickly grown to appreciate what Bolland brought to the Leafs already this season. Yes, the goals helped and stood out on the scoresheet, but I sensed his role was much more important than even that.  He is a guy with a couple of Cups on his resume, as modest as his Chicago contributions were this past season. He seemed to thrive under Carlyle and play with enough of an edge that made him a valuable commodity on a team not exactly brimming in recent years with a history of front-line center strength.  He’s not a first liner, no, but he was a serious contributor to the cause.

But the thing I believe the team will miss is his leadership.  The guy seemed to have something to offer (something we really needed) in that regard and given his contractual situation, etc., this is now a bit of a mess.  How do you gauge someone’s value to your organization going forward if they only end up playing about 15 games in a season?  As good as he has been here this season, how will he rebound from a serious injury?  He’s hardly an old guy, but he’s not Karlsson, either. He has some wear on his tires.

I guess this all means the Leafs, as the saying goes, will need other guys to “step up” in the weeks ahead.  I have no doubt Nonis will look to add a center, but few teams will be giving anything away, eh? (I’ll leave it to the cap experts to remind us all what the financial implications are here.  I assume Bolland will go on long-term injured reserve, but can they replace his cap money while he’s out? I have no clue…)

From my end, I’m not among those who are longing for a return of, say, Grabovski.  You will no doubt hear that thought in the days ahead, as in, “see, I told you the Leafs would miss Grabbo”.  Well, you can’t live (or plan) thinking constantly about injuries and ‘what ifs’.  Sure that is part of the roster decision-making process, but you can’t operate in fear that something will go wrong all the time. 

Grabbo had run his course here and until he picked up his play with the Caps over the last few games, had been a non-producer (and played modest minutes) under Oates in Washington after his impressive first game of the season.  So we can cry for him if we want, but Carlyle has already seen that movie, and moved on.

You take a solid performer like Bolland off any team in the NHL (heck, any team at virtually any level) and the reality will be he is going to be missed.  Most NHL teams are already pretty thin when you get down to their third and fourth lines and their third defense pair.  At that point, there are a lot of essentially replaceable parts out there.  Bolland was more of an impact player than that, which tells me the Leafs (until now, perhaps) were better off, depth-wise, than a lot of teams in the East.

You can cover up a loss like this for a while because guys will try harder, whatever, but eventually you miss having that particular player.  And that will most certainly be the case here.

Nonetheless, the Leafs should not be destitute, in hockey terms.  They have McClement still to hold up his end of the bargain, which is killing off (seemingly countless) penalties and centering the fourth line.  Presumably Bozak will return (the welcome may be a bit warmer now in some circles than it otherwise would have been).  Kadri is Kadri.  And while some may bemoan the trade of Colborne right now, again, the Leafs had a ton of deserving bodies at camp and had to do something once they settled on their intended roster.  Stuff happens, including injuries.

I’m hardly trying to “defend” Nonis because I don’t think he did anything wrong in the first place in this regard.  No, as I wrote at the time, his return for Colborne was lousy considering the young man was originally a first-round pick himself, but you make decisions and move on.

I don’t know precisely what the Leafs will do to fill in a pretty big roster hole, but I assume the Marlie shuttle will continue.

**


  • It’s a little early to sound alarm bells, but I’d love to hear from people about their thoughts on David Clarkson.  He is coming off that suspension, not a debilitating injury, and he returned to a “winning” team, so there was less pressure on him, you have to think, than there might otherwise have been. Are you liking—or not—what you have seen from him through his first five games back.  Do you think he has played well so far, or are you underwhelmed?
  • Reimer perhaps did not have his best game Saturday night against the Canucks, but at some point, as I alluded to above, if you give up 45 or so shots a night, at some point your goalies will not have a save percentage of .940.  I was happy Carlyle did not pull Reimer.  He does not deserve the yo-yo treatment.  He has had, what, one tough period so far this season, really?
  • I made a note last night that Phaneuf played 25 minutes in Vancouver and was not on the ice for any even strength goals. He wasn’t “the problem”.
  • How many penalties did we have to kill Saturday night…9?  C’mon.  At some point it’s not the refs’ ‘screwing’ the Leafs.  We have to be smarter, more disciplined.
  • Kessel fought.  That's twice already this year, if you count pre-season.  I don’t know what this means, but probably that he gets tired of being shoved around.  I have no problem seeing him drop the gloves/wrestle, whatever.  Though, I may change my view if he breaks a knuckle while doing so.
  • We all love Morgan Rielly but I still think he is being…well, never mind.  I’ll not raise it again.
  • This may be unfair, but did I notice Jake Gardiner about 30 feet in front of his own net when Rielly was trying to get the puck away from two Canucks perched on Reimer’s doorstep on the fourth Canuck goal?  Maybe he was just coming on the ice.  Maybe someone can let me know what was going on there.  But that seemed, well…not good.
  • In the excuse bag:  I think that, as tough as back to backs on the road can be, the bigger issue can be sitting around for two days out west between games, and then a 7pm Toronto start when your body clock has been living on Pacific time.  Likely we would have had our clocks cleaned anyway, but I think teams sometimes fall into a mini-slumber in these situations.


I have no major Leaf-related concerns overall (well lots of little concerns, but the positives have outweighed the negatives so far this season).  But the Bolland thing is tough. 

A few days off in between games—let me know where you are at with the Leafs now 10 and 5….






19 comments:

  1. Well Michael this was sure a tough loss to take but as you have stated losing Bolland even tougher. To my eye the compete level was not there against the Canucks, the Sedins and Kesler made them look bad, hanging onto the puck and we were not able to knock them on their rumps and take it away. I thought that Reimer actually gave them a chance but they appeared to throw in the towel once it got to 3-0. Kessel just wants to win and showed it with the fight and his performance. I think Clarkson needs to play with Lupul and whoever they get to play center. Jerred Smithson was signed and with the Marlies, evidently a good faceoff man as well. The player on long term injury doesn't have their salary count against the cap so Nonis should be able to make a move. No need to panic though, just another thread in a long season.

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    1. You're right, purch, when you say it's a long season. There will be positive and not-so-positive twists and turns along the way. Hopefully Bolland returns at some point but there are no guarantees with these things.

      It wasn't surprising that the Leafs were flat against Vancouver. Reimer competed, as you said, but that was not a universal attitude on the night. Clarkson should get going- not that we expect a ton of goals/points. Thanks purch, good to hear from you.

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  2. Hi Michael.

    I am overwhelmed! - by the penalties Clarkson is taking. He seems to feel that if he's on the ice he must involve himself in every minor scrum. Actually it is often the cause of them. Serving a ten minute misconduct penalty doesn't help his team and it isn't the type of leadership the players need. I understand he is the type of player that will stand up for his team-mates, he doesn't need to keep trying to prove it. What the Leafs need more is a player that will play hockey and we haven't seen much of that. We have enough enforcers out there. I like Clarkson and I think he will settle down, hopefully sooner than later.

    What can I say about Reimer other than his level of compete amazes me and he has been very focused in net. Personally, he is my favourite Leaf.

    The penalties have got to stop. They just don't have a chance in a game where they are taking so many. Every time they get any momentum they are in the box again. I will say there were a few soft ones called last night such as the one on Ranger, (that was very confusing to say the least- cross-checked, sat upon and held down by Sedin and Paul gets one for a push) but there's nothing they can do about those. It was a chippy, slashy sort of game by both teams, obviously even Kessel had had enough.

    Bolland is probably the worst player they could lose at this point and we already know why. He says he never get nervous and I thought the Leafs were highly strung last night. Jerred Smithson might be an interesting call-up while they have a few days to give him a try. (How many of us didn't regret Joe going to Calgay?) I think I prefer Bozak with Kessel once he's back. He's not perfect but he takes his man out and opens up space for Kessel and JVR.

    Kulemin is not 100% yet and neither is Lupul, so a few days off is badly needed and will bring us closer to Fraser's return. Let's hope we can avoid a knee-jerk reaction to these injuries by Nonis. I think the Leafs can hold on a bit longer. I just wish they could settle themselves down a bit. For fans I recommend several brands of Halloween chocolate bars- in large amounts. They got me through the last game with plenty left for today. ( the Leafs lost! - but I have chocolate.) C.N.

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    1. I understand that aggressive teams will take penalties C.N., but sometimes the Leafs are not taking smart penalties. Quite unnecessary, in fact. We certainly agree on that.

      Bolland is a very discouraging loss. No need to over-react, as you say. but he will be hard to replace. They finally had an 'elite' third-line centre, allowing McLement to be a high-end fourth-line pivot.

      It will definitely be interesting to see Carlyle's thinking once Bozak is back. Some fans want Kadri to stay on the first line, but Im more of a balanced attack kind of guy. I'd prefer Kadri create for players who need it more than Keseel and van Riemsdyk. Thanks C.N.

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  3. Michael,

    Sure was an interesting game on Saturday night. I am glad the Leafs aren't in the Western Conference, as well as happy there is no more Hotstove to rip them a new behind after that performance. Or lack of one to be honest. I miss Strachan specifically, as well as John Davidson.

    Reimer played great, didn't deserve the lack of effort his team gave him. I don't think its fair that he gets the loss, but that is hockey. Bernier starts the next one, I presume. Can't justify playing Reimer after that effort by the team in front of him. Its unfair, but how the team plays in front of him is as important to me as how well the goalie performs.

    Everyone needs to remember that no matter how important or valuable Bolland is/was, he is a castaway of a truly elite team. If Chicago needed him, or had to have him back, he would still be a Blackhawk. The problem in Toronto is something you alluded to, they traded or bought out all their depth at centre. Colborne and Grabovski specifically. This is on Nonis, injuries are part of the game and should be expected, Nonis has the team against the cap, and this lack of flexibility is his fault, no one else's.

    I have been uneasy about the teams play all season. Too much reliance on special teams and stellar goaltending. I am not looking for kudos here, just that a team so reliant on specialists, is bound to have problems in my book. A top line that cannot check, a third line (McClement) that cannot do anything in the offensive zone. When injuries pile up, and they inevitably do, there is an increased reliance on the depth of the organization. Unlike in the recent past, there is no Ryan Hamilton or Mike Zigomanis to come in and fill the void. Again, this is on Nonis, in my opinion.

    Wow, David Clarkson. If I am to evaluate him on his performance so far, what a colossal blunder signing him for the next six years. He seems to be an obvious candidate for someone the team will have to pay to play somewhere else, or not at all. What an awful list already in Toronto, Tucker, Finger, Komisarek, Scrivens, Liles, Frattin. If we have to pay Clarkson to play for the Marlies in two or three years, yikes. Another monumental blunder, by a team that is already against the cap, and seemingly going nowhere.

    The fact that the team is so tight against the cap, and thereby unable to make any real moves is what is bothering me here. Its not like we lost a Crosby. When did third line players become so irreplaceable? I realize that we had already lost Bozak to injury, but I thought Kadri was some number one in waiting, he sure hasn't looked like a legit number one so far. No matter what the people on other sites would have me believe.

    As far as I know Smithson is on a one way deal, like Ranger was last year and is unavailable to the big club. Not certain on this, if one of your more knowledgeable readers could help out here, it would be appreciated. I have many concerns going forward, first of which is they are getting outplayed in almost every game, winning these games is unlikely to continue.

    Why is Kessel fighting? Is the point of having goons on your roster not to have Orr or McLaren pound the crap out of the opposition when they get out of line with him? Having Phil risk injury, not to mention time in the box seems very stupid to me. To me its simple, other teams touch Kessel, one of their players gets a beating. No warning, no remorse.

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  4. On your Hot Stove point, Jim, Strachan was probably the most colourful (if maybe also the most disliked) panelist. He had more of an acerbic edge to him. The present day HNIC second period panelists are smoother and a lot more 'corporate', it feels like.

    I hear you on Nonis. I'm probably more apt to have a wait and see attitude on how things unfold. The Bolland injury is a challenge, though as purch noted above it would appear the Leafs can use Bolland's money to find a replacement of sorts.

    Fair point on Kessel having to fight. As much as many don't like having Orr/McLanren around at all, presumably they are the ones that are supposed to be handling that task- not a player like Kessel.

    Overall Im probably more optimistic than you, but that is because I believe they will eventually play better hockey. They may not win at the same 'rate', but if they play a better overall game, I'll be good with that. Thanks Jim.

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  5. Smithson, an NHL free-agent, has only signed a PTO so far. The Marlies are also short on centers with Trever Smith called up to the Leafs. Jim is right to wonder what Nonis was thinking when he let Colborne go. I am too. C.N.

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  6. This 6 day respite is certainly welcome. The Leafs have been dealing with injuries and a suspension to key forwards all season. Consequently Carlyle has not been able to set his forward lines and there has been a definite lack of cohesiveness. Hopefully the patchwork lines will get a chance to practice together and develop some chemistry. In the meantime, as you point out, there are a number of issues to discuss.

    Boland: In my hockey playing days I drove many players into the boards in situations similar to the Kassian hit on Boland. What I did not do is lift a leg while making the hit. This constitutes at best kneeing and at worst a very dangerous situation as we have seen with both the Boland and Karlsson incidents. While he may not have intentionally injured Boland, Kassian should have been penalized for a careless and dangerous hit.
    Calling Boland a third line centre does not do him justice. He is Bob Pulford valuable to the Leafs. He is a solid two way player who is given the responsibility of shutting down the opposition's top players. He is an excellent penalty killer. He is the go to guy late in the game when a lead is to be protected. Boland will be sorely missed.

    Clarkson: Too soon to tell. I have been disappointed in his efforts so far. The suspension was a monumental lapse of judgement. I believe that I have detected a little of the Komisarek syndrome since he has been back. Hopefully he will settle in and revert to being the valuable player he was with New Jersey.

    Bozak: In some ways Bozak is an ideal centre for Kessel and Van Riemsdyk. He provides own zone defense and allows his wingers to carry the puck, a chore they both relish. Kessel and Lupul were both point a game players with Bozak, and JVR is projecting that also, so he has not been retarding them offensively. I for one would be happy to see him back on the first line.

    2nd & 3rd Lines: I'm not sure one puck is enough when Kadri is on the 1st line. I would much prefer to see him on a line with Lupul and Clarkson. This line would be defensively sound and provide a goodly number of goals. With the Boland injury, the third line would consist of McClement, Kulimen and Raymond. This would be a solid checking line which could chip in with a few goals.

    Nonis: Nonis has had to make some hard decisions due to a shrinking salary cap. I may not agree with every decision but all in all I am happy with the team he has put together. Looking around the league, almost every team is thin somewhere and most of the top teams are up against the cap. It is just a reality of today's NHL.

    I am looking forward to Friday's game with New Jersey. I think we will see a much different result than we had in Vancouver. I agree that this is no time to panic. After all, with their current record, Leafs are on a course for a 110 point season.

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    1. Yours was one of those "nodding along with' posts today, Pete Cam. All very valid points. Re Bolland: I think you know how I feel about Bob Pulford.

      Clarkson-Komisarek makes my ears perk up, and we'll see where this goes. Hopefully Clarkson understands he just needs to be himself, not play 'up' to a massive contract.

      Fair thought re Bozak. (I sense his wingers like playing with him…)

      I, too, wonder if Kadri will ultimately settle in on the second line.

      I'm with you on Nonis. Of course I have not liked all his decisions, but he's a manager, and managers will make decisions that don't always turn out. You just need the majority to turn out well.

      New Jersey should be very different, yes. Thanks Pete.

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  7. A few thoughts and questions on our Leafs:
    When I first heard Bolland was brought in I thought… “well, ok. Not bad”. Now I get the feeling we´re going to miss him in a big way.
    Clarkson… underwhelmed. If this is his “game” and what he brings to the table then he has to step it up in a big way. Not good enough.
    Is anyone else missing Komarov like I am? When he was here we knew he was on the ice. Is it fair to say Komarov is a much cheaper Clarkson? Better?
    The goaltending and scoring have been great (I think Kadri stays on the first line). The D… No.
    Is Reilly really impressing anyone? Don’t get me wrong, he will be a great player, but right now, is he better than say Liles would be, or T.J. Brennan? Is this what the coach wanted when he didn’t send him back to junior? Let’s hope it’s not déjà vu.

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    1. I sense you're not alone in missing Komarov, portuguese leaf. As for Rielly, wonderful talent, just not sure why he had to stay here.

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  8. Hi Michael,

    I never thought for a moment we had a chance of beating Vancouver, I must admit. Between 3 games in 4 days, Pavel Bure firing everyone up and us pushing our luck terribly on the shot count, it seemed a little inevitable to me. No biggie, no worries. Two wins from 3 on that swing suits me just fine.

    I think the tiredness contributed to the penalty count as did some pretty typical Vancouver softness (a couple of those Boarding calls wouldn't have happened if the guy being taken to the boards had the fortitude of a moderately staunch jellyfish) and we only made it worse via frustration once Bolland had gone and the lads on the ice started seeing a complete hiding coming their way.

    We're in a bind over centre though, no question. I read today that they are already practicing with JvR at centre between Kessel and Lupul, presumably in the hope that playing Kadri with Clarkson will maintain two scoring lines. What annoys me the most about it is that all the reshuffling will mean we'll continue to see both Orr and McLaren playing which to me just seems, well, stupid. I worry that we'll have way too many one-dimensional players on the bench, and one or two too many Neanderthals putting pressure on everyone else through their inability to either skate or make good decisions. That will inevitably lead to more pressure on a defensive unit that is already looking patchy - some great games (Penguins), some awful (pretty much every other one) - and lacking in experience.

    And speaking of Clarkson, I agree with you: the brother needs to stop reading his own press. His 'intangibles' wont mean a thing to his team mates or his fans until he starts scoring points. At $5m I don't expect him to play like a third line plug, which is pretty much all he's managed so far. Finishing his checks is all very well and inspiring but, well, let's just say that Colton can do that.

    You'll need to change your assessment of the Reimer v Bernier situation, Michael. It looks like the master plan was in place all along: at 40 shots on goal a night, Nonis obviously knew that he'd need to top-calibre goalies as one would be exhausted by now, eh?

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    1. In reverse order of points, Kiwi Leaf, I acknowledge I did not anticipate our master plan was in fact 40+ shots a night, thus requiring two soon to be exhausted goaltenders.

      Re Clarkson, I'm not even sure I need to see a lot of points, but as you say, something a bit more than a hard-wlorking third-line guy. (This is always the difficulty when teams overpay for a certain type of player, as the Bruins did many years ago for Martin Lapointe, I think it was, from Detroit. Very useful player on really good Detroit teams, but he never came close to his pay cheque in Boston. That's not on the player necessarily - the team gave them the money - but it creates unfair expectations.

      While Orr and McLaren have a role to play some nights, most of the time I'd rather see more versatile guys as well. For me, toughness should primarily be being hard on the puck, finishing checks, tough play in front of both goals. Fights is a small part of the "toughness" equation.

      Have you ever played centre before? We'll need someone soon…thanks KiwiLeaf.

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    2. Let's just say that my skating would put me somewhere between McLaren and the aforementioned jellyfish. But for League minimum pay I'd give it a crack.

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    3. Hey, we'd all be in the talent category you humorously describe- but yes, we'd all give it a shot!

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  9. I have a feeling the refs are looking very hard for penalties every time both McLaren and Orr are out together. It must look threatening to the refs even though they are needed right now. They are also watching Clarkson way too closely. I've seen so many soft calls lately and we can't afford them.

    I would just as soon have Kulemin on the second line. It's where he was before and there have been more than enough changes already. Add in Raymond or better yet leave the 2nd line alone completely ( Lupul, Kadri, Kulemin) They've had great success. I'd try Raymond on first to match speed with Kessel and JVR. Do we really need to shake up ALL the lines? Is a large contract the reason Clarkson MUST be on the second line? To me keeping the lines as close as possible to what the players are used to just makes sense, at least for now, and moving Lupul to first depletes the second line. Having stable lines and playing with team-mates you are used to is important. It seems we are picking lines out of a hat right now. C.N.

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    1. Sometimes, as you suggest C.N., coaches seem to over-manage in response to a situation. It's a fair point that there may be no need to mess with all the lines, instead of simply one.

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  10. Someone on another site mentioned that Kulemin used to play center in Juniors and was drafted in that position. There's a thought. C.N.

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  11. If the Leafs decide to look for a center, two players I have always liked are Dominic Moore (Rangers) and Kyle Wellwood who just retired. Wellwood is only thirty, would't cost any picks, is a former Leaf and Ontario born. I just wonder if he could be persuaded to help the Leafs out. He's not a super talent but very smart. C.N.

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