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Leaf loss against the Panthers a tipping point?

I’m not sure I can provide analysis that will answer the many questions that are on the minds of Leaf supporters these days. In the last week alone, there was the “encouraging” loss against the LA Kings. There was a letdown loss the next night against the Blues in St. Louis followed by an impressive win against the defending Cup champion Hawks (who admittedly had an off-night…).

That victory brought renewed hope this week, as the Leafs faced the always tough but significantly undermanned Penguins and the eminently beatable Panthers back home at the ACC.

Yet another loss against the lowly Floridians Tuesday night will, at best, give pause to even the most hopeful Leaf enthusiast. At worst, it will lead to a cavalcade of calls for radical change—behind the bench and throughout the roster as well.

The ironic thing is that I had been playing to write a piece specifically about two promising Leaf players: Nazem Kadri and young Morgan Rielly.  I was going to comment that while Kadri has frustrated some with what they see as inconsistent play so far this season, for my part I keep seeing a player who lives to play the game and has uncanny offensive instincts.  He is, as I have said here of late, a cagey player with an edge to his game.  The “numbers” have not always been there this season but I think he can become a big-time player.  I don’t know if he is a first-line pivot or a second line guy or whatever, but he is surely a keeper. If the many chances he creates or has himself start going in for him, his numbers could skyrocket.

As for Rielly, he continues to impress me (despite my admitted protestations that he should be released to play with Team Canada) in a variety of ways.  And I’m not simply talking about his first NHL goal that came against the Penguins on Monday night.  (He may not score on a shot like that for weeks, though he does have a good wrist shot.  He happened to hit a great spot.) I don’t much care if he scores a lot, though he will surely put up his share of points given his significant skill level.  I expect him to play as advertised, a guy who can clear the zone, lug the puck out and make plays because he has great wheels and hockey smarts.

But what I’ve been looking to see is whether he can handle, even at the tender age of 19, some of the little things that make a defenseman invaluable: can he win battles, move guys off the puck, retrieve the puck and move it quickly to get it out of danger?

With that in mind, I noticed one solitary moment, well into the third period on Monday night against Pittsburgh, when the score was 1-1.  Rielly muscled a Penguin forward off the puck near Bernier, and I just nodded quietly to myself. If he can do that, I told myself, this kid can play here—and stay here—right now.

Rielly is a minus 12, but he seems to be the least of our problems right now, eh?

I’m not a huge fan of pointing fingers, but clearly some players are struggling and as a unit, the Leafs are not, as the expression goes, clicking consistently on all cylinders.  Reimer has not been stellar of late and everyone here knows I’m a Reimer guy.  (I will say that Carlyle has not done what I wanted to see—Reimer (and Bernier as well) being given a chance to play a string of games in succession, regardless of a bad goal or bad game here or there. This constant back and forth with the netminders, will, I believe, kill any chances either goalie has to find their form consistently—and ultimately their confidence.  (I also wonder what the goalie back and forth is doing to team harmony…)

I can look at Gardiner and say I’ve liked a lot about his game—same with Liles when he is in the lineup.  Everyone sees Phaneuf playing huge minutes against top players.  Gunner is a plus player.  Franson has been solid offensively much of the season (16 points).  So where does the problem lie?  In fairness, despite what some fans want to suggest, this does not all fall on Ranger or Fraser.  C’mon.

It’s the same thing with the forward units.  We know about the injuries but everyone has those.  There seems to be a preoccupation with Clarkson, but as with Ranger and Fraser, fair-thinking Leafers surely can’t pin all of our losses or problems on one highly-paid third-line winger?

On any given night and at any given moment, Twitter explodes with commentary about the talents of Kessel, Lupul, van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Rielly, Gardiner and Phaneuf.  Fans seem to really like Holland, Raymond and newcomer D’Amigo.  But something must be lacking.  All these guys can’t be playing winning hockey, or the Leafs would obviously have a much better record than they do right now.

Considering that the Leafs started the season with a record of 6 wins and one loss, their current record is not really acceptable—or remotely encouraging.  We’ve all seen moments (and the occasional game) where we think, “That’s it.  That what we want to see…” but then the moments ends, as suddenly as it came.

I've talked here about "statement games" lately.  But do we have the experience, the leadership, to make a statement?  Do these guys believe in themselves?

Sometimes we’ll say a team that lost a game deserved a better result.  And every once in a while, that’s true. My question for you:  have the Leafs deserved a better fate so far this season?  Or are they in fact what their record (now 17-16-3) says they are?


I have no idea if changes are coming, but I cannot believe Dave Nonis (or Tim Leiweke) will wait much longer to do something—whatever something might be.

38 comments:

  1. Hi Michael. I think we're overdue for a Hangout episode. I have no clue what's going on with the Leafs. I'd only be guessing.
    Last year they came into the season with something to prove.They had periods where they stopped playing, and I held my breath every time the puck was in their zone, but it was exciting hockey if unpredictable at times. Last year James might have kept us in many games like this. Has he just given up, knowing his days with the Leafs are numbered?
    As for the rest, they are not comunicating, not working as a unit, trying to do too much individually, not starting games with any fire what so ever. We can all see what's going wrong. Why it's going so wrong is the question no one seems able to answer. C.N.

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    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, C.N.- we can all see something is "off", but why is this going on? Some lay it all on Carlyle's doorstep, but to me, it's more than that. We thought (at least most of us) thought the team construction was actually pretty good. Some believed the "lost" pieces were a management mistake (Grabbo, MacArthur, Komarov, etc.) but by and large they were replaced with players of solid reputation, including Bolland and Clarkson.

      On paper, the Leafs are with the better teams in the East, in my view. So how are we here? Thanks C.N.

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  2. To your question: no, the Leafs have not deserved a better fate. They've deserved a worse fate, based on their play. And if it weren't for the goalies, they would have had one.
    What we're seeing now is the team we've got - talented on paper, wildly inconsistent, apparently unable to play their coach's system, and devoid of the leadership that inspires that indefinable "compete", or "muckulence", or "heart", or whatever you want to call it. Even the normally positive Reimer talked about teammates who show up for half a game after tonight's display. Man, both he and Bernier have lost their smiles. Bernier said a while back that hockey's more fun when the players enjoy coming to the rink - implying that they don't at the moment.
    I've commented before that I feel there's something wrong in the dressing room, something off at the core of this team. I don't have a clue what it is, but it feels that way. In pre- or post-game interviews the players all seem like individuals who, for the most part, aren't pulling together (excepting JvR/Bozak/Kessel).
    It's shaping up to be a long season. I can't believe, if things continue this way, that there won't be significant changes despite our frequent excuses of youth, fatigue, and brain-deadness. Definitely glass half-empty!

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    1. Something is missing, Gerund O', and I can't put my finger on it either. Oh, we can talk about coaching and individual players but to really get at what is preventing this team from being what it can and should be, like you, I draw a blank. Easy to theorize from a distance, much more difficult to say, with certainty, what the issues are.

      We do know this: on paper, this team should be as good as most in the East. Right now, we're not playing often enough as though we are.

      Bolland is a significant loss in terms of a leadership void, yes. But surely they've had sufficient time to deal with that one. Are there other leaders on this squad, I mean real leaders?

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  3. What can I say? It seems you like the players, you mention they should be one of the top teams in the East, yet here we are. Well if your not willing to blame the players and you are rather pointed that they are not the problem that leads one to the conclusion it has to be something else. I am once again gonna point the finger squarely at Carlyle. It is time to make a change before the season gets pissed down the drain. We are now at 3 regulation wins in the last 15 games or something ridiculous like that. That's almost a quarter of a season, its not a slump anymore. They need to fix it and fix it soon or its going to be to late.

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    1. Hi Willbur- I think the point I was trying to make, on the heels of another loss last night, is that a lot of fans seem to "like" a lot of the players. I do think there are issues with the roster composition, and with individual players, yes. I want to be clear that while I think that, as I said to Gerund, on paper the Leafs have as much talent as most Eastern Conference teams, there are clearly some issues at play here. If our goaltending had just been average most of the season, as Geund also noted, where would we be?

      So yes, I concede that we must have issues in terms of either players not being capable of handling their roles, or not being good enough. And I also acknowledge that there must be something happening when it comes to the coaching staff.

      I will say this, however. If they fire the coach, I don't see this roster as so good that they will suddenly be a Cup team. Oh, they may have a jump in their play under a new coach who lets them play with reckless abandon offensively or whatever, but eventually that new coach will see that without a commitment to strong defensive team play, we are still sunk. Team defense ultimately wins championships.

      So I don't know what to say, which is pretty much the gist of my post. There are more problems that I can identity or explain. I'm not sure anyone, except the Carlyle haters, can. And for me, thew coach thing is not an adequate explanation. I've never believed in the supposed "blue and white disease", but something is amiss here. Thanks Willbur.

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  4. Do we need to look at what has changed / is different from last year? We've all questioned the dressingroom.

    Bringing in Bernier was a big change, after Reimer's successful year. ( not that I have anything at all against Bernier) Losing Scrivens hurt a bit. He was such a great supporter of his team-mates especially James and always had a very positive attitude.

    MacArthur and Frattin were both good friends with the first line and Kadri. Colbourne, Komorov, Hamilton, Komi, Brown gone, Liles in the Marlies. That's nine players (just off the top of my head) that are not with the team this year.

    This was a very close young group last year and though some didn't play a lot of minutes they were there in the dressingroom. Everyone " getting along' is not the same as having many close personal friends there, close in age, who want you to succeed individually as well as for the team.

    So many leaving, so many new faces in and out, so many injuries taking out players that were with them last year- Kulemin, Fraser, Lupul. Bozak really charged up the first line when he returned and then we lost him again. I know they had a strong start, many teams do, but we all felt something wasn't quite right even then. Have there been just too many changes for this still very young club to adjust to in the time they've had? C.N.

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  5. Michael,

    When can I see another Hangout episode on MLHS? The natives are getting restless for more interviews and analysis.

    Onward and upward, to the Leafs and the ongoing disappointment that is the 2013-14 NHL season. To be fair, even I didn't think they were capable of being this awful. I have pointed out for what seems like forever, wrong coach, wrong mix of players, not enough elite talent. While everyone here has been nice enough, it was clear to me that lots of people believe(d), this team capable of competing for the Stanley Cup. At this point in time I would suggest that a sippy cup is more likely to be lifted by this organization.

    The team has some talent, not elite NHL talent, but a notch below it. The players in the League that are truly elite make their team better than the sum of its parts, and hold each other accountable. Our best players with very few exceptions are castaways from other teams, or at least were expendable in those organizations. Bernier, can't beat Quick for the starters job in L.A., get him in Toronto, sign him to a contract. Phaneuf, hated in Calgary, locker room rumours, trade for him stat. Kessel, scratched for playoff games in Boston, trade a huge number of picks for him asap. Lupul, couldn't stay healthy in Anaheim, or Philly, get that man on a plane as fast as you can. The Leafs desire the players other teams can live without. Insert Bolland, Franson, and Gardiner here as well. All of them are good players, flawed, but good. The fact that no one in this group seems able, or willing to lead the Leafs to the promised land, should surprise no one.

    The Leafs are currently less than the sum of their parts. There are many reasons for this, I shall endeavour to touch on them here.

    The coach, lots of thoughts, man is there a lot wrong with this guy. I don't know a lot about systems at the NHL level. I will say this, a talented team that has lots of elite skaters available, should be playing less dump and chase, grind it out hockey. Asking a thoroughbred to plow fields is more or less not the optimal decision. It was obvious last night that they players couldn't care less what he says to them on the bench.

    Only some players on the Leafs are held accountable, on what planet is this a fair thing to do? Gardiner sat for more than a period last night because of a giveaway. Fraser is more charitable than the United Way, and doesn't miss a shift. That is when he is actually able to get to the puck in the first place. I know you like the guy, but jeez louise, he is not an NHL'er at this point.

    Lineup decisions. What the heck was Mason Raymond doing on the 4th line for 2 periods last night? He is the teams 3rd leading point getter, and the coach saddles him with Bodie and Smith. Forget the facepunchers playing every game, this is worse. Raymond has 25 points for this club, only in Bizarro world does that mean 4th line. Late in the game, Raymond goes on to score the Leafs only goal of the game, nice call coach. Thanks for putting your third leading point getter with players who can play.

    I could easily say the same for other players in the past, Grabbo, Kulemin as well. Sticking players in defense only roles and then crapping on them for not scoring, is stupid. Both of them have offensive ability, they have proven that. Why Nonis got rid of Grabbo to keep Bozak baffles me to this day. I'm sure that after this year Kulemin will go somewhere and be appreciated for being the wonderful two way player he is. Detroit and Pittsburgh come to mind as places where the management and the players would love to have him. I'm sure I will find it reassuring to have another good Canadian boy back home where he can punch someone.

    part one

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  6. Michael,

    I do believe in Blue and White disease, I really do. Players in this organization get far more publicity, praise, and admiration than they deserve. From the draft, to free agents, to trades. Kadri on HNIC with Cherry the moment after he was drafted. The good Toronto boy coming home and is sure to succeed is a tired cliche, and needs to end. David Clarkson on the cover of the Toronto Sun with the title, 'Wendel Clarkson'. To the non-stop praise of Bolland, it was 15 games people, he is not and never will be, Jonathan Toews. My point is, everyone who is in any way associated with this team, puts each and every one of these guys in a position that they are so unlikely to be able to meet expectations let alone exceed them. In the last 45 years not one Cup Final appearance. Not one. Yet everywhere I turn, I hear about how great a coach this guy was, or that guy is a hall of famer. To take a line from James Reimer, its all BS.

    I would give anything to get Lou Lamoriello here. Prospects are suspect until they play 3 years of minor pro hockey, no exceptions. How is it possible that Nonis, Loisselle, Poulin and Fletcher miss the fact that David Clarkson is a below average skater at the NHL level? There has to be hundreds of games available for them to watch. Did any of them bother to watch this guy play? If it was my job, I would have watched Clarkson play.

    I saw something interesting in the Pittsburgh game, thought I would mention it since you brought up Kadri. Did everyone see the run he took at Crosby? Flying elbow, left his feet as well. He is going to injure someone, and get suspended really soon. Or another player will take exception to it, and hurt him. I hope he mends his ways soon.

    part two

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    1. Plenty to talk about Jim, but you've covered the bases. To your last point on Kadri, yes- I have made mention in podcasts over the past couple of years, and maybe even commented at VLM, that he is a chippy player who takes liberties because he has teammates who will protect him. He may face retribution if he continues to go over the line.

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  7. I'll add Kostka to the young group now gone. He stuck around through the summer to train with his former team-mates. We had mediocre players last year playing above their natural ability. Now we have several key players not playing even close to their capabilities. I believe we have a club that needs more time and they may not have enough this season. C.N.

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  8. Hi Michael,

    You've touch on one thing that people tend to disregard when watching their beloved team lose. They tend to focus on one, two, three players and their mistakes and attribute the losing to them. There is currently not one player that is the main cause of the failings. It is the totality of the team and overall play. Mistakes now are just too large to overcome or seems to be. Opportunities are missed which makes the mistakes seem even larger. This happens when confidence is waning. Reimer and Bernier are no longer stealing games and have been average causing the players even more apprehensive and in turn causes further miscues. This is the chicken and egg thing but IMO started with the poor defensive play. What you do see is complete lack of confidence and frustration in every single player. The young guys have not been playing well simply because of adrenalin and haven't been here long enough during this slide.

    It's ridiculous that some of the comments made earlier before last night how the alarming play was nothing to worry about. Kadri - I am looking at you!. This attitude is unacceptable. Only last night was there an resemblance of pride in their comments - that being from Reimer. If you watch the Hawks game, look how Toews react when things were falling apart. He was pissed. This is from a Team that was leading league in points!!!. - His words I believed were "Wake the F^%% up" while on the bench. I pointed this out because, no matter where you are in the standing, good teams DO NOT tolerate losing, poor efforts or executions. These are characteristics that I feel are within the Leafs.

    They don't believe they are an elite team so it's okay to lose to the Bostons, LA, etc. Only teams that they think they can beat that they feel they are accountable. Accountability is all times and every time. You compete in this league to win, it is NOT okay to lose. To any team. This attitude to me is destructive and go against the make up of true winners. This to me is obviously lack of leadership. Whether it is from the coaching staff, the manager, or our controversial captain. It is really an issue that ultimately, is the core issue. You suppose to learn from your mistakes and failures but you should also learn when you're winning. It is just it is more obvious when you fail, yet it seems like its okay to fail when we suppose to fail. It's not okay to fail PERIOD!.

    Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We take pride in being a team that doesn't get outworked. Tonight we were outworked."

    Your team has been outworked, out hit, out shot, out everything all season. You only noticed it tonight because your opposition who was SUPPOSE to be weaker.

    /Rant

    At the end of the day, this team needs a serious turn of attitude and IMO will never get it from Phaneuf as their captain.


    It occurred to me last night while watching Carlyle explode in frustration that Hockey is a very different and fine edged game.

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    1. Hi Lukas, thanks for chiming in. Those who have followed my posts here at VLM over the years know that I have commented often about this question of leadership. It is still, sadly, a question.

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    2. Hi Michael,

      There were obvious missed wordings/additions and incompleteness to my previous post. I hope the point was clear nonetheless. There sadly is no true leadership on this team. NO one player is standing up to say but more importantly, act with any sort of conviction to unite the team. I have no issue with Phaneuf and his play but a leader he is not. In fact, IMO this team issue is lack of on ice leadership. I am not sure if the management is oblivious to this fact and if they do and expect leadership by committee than they need to revise thinking because it has never worked and will never work. It seems like 4 straight years on this with that 48 games anomaly. what's the common denominator?

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    3. The post was clear, no problem, Lukas.

      As I have mentioned here before, we are left to wonder- and ask questions. The problem is finding the answers.

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  9. Hi Michael:
    Glad I am around for the fireworks. Perhaps Leaf diehards should be happy. During the many years in the wilderness teams were so bad that the reasons were obvious. Not having a "clue" may suggest improvement. Oops, was that too cynical.

    It is way too early to be giving up, but the ship appears to be sinking and there may not be enough lifeboats. I once had a boss who thought that if he waited long enough, the problem would go away. Many did, but it was because there were underlings who would save the day despite him.

    My dose of reality: "How to seize failure from the Jaws of Success".

    The players: There seems to be a concensus that the leafs have a good core of players. Also, most agree that the team does not ice the best 18 players available. A decision to rebuild would be required and no cap problems to allow major personnel changes. The reality is that the players who are going to make success happen are on the team or the Marlies now

    The Coach: For the most part, pro sports coaches are hired to be fired. Mike Keenan has coached 8 different NHL teams but can't get another NHL job for a variety of reasons. Seeing Carlyle on the bench furiously creating blue blobs on a white board, and with the media suggests that he doesn't have a clue either, isn't being listened to or will not admit the reasons. If he knew how to fix it, he would have done it by now. In the end, it comes down to the fact that it is easier to get rid of the coach than the team and is the normal decision made by management.

    The GM: With his handling of the cap and a middling record in acquisition/disposal of assets he has not exactly covered himself with success. Since no one seems to know what he is thinking or doing, we can probably assume he will not fire himself and he has little flexibility in changing the players.

    Leweike: He has no previous ties to either the coach or GM, and at some point someone(s) will be the scapegoat and he can get his own man.

    Should be interesting to see how this plays out.


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  10. Interesting indeed, Ralph (RLMcC). The only thing I would add as a side note is that Leiweke did sign Nonis to a significant extension a few months ago. Not sure how that plays into this, if at all.

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  11. Michael:
    That should not mean you spend good money after bad. I suspect non-cap money to MLSE is probably irrelevant. Didn't stop them with Wilson.

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    1. Understood. MLSE has money; buying people out has never been an issue.

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  12. Well Michael I can't believe we are going through all of this again. I really thought that this team WAS capable of doing some damage this year but instead we are debating all of the same old issues. There does appear to be a disconnect, I mean as a player if you watch the way Liles has been jerked around wouldn't that bother you somewhat? He is a veteran and his play has not been bad but yet he can't stay in the lineup? I see Reilly is staying, another short sighted decision, rather than play with the juniors. When will they ever learn, he does have all the ability but I still say he is not ready. And to sign Phaneuf to a 7 or 8 year deal is just tying your hands again. I am at a lost Michael, Carlyle said the fans are frustrated, he is spot on with that. The cohesion needed to be a team is missing and I think everyone is at a loss as to why. The only comment that touched on this was made concerning all the changes from last years team. Outside of this I Don't know............

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    1. Your reference to the earlier post above (from C.N., I believe) about all the players that have left the organization since the end of last season is a valid and fair one, purch. The problem is that in this day and age, with the cap and all, most every team goes through substantive roster changes every season. Heck, the Hawks had to gut half their team after they won their first Cup a few years ago- some really good players. The Bruins traded Tyler Seguin this past summer, who is a heck of a lot better player than anybody who has left this club since last season. The guy they traded for him has been hurt most of the season. They somehow survive.

      I'm flummoxed.

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  13. Lots of interesting thoughts. I tend to agree with most. I agree with Michael that you cannot hang this on a couple forwards and a couple dmen. I also agree this team is not playing any differently during this tail slide as they did during the early winning streak except then they had timely scoring and out of this world goaltending. I think we can all agree the timely scoring has gone awol.

    The tending is still on the good side but you can tell the tenders got wore down some facing 35-50 shots EVERY night during a schedule that is very compacted due to the oly break. I do disagree Michael with your comment about giving a goalie a run of games. With the shots they face each game and the compacted schedule playing every 2 games physically and mentally is pretty darn equal to a "normal" run of games for a tender.

    So, what are the reasons? I suggest 3.

    1. Chemistry. The team shows very little chemistry beyond Phaneuf/Gunner and JVR/Kessel. Injuries and suspenions are a very big part of that but so is a number of personnel out and in post season. Yes, lots of teams have that. But if you have a tight room already it can disrupt things. Last years room was tight no doubt. Depth of leadership can help over come this perhaps quicker but see #2 below.

    2. Leadership. Yes Bolland only played 15 games but you could see the other players watch how he played and what he did and followed his lead early on. The whole "the dude won 2 cups and he is playing better now than ever" just seemed to drag some guys along. And while I agree he isn't Jonny Toews he does have character and being around Toews, and the other Hawk leaders who were all young guys who grew up together, seems to have molded Bolland into a better leader than anyone else on the team.

    Phaneuf might show some leadership on the ice with his play and be vocal in the dressing room but does anyone REALLY know if he is a good captain or not? Unless we are in that room all we can do is speculate. Most good teams you need more than one hand to count the number of the true leaders they have. C's and A's on jerseys are nothing more than fancy letters. There have been a number of very good leaders that never wore a letter on their team. Even if Dion IS a good captain (speculative), the Leafs don't seem to have that depth of leadership in my opinion. Very speculative, yes but when that certain something is missing that you cannot put your finger on???. I would suggest that is usually an overall leadership issue. Depth of leadership would help with internal attitude issues such as Kadri stating we played great at the start of the year and nothing to worry about. You think any of the Hawks leaders, never mind Toews, wouldn't be in his grill over those comments the next day???

    3. Carlyle. The best coaches have their system but can adapt it to fit the players they have and not force players into a system they are not best fit for. Carlyle has never shown that ability here or in Anaheim. He constantly talks about need to be a cycle team and "we are not a rush team". Well, yes the cycle and puck possession needs to improve no one would disagree with that. But this team was based on speed last year and still is for the most part. Speed tends to lend more to a rush team. Carlyle is stuck on his face punchers. You want to dress one on the 4th line to play on the ice for 4-7min/game I can live with for certain games (Boston, Montreal, etc) . Dressing two is a complete and total waste of a lineup spot in todays NHL and again shows me Carlyles inability to adapt.

    Long and rambling so I apologize. Great article Michael. Keep them coming.

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    1. Really good to hear from you, Pep. Excellent post.

      I won't go through all your points, suffice to say the proven "winning experience" thing combined with leadership seems to be on all our minds these days, and frankly, has been something (as I cited above) that I've actually talked about here for years. It seems to be an issue still.

      It's not even a question necessarily of questioning how good a captain Dion is. Hell, none of us has a clue. But something seems to be off here. I grow tired of players (here or elsewhere) playing poorly then all standing up and mouthing the words, "this isn't acceptable". What does that even mean? Those are just empty words. Show me something on the ice- don't talk about effort after the game. It's too late by then.

      I don't know that I want to defend Carlyle much longer. I've wanted to believe that he connects with most of the players (not all, obviously, based on public comments from departed players...) and is still a capable coach with a system that suits his personnel, but right know I don't know. Thanks for visiting, Pep.

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  14. Hopeful Leaf enthusiast.... pausing...

    I'm finding it hard to find the positives that I would usually point toward, and even though I still see some positives, it's hard not to wonder if they will be enough to turn the tide (or position the 18-wheeler on horizontal footing - have we already started over the cliff or will we 'level out' just in time?).

    Perhaps I've just been waiting 'too long' for things to unfold in my life () and am projecting that onto my desire for immediate gratification when the Leafs play (after waiting patiently through these many years of hopeful 'building'). It would appear that painful 'perseverance' is required of us all at such a time as this. I hope management doesn't crack under the pressure of expectation and find themselves making a deal we will regret for years to come.

    On the other hand, if Nonis (et al) have been waiting before making a move already on the table, then I hope it's a win-win deal that liberates those who do not fit in the Leaf long-term plan and brings in players who will be here contributing at a high level for years to come.

    Maybe we're on the cusp of a sea change that will bring that franchise Centre that can carry the team on his back like Sundin, Gilmour, Sittler and Keon have done for us in years gone by. If that radically alters the landscape, then so be it... but, lets not overpay as a reaction to the current situation.

    You have made many positive comments about the team we have now, Michael, and I concur with your observations, yet I wonder if any of the team's disheartened play has anything to do with their own speculations about coming changes in a locker room of friends...

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    1. My view, InTimeFor62., is that the downturn has not had anything to do with fear about trades, guys moving, etc. Until now, I don't even think that was on people's minds. Maybe that's a concern now, but we can't attribute poor play (to me, anyway) to that factor.

      I'm trying to figure this out. I've never thought we were truly "elite", or a Cup team. But I thought in the lousy East, we'd be a top-five team. Maybe we still can be. Things can turn on a dime. But at the moment, we seem to be undergoing a January Leaf 'thaw' a month too soon. Thanks, InTimeFor62.

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    2. I agree that the extended downturn (since the early successes) has not had anything to do with fear about trades, I was just pondering, as you commented, if the recent (last few games) disheartened attitude has something to do with growing concerns over potential changes (see the unsupported game where Reimer was pulled plus his frank 'BS' comment, along with the added burden of the HBO cameras chronicling what might be dealt with more 'frankly' if that intrusion were absent).

      Perhaps we need to be patient thru the Winter Classic and give the team some time to 'normalize' before we (I) get too frustrated...

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  15. I think that the problems all started in the off season. The Leafs nearly beat the Bruins last season because of their speed, agility, skill and skating ability and what does Nonis do? He casts off speedy, agile, skilled players who skate well in Grabovski, Frattin, MacArthur and Komarov. He then brings in guys with very little speed, agility, skill and skating ability in Orr, McLaren, Clarkson, Fraser and Ranger. He also replaced Scrivens with Bernier which wasn't necessary since goaltending was the least of Toronto's problems last season. He also resigned Bozak, a player with very little skill and creativity all because of his alleged chemistry with Kessel. The only decent moves that Nonis has made was buying out Komisarek, signing Raymond and acquiring Bolland. Grabovski, MacArthur, Scrivens and Komarov are all doing well with their new teams (Frattin however is not). Meanwhile, the Leafs off-season acquisitions (via signing and trades) for the most part aren't faring well for one reason or another. Bozak and Bolland are injured, Orr and McLaren are useless face-punchers, Fraser and Ranger are defensive liabilities and Clarkson has already missed 12 games due to suspension and has done next to nothing on offense. Raymond has been doing well though and Bernier has provided some decent goaltending although he has been struggling a bit as of late (probably because he faces 30-50 shots almost every game).

    Carlyle is another big reason why the Leafs are struggling. His lineup management has been sorely lacking (i.e. putting Raymond on the fourth line against Florida for two periods), he's very uneven in the way he disciplines his players (he gives too much leeway to guys like Orr, McLaren, Ranger and Fraser and dumps on Gardiner and Rielly) and he's very reluctant to change his cycling, dump and chase style to accommodate the team's strength, which is creating offense off the rush. Also, for a coach who is supposedly defensive-minded, he has done very little to implement a tight defensive system. Right now the system is: get badly out-shot and hope the goalie bails us out.

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    1. Nice to hear from you, Magnetron. Just a couple of thoughts in response to your comment- I do think we miss Komarov. He brought an edginess last season and was part of the Leafs having a bit of a 'hard to play against' identity.

      And you make a good point, that Carlyle being a supposedly defensive-oriented coach should surely at least have these guys doing that successfully. Defense is all about will and hard work.

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  16. It's interesting that there's been a marked improvement for the Leafs in shots for / shots against and they've actually out-shot 3 of the last 5 teams. Unfortunately more of those shots seem to be coming from dangerous areas.
    I still feel ( as I have all along) there are too many line changes going on and would like to see at least the top forward lines set and left alone for a while. If there is one major complaint I have about Randy, besides the fourth line, this constant switching would be it. With Kulemin's return I would have put him or Raymond with Kadri and Lupul, Holland with Kessel and JVR because I like his speed. Whatever, just leave them alone. Many of these line changes have seemed completely unnecessary to me and counter-productive on a team that seems to lack cohesion and consistency. Carlyle can always experiment on the PP.
    Desperately waiting for a 'Hangout' with whatever guest you may find available. I'm not picky. C.N.

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    1. I guess Carlyle has determined that because of injuries/suspensions he would experiment with the lines. At times the first line has produced, every once in a while we get secondary scoring. Nothing of a consistent nature, it seems, C.N.- I'm sure the coach is scratching his head, too, trying to figure out and stick with combinations that can work. (Yes, it's been a while between Hangouts...I'll have to try and get everyone together!)

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  17. Reimer sums it up:
    "There's never an excuse. There's never an excuse. Injuries, tired, it's all BS. It doesn't, you know, those are excuses, and they're useless, and so what it comes down to is your will. It's your heart and your character, if you know what I mean. We should able to win with half of our guys out, you know what I mean? Just look at exhibition games, you know what I mean, you're playing with half your lineup and sometimes you're playing against a team that has their full lineup, and I know maybe the game doesn't mean as much, but there's still 'the underdog wins'. There should be no reason, there should be no excuses, you know, that's negative stuff. All you can focus on is what you yourself can do to get prepared and then be your best, and trust that your teammate across from you is doing the same thing."

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    1. Perfect quote, Gerund, thanks. You (and other readers here) know I've used the word countless times myself: "will". Back checking, playing good defensive hockey, individually and as a team, is a matter of desire, will and determination. Anyone can do it. You should be even better at it if you have speed, because you can get where you need to go more quickly. Thanks Gerund.

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  18. Hi Michael,

    I agree that the team is better than their record now. However, I have to admit that their record is fair considering the lackluster effort and seeming inability to play 60 minutes on any semblance of a regular basis. In short, they deserve (and have "earned") the record they have.

    Something has to change, I think.

    Carlyle has been beating the same drum, and the players seem either unable or unwilling to play his "system" consistently. As I mentioned last post, we've seen a plethora of "wake up calls," but when will they actually wake up?

    A coaching or personnel change?

    If not, I hope the coach is reviewing game footage of the successful Leafs games where a hard-nosed, fast-attacking team with mobile defense gives the opposition fits. We've heard these players are meant to be tough, defensive "Carlyle" types, but they seem better suited to a rushing style with several D able to skate out of trouble and create offense with deft passes instead of battling and cycling. Last year, we had a good mix of speed and toughness (guys like Komorov are missed), but something is lacking t this point.

    Both the players and the coach share responsibility in preparing for and executing games. I'm still in the coach's corner, and I still believe in the team. However, some kind of change seems necessary. If the writing isn't on the wall, the markers are definitely coming out the pockets...

    Go Leafs(?)!

    Matt

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    1. Well said, Matt. I think a lot of Leaf supporters feel that way. They don't necessarily want a coaching change (though I realize that some do). They don't necessarily want to airlift in a whole bunch of new players (not easy under a cap system). But they do want to see the players we do have play to their strengths (maybe that's on Carlyle) and they want to see them play with determination (definitely on the players). Thanks Matt.

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  19. The way I see it, they weren't as good as their record at the start of the year, and aren't as bad as their recent record. So I think eventually they will even out their play, make the playoffs, and stand a decent chance of providing an upset in the first round with good goaltending and a roster that (finally) has everyone back and healthy. In fact, I will even predict Toronto over Montreal in the first round in 6 games.

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    1. Some mid-season hopefulness is OK with me, Steve. I think people who follow me here know that I tend to be "in the middle" a lot. Not too high when the Leafs are winning, not as down as many when things seem sour. My consistent thought has been the Leafs can do well in the East. They still need to play better and with a lot more feistiness and more consistently, of course, but there is no reason that they can't be way up in the Eastern Conference standings.

      A Montreal match-up. Finally, is my response. About time. Would be fun, for sure. Thanks Steve.

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  20. P.S. I've got my copy of your book loaded up on the ol' iPad for some holiday reading.

    Cheers!

    Matt

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    1. I sincerely hope you enjoy it when you get a few moments to read it, Matt- thank you for letting me know.

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