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Where do the Leafs turn now?

There is little doubt that injuries have cut into some elements of the Maple Leaf fortunes (and hoped- for progress) during the 2013-’14 NHL season.  But I think we can safely acknowledge that the underlying issues (read: concerns) about this team can’t be swept away by citing that factor alone.

No, this is a roster that, while clearly made up of some intriguing possibilities, talent-wise, still seems to leave us wanting a lot more than what we are currently getting.

The coach has tried going back and forth between Reimer and Bernier in goal.  Effective early on, lately, neither has held the magic wand.  He has offered Gardner and Ranger seats upstairs.  He has given Rielly (now minus 11 in 22 games) nights off here and there.  Clarkson has been moved around.  Kadri has had some new line mates.  Fourth-line combinations have been shifted around.  Marlies have been in and out of the lineup.  Fraser  (and I really like the guy) continues to play despite mounting evidence that he is either still hurt or simply not the reliable presence he was most of last season.

We give up too many shots.  We don’t control play enough.  Our penalty-kill has gone south.  The “team tough” Maple Leafs really aren’t that at all. We fight sometimes, but as I’ve said here countless times over the years, in my books, that’s not real toughness.

Meanwhile, Nonis has brought in an array of indistinguishable parts to replace a stellar veteran presence like Bolland, with zero, it seems, positive effect.

So where are we?  Is it panic time?  Is the coach to blame?  Are our beleaguered, over-worked goalies not going to be able to carry the burden of being outshot almost nightly?  Will HBO’s arrival just make things worse?

As always in Leafworld, there are questions galore, but precious few answers.

We can say, oh, Franson has been hurt lately.  Kadri couldn’t play against the Sharks.  But truth be told, the Leafs were struggling before they were sidelined briefly. Every team is fighting through injuries of some sort, some more so than the Maple Leafs.

Hey, our two goalies are healthy.  Our best defenseman is healthy. In fact all of our “key” defensemen have largely been healthy until Franson was recently injured.

Yes, Bozak, our “first-line” center has missed significant time this season but few consider him an elite player, anyway.  So what’s the excuse? Kadri is still here.  McClement is still here.  Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Clarkson are all here and healthy.  Lupul is out again, but after a hot start, he had (if my arithmetic is close to correct) something like 3 goals in his last 16 games, to go along with 4 assists—and 3 of those assists came in the same lopsided game.

So this is the roster we chose (well, we didn’t exactly choose it, management did, but a lot of us embraced it as “improved”, myself included).  This was and is, injuries aside, Nonis’ handiwork and is supposed to be the team Carlyle wanted. (And all those who shouted, “way to go Burke, thank you” may be re-thinking that position, too…).

I have no answers, as I said on a recent “Maple Leaf Hangout” episode. I have been one who has said here that this team should be able to be a lead player in the East, a top three or four team. (A big part of that assessment, I have long acknowledged, is because the East is so bad, but still…)

Right now, I am being proven incorrect.  My positive outlook is not so rosy now.  Is that just a typical fan reaction, to turn sour and sound negative when the team loses a couple of games?  Perhaps.  But I would have thought that, though the team was winning games against the run of play early in the season, they would have improved their overall game by now and, as a result, actually be playing better hockey.

That, too, has not happened.

There are systems issues.  Team composition issues.  Identity and "who are we?" issues.  Then there is Carlyle’s obsession with throwing out fourth-line combinations that are simply puzzling.  Break-outs are a problem.  Turnovers and breakdowns are, too.  What am I missing?  The hitters can’t skate and the skaters cant—or won’t—hit.

I’m talked out.  Maybe I’ll have something more to say in a few days.  I will still choose to believe that playing better opposition, and going on the road, will be good for the Leafs.  A return to magical goaltending might help.  A return of the walking wounded might, too.  

A jolt of confidence would go directly to their legs.  But a fragile team psyche appears to be in place these days.  That can change quickly, thankfully.

But we need a break—a catalyst to get things going in the other direction.  Will it be a special moment that turns the tide?  A big hit?  A particular player- or play?

I’m sure many are thinking: Is Carlyle the guy to lead and inspire the turnaround?  Is Nonis the right guy to massage the roster going forward?  Are these the players who can win playoff rounds?

You tell me….



31 comments:

  1. First things first; Carlyle beat the goon hockey clock (barely) with the ducks in -07. Six years apart, is he the guy for the Leafs? Haha.

    We're down, and will stay out. No playoffs, no excuses, nothing. Our keepers have a tendency to get shot down when they can't quite manage 40-50 saves per game. And at one point they just won't be enough on that particular premise.

    I'm not sure why I care, Michael, but I'm done with Carlyle. I'm also not sure why I stuck with Wilson for all those years. Both of 'em have the hockey know-how of someone with the IQ of a lima bean. Our head coach laments that "breaks haven't gone our way". Nothing will go your way unless you tip the scales, and that is what the coaches get paid for.

    Unsurprisingly, Randy's not been quite there yet.

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    1. Thanks Tapio (CGLN).

      I want to be clear; I have not been an anti-Carlyle guy in the coach's time here. I think coaches deserve a chance to make their imprint on a team, and this has been, in fairness, his first full season behind the Leaf bench.

      That said, the time of reckoning is growing closer, in the sense that there are no longer excuses. Injuries can never really be an excuse. This was supposed to be very much a "Carlyle team" this season, built in his image so they could play the way he wanted them to.

      Right now, they seem neither fish nor fowl. So while I am not (and I respect that you are, Tapio) calling for his firing, I am growing impatient for a consistent demonstration of really good hockey- 60-minute efforts, not a good period here and there- from this team. Thanks CGLN.

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  2. Michael,

    I have never been more appreciative of your thoughtfulness and insight than I am right now. In all the reactionary noise that is Leafworld, you are different. Thank you.

    I have long maintained that the Leafs are a team that is not as talented as the teams in the League that are considered, good, or great. The Eastern Conference is very middling, to use your word. The Leafs are in my opinion, right there talent wise with the majority of the teams here. We aren't as talented as Pittsburgh. We don't play as tough as Boston, real toughness. Not the staged fighting b.s. Taking the hard route to the puck, taking the man when he's bigger than you. Blocking another shot, taking the body. Real toughness, toughness of mind and spirit, as well as body. This is the biggest disappointment for me this year. This lineup is not tough to play against, practically ever. Getting close to 30 games this season, and all we can turn to is, a period here, a period there. That and the inevitable, we can play better, we have potential mantra. You know my position on platitudes and moral victories.

    I quite honestly, don't know how to fix this team. They don't play the kind of game the coach says he wants them to. Almost 30 games in, I still see the same players making the same half-assed efforts in the same situations. The players aren't buying in, I have my own ideas why. The most reasonable to my mind, they don't believe in their coaching staff. If I was one of the players on this team, I would find it hard to stomach watching Orr/Smithson/McLaren in the lineup. Whether I was a good player, a marginal one, or a youngster trying to make a name in the League. I would feel that the team is losing the game before the puck drops. Game after game, the staff isn't putting the team in the best position to win. Thirty games is a long time to continue down this path, too long.

    I watched the coaches media session today, after practice. I heard all about how the good teams in the League roll four lines, pressuring the puck, creating turnovers, and skating hard/fast. The lineup he puts in, is never one capable of doing this to the opposition. Leivo, Brolll, Ashton, and Holland have all spent time in the pressbox in Toronto, or with the Marlies. They are all better options, to be in the lineup. If the coach wants Orr in the lineup when the other team has a heavyweight, fine. When there isn't one he should be sitting. McLaren should be on waivers as well as Smithson today.

    You know I would have fired the coach a while ago. Call me a reactionary if you like, his message hasn't come close to matching the teams performance. He just isn't able to get this team to play the type of game that he wants them to. The players aren't willing, or able to give him that type of game. Kessel, Bozak, Lupul, JVR, Kadri, aren't the tough to play against kind of players. For a little while they can, but long term they revert back to being the fast, skilled guys they are. This isn't a condemnation of them, they are all fine hockey players. When Malkin scored the controversial goal against the Leafs where he shoves Bernier into the net, then the puck. A Leafs forward was right with him on the back check, he ridiculously leaves Malkin alone in front and goes to the side of the slot, instead of trying to prevent the goal. More of the same defensive effort by this team, under this coaching staff.

    I don't know why the players aren't playing the way the coach wants them to. He has won the Stanley Cup, he must know a lot about hockey. He is no doubt a good coach, everyone in the League is. The next guy to coach here will be as well. Other than a huge trade, the same old, same old from management isn't getting it done. Time for a new voice. Unless of course the team can manage to win as many games as it loses in December. To me that would be a monumental accomplishment, considering the opposition, as well as how terribly they have played this season.

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    1. It is indeed a growing concern, Jim, when players are not, as you put it, being placed in the best position to win. That is, after all, one of the basic job descriptions of a coaching staff: to put individual players, and the team, in the best position for success.

      There seems to be an internal conflict in terms of philosophy. Are we about winning now? if so, why is Rielly here? Not that he is not a stunningly good prospect, but he is not helping the cause right now, in my view. (Though I concede playing in junior may not be ideal, a stint with Team Canada would be, in my view...)

      As you well state, the previous two coaches here were good ones, and the one before that was exceptional (Quinn). And the next guy will be a capable NHL coach, too. But something is wrong with this picture.

      Why we can't roll four lines? Good teams do, as you mentioned. (Remember when Quinn was criticized for doing precisely that? But he knew that, come playoff time, Sundin and other key guys had to have something left in the tank, though Sundin always wanted to play more...)

      Frustration mounts. The Leafs - and their fans - need some impressive wins and some consistent play, soon. Thanks Jim.

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  3. there is no fear in playing the Leafs, no price to pay for taking liberties with goalies or players. We are not initiating the play but reacting to it. the team is essentially of the same makeup save Komorov except the addition of Bolland and Clarkson which should have made them harder to play against. I see the compete level as not being as it was last year. It appears more of a willingness to do whatever it takes to win.
    As well Michael the decision to keep Reilly with the Leafs is another back to the future episode. When will we ever learn? He has supreme talent but is NOT ready to play in the NHL. They can have an out to save face by loaning him to the junior team which will do a world of good. This is not the place to learn, Brennan or Liles are much more ready to contribute than he is. I hope I am wrong but I can see him ending up like Schenn.

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    1. An array of issues to be sure, purch- and we should be tougher, more skilled and better than we were before. Are we?

      With regard to Rielly, many of us have seen this movie so often before. Need I cite Gary Nylund, Al Iafrate, Jim Benning, to name just a few, and of course more recently Schenn. Rielly is a tremendous talent, but there was no need for him to be here. If he develops by being here, great. Just not sure this is the optimum environment right now.

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  4. We've been here before, haven't we? Almost exactly two years ago. Team won't play coach's system, no "compete", too many shots against, not enough shots for...
    I think there is something seriously wrong with this edition of the Leafs. How many times can a coach say the players aren't executing his plan? If that's true, there are two solutions: change the plan, or bring in new players. Because the players we have are not able to execute the plan the coach has. Period.
    There's simply no way - and I don't care how weak the East may be - that we can have our goalies facing 40-50 shots a night, our defence playing in their own zone for 40 minutes a game, and our offence virtually unable to score at even strength, that we will have a hope of making the playoffs this year.
    Rielly - cursed with the famous Leaf "potential" - has looked every inch the too-young rookie he is. Clarkson, who I think we hoped would be a better Komarov, has been a dud. Kadri has underperformed, and only the first line has any cohesion.. The Leafs aren't particularly tough to play against, and seem prone to stand around and watch the other team skate circles around them - like San Jose's PK unit did the other night. There's no flow between the players, the same mistakes are made, etc etc. And there's no one player with that "igniter" quality. I don't mean a Crosby - which we certainly don't have, but who does? - I mean a Marchand, or a Gallagher. And I most definitely do not mean the staged fighters we seem to be lugging along.
    In fairness, Carlyle has had exactly zero - that's right, zero - games with the lineup that was planned. Maybe we'll see how that team does next year. But even when we were relatively healthy this season, we never dominated a game. Now that we're being hit with a rash of critical injuries... well, I've already resigned myself to a dismal December.
    Your question, Michael - where do we turn now? - is the million dollar one. Too bad we don't have that kind of dough in cap space! I expect management will wait until we see what December brings before they make any big changes. But if we continue down the sorry path we're on, something will have to give.

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    1. I'm sure the last thing Nonis wants to be perceived to be doing is panicking, Gerund O'. And I understand that, of course. Same with Carlyle. A few wins and we could all have a different feeling. But as you (and other posters here) well point out, there are legitimate concerns. If they can begin to score five-on-five; if they start to be hard to play against again; if they start killing off penalties; if they go hard to the net and are tough in front of their own net; if they can clear the zone; if.....lots of ifs, eh? Thanks Gerund.

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  5. Look the Leafs haven't played well all year. Really even going back to last year there were some of us who said that the Leafs were getting lucky a lot of the time but in a shortened season they might be all right. Right now they are exactly where they deserve to be fighting for a playoff spot. The hockey gods are evening things out as they tend to do. As of right now this team is not good enough to be in the playoffs and if they don't get going in a hurry could find themselves on the outside looking in. I want to believe that they are good enough but after 30 games I see precious little that gives me cause for hope.

    I was frustrated as all get out this summer when Nonis spent all his cap space and effort on improving the areas where the Leafs didn't need improving. It is blindingly obvious that the Leafs need a number one center and another defenseman to play with Phanuef. Are they hard to find yes, buts that's why Nonis gets paid the big dollars. Instead he went and got another potential number one goalie, essentially telling the guy who was most responsible for ending the playoff drought that he wasn't good enough and signing a ridiculously inflated contract for a third line winger. The Leafs are in a tough spot this year, right up against the cap and floundering. That makes it nearly impossible to trade your way out of this mess. It doesn't help that almost every team in the league is right up against the cap or bumping against internal budgets. I honestly think that they may have to make a coaching change just to do something if things continue on this path. We all know how tough the schedule is for the next month, if they keep losing they could be dead and buried by the end of December. The only arrow left in Nonis' quiver may be the coaching change. If they don't right things in the next 2-3 weeks I think some drastic changes are coming.

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    1. I well recall your earlier 'warning' posts, Willbur. The question is not whether Benrier or Clarkson are really good NHL players. They are and in Bernier's case, he may become even more than that. But we have long ignored the central roster issues with this squad, and that does tend to come back to back you.

      I still believe a turnaround is in their hands, but the signs of that turnaround best start soon! Thanks Willbur.

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  6. I can't fathom why Carlyle wants to play Orr and McLaren. Or maybe I can but I don't want to believe it. We saw what happened to them against the Sharks. They got hemmed in their own zone and a goal resulted. That's going to happen against good teams and it's probably why Carlyle didn't play them against Boston in the playoffs. But look how well we did without them! We almost took down our arch nemesis! The team that was supposed to sweep us!

    I assume Carlyle wants to protect his star players a la Gretzky and McSorley. If that is true and it is working than maybe I would change my position. However in my mind that's a bit of a stretch. With all due respect for the role that those guys take on, let's at least only have one on the ice at a time. This is getting a little bit ridiculous.

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    1. Thanks Erik. You're not alone in wondering why we need to have both enforcers in the lineup at times. Yes, sometimes the skill guys have to be protected- it's been this way for a long time. But the impact those players are having seems to be minimal, at best, most nights.

      The fourth-line decision-making (along with all the other factors we have addressed today) is/are making many Leaf fans jumpy, for sure.

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  7. It's been real hard watching this squad the past couple weeks, honestly. As I assess what I'm seeing I'm frightened to wonder what they need to do to get out of this funk, as it looks as though there are so many things right now they don't even know where to begin.

    Much has been made right here among you and your readers about team toughness and the goons. It's easy to say that the Leafs are tough because they lead the league in fighting majors. Beyond that, however, is it not fair to say that no amount of intimidation the face punchers bring has had any effect on how opponents play the Leafs? I certainly do not see the opposition shy away from banging the Leafs in their own zone. I don't see the opposition getting worn down as games go on. And I sure don't see opponents thinking twice before running our goalies, taking extra whacks at them, even shoving them into their own net as Malkin did.

    Last year I sang a lot of praises about Komorov and what he brought to the team. Carlyle needs the bottom two lines to play that style, for extended minutes, thus freeing up the skill players to play their game. The Leafs have played some good games against good teams. They have also been completely dominated at times. When we're watching the D-men trapped in their own corner with nowhere to go with the puck, or outlet passes being thrown along the boards to an inevitable turnover in the neutral zone or an icing, I know the opponent is playing to the Leafs' weaknesses and we're in for another long night.

    I've not had a problem with Carlyle to this point, but I have to admit that this team's style appears to be getting stale a lot of nights. You had mentioned I think during the summer about whether the Leafs were a "tough team to play against". I used to say that they definitely were. That no longer appears to be the case.

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    1. Thanks for chiming in today, Pete.

      I don't think Leaf fans are panicking- I just sense we are seeing certain issues persist "on film" and are wondering what this club can do to get back on track.

      You've heard me talk about real toughness here for years. I've dropped lots of names that exemplify (and have over the years) what I'm talking about. The Leafs need someone in that category. Maybe Clarkson will become that kind of player, I don't know. But we do need, as you suggest, our "bottom xix" to be a whole lot harder to play against going forward.

      Komarov is missed, for sure. And I don't blame Carlyle for everything. But something is missing right now, on the ice and in the room. As I have said, this can be turned around. But the Leafs cannot afford too much more time to pass, even in the Eastern Conference. Thanks Pete.

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  8. Hi Michael,

    The Bolland loss has been huge. It's been very costly to lose such an important two-way player who played so much down the stretch in close games. Also, the sheer quantity of top-six injuries (we were missing 4 of our 7 best forwards once Bozak got hurt on Tuesday) has led to players being thrust into roles for which they're ill-suited. Sure, none of the Leafs' losses are as bad as Ottawa losing Spezza and Karlsson last year, but the QUANTITY of injuries in the top six is actually a worse problem for a team in the cap era than losing a high-quality 1C and 1D.

    I do think that there is something structurally amiss with the team's blue line. They don't have shutdown ability in either the second or third pair, or on the second PK pair. I'm not sure if it's wise to see if the Leafs can up Phaneuf's minutes into Pronger/Chara territory, and assuming it isn't, the Leafs may need to trade quantity and/or youth and/or puck moving defenceman for another stay-at-home stalwart to add balance to the defence corps.

    I think Carlyle is a good coach and I can't imagine the team is following his preferred tactics to the letter. I don't really have a concern with his tactics or ice time allocation/matching, but I do agree that it is a problem if they are tuning him out. Some may think it fair to blame Carlyle for how Holland, Smith and Smithson failed to match up well with Thornton, Couture and Pavelski but I sure don't.

    The fourth line did cost the team the Sharks game, for sure. But let's not project backward and pretend that the two-enforcer fourth line has otherwise had much of anything to do with the team's struggles. I certainly didn't see a sea change from the team when McLaren was scratched against Nashville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Montreal. McLaren's only played 13 games and his disastrous shift on Tuesday moved him from a minus-1 to a minus-2 on the year. Replacing McLaren and/or Orr with the likes of Ashton or Abbott just won't matter much if the team doesn't have a legitimate second scoring line -- which they now lack. I'm not saying that McLaren and Orr need to both dress by any means, but usually their impact on the game is minimal enough that it's not anywhere near the most important problem to address.

    Regarding cap space, I would think that the LTIR stints of Bozak, Bolland and Kulemin would free up at least a little money for a veteran, no?

    Anyway, I do think change needs to come to the lineup on the back end, and the front end could use better health. The elements are there for another playoff season.

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    1. I appreciate the balanced perspective you provided today, Mike D.

      I don't have an answer for the team's defense corps. In isolation, each of the players brings something (including, in the case of Gardiner and Rielly, significant longer-term potential). But the sum of the parts does not seem to be as effective as we'd hoped, for sure.

      As for the San Jose game, I think we all knew going in that we did not match up well in the middle, for example, given that Bozak, Kadri and Bolland were absent. Even at full strength, that's a challenge given San Jose's skill and grit.

      Yes, the fourth line issue is not, in and of itself, the deal-breaker. But I think it frustrates fans when we so clearly seem to need other skills on that unit at times. (Orr should be given credit for his willingness to finish checks and play hard. We need bottom-six forwards, though, who do that and can consistently play real minutes- and occasionally chip in on offence.)

      I do agree that if our top-six was healthy and scoring as had been projected, the issues with the fourth line would not feel so magnified.

      Good to hear from you, Mike. Take care.

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  9. My thinking is there is no gaping hole that cannot be patched but the sums of the holes that the Leafs do have right now seems insurmountable. It seems it all comes at the same time but the effect I think is the result from another. Everything that the opposition is doing is what the Leafs are failing to do. Can't score because they are not forechecking effectively. Can't forecheck because they are not in the opposition's zone. Can't be in the opposition's zone because they can' make simple outlet passes. Can't make simple outlet passes because they can't defend. Can't defend result in being hemmed in, being too gassed to forecheck, panicking thus give aways, resulting being scored on.

    All that saying is the team is so fragile right now that they are simply playing not to lose. When you lack confidence, your mistakes seems so much more damaging and with that mindset, it becomes one. When you are confident, even when you fail and in this case getting scored on, you move on and are determined to score the next goal where as now, you think we better not let in the next one or it's over.

    This mindset is a very thin line and I really think it's not skillset but leadership. This team IMO seriously lack that mentality and core. Leadership brings team toughness, resolve and determination. This team has none. Not from their silent captain, not from their coaching staff. I don't sense a calming effect when things start to unravel on the ice. Of course we never see the in room talks and action so this HBO series will really be interesting.

    What I see is the on ice performance/product and it just feels like every guy is on an island out there. What really bothers me about the coaching staff is (this include Wilson) the refusal to call a time out, when warranted (when the momentum is changing) and not the traditional 2 minutes left. You do it when necessary - to stop the bleeding or change the mindset. By the third period, it might be too late. Same goes with the fighting. They have the two toughest guys in the league and this year, all I sense they fight for no rhyme or reason. This team is not at all tough to play against and it's not because of fighting or their two tough guys. It is team unity and ultimately the much talked about 'identity'. This team has none and again it leads to leadership. Of all the Burke's mistakes, the biggest one IMO is anointing Phaneuf the C when he neither has the personality nor the skillset to be one. I truly believe there are factions within the room. You can win small victories without true leadership but never the war without one.

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    1. Really solid post, Lukas. I'll just say I was nodding along from beginning to end. Thanks.

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  10. My rose colored glasses have taken on a decided grey hue. Gerund O'Malley hit the nail on the head. This team does remind one of the 2111-12 team. I have been hoping during the past few weeks to see some kind of team melding but they seem to all be going in different directions. I guess that sequence where the San Jose 4th line pinned them in their own end for what seemed ages and then scored was the final straw.

    Problems:
    1. Injuries: A good team overcomes injuries. A good team has depth in the minors. A good team does not use injuries as an excuse for poor play. Yes the Leafs have had an inordinate number of injuries this year, some to key players, but I have not seen much production from those called up or an increased effort from those remaining.
    2. Defense: The Reilly experiment has been an abject failure. He has regressed to the point that he has become a defensive liability. I can't begin to count the number of times he gave up the puck in his own end against San Jose. Many of us decried the decision to keep him with the Leafs at the beginning of the season, especially in light of the Luke Schenn situation, and I believe it is well past time to return him to junior hockey and allow him to play for team Canada. Frasor is also a problem. He has seemed hesitant in his own end and a step slower than his less than average pace of the past. This is one area where we do have depth and it is about time that Lyles and Brennan were given an opportunity.
    Forward Lines: The Leafs are overwhelmingly top heavy with almost all the scoring coming from the top two lines. The top line has been fine, when intact but we did find out that van Riemsdyke is not a centre. The second line has been inconsistent. Lupul, with the exception of a few games has not looked right or played well. Kadri has at times reverted to his one on one play and, to me, Clarkson has been a huge disappointment. He has not brought the grit or forechecking prowess that I expected. The bottom two lines (if we admit the existence of a fourth line) have been horrible after the exit of Bolland. The seven bottom six forwards who have played ten or more games (Kulemin, McClement, Ashton, Smithson, Orr, McClaren and Smith) have played 121 man games with a grand total of 5 goals and 10 assists. Subtract Smith and the remaining six have 2 goals and 6 assists. With non-existent production from their bottom two lines it is no wonder they are struggling.

    I am both frustrated and discouraged by this team. I agree with Jim that Leivo, Broll, Ashton, and Holland and I would add Abbott should be given extended chances on the bottom six. I would like to see McClement back on the fourth line where his skill set belongs. A fourth line of McClement, Smith and Ashton could be utilized for ten minutes a game. Carlyle needs to realize that goon hockey is mostly a thing of the past and slow moving fighters should only be dressed in few select situations. The Leafs need more players of the Komorov ilk and less of McLaren type.

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    1. We're virtually of a single mind on this subject, Pete Cam. Really good teams do ultimately overcome injuries, whether during the regular season or the playoffs. And while we have been given legitimate reasons for hope the past two seasons, there needs to be a point at which the team jumps up to that so-called next 'level'- and does not revert to middlish mediocrity. This calls out for what I've written about here for ages: a successful veteran presence, real leadership, team toughness and an actual identity. Thanks Pete.

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  11. When I joined the crowd (pointing to the significant presence that Bolland had become on the team), I think I was only beginning to realize the catalyst that he had already become for this team... It seems to me, the recent report that David could return a mere 10 weeks after the injury is almost miraculous. It also seems like we need a bit of that kind of grace sometime sooner than later!

    It would appear that Colton Orr's bursa sack and Fraser McLaren's propensity for ill-timed penalties, might force Carlyle's hand a bit... I can only hope that an energetic bunch of Marlies can prove their mettle and give the team some valuable 4th line minutes in the near future. Perhaps THAT could be a spark to ignite this team's engine to 'lift off' out of the much in which they are mired.

    Having said all this, I would also suggest that the Sharks game showed me samples of the kind of effort required to emerge from a slump and the dismay evident on the players' faces (none more than young Morgan) shows me that the team cares deeply about its performance and I'm hopeful we will find some success sooner than later. In the event we don't rise to the challenge, I think Nonis is priming his trigger finger on some long-brewing possibilities... though my major concern is the cost associated with negotiating from a position of weakness. I hope the boys can make his job a little easier asap!

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    1. I agree that these guys care very much, InTimeFor62. It's not like they are not playing hard or don't care. But they are a bit snake-bit right now. If they can walk the current tightrope successfully, it will indeed give Nonis some breathing room in terms of future decision-making.

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  12. Lets hope we get to see some Marlie energy tonight, or rather lets hope they get to play.
    I understand Smithson being sent down. I don't understand how McLaren is above him. Smithson is good at faceoffs, can hit and help on the P.K. I don't dislike McLaren but question his value right now. Few players will fight him. With Orr out, I know we'll see him out there tonight. If he is not taking another player out for five minutes we'll be killing off his penalties.
    We've all been wanting to see what some of the kids can do. Hoping for a lively game, Michael. C.N.

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  13. Agreed, C.N.- past due time to see a collection of Marlies fighting to earn ice!

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  14. Michael,

    Another win last night. Quite a lot like the other wins they have had this year. Huge goal tending performance, outshot, out-played for vast stretches of time. We are all familiar with the story so far, so I won't bore anyone with rehashing concerns.

    I was very pleased to once again see Trevor Smith make a big contribution to the win. So far he seems pretty clutch as a player, happy for him. He spent a long time in the minors before now. If they try to send him down will they lose him on waivers? You can only beat who the schedule maker puts in front of you. It was a win they desperately needed to get, and it was nice that the Stars were down two regular d'men before too long.

    Here we go boys, Saturday night, the nations capital. The hated Senators in their own barn, being silenced by Leaf fans. Go Leafs, Go!

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  15. I'm surprised that people are surprised at how the Leafs are doing of late. I was more surprised at how they started. To me, the current issues are simply a matter of lack of depth.

    The Leafs top centre right now is Kadri, only in his first full season in the NHL (last yr being the lockout). Kadri was expected to be playing 2nd or 3rd line. McClement should be their 4th line checking centre but he's playing 2nd or 3rd line. Holland, Smithson and Smith have been elevated from the minor leagues. In addition to missing their top two centres, they are missing one of their top wingers (Lupul). Collectively then by removing their top two centres and Lupul, this is like taking your second line and replacing it with minor pros.

    This weakness up front helps expose their weakness on defence, which is a combination of three slower defensemen (Franson, Fraser, Ranger) and two inexperienced ones (Gardiner and Reilly). Once you get those forwards back it will reduce pressure on the D and the whole package will work better together.

    But the defense will continue to be a problem and only time will help make Gardiner and Reilly better. Ideally Reilly should be back in junior and Gardiner with the Marlies both for another year. But the Leafs clearly don’t feel they have the players in their system that can step in to fill the gap at the level of these two young guys. In a year, maybe two, when Gardiner and Reilly mature as players, they will give the Leafs the stronger defence group they need. But right now the Leafs have no one able to consistently able to play at a level of a 2nd line defense pair.

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    1. I think that's a very fair comment, Steve. Especially with the injuries, too many players are being put in a position to not succeed, as it were. Third line guys playing second line, third pairing defensemen playing more minutes than they should, etc.

      This still raises the issue of whether the team, as constructed (even if healthy) can be a serious threat in the East at playoff time. if not, there will be more questions at the end of the season.

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    2. Michael, in my view, if they get healthy then yes, the Leafs can be a playoff threat, so long as they get standout goaltending. With great goaltending, just about anything is possible. It is the stuff of what upsets are made of.

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    3. I have long felt (and said here) the Leafs can be a player in the East. I've wavered somewhat lately. If the recent slide was a blip and they can steady the ship, then I would agree that, with outstanding netminding, they can compete seriously at playoff time. But a fair number of things need to line up! Thanks Steve.

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  16. I've been impressed with Gardiner's determination lately to improve his game. We are starting to see the results of his hard work and more of the type of play that made him a force in the playoffs. That shows his dedication, in my mind, to help his team.
    I believe if the Leafs ever rediscover "skating" they will find themselves in the "W" column more often. When they don't skate they take penalties which drains all their energy. Skating well draws penalties by the other team.
    Something big may be happening over the next week. Almost every team had scouts in Toronto Thursday night which means Nonis has been very active and on the phones. I don'know whether to be excited or very worried. I'd hate to lose Jake just when he's finding his game. Reimer? Phaneuf? Though we all enjoy speculation, this makes me nervous.
    Thanks Michael, for the work you do on this site and on the Hangout. It's a pleasure and a relief for us Leaf fans to have a place to go. C.N.

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  17. Just wanted to add : My son's a registered massage therapist ( by the way, good RMT's don't give you a massage) and when I hear of some of these "nagging" injuries I can only wonder who the Leafs are employing to take care of these issues. Kessel has had a wrist problem since last season, Gunnarson stated he needs constant maintenance on his hip. Joe Colbourne, last season, had scar tissue which a good therapist can find, treat and completely remove in one or two treatments. If these players need constant maintenance to play, SOMEBODY isn't doing their job effectively. They should be healed by now. It would certainly help Bolland return sooner just as a good therapist helped Eriksson.
    Looking forward to some loud Leaf fans in Ottawa. C.N.

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