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What’s the one ingredient the Leafs need heading down the stretch? Do they already have it?

Despite the less than fully engaged effort in Dallas the other night, it’s hard to argue with the Leafs getting 13 points out of a possible 16 in their last 8 games.  That includes, of course, a nice little comeback on Saturday night in Winnipeg, a game where Reimer was given the start by Carlyle, but couldn’t produce the results he or Carlyle were looking for.  (The young Leaf netminder is fighting everything these days.  It’s not a question of not battling or fighting through difficult times; he is doing that, I sense.  Right now, his confidence doesn’t appear to be what it needs to be to play as effectively as he can. The reasons for this have been well-documented here…)

But the Leafs generated enough to tie the game late, and they now come home to the ACC with what can only be considered a successful road trip behind them—and more points than most Leaf fans would have forecast when this stretch of games began.

While the recent surge has been nice to see, a question keeps going through my head whenever I think about the Maple Leafs.  And the question is simply this:  is this a team, with its present roster and coaching staff, that can make real noise in the upcoming NHL playoffs?

I guess what I’m getting at is that, as we have discussed here at VLM from time to time, just “making the playoffs” is the low hanging fruit.  Given this franchise’s history and the money MLSE has to attract and hire the best amateur and pro scouts available (and the largest management team we could imagine)—not to mention the tremendously pent up fan base—that is the least we should be looking at.  Just “getting in” seems, to me at least, to not be nearly enough.

I’m well aware that it generally takes time to rebuild a franchise, and to a certain extent, that was what was facing this organization back in 2008 when the new management team came aboard. We all know the moves that have been made since then—some daring, like acquiring Kessel and Phaneuf in massive trades, others under the radar but which turned out awfully well, like getting Lupul and young Jake Gardiner from Anaheim. Then there was the trade for James van Riemsdyk and most recently, the arrivals of Jonathan Bernier and young Peter Holland. Along the way they’ve drafted Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly, and a boat load of young Marlies are pushing for time (some have already had the proverbial cup of coffee already) with the big club.

On any given day, all of the above looks pretty promising.  There is young talent there; some of it, I would suggest, is legitimate front-line NHL talent.

Do we have flaws?  Well, on our frustrating days, Leaf fans can seem to find plenty—and understandably so.  We have not built championship level squads in a decade, and when the team struggles in a game, or over a stretch of games, it can be a challenge to keep our Leaf spirits up. This season has reflected the up and down reality of being a Leaf fan.  (The mood swings on Twitter alone on game night reflect that.) Early this season, though playing far from mistake-free hockey, the Leafs were winning a lot of games.  It felt OK to be hopeful.  Then came a rather prolonged and concerning lull with too many losses and a continued dependence on goalkeeping.

The last two weeks, just when things looked a bit bleak, the Leafs teased us with a six game winning streak, seemingly out of nowhere.  Dallas reminded us that we aren’t there yet, and Winnipeg brought despair and a great comeback all in the same 60 minutes.

So if you sit back for a moment, what does the current Leaf picture tell you?  Do you see a team that, if they play to their capabilities, can (back to my original point) do damage in the Eastern Conference playoffs?  Or is it a team that still lacks either certain player pieces, or other attributes (we’re maybe back to grit, leadership, experience) that will prevent it from being serious players come the spring dance?

I would argue that most NHL teams are fighting something right now.  Out west, a Cup-contending team like the Kings, for example, can’t buy a goal it seems.  Here in the East, Carey Price, so hot recently, has now cooled off significantly (so have his teammates) in his four starts (all losses), which must be very concerning for the Habs and their followers. 

I could go down the list. I’m not sure any teams are absolutely certain they are without issues.  While I’m not a fan of a three-week break in the middle of an NHL schedule, I do wonder if the Leafs may have an opportunity to recalibrate during that off time (for some of the players, at least) and recharge a little. It can be a long season.


What are you seeing?  Is this a team, comprised as it is right now (pre-trade deadline) that is good enough to beat good teams come playoff time?  Or do we need more?

31 comments:

  1. Michael,

    There are some great things about this team. Overall, the talent level in the organization is good, maybe even better than that. There are plenty of goal scorers, some grit guys as well. The D has depth, and there are two goaltenders in place that I believe are capable of winning playoff series. Maybe we don't have the elite high end talent that other teams do, I think that we have more throughout the lineup than they do. For me this is true if we take into account, the 10 guys who could play on the back end, as well as the Marlies forwards who have acquitted themselves very well in the limited opportunities they have been given.

    There are only two things that I think hurt our chances when the playoffs arrive. Our coaching staff, and the reliance on playing a certain style of player, and his willingness to play such a short bench.

    The second thing is Bolland would give more rounded play all over the ice than any other centre we have at our disposal. He is good at all aspects of the game, maybe not great at them. But he is a competitor who knows what it takes to win. The thing for me with Bolland, he allows others to play in roles that they are more suited to. Especially, Kadri and McLement. If its true that the team gains confidence when he is around, then this can only be a good thing. He needs to be healthy, and in tip top form before the playoffs come. Maybe this is unreasonable given the recuperation time for an injury like his. Its not wrong to hope he comes back.

    We all know how important goaltending is in the NHL. The Leafs have two guys that I believe are good enough, that on its own might be enough to make a run. I have all the faith in the world that when the Leafs need him, Reimer will come through and play his best.

    A savvy trade by Nonis, would not go unappreciated as the games get more interesting. So we'll see what happens. Every team has weaknesses, lets see how this all plays out.

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    1. Thanks Jim. I don't sense that Leaf fans would want to undo too many of the deals the Leafs have made over the past few years. Most Leaf supporters would trust Nonis to make moves to keep tweaking the roster for the better. If I had to guess, nothing will happen until after Sochi.

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  2. I don't think we're a team that should be adding pieces at the cost of the future prospects/picks when the trade deadline comes around, primarily because we should be 'adding' Bolland in time to recover some prowess for the playoffs. I do think we will see some movement that will be more 'hockey/contract trade' than tooling up for the post-season.

    By now, management should have a good idea what the UFAs are gonna' want if they sign and stay. They also know whether that 'fits' their own projections of the team going forward. Obviously, we'll see if the likes of Franson, Kulemin and Mason Raymond will be retained or moved, knowing that a goaltender could be part of that mix as well.

    It's almost impossible to forecast any of this with so many variables, though I wouldn't be surprised if most or all of the above could be on the way out (including some young prospects if the deal works for us)... Tampa Bay seems to have held it together in the absence of Stamkos, wouldn't it be amazing to bring him home to Markham? Not that I expect that, but if you could pry him, Tavares, Duchene away from their teams for whatever reason they had, we would see a significant package going the other way, wouldn't we?!

    As far as the East goes, any number of teams could get hot when it matters and do some damage in the early rounds, though it would take a minor miracle for anybody (but Pittsburgh) to have a clear path to the final (though the Leafs have been above 500 against the West, so maybe a '67 miracle (on the other end of the age spectrum!) is possible (however, HIGHLY unlikely it would seem).

    Of course, what I'm saying is that a cup run would be more like the Hurricanes, or the most recent Flames/Oilers runs to the final, NOT the 62-64 Leafs or the 70's Habs! In other words, I wouldn't expect any such thing, it's just that the East makes possibilities so tantalizing!

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    1. It's funny- sometimes when we expect no action on the trade front, a major deal emerges. Other times we wait for something and nothing happens.

      The East is certainly up for grabs. I'm not sure there are any unbeatable teams at this point. If a given team gets great goaltending, who knows? Thanks, InTimeFor62.

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  3. Hi Michael.

    The Leafs are in a playoff position at present and, while we can argue that some of the points that got them there were shoot-out points, I expect them to make the playoffs. I feel this is a good team with more than enough talent to do some damage. It's not luck or a fluke that they are in a playoff position. That's good because I don't like the set up this year at all. It's not baseball.

    I don't like Randy's system for defense which has players moving into defensive positions and not challenging opposition on the half wall. To me the best system would have the Leafs using their speed, beating the opposition to the wall and moving the puck out quickly. I've wondered why the Leafs seem to back off and thought it was an unwillingness to battle but after checking a few sites and reading what a few former players of Randy's have stated, this is his system. I understand that shots from outside are less likely to go in but why give up possession without a fight in the first place? Randy spoke of working to increase possession time in the opposition zone but what about their own zone? I have to wonder when the Leafs play particularly well if they are playing Randy's system or their own.

    I honestly don't dislike Randy but I can't help but believe the Leafs will not move forward if Randy stays past this year. There have been too many confusing decisions made by the coaching staff that don't make sense to anyone and an unwillingness to change a defensive system that doesn't work. If Randy can change his system and show more of the creativity we see when the Leafs play Boston, a coaching change at some point may not be necessary. Thanks Michael. C.N.

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    1. I guess this is the debate of the year, Colleen. Is this team really playing the Carlyle "system", or do they just go out and do their thing some nights? I have tried for some time to say that Carlyle, with all this experience, must know his personnel well. He wants to win more than anyone. So whether it's a question of an attachment to a philosophy that he just won't adjust, or he is in fact adjusting subtly as the season moves along, I'm not expert enough to know.

      My superficial reaction is that there is enough talent here to be an upper echelon team in the East Bolland's return should verify that. Thanks Colleen.

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  4. Michael,

    I think the Leafs need another good and steady defensman. Franson, in my opinion just isn't getting it done anymore in the second pairing. Fraser is too slow with his gimpy knee and Ranger just hasn't adjusted back to the speed of the NHL.

    Maybe, one of the young Marlies such as Percy, Granberg or MacWilliam can make the jump. Franson is a right hand shot which I believe only Granberg is. However, it might be best for his development to just leave him with the Marlies for the year.

    A trade is then the best option. Good right handed defence are hard to find, but if they could trade Franson for one that is more responsible defensively then I would be all for it. I don't have any particular player in mind but maybe some of the other readers will.

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    1. Thanks Greg. The Leafs have a lot of depth on defense, and young guys emerging including those already on the roster (and the Marlies you cite). Whether that is enough to get us somewhere in the playoffs is the very point you are making. One additional solid D-man (right handed, as you suggest) would be useful, for sure.

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  5. I believe there is more than one ingredient the Leafs need. Maybe it's because I hold the Maple Leafs to a much higher standard then what they are now. The way they've been outplayed, outshot and outcompeted on most nights leaves me with a very unsettling feeling. Sure, a win is a win, but for me it's not enough. I want it to look as though the other team never had a chance. Pure dominance. This is Toronto, not Nashville or Columbus. We should be shoving the game down the opposing team's throat. So, my missing ingredients are Sundin, Roberts, Tucker and Shea Weber. 1 Big, dominant 1C, 2 heavy-hitting, make-you-pay-for-time-and-space, strong forecheckers who don't take BS from ANYONE and big nasty D-man. 4 ingredients :)
    I know it may seem I'm advocating team tougness or grit, but that's the reality of the NHL - it's played by men. I'm not saying ice a bunch of Colton Orrs, you definitely need high end skill, but there is something to be said about team toughness in this league. And really, blame Boston. They started it. They've been bullying their way around the NHL since the first lockout. Now you look at big strong teams like St.Louis, LA, Boston, SJ. They would crush the Leafs. Dion avoiding getting hit by Byfuglien spoke volumes.
    (I thought Clarkson was going to be like Tucker/ Roberts, but it seems he's more interested in his new haircut and metro-sexual fashion than getting dirty) Also - MayRay was a nice story and all, but he doesn't seem to hit or go to the tough areas. I fear Nonis will try to resign him instead on Kulemin who, may not score a bunch but, at least exerts his will over other players. Thanks for letting me vent, Michael.

    -Mike

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    1. I don't think that's unfair at all, Mike (Anon). Even the best ever Montreal teams I've seen, going back to the '50/'60/'70s (and along the way, the '70s Bruins, the '80s Islanders and Oilers, etc....) have had tremendous skill but also a real team toughness mentality. They had an extreme desire to win. They willed themselves to victory a lot of days.

      When Dallas won the Cup in the late '90s, I remember 800 year-old Guy Carbonneau, a skill guy for sure but an all-around player, blocking shots and just playing so hard every night. That's how you win championships.

      You cite some Leafs of a not-that-long-ago era, Mike, guys like Sundin (often criticized, but who scored or set up more big goals here?), Tucker, Roberts. We could add some names like Yushkevich, Markov, Corson (blocking shots all over the place in the playoffs) and many others. All players with some skill but who played wit huge hearts. It was the same with the Pat Burns Leafs of '93 and '94. It was about team- and will.

      You've identified some missing ingredients. Whether we can find players with the attributes you mentioned, I don't know.

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  6. The key part of your question today, for me, is: "Do you see a team that, if they play to their capabilities, can ... do damage in the Eastern Conference playoffs?"
    After more than half a season, I have no idea what their capabilities are! Like the little girl of the poem, when they're good, they're very very good, and when they're bad, they're 'orrid. The team that we've seen defeat Montreal, Boston and Pittsburgh this year is a force to be reckoned with, and quite capable of going deep in the playoffs. The team that we've seen in most of the other games is on the bubble, I'd say - if their goalies can play superhero, they have a chance.
    To complicate prognostications a bit, I don't believe we've seen the lineup envisioned by Nonis and Carlyle for even one game this year! So, in truth, who knows what we're capable of? But from what we've seen so far, I'd say we're still missing the spark plug guy whose energy feeds the others, and who gives a full effort on every shift - Gallagher comes to mind, or even Steve Ott. Without that sort of commitment from every player, we won't go far as we're now constituted.

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    1. It's true, Gerund- unless the Leafs get max effort out of every guy- not just some nights, or from the call-ups playing hard their first couple of games up or whatever, it's difficult to project a lot of success in the spring.

      All teams step it up in that first round of the playoffs, if they get there. But you need that consistent effort.

      The lineup issue has been another challenge. Whether, when all hands are on deck, it will make a difference, is anyone's guess. Thanks Gerund.

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  7. I think the Leafs have most of what they need heading down the stretch.

    The big question is: will they properly use what they have?

    Bodie looks ok and I would like to see him on the 4th line instead of Orr (except against the toughest teams.) I wouldn't mind seeing Ashton get a chance on the third line with Holland and D'Amigo with Bodie and McClement on the 4th.

    I am more worried they will trade away some good prospect for an aging veteran. Carrick, Abbott, Broll, Granberg, Percy and Lievo are almost untouchables for me, because we don't really know where their ceiling is.

    Heck, I would be reluctant to trade Devane. He had another goal yesterday to put the Marlies game into overtime, which they won in a shootout.

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    1. Sometimes a team may be so keen to add a veteran (and there are certainly occasions where incoming veterans can make a crucial difference) that they give up young players with legit potential. I don't know what the Leafs are thinking, but if they do try to acquire a significant player with experience, the cost is usually young assets. Thanks DP.

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  8. "Do you see a team that, if they play to their capabilities, can ... do damage in the Eastern Conference playoffs?"

    That is a very good question.

    No, I do not. The way this team is told to play or plays on their own or a mix of both is not a playoff winning type of team/system. Too many games they are outshot and rely on the goalies to play out of their heads to win. In the few big wins (Mon, Bos, Pitt) the way they played were one offs and not the norm. So are their capabilities the one off games or the way they play normally??

    And let's face facts. WHERE they finish in the final standings is going to make a massive difference on if they make noise or not as well. Limping into the last wild card slot most likely gives them the Pens in the first round. The other wild card slot could be Boston. Do you see the Leafs beating either of these teams in the first round with the inconsistent play we have seen all season? I don't.

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    1. We're far enough into the season that can can certainly speak in terms of obvious tendencies. That they have been outshot so often, for example, is concerning for sure. Winning teams often do rely on great goaltending, of course, but you can't always rely on that alone.

      Now, there is time to establish a whole other pattern, one where they outplay and out hustle and outwork teams. They have the skill to play with most teams in the East. But the rest of the attributes - tangible and intangible- that everyone has talked about here today, including consistency, will come into play. Thanks for visiting, Pep.

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    2. I agree they have skill to play with most teams in the East as well Michael.

      Testing out account reply:)

      Pep

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  9. I think this team could do some damage. There is talent.
    And I do not fear any team in the east in a 7 game playoff.
    We took Boston all the way to OT in game 7 (where Boston needed a miraculous comeback). We are better equipped now to handle Boston (with Bolland, Gleason, Bernier and hopefully a resurgent Clarkson) while Boston has gotten older.
    With regards to Pittsburgh, we seem to match up decently against them. Look at the win/loss records over the past 5 years...its even. We play them well.

    As for what is missing, I continue to think that the missing ingredient is a stud 2-way defenseman.
    If Phaneuf/Gunnar was your #1B pairing (playing reasonable minutes) and say Gleason/Weber was your #1A pairing (also playing reasonable minutes) and your 3rd pairing (sheltered and also powerplay?) was made up of Gardiner/Rielly/Franson. You are doing very well.

    I think the forwards have another gear in them.
    We know that Kessel/Bozak/JVR will produce in the playoffs.
    Lupul and Kadri we will need them to chip in with timely goals like last year (which I think they will).
    And now we look at the x-factors Bolland and Clarkson (and to a lesser extent Holland). Can these guys improve upon MacArthur, Komorov and Grabovski? And can Kulemin, separated from Grabovski, be a useful performer (because he was terrible in last year's playoffs). I think they can.

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  10. Hi Michael

    Very consistent response from VLM followers who seem to see reality better than MLSE management.

    I agree with most, but think that many are hoping that Lightning will strike twice in the same spot.

    Before worrying about trades, etc. we should consider the factors that need to change/improve:

    1. At 5 on 5, The Leafs need to hem in opposition as well as they receive. I believe this is a system (RC) problem and lack of grit/aggressiveness.

    2. Currently, only one forward line is really functioning. I have fear that Kessel, JVR will run into the proverbial wall, especially after the Olympics.

    3. There seems to be this faith that a return of Bolland will make a huge difference. He was considered replaceable by the Hawks, so he will suddenly be Superman with the Leafs??? HIs injury was serious, and may take significant rehab?

    4. There is still too much stick/poke checking. Here is the quandary. Do the Leafs have the right players for this grittier game? This type of game leads to more penalties which Boston can handle, but the Leafs PK cannot? Also, leads to taking yourself out of the play, which in Randy's system leads to the bench, and thus passiveness or scared play.

    5. Breakout - The team has appeared to improve in this area as the defense has taken a more aggressive approach to carrying out the puck rather than shooting up the boards or chipping it out.

    6. Third period swan song. Since they are unlikely to cancel third periods, they need to do something to get out of this total prevent defense mentality.

    7. Too Predictable
    Leafs seem to be too predictable in their style of play. This is especially true in the Defensive zone, where the opposition can set up to hem the team in. Even out of town announcers know all the weaknesses.

    8. Not enough Garbage goals
    The Leafs may lead the league in highlight reel goals, but again there style of play creates fewer garbage goals which are necessary when the going gets tougher.


    I am sure others can add to this list.

    As far as Nonis saving the day with trades, like others I would be more concerned that he would do more damage than good at this point.

    If Carlyle has the answer he would have solved the issues by now. However, removing Carlyle now is a crap shoot, as there is no obvious long term candidate. Just adapt and play the best hockey players available for meaningful minutes.

    We will see what we will see.









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    1. Of all the pertinent observations you share above, Ralph (RLMcC), the one that actually stands out the most is your reference to garbage goals. To me, that is such an important piece of the puzzle.

      I always remember, as a youngster, reading about the Leafs losing Game 3 and 4 in Chicago in the 1962 Cup finals. The players decided they were not being aggressive enough, not crashing the crease and causing problems for Glenn Hall. The result was an 8 goal (it was 6 or 8, I'm not a hundred per cent certain) outburst in Game 5 back home at the Gardens. You likely remember it well.

      Though we have skill, we need the rest of the elements you and others have cited today, too. Thanks for chiming in, Ralph.

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    2. Glad you didn't ask me about game 5 in the 62 final, I was confined to the womb until minutes before game 6 :)

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    3. Your timing was impeccable, nonetheless! (I think Ralph may have been in the building that night...)

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  11. It's a good point that the Leafs gave the Bruins everything they could handle last spring. If these Leafs hit the playoffs at a high level, who knows? Thanks apollo678.

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  12. Michael, I still don't think we have seen this team reach its full potential this season. Yes individually some players or some lines have done well in games, but consistent performance has been a challenge. I'm willing to attribute a lot of the inconsistency on the team's man-games missed. Between suspensions, the flu bug, and injuries, this team has had trouble putting together four quality lines each night. Picking up Bolland & Clarkson this year is a real plus, but those two have missed a ton of games (39 games missed for Bolland, 18 for Clarkson). Bozak, our supposed #1 center, or shall we say our best center, has missed 24 games. What I'm saying is, we haven't had much chance to see what this team can be, when its closer to being healthy. Clarkson should be back soon, and who knows when we might see Bolland, I'd like to see what the team can do once it is healthier.

    Most would agree that Gleason has been a decent pickup, and the Leafs D has a better balance to it now. I still think there needs to be improvement there, primarily with the battles for the puck from the half boards all the way to behind the net. Watch the play, the Leafs seldom win those battles. The forwards are part to blame, but the defence is lacking toughness along the boards. It sometimes feels like only speed and puck movement can get them out of those situations. If the opposition gets in with the forecheck and blocks the half board outs, the Leafs lose those puck battles along the boards. If they can improve in that area, that would be a huge.

    The one player who is starting to puzzle me the most is Cody Franson. What has happened to his game this month? He is a minus 13 for the month of January. Hopefully his play of late has been an anomaly, and he'll get it back together after the break. Maybe once he and Gleason build up some chemistry, things will improve?

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    1. There's no question the Leafs have been without their full complement of "regulars" through much of this season. We all recognize that most teams are going through this as well, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Leafs have indeed been missing key guys (Bolland, Clarkson, Bozak, etc.) for extended periods of time.

      Now the funny thing is that, sometimes, teams actually play worse when everyone is back and healthy- maybe because all the guys that had to carry the team in the absence of the "stars" are now waiting for those guys to lead the way!

      You're not alone in expressing some concern about our ability to win puck battles. That doesn't seem to be the kind of team we are right now. Maybe Carlyle would like it to be, but the Leafs just aren't right now.

      As for Franson, I don't know, either. As we all know, good players sometimes go through times where they are simply off their game. Could be an injury, could be a bit of a loss of confidence. Hard to know. But we have seen him play some good hockey here, so, like you, I'd prefer to think this is an anomaly and he will play as he can down the stretch. Thanks Don (TML_fan).

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  13. I was tempted to just write "another new goaltender" and leave it at.

    I'm really not sure what they need. I think another top minute munching d man to play with Phanuef would be the best thing they could get. Imagine how, if at the deadline last year they had picked up Jay Bowmeester. The next best thing they could use is some more scoring depth at wing. Clarkson was supposed to bring that but he has been a complete and utter failure so far. The worst thing that can be said about a player in my opinion is that it makes no difference whether they are dressed or not. Clarkson doesn't help the team but he doesn't really hurt them either. If he was to never play another game the Leafs wouldn't miss him at all. In the last stretch of games did you even remember he wasn't playing? You know someone new is in the lineup (Ashton) but you really have to wrack your brain to figure out who he has replaced. He is like a curb on a residential street, potentially useful but if they repave your street and the curb goes away, do you even miss it? If they could somehow pry Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg that would go a long way to solidifying things.

    I didn't mention a big number one center because unless you draft those guys, you don't ever get them. The last three in your prime superstar centers to get traded for were Tyler Seguin, Joe Thorton and Mats Sundin as best as I recall. Those trades happen about once a decade. The centers they have now while far from perfect can get the job done.

    I've said for a couple of years that I thought they were close. While I am less confident now than I was that they are on the right path, hopefully things will work out.

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    1. I would agree that another dependable defenceman would obviously help a lot. (That said, I'm sure a lot of NHL teams would like to add a good defenceman...) Ideally, they are building a roster that can be good for many years- not just one that may get hot and have one nice playoff run. Thanks Willbur.

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  14. Carlyle said quite a while back that Franson had a hip "issue". If it's similar to Gunnarsson and if it's chronic that would explain why he's slower and can't pivot.

    Does anyone have an theory why the Leafs generally play strong teams better but are so tentative against lower placed teams? I feel more confident when the Leafs play Boston or Pittsburgh than when they play Buffalo, or Carolina. Is it preparation or is it that they can go all out against a stronger team where a loss, as the underdog, isn't such an embarrassment? A few years back it was Philly and you knew the Leafs would be up for it. Why does it take a chirp or an ill-timed " Ole, Ole" to get response? I suppose these are rhetorical questions but it seems it's always been the Leafs' way. C.N.

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  15. Michael, you ask if this team is good enough to beat good teams come playoff time? Or do we need more?
    My view is that they are not quite where they need to be to beat a good team in a 7 game series, though they are capable of an upset if either of their goalies plays superbly. This team is set up to be closer to reaching their potential next year or the year after.
    The goal this year should be to qualify for the playoffs in a position where they don't play one of the top 3 teams in the conference in the first round, and to then win that first round of the playoffs. This would be an improvement over last year and I think they capable of doing that with what they currently have, if you count on them being fully healthy.

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    1. It's fair to say most Leaf fans (all?) do not expect a Cup team this season. But you are right, it would be noteworthy for the Leafs to win a playoff round, something they have not done in a decade now.

      That would only "matter", of course (other than the fun of making a playoff run, which is good in itself!) if it foreshadowed the Leafs becoming true contender sin the years ahead, as you suggest above. Thanks Steve.

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