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Leafs in between the panic button and the driver’s seat: Episode 16 of “The Vintage Leaf Memories Podcast”

It’s difficult for most fans not to be caught up in the ups and downs of their team during a long NHL season.  Leaf fans are certainly no exception.

When the Leafs are winning things typically feel pretty good, even when we offer up a reality check statement like, “They aren’t playing that well; they can’t keep this up forever…”. Conversely, when the team loses ground in the standings, it’s easy to pick at the team’s flaws and make things sound worse than they really are.


I try to capture some of that sentiment in the latest “Vintage Leaf Memories Podcast”. I normally talk about my favourite subject—the olden days—during these programs, but today it felt timely to discuss the current state of affairs in Leafland.

Just days ago the club was what, third overall in the Eastern Conference standings?  Suddenly, even injury-plagued Detroit (with all those games in hand) is not far behind the blue and white.

So instead of talking about old-time Leafs like Duff, Keon (right), Horton and Bower or Sittler and Salming, it’s all about the Randy Carlyle Leafs on the latest VLM podcast.

If you enjoy the show, by all means leave a rating on iTunes!


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14 comments:

  1. I thought this was a 3rd to 6th place team in the East.

    They won some games and went to third.

    They lost Bernier and had a bad schedule (3 PM on Sunday in Washington rather than the usual Saturday night, then back to back Detroit and Tampa).. so they lost some games and dropped to 6th.

    The schedule looks good for the next 5 games. They could win 3 or 4 of those and be back to 4th while doing some damage to Detroit's chances.

    On Monday morning we will know if this is a real funk or just the typical ups and downs of a 4th-5th place team.

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  2. Enjoyed your podcast Michael. As always, you have a level-headed approach in how you view the Leafs, and avoid the temptations to be overly critical or elated with their progress.

    For what it is worth, I'll touch on a few of the many topics you mentioned in your latest podcast.

    - Leaf history.
    You touched on the long history of the Leafs, and I think it is important that you help readers put in perspective that the Leafs' success in the past couple of decades is not representative of the team's success in the past. There were glory days, or days when the Leafs were perennial contenders. Fans were proud and passionate about the team cheered the players along. I fondly remember the past, and value those times, but look more at the present and future.

    - Advance Stats:
    Sure advance stats are useful, and in many cases the results are very representative, but they don't measure everything. I think I may have a similar perspective as you, in that the statistics are unable to measure the intangibles. Shots are important, and the Leafs getting out-shot night after night is not a good thing. BUT, treating all shots the same makes little sense to me. Until they start providing reliable statistics that incorporate quality" of shots and scoring chances, the advance stats will always be lacking (IMHO).

    - Reimer:
    Like you I think Reimer deserves better and I hope he can move on and get an opportunity elsewhere. Sadly his performance (or lack of playing time) this year may lessen interest in him from other teams. That's not to say there won't be interest, but other GM's may consider him more as a backup than a reliable (or potential) #1 netminder. Given a decent opportunity elsewhere he could easily exceed that expectation. There may be a few teams that are lacking a proven #1, and interested in acquiring Reimer to see if he might be able to fill the void. He certainly could be signed with a very reasonable contract. Like you I wish him well, and feel he has been treated unfairly at times here in Toronto.

    - Up and coming players (Gardiner, Rielly, Holland).
    Acquiring and developing younger players is a challenge, and the Leafs history on player development has been less than stellar. Since Burke's arrival it has improved, but the success rate is still behind the expectations of what most would like. Who knows yet what some of these players will eventually become, but at least they have some valid potential. With respect to Holland, I see a decent size center who is reliable at both ends of the rink, who skates well, and has skill. We saw that at times with Colborne, but he just couldn't take the next step. To me Holland has been more consistent (despite some injury hiccups), but it is still a guess as to how good a player he might become. It is easier to see the potential in Gardiner and Riellly, although it can be difficult at times being patient with their development. Will their defensive skills in their own end continue to improve, or will their offensive talents be enough to make us overlook what they lack in defensive-zone coverage?

    - Coaching
    Randy has made a lot of improvements in this team, but many continue to hold him responsible for the team's inabilities in their defensive zone play. No doubt the coaching staff is concerned about continually being out-shot, and the defensive mistakes made by the team. Is it simply that they lack enough quality defencemen to get the job done, or the players are not able to execute the systems put in place?? It may be a bit of both. Can we expect Carlyle & Nonis to get this turned around?. Its been slow to happen so far. There are certain teams (e.g. Boston), who continually have sold play in their defensive zone, and it doesn't seem to matter who they bring in, they get the job done. Is it their player development, coaching, personnel, or the methods used? Put a player like Franson or Ranger in their system, and I wouldn't be surprised if they became top 4 D-men. Maybe I'm wrong.

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  3. Very well said on all counts, Don (TML_Fan). I was nodding throughout your comments. Glad you were able to tune in to the podcast.

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  4. It's interesting that the two games the Leafs won, L.A and Anaheim were the only games in which the Leafs were badly out-shot. Looking back the last two months or so ( a small sample, we already know they were winning when badly out shot early in the season) the Leafs are 4-6 when shots are close or out-shooting opponents, but are 9-2 when horribly out-shot. Keeping opponents to the outside may not be the best way to defend but it seems it's the only thing that works for them. Or the only type of defense they seem capable of executing.

    We've had great goal-tending for two seasons. I believe the goalies have always "given the Leafs a chance" . The Leafs have seldom given them a chance. Both Reimer and Bernier are pretty amazing.
    We can't blame either for losses, though we sometimes do. Had Reimer played more often this season he may well have stayed on. It's out of the question now. Whether we like Carlyle or not, relying heavily on his goalies to steal games was something Randy did in Anaheim.

    Bolland practiced with the third line today and there is a very good chance that he will be playing this weekend. Thanks Michael. C.N.

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  5. Loved your latest podcast. I have a question for you. People are calling for Carlyle to be fired because he can't get the team to play defence. However, I don't buy it to be Randy's fault, and it may not have been Ron Wilson's fault either in 2012. In fact, perhaps Wilson didn't need to be fired. The Leafs' problem then was defence, and it's the same problem today - with many of the same players. So what's the difference between Wilson and Carlyle? If he would have had Bernier or last year's Reimer in 2012, we would have made the playoffs. It must be a personnel issue and perhaps the team needs to make some significant upgrades to bring in defensive defencemen and 2 way forwards.

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    1. It's funny, Eli. I remember commenting here at VLM that it troubled me that after Wilson was fired, there was seemingly a widespread commentary (media, blogging community, fans) that Wilson "had no system".

      There is no modern-era coach that has no system. They all do. In fact, most are almost carbon-copies of the next guy's "system".

      My point is: it's not the system (though, sure you want to, as best you can, play to the strengths of your roster) but the willingness of the players on your roster to accept and ultimately embrace the system- whatever it is. Yes, coaching plays a role in whether guys "buy in", but if a group of players isn't willing to make the effort, it doesn't matter. So if we want to blame Carlyle that the players on his roster can't or won't do what he asks, sure. But it's not that he hasn't preached the message. Thanks Eli.

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  6. So maybe they just need to hire therapists, psychologists, mentors or whatever the title may be - to motivate and inspire the players with optimism and confidence. Even if they look confident, it must be really tough to be easy going and relaxed with all the constant scrutiny from the media and fans through Twitter.
    There needs to be more responsible questions from the media too. I'm sure Randy regrets saying Reimer was "just ok", but then someone runs over to Reimer and says " you know what Randy just said about you?" The media just jumps on the slightest comment to exaggerate.

    Going back to comparing Wilson to Carlyle, I will say that Carlyle in general has had a more pleasant demeanor to the media than Wilson did.

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    1. No question it's a tough media market for players and coaches here, Eli. It's difficult to be genuine and candid when you fear that even a slight pause in your response will cause a run on social media.

      Agreed that Carlyle has generally worked to be responsive with the media. Wilson, sadly, never was able to allow himself to be other than caustic. Too bad. By all accounts he was a funny, engaging guy.

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  7. I remember Wilson's team and, at least to my eye, it looked like they were a lot more turnovers - there just seemed to be a lot more 2-on-1 chances going against us. In addition, and I'm sure few want to remember this, he had this anti-good philosophy that resulted in our Leafs getting constantly beaten up and outhit and it was just embarrassing - there's no way that was good for the team morale.

    I like Carlyle a lot better - his game is a lot more consistent and defensively sound. There are times (more so last year than this year for some reason) when we are actually shutting down teams. I think lately the problem is that the team is relying too much on amazing goaltending and outscoring their opponents (and that is why they look like Ron Wilson's team) - it's hard to ask Kessel not to cheat when he's seeing the results and it's hard to ask the d-man not to join the rush when there's Bernier (and at times Reimer) that will stop the rush the other way 9 times out of 10.

    I think that indeed, as you mentioned in a recent post, losing Bolland and now Bernier may be a blessing in disguise in that it will force the rest of the team to get back to the basics and remember their defensive tasks. There isn't much time to play with though - they better get it together soon or we'll miss the postseason.

    I cannot help but be pissed off at Reimer. I know you disagree but to me this is all his doing - he just never accepted his role of '1b' and he hasn't come through when called upon. His job is to stop the puck when given a chance. His rolling his eyes there after he was pulled in that Detroit game started this whole 'controversy'. Why was he rolling his eyes when he let in 3 soft ones? Why do 2 half-seasons of good play entitle him to no.1 spot forever? Why is calling a goalie 'just ok' after conceding 4+ goals per game night after night such a big insult? I really find it hard to blame Carlyle or the management here. There's an opinion going around that the reason Reimer is not performing well is because he's a no.1 and as such he needs a string of games to get in the groove.... the theory being that if he was a back-up 'type' he'd be more ready to step in when called upon occasionally... Come one - that's just ridiculous. Regardless of what happens in the off-season he really should be playing well - nobody will want him if he can't stop the puck.

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    1. Before he came to Toronto, Wilson was seen as a very, very good NHL coach- with success at every stop. It didn't happen here.

      I see Reimer so very differently, but we all see what we choose to see.

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  8. You said something in the postcast that I am not sure that I agree with. It was something like "Every team has prospects."

    I am not sure that I agree with that. What the Leafs have, is a little different and better than what many teams have

    Here in Winnipeg the loss of Mark Schifele has been very difficult. While in Toronto, we lose Bolland for over 50 games and push Peter Holland up and down between the NHL and AHL...and we were up to third place just a week ago.

    Not many teams have a center of that quality still playing in minors.

    The next one to consider is Spencer Abbott. He is second in AHL scoring He is on track for 90 points in just his second AHL season. Compare him with Thomas Tatar, another small skilled forward now playing with Detroit. Tatar's best season in the AHL was 58 points. If Abbott was the property of another NHL team like Nashville, Calgary or Winnipeg, I am convinced he would be playing in the NHL.

    The interesting thing about Abbott is that he is just 25. The guy ahead of him in AHL scoring is 30 years old and will probably never make the NHL.

    T.J. Brennan is 5th in AHL scoring as a defenseman (61 points in 61 games)and he is just 24.

    This alludes to my main point. The Leafs have talent in the AHL, but it is young talent that is succeeding against older, experienced professionals (27-31) ...that bodes really well for the future.

    Right now the Marlies are first in their division and many of their best players are young. In addition to Abbott and Brennan, they have Kolzun at 24. Devane, D'Amigo and MacWilliam are 23. Carrick is 22. McKegg, Granberg, and Broll are 21. Percy, Biggs, Sparks and Leivo are 20 and Leivo already has 7 games and a goal in the NHL.

    The current Marlies might have 8 future NHL players in their midst and Steve Spott has alluded to the fact that they are making room for Knodel and Tom Nilson as soon as their seasons end in college and Sweden...in a week or two. Compare these nearly ready Marlie prospects with other teams and you will find it looks very good.

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    1. I always look forward to your views on the prospect pool, DP. In this instance, the only thing I would say is that every team, including teams lower in the standings every year, draft players and are developing a lot of young guys with potential, too. Whether the junior players the Leafs have drafted or those with the Marlies actually end up outperforming the players other teams have in their system is something we will only know over time. The Leaf history of "developing" their resources has not always been the best.

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  9. DP has championed the Leaf Prospects on the Marlies for some time, and when I get the chance to catch some of their play, I notice they're almost always in a tight game, playing a disciplined system, while appearing to play a mature game beyond their years. I often forget how young they are and also notice a 'truculence' that seems more in keeping with Carlyle's 'template'.

    If the coach survives beyond next season, I think he will finally have some 'home grown' talent that has developed from within (in a manner not seen often during my lifetime)! I do feel like we have begun to turn the corner on a model of development that will reap rewards in the future, yet we are still between the now and the not yet.

    My greatest concern lies with the seeming unwillingness to give the young players a greater opportunity to get their feet wet with enough shifts to actually find their full NHL game. That may well be a product of Randy's need to 'win now' and 'find success in the playoffs'. Hopefully, his strategy will prove successful (and our guys will actually have something in the tank for the post-season). I know what you mean about Holland - it's just so hard to capture 'future potential' right now (we both had some hope for Colborne's potential, but he couldn't get it together in time to make the team... fortunately, he has 8 of the 10 goals needed to improve the incoming draft pick by a round, so am still rooting for that to happen, though I've also read that some believe the Flames also need to make the playoffs, where I've seen the opposite, with Joe needing 10 goals or 35 points to get a 3rd rounder in June... If you know where to find a definitive answer, that'd be appreciated :)

    Looking forward to a motivated team on the weekend... hoping not to be disappointed by the 'effort' they can control!

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