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10 Maple Leaf and broader NHL questions as we head to the new year…

The Leafs had a lengthy Christmas break, playing their first game since Tuesday tonight in Florida against the resurgent Panthers.

There isn’t a lot of Leaf news these days, though there is always speculation and discussion, of course.  From my perspective, I do have some questions for you, not only about the blue and white but also regarding the rest of the Eastern Conference as we gear up for the second half of the season. (Note: back in the olden days when I was a youngster, the regular season was only 70 games long in those pre-expansion, “Original Six” days. By those standards, the Leafs would indeed already be at the season’s halfway point.)

In no particular order, here are some questions on my mind as we move into a part of the schedule which will likely tell us a bit more about the Maple Leafs—and their Conference counterparts:

  1. Given the much discussed defensive issues around our first line, will Carlyle at any point look to split up that trio in the hope of re-jigging the overall balance of the forward lines? (Related question: who, if anyone, should be moved off the line?)
  2. Who is the Leaf that has surprised you the most this season?
  3. Is Morgan Rielly developing exactly as you had hoped?  Even better than hoped? Is he somewhat behind schedule?
  4. Can this year’s “new” third and fourth liners (Santorelli, Panik, Winnik, Booth) and others like Clarkson, Holland and the still injured Komarov continue to impress over the course of a long season—especially as the going gets tougher down the stretch?
  5. While the team has seemingly made strides this season, is there still a missing link—i.e. an identity, leadership, will to win, etc.?
  6. Would you give Kadri a big-time contract? How about Franson?
  7. Have the Leafs maximized having Kessel on the roster?
  8. Would you trade Lupul for younger players who may be here when the team is really good, or is he precisely the kind of guy we need to keep for now?
  9. If a contending team or two suddenly needs an experienced goaltender before the deadline, should Reimer be moved when the going rate for a goalie would be higher?
  10. Who, if anyone, is an untouchable player on the Leafs?


As far as the rest of the Conference:

  • Am I way off base to say Ted Nolan should get votes for Coach of the Year? (I generally dislike discussing awards during the year and realize we are still only midway through the season and the Sabres are in last place…)
  • Is the Boston mini-dynasty over? (I use the term dynasty here simply to cite them as the organization in the East who has been consistently excellent—well coached, tough, skilled, etc. for several years now under Chiarelli and Julien.
  • Is Tampa Bay really a Cup contender?
  • Are the Habs for real? (Every year I keep thinking they can’t really be this good…)
  • Might the Rangers actually be the best team in the Metropolitan division?
  • Are the Red Wings finished as a serious Cup contender?
  • Will Babcock be with the Red Wings next season?


Bonus question: if there is one player in the League you wish the Leafs could obtain, who would it be?





16 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,

    1.
    Carlyle has split up the top line by putting JVR with Kadri and promoting Lupul back on the 1. line. And I like that, I think it is good I think Lupul belongs there and JvR needs change.
    If you really want to change the defensive issues on the first line you have to change the center.
    We need someboy who is strong defensivly and can be a playmaker to release Kessel from his playmaking duties.

    2.
    Percy, Komarov, Polak

    3.
    We should have no problems with Riellys development.

    4.
    You reduce the question to the bottom liners but I think this is the real question for this team.
    Can the Leafs be consistent enough when the going gets tough or will they fall to their defensive problems again eventually? And I can not answear that question.
    But do you have doubts with the players you mentioned?I can imagine other guys but these are not the guys I expect to not be consistent ( without going deeper into single players).

    5.
    We will see, these are all things that needs to be developed (at least leadership and identity). It is a work in progress, a process.
    The will to win is not that strong.

    6.
    NO. I would not sign Kadri to a big time contract. Under no circumstances. Why should I?
    We can not get stuck with another mediocre guy for to much money wich can not be bought out and has a NTC. Kadri has to earn such a contract and he has to prove a lot more before he deserves one. The same goes for Franson, we can not get overly excited because he plays well for 20 games all of a sudden.
    This is where the Leafs need improvement. They need to sign players for contracts that makes the team the winner of the deal. We can not make the same mistakes again and again that go deep into Leafs history and other managements. We have not much room for improvement and we need wise decissions here. If you sign these two to hefty contracts you are stuck wiht them. We can't afford to do so.
    Bottom line is, after the season Shanahan has to decide what he wants to do with the Leafs and how and if these two fit into these plans. We need some change, we can not stay the way we are.
    Look how much is set on this team for years, we have to go into the right direction for the future.

    7.
    No they have not. they let him hang out to dry but nobody seems to realise that he has adapted well to this bad situation and is a point per game guy although hes has not the right line mates.

    8.
    I think Lupul is the heart and soul of this offensive group. He is the leader. I would not trade him. But it depends on the plan they come up with.

    And the whole trade thing is complicated now, I don't see such a trade happen.

    9.
    I would not rule out to move Bernier based on his demands.

    10.
    Kessel, Rielly, Percy, Holland, Nylander, Brown, Johansson



    -I really like Ted Nolan. I would like to have him the award.

    -Perhaps they miss the playoffs this year but I wouldn't write them off for the near future. They are still a great team when healthy. They now pay the price for some deep runs the last years.

    -No they are not. (Tampa)

    -Yeah somehow they are! I wouldn't be suprised if they win a round again.
    I asked it before: Why are they and the Leafs are not? They where last place 2 years ago!

    -Rangers? No.

    -I am still impressed with the Wings. We are in the east and if they remain relativly healthy they can win the conference. They are talented, very well organized and they know how to win. They have a great goalie who can be hot at the right moment and they have some gamebreakers and some young guys follow their footsteps. They are very dangerous. And they are harder than they get credit for. If you ask me a team I don't want to face in the first round I would say the Wings. From the eastern side they are a contender and in the finals everything can happen.

    -I think he will be with the Wings next season.

    The one Player I would obtain is Jonathan Toews.

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    1. Thanks, Marcus.

      The only doubts I might have about the guys I mentioned (question 4), is whether their play will flatten out over the course of a long season. Some of the guys we acquired a year ago started well and then faded somewhat.

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  2. I won't do the Leaf ones point-by-point, but I'll just toss a few thoughts out there. This is a better team than last year for starters, and it's encouraging that's it's also a young roster, not a pack of 30-somethings having headed over the peak and into their declining years. The younger players that impressed me this year are Rielly, Holland and Bernier, while I would put Kadri and Panik on the second tier of good stories for the younger guys. As far as whether or not Kessel has been utilized well, I think it's been just fine, based on his style of play. Obviously, getting some stud to centre for him would be ideal, but just a pipe dream. He's certainly been given more assets on his line to succeed with than Sundin was many years, despite having Mogilny on the wing for a while. I think the Leafs biggest problem is that they don't have that key "franchise player", a player that just naturally floats to the top of the heap based on performance and work ethic. Whether it be Toews, Chara, Crosby or Zetterberg from the current league, the elite teams seem to always have that guy. Patience and years under his belt might elevate Rielly to that status, but we need to be careful, as many fans and media anointed Luke Schenn as being "the guy", and we all know how that worked out. Overall, if you offered me their present record at the start of the season, I would have happily accepted it.

    Around the league:

    1) I mentioned in another post how much I admire the dignity the Sabres are playing with under Nolan. He's a fiery coach (as opposed to being a 'fired' coach), and it's doubtful either he or Hartley with the Flames would buy into the "lose for McDavid" sweepstakes. The only job for the roster and bench bosses is to win, and it's dangerous if any other message exists.

    2) Boston may end up regretting that Seguin trade, based on the lack of patience they offered a true superstar. A franchise seldom gets a chance at this level of player, and now Boston is having major issues scoring goals. It was easy to call Seguin immature, but hey, we all were at some point.... but we weren't that talented.

    3) If Tampa's goalie stays healthy, look out, as they sure can score. I just checked their stats, and geez..... I can't believe that Stamkos is still 24! Going back to my last point about Seguin, remember back 6 years ago, when Barry Melrose said Stamkos "wasn't ready for the NHL", and wouldn't give him ice time. Guess who won that one?

    4) I still think the Habs are overrated, and not built for a deep cup run despite last year.

    5) I think the Rangers will come back to earth, like the Leafs did after their long winning streak. I would rate Pitt and maybe even NYI above them.

    6) The Wings seem to be (again) showing the fruits of great scouting and player development. With Nyquist and Tatar coming along, they might just replace a couple of elite veterans on the downswing. I've looked stupid too many times, counting Detroit out.

    7) As dumb as this might sound, it would be interesting to see what Babcock could do with that Oilers squad. They keep tossing coaches under the bus (the body count is high), and it would be interesting to see what our current 'elite' NHL coach could make out of all the number one draft picks. If Babcock went in there, he would have big money, a long term contract with all sorts of power attached to it, and he would provide a LOT more push back than someone like Eakins could get away with, in terms of drafting and trading. I know Leaf Nation would love to see Mike in TO, but I thought I'd throw that idea out there, as that's a story I'd be glued to.

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    1. Fair point about the Leafs lacking a "franchise" player, Russ.

      The Oilers have had some very capable coaches in recent years. I wonder if Babcock would make a difference there. At some point, the team should be better and a new coach may benefit.

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  3. Hi Michael,

    So that was a fine turn of events this evening. They were bound to lose a game where they had the lead in the 3rd, and they did. They continue to go to the well of being outshot and expecting the goalie to save their bacon. In the past three years, you would think they had enough evidence that it isn't going to work forever. I still see no willingness to change their ways, they are great at talking about it though.

    Carlyle needs to break up the first line permanently, you have to have at least one guy on the line who is responsible defensively. None of Bozak, Kessel, or JVR bother to try.

    Hands down Mike Santorelli, he's been great. I really hope they keep him, because I love the way he plays each and every game.

    Rielly is young, and we could heap a whole lot of pressure and negativity on him that he isn't Bobby Orr, but that doesn't work so well for us, so maybe we shouldn't. Honestly he's fine, very well could/should be with the Marlies learning how to play big minutes. But he's here, its too late to go back, we needed him here and here he is.

    I hope the bottom of the lineup continues to produce. I like the mix better than what we had last year. The only caveat is that with increased minutes, players often get tired, solely because no NHL team has relied on them that much before.

    This team needs something, not sure what it is. Maybe a true leader, someone who won't accept mediocrity. Maybe a new coach, a huge trade, something.

    Yes, to both of them. I like Franson, and I always have. I think his talents have been under appreciated since they got him. The team will have to pay him more than Gardiner, and the problem is they won't really have the cap space unless they make significant changes. Even though I am not a Kadri fan, he is scoring and that will get him paid. He is, who he is. Talented, cocky, and soon very rich.

    No, they have not. I have always said in this forum that it was a mistake to trade for him. I am more certain of that than ever, Seguin is younger, cheaper, and a more complete hockey player than Kessel. Management did nothing to surround Phil with teammates that could put him in the position to win. He is more than doing his job. just not enough around him to make it worthwhile.

    We should trade Lupul as soon as we possibly can get enough return for him. Long term I would rather have prospects, picks, and Mike Santorelli.

    I would not be against trading James if the return was substantial. I would be gung ho, if we were out of the playoffs at the deadline. Who would be our back-up if we trade James? Bernier still hasn't proven to be a durable number one.

    No one on this team should be considered untouchable. None of the team, or prospects, are touted as being the next Sidney Crosby.

    Boston has had some injuries, lets see where they go from here. Chara is back, and I'm not sure about Krejci, could Google but, lots of games left for the Bruins.

    As far as Tampa, Montreal, and the Rangers go, goaltending. Carey Price, and Lundquist are two of the very, very best. Previous years results can be laid directly at their feet. Right now, Bishop seems to be for real, so yes, Tampa is a cup contender, they sure can score.

    I'll take Pittsburgh, even though they have had a brutal run of injuries.

    I believe in Mike Babcock, the Wings have a chance as long as he is there. I think he stays in Detroit, but I hope he ends up in Toronto. Sorry Randy, not very holiday spirit of me to wish you fired, but I still do.

    Really easy, Crosby. Second is Toews. Third is Stamkos. Dark horse, MacKinnon.

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    1. Like Marcus and Russ, you covered the bases, Jim. Thanks for posting.

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  4. Hi Michael.

    1) Though I like Lupul with Kessel I'd go further and try Santo at center. He seems to make whatever line he's on, whomever he plays with, better and I think his energy and work ethic rubs off.

    2) Santorelli, Komorov and Winnick have impressed me, with Kadri also taking a step forward.

    3) I'm not sure if Rielly is in a position to excel with the team as it is right now but he hasn't disappointed either. He's so young.

    4) I thought they may struggle after extended time under Carlyle. I'm hoping they don't learn to play the "Leafy" way.

    5) I believe they still need another top six forward, even if he's not a center (Winnick has played top six so I'm not sure why he's on the 4th with his minutes cut) and help on defense.

    6) Kadri has worked to improve his game in many areas and Franson seems much more comfortable with Horachuk. I have no trouble with keeping both if good play continues but some contracts will need to be moved to sign both and Bernier.

    7) No they haven't and I don't think it's going to change any time soon. (He is still not himself to my eyes.)

    8) I really like Lupul but would move him if a good prospect or pick came back. More to free up cap than any other reason and I believe teams will be interested in a top 6 forward at the deadline.

    9) Reimer may be my favourite player--I want him on the Leafs and I'll not be happy when he's gone, but yes. With Drew MacIntyre gone and Bibeau not ready, a reliable goalie would need to come back in any trade. For his sake, I hope it isn't Edmonton.

    10) I would say Bernier and Rielly but I'm not sure if anyone is completely untouchable. The coming draft is expected to be a deep one. If Shanahan chooses to partially blow up the team to aquire first and second round picks, I'm not completely against it though we have some promising players coming up in the next year or so. I hope before he moves core players he first tries a coaching change. I feel Randy lost this team over a year ago and everything he tries to "fix" ends up worse. I have heard it said that he takes a great deal of the joy and fun out of the game for his players. He continues to make decisions (Clarkson on the PP) that drive me crazy.

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    1. Thanks Colleen- your last point regarding Shanahan rings true. He has some decisions to make.

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  5. I am going to stay away from the Leafs on this one after the sunshine state debacles. It will be nice to chat "hockey" instead. So here goes..

    As far as the rest of the Conference:

    Am I way off base to say Ted Nolan should get votes for Coach of the Year? (I generally dislike discussing awards during the year and realize we are still only midway through the season and the Sabres are in last place…)

    I am not sure about this one. On the Sabres recent winning streak the team was out shot by almost 50% every game they won. Their shooter's sticks warmed up and they received great goaltending but it isn't sustainable. Wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about the Leafs...

    Is the Boston mini-dynasty over? (I use the term dynasty here simply to cite them as the organization in the East who has been consistently excellent—well coached, tough, skilled, etc. for several years now under Chiarelli and Julien.

    I think it could be. All teams have a shelf life and this one seems to have run theirs. Chara is getting old and injury prone. But they still have a great goalie and some good younger defensemen to reload around. And they DO play in the east so it isn't like they will drop off the map during the reload. So maybe call it a Red Wings type of reload where they still make the playoffs and make some noise.

    Is Tampa Bay really a Cup contender?
    This one is hard to tell. They are a very good team in the east and surely a top 4 team... again in the east. But a cup contender? No, I think the west is too good for TB.

    Are the Habs for real? (Every year I keep thinking they can’t really be this good…)
    I sure hope not :))))

    Might the Rangers actually be the best team in the Metropolitan division?
    I don't see it. The Pens have gone through a ton of injuries and sickness and are still better. If they get healthy at the right time they will be more rested and could roll through the east this year.. barring a Fleury typical playoff is the only caveat..

    Are the Red Wings finished as a serious Cup contender?
    Yes, they do not have the defense they had when they went on their long playoff rampages. You have to have that solid depth back there these days for that. Look at Chicago and the Kings as a perfect example of that. But finished is too strong of a word. Ken Holland is much too good of a GM and as long as he doesn't rest on his past glories laurels he will retool the Wings once more.

    Will Babcock be with the Red Wings next season?
    I don't think he will. I think he would have signed already if he was going to stay. I think he is a person who thrives on challenges and I think he feels he has done all he can in Detroit and is ready for a new challenge. Where he lands is a whooooooole other discussion for another day. I am not sold him going to the Leafs is a slam dunk.

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    1. I too wonder about Babcock staying with the Wings, Pep. I guess we'll see.

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  6. Leafs Fan in MexicoJanuary 2, 2015 at 12:17 AM

    1. Given the much discussed defensive issues around our first line, will Carlyle at any point look to split up that trio in the hope of re-jigging the overall balance of the forward lines? (Related question: who, if anyone, should be moved off the line?)

    There is no magic bullet on this roster. Change the coach and see question 5.

    2. Who is the Leaf that has surprised you the most this season?

    Their run in Nov-Dec.

    3. Is Morgan Rielly developing exactly as you had hoped? Even better than hoped? Is he somewhat behind schedule?

    He’s about what we can expect, a tad better. See question 10.

    4. Can this year’s “new” third and fourth liners (Santorelli, Panik, Winnik, Booth) and others like Clarkson, Holland and the still injured Komarov continue to impress over the course of a long season—especially as the going gets tougher down the stretch?

    Yes, they have things to prove, except Komarov, he’s just plain smart, well-liked and not afraid of much.

    5. While the team has seemingly made strides this season, is there still a missing link—i.e. an identity, leadership, will to win, etc.?

    Doug Gilmor, Wendel Clarke, Stevie Y, Joe Sacic, Scot Stevens, we need a leader. Never loved Sundin for same reason…. He was big guy that could score with ten guys hanging off him, but couldn’t drag his team anywhere. Who is the leader on Leafs??

    6. Would you give Kadri a big-time contract? How about Franson?

    Kadri is not going to get a lot better with this roster. He’s got more juice but probably more likely to max out in another market on a weaker team (Oilers?). Trade him?

    7. Have the Leafs maximized having Kessel on the roster?

    Yes, it’s been 5.5 years. He already done what he can do here with this roster. See question 5.

    8. Would you trade Lupul for younger players who may be here when the team is really good, or is he precisely the kind of guy we need to keep for now?

    Yes, he always hurt (bad luck, made of glass, what?) We won’t miss him.

    9. If a contending team or two suddenly needs an experienced goaltender before the deadline, should Reimer be moved when the going rate for a goalie would be higher?

    Yes….. no…. maybe…... As always, depends on the deal.

    10. Who, if anyone, is an untouchable player on the Leafs?

    Reilly, Percy…… would want to keep Santorelli, Komarov, Holland, Franson, Bernier

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    1. You covered the bases, Leafs Fan in Mexico. Happy New Year!

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    2. Awesome post, Mexico! Item #5 is the one that hits home the most for me... leadership, and not necessarily (but still included) at the coaching level, but more the on-ice product. I've listed those great names you've mentioned in the past, and added current names like Toews and Chara as well. I was the same way with Sundin, in awe of his other worldly ability to drag a couple of opposing players towards the net and score, but he never seemed to have the juice when the chips were laid on the table.

      Lupul reminds me of Colaiacovo (I checked the spelling on that one!!) with the Leafs, where he would take long term injuries on the most pedestrian plays. I heard Elliotte Friedman talking about Lupul today, and he mentioned that avoiding injury is almost considered a skill by some NHL GMs today, not just a luck of the draw thing. Lupul never gets hurt on some bone crushing collision, but just incidental contact, sometimes in practice. There's no highlight reel of Lupul injuries, that's for sure.

      I'm never one to throw a coach under the bus (see Edmonton model), but I really think Randy may be done here. Too much water under the bridge, too many massive losing streaks, and whether it's his fault or not, something isn't working between Carlyle and the current roster. I honestly don't think Babcock wants to make Toronto his destination, but maybe maybe someone like Bylsma, or ideally McLellan from San Jose would be the answer. I how the Leafs pounce fast if McLellan becomes available.

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  7. Hi Michael.
    I agree with Russ's last paragraph. I don't hate Randy but --Good Gravy! This can't continue and if he's at least partially lost this group, and I believe he has, there's a reason for it. I hope Shanahan responds before things get ugly.

    The game last night is a good example of why I'd like a coaching change. We have center depth this year yet Randy, instead of replacing Kadri and Holland with Santo and Komorov and bringing up a L winger (Maybe Lievo?) to replace Lupul, brings up McKegg so he can basically not play him. Or the 4th line for that matter, while the 1st line played almost 26 minutes in a B2B situation. The Leafs played well last night. I believe they deserved and could have had a win, even with Randy's swarm system obviously still in place. It's not just a lack of creative thinking. The lines against the Wild defied simple logic and shows an inability/ refusal/ failure to use four lines and a deeper roster to any benefit.

    Best wishes for the New Year, everyone. GLG--"Burn the Toast!"

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    1. Those first line minutes last night were ridiculous Colleen, especially based on the poor night they were having. HNIC just showed a "low lights" package of Phil's play, and it was just littered with indifferent decisions and lackadaisical line changes. I mean, if there's no spark there, try someone else!!

      By the way, you're as polite as our Canadian winters are long, Colleen. We finally got some salty language out of you, and it was Good Gravy!!

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  8. Hi Russ-- You'd think as a Leafs fan of many years I could do better. (I just wasn't sure if " FOR PEANUT-BUTTER SAKES!!" was politically correct--I don't want any trouble.)

    I hope, as Leaf fans, our sense of humour never fails. There are nights when watching a Leafs game is --to quote my Dad---"as exciting as a pocket full of wet cornflakes". Very disappointing of late, after seeing some earlier signs improvement.

    I admit I didn't watch the game too closely. I don't enjoy games against the Jets. And yes! - try someone else, anything else. Did Kessel leave for the dressing room at some point?
    Honestly I finally flipped the channel to Star Trek. Maybe another jersey tossed on the ice tonight will spark something.

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