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Following a tough road trip, the Leafs—and their fans—looking for answers that may not exist

After the first few games of Peter Horachek’s tenure as interim Head coach of the Leafs, the consensus seemed to be that the team was playing better overall—certainly better defensively.

Unfortunately, while the focus on defense has been good to see (and let’s be honest, the goaltending has generally flattered the team’s effort in that regard as well, making us look better than we actually are), our forwards have had a difficult time lighting the old lamp, as they say. We certainly saw effort on this trip against some of the best teams in the Western Conference, but not a lot of luck.

So where are these Leafs?

In the standings…not so good. Mentally…likely in a state of confusion.

It feels as though Horachek, understandably perhaps, is trying to re-shape the team’s mentality and approach. Maybe that’s a good thing—though I refuse to believe his penchant for defense is any different, really, than what his predecessor wanted to see. The players simply weren’t able—or willing—to do what Randy Carlyle asked of them when it came to defensive structure.

Ultimately, whatever system a coach employs (or tries to), it all comes down to skill—and “will”. That means you need the talent to make the engine hum, but you need 20 guys who will fight for the puck, block shots at the right times, take a hit to make a play, all the little things that make good teams successful.

We can all hope for Mike Babock or, heck, Toe Blake (right), Fred Shero or Scotty Bowman to show up for that matter, but as important as a good coach can be (and he can be), will that alone do the trick?

It strikes me that every really good team, pretty much throughout hockey history, had leaders who led the way through their ability but also because of their almost obsessive desire to win. The Habs had them in abundance going back to my childhood, with Butch Bouchard, Rocket Richard and later Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer and Bob Gainey not only wearing the “C” but leading by example.

The Islanders of the early ’80s had it with Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and many others. The Oilers had Gretzky and Messier—their most talented but also their most driven players.

It’s a different world now, I realize, but we still see teams that want to win very badly. We saw that in Boston for years with someone like Chara showing the way.  In LA and Chicago, names Toews, Doughty, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been there for years and seem to provide the consistent, inspired leadership by example that makes the whole roster better than it otherwise might be.

The Leafs?  Leadership?

Well, I think Bernier has largely been pretty darn good again this season. Reimer has battled most nights he has been given a shot and done fairly well overall.  We miss Komarov when he’s out (and he’s been out a lot this season) but every team has injuries, eh?

So who are the shining lights who aren’t in net?  The players that you say, hey, those guys are playing their hearts out every night; they may not score goals, but they are doing their job, working hard on every shift, fighting to make plays.

How many Leafs are, say, a 9 out of 10 on the heart and soul meter—guys who show us how badly they hate to lose? Can you name them?

We’ve talked ad nauseum here over the past five plus years about a range of topics, but I don’t know if we have talked about a topic more than these two: leadership and identity. A team needs real leaders, and also needs to establish and play to a legitimate identity.

I don’t think this team has any true leaders, and if we do, then we don’t have enough (as I’ve said here before) good followers. 

As far as identity, I couldn’t begin to describe what it is.

I like Horachek, too, but I don’t se the Leafs necessarily finding that elusive identity soon.  Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I think you need to have the long term coaching situation nailed down first too, whoever that might be.

You also need to move some of the roster pieces.  As much as we say the media is hard on the players, by and large, it’s great to be a Maple Leaf.  Playing here can be amazing. You just have to work your tail off. You don’t even have to win. Fans here forgive losing (c’mon, we haven’t won a thing, really, in 50 years almost). But effort resonates with us as fans.

That’s why I always remember names like Bob Pulford, Bobby Baun, Ron Ellis, Dave Keon, Brian Spencer, Scott Garland, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, “Motor City” Smitty, Wendel Clark, Dmitry Yushkevich, Danny Markov, Tie Domi, (add your own names) etc. Some of those individuals were considered “stars”; others were role players who were't even Leafs for that long. But because, way more often than not, they gave maximum effort, we noticed and we responded with the kind of affection that fans have for only certain players—and teams (e.g. those early ‘90s Doug Glmour-led Pat Burns squads…).

When Roman Polak took a puck in the face a few games back against the Capitals and came back to play that night, how did his teammates react?  By the way they played, I would say “Ho hum” .

I’m sure they were privately in awe, but did it really affect their play? Did it inspire them? That moment alone should have motivated the Leafs, but it didn’t seem to, for whatever reason.

Right now, I feel like Leafdom is in a lull.  The team is neither awful, or terribly good.  We have some nice players who, when the puck is going in and the goalies are standing on their head, will make us temporarily forget we lack the intangibles (and tangibles) that make for great teams.

But the rest of the time, we wait and hope that management can find a way to build a roster that has talent—but also hates to lose.

Because, ultimately, that’s about the only way you will ever win.



37 comments:

  1. Michael,

    This is a fantastic post. I have waited all week, checking in from time to time to see if you had something more to say. I usually have a comment, or more. I'm very glad that I found this site, it is still the only one I bother to comment on.

    There really isn't anything in your work today that I disagree with. It was point for point, both eviscerating and poignant. Kudos.

    The Leafs are not a very good hockey team. They haven't been a very good team in the last ten years. Nothing has changed in that regard, other than they now have a goaltending tandem that can steal them some games.

    The real work in the front office can begin. Evaluating what they have, what they need, and not falling into the same traps that they have fallen into before. We know the ones, overpaying for free agents, and your own players. Paying other teams with salary cap space to make trades. Giving away draft picks. Over valuing our prospects, while simultaneously giving them away when they don't immediately become world beaters.

    I too have very little faith in the supposed core of this hockey team. To answer your question above about who do we think leads by example, Santorelli, Winnick, Polak, Komorov. Those are the players that I hear mentioned, as well as the ones I think of. It's funny how it's none of the alternate captains, or the captain himself. Last night we had, Franson, and Bozak as alternates to Phaneuf. Not that I don't think Phaneuf plays hard, it just doesn't seem like anyone is interested in following him.

    Tyler Bozaks effort on the Shattenkirk goal to open the game was something I wouldn't accept as a coach in Junior hockey. This guy has an 'A' on his sweater for criminy sakes. The second goal of the night was scored by Alex Steen, nice goal. Toronto's players on the ice for that dance marathon, Phaneuf, Franson, Bozak, Kessel, and JVR. The third and mercifully final goal, had Polak trying to make something happen down the boards on a pinch. The play goes the other way, and we have Kadri, and JVR public skating back to our own end. Polak actually puts his head down and beats all three forwards to try to prevent the third goal. These are our core players, Jiminy Christmas.

    Over the next five or so years, management needs to ruthlessly remove the players that are part of the problem. Do the best they can, get what they can for them. Maybe it really will only be cap space, if it is on occasion, that's ok. This group has proven to me that they aren't going to win anything, and they get paid too much to augment them with guys who will do everything to win. The difference in speed that a lot of this team shows between offence and defence is embarrassing to this fan. It reeks of self importance, and it isn't deserved. I think Bernier is the only player on the roster who has won the Cup. Take all the letters away from this team and for the rest of the year, make it a monthly decision.

    The Leafs need to figure out there is indeed a difference between wanting to win, and hating to lose. I feel that not enough of these players are in the latter camp. It's nice to hear other fans coming around to this way of thinking. It will sure be nice to not feel so lonely. You know what is really unacceptable? Hearing Phaneuf tell reporters that the effort level in the game was unacceptable. Do something about it you idiot, you are the captain. Smash the radio, punch one of your team mates. Something more at least than the slow motion post game interview.

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    1. Thanks Jim- culture, identity, 'will', leadership. We've discussed it all.

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  2. I think the most eminently coachable player on the team may be Morgan Rielly... He seems to be willing to 'reign in' whatever is required of him, while picking up pieces from whoever will teach him how to be better. When he puts it all together... watch out!

    I hope the Leafs keep Connor Brown in the fold, because he's just the kind of 'never give up' / 'become the best you can be' kind of player that can inspire a whole roster (like Komarov, yet more talented - if smaller).

    Beyond the above players, Polak (I really thought his return to play would bring 'inspiration' that evidenced itself on the ice beyond his own assist - but... not so much), Santorelli, Winnik and even Franson (who seems to have found himself this year) are the kind of players I like (even if they're not 'stars'). What we need is a Stamkos-type work ethic and skill combo to build around (and a real stud defenseman.... who may be Rielly, if he grows properly).

    We seemed to hit good teams, untimely/ inappropriate calls (that cost us precious goals) and new system implementation on this road trip. A perfect storm with unsurprising results. I was hoping for SOME positive feedback for the guys who were finally buying in to a defensive system that they were starting to collaborate with the coaches to implement. The communication improvement is encouraging, but I guess we'll see who has the right stuff to get past the current streak in a positive way.

    I suspect, however, that the writing is on the wall for a couple key players from the core... guess we'll be watching to see how that plays out (even if the games and the diminishing prospect of another playoff entry are 'uninspiring').

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    1. I think our expectations were modest for that road trip, InTimeFor62. We're mostly looking for the kind of clues you cite- including defensive structure, effort, etc.

      There are some players Shanahan may look to build around, but tough decisions ahead, for sure.

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  3. Dmitry Yushkevich was a worthy and unique addition to your list, Michael. He would hit anything that moved, lay in front of pucks, and even made the NHL All Star team for his efforts. More recent examples of players with that work ethic and skill combination would be Darcy Tucker and Gary Roberts, men that would volunteer their bodies in any hockey situation, despite being physically over matched. In Darcy's case, that meant giving and receiving hits that were punishing to both parties involved, then skating by the opposition bench, so Tucker could let them know what he thought of them.... as if there was ever any doubt.

    The current Leafs roster offers up plenty of robotic "this is a great bunch of guys" types of platitudes, but their play speaks of indifference towards each other. Goalies getting hung out to dry night after night with no measurable response, a hard hit thrown against a vulnerable Leafs forward, with no retribution meted out to the offending party. I don't see anything on the ice (where it matters) that would lead me to think that these guys live and die for each other out there. You know, like the Kings, Bruins, Ducks, Blues and Hawks.

    Your "hating to lose" line speaks volumes, Jim. I'll repeat a story I told here a while ago, but this time it's actually relevant to the topic. As a teen in the early 80's, I was waiting outside the players door for autographs at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Leafs had just gotten pasted by the Rangers, an embarrassing night for the Buds. Mind you, you couldn't tell that the Leafs had just gotten crushed, by most of the players that came out to greet fans. Jovial like it was a meet-and-greet, and oblivious to the fact that 20 minutes ago, they stunk the place out. Not Rick Vaive though. He came out looking like his dog had just died, and took the time to come over and shake my hand. I asked for an autograph, and he apologized, saying that none of them were worthy of offering autographs that night. Looking back, that meant a heck of a lot more than his name on a piece of paper, signed by an indifferent hockey player.

    It's a frustrating time to be a Leafs fan, and I hope they don't pull out the band-aids this time around, and instead look at a full restructuring of both management and the roster.

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    1. Well said, Russ- and I appreciate hearing that story about Vaive.

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  4. I don't even know what to say anymore. As you said we Michael we have talked about it ad nauseam for the last 5 years. Its all been said before, nothing has changed. The worst part is I find it hard to see any hope for next year as well. A below average team that has cap issues. How do you get better? Get more skill, problem is skill costs money and the leafs have no money left to spend. How can a team that has made the playoffs once in a decade be a cap team? It is truly mind boggling. This team is really making it hard it to care anymore.

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    1. I have no doubt Leaf fans would be behind a team that is known for consistently playing like it matters, Willbur. I would not suggest this team doesn't care, but there are levels of commitment they have perhaps not reached. We need to see more.

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  5. I am also nearing the not knowing what to say anymore point. I was at lunch last week with a few of my old work buddies and the Leaf jokes never stopped. And of course there was no point in mentioning the Leafs were not nearly as bad as it looks because wins are what really matter.

    If all that really mattered were wins and their current told the whole story then you have to think the team is simply bad, trade everyone end of discussion. I just hope they don't have a knee jerk reaction and start making some bad deals as I have seen too many of them for too many years.

    Leafs lost their last four games but with a little puck luck they also could have won all four of them but they didn't and they are in a slump and nothing is working for them. Things will turn around and they will get better.

    It looked to me like they were trying the last few games and blaming it on lack of character really makes no sense at all to me. They have made some stupid mistakes which had nothing to do with character. Rielly heading to the bench at the wrong time or Gardiner out of position are just mistakes that all inexperienced players make and every mistake lately seems to ending up in their nets. They have been getting some very good scoring chances and totally messing up like the three on one last night and Panik not passing and not even getting a shot off.

    Bernier and Reimer have also both given up soft goals which simply can't happen against good teams. They are also trying to implement Horachek's new system which is also not helping things because they are thinking too much and then making bad decisions. I don't think making mistakes and a new system coupled with bad puck luck and holding the sticks too tightly in a slump has anything to do with character and leadership.

    They have a lot of good prospects in Nylander, Leivo, Brown, Gauthier, McKegg, Percy, Finn, Granberg and they just have to take time to develop them and stay on the current course. If they are really out of the playoff race by the trade deadline then they could move a few players like Winnick and Santorelli. Santorelli is pretty good but he will want more money and they have to make room for players like Nylander and Brown. I would like to keep Franson but if they have no cap space to ressign him then they should move him as well.

    It would be nice to trade Phaneuf and Clarkson but given their contracts it will never happen. I still think Kessel is a player they have to keep and will need. He may not be a gritty physical player but he can score and gritty physical players are a lot easier to find. They are also saying Gauthier is a big gritty physical player who will be adding some muscle to the Leafs.

    I think they have finally hit rock bottom and this week begins the drive for the playoffs.


    PS I liked Vaive and he was one of the few skilled players the Leafs had back in 80s. But given the Leafs record in those days he probably didn't sign too many autographs.

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    1. No question the Leafs could have won some of the West Coast games, Alton. My reservations about leadership and identity, though, go back a long time. The team has shown, going back to the Ron Wilson era, that if they are on a roll and the opposition lets them skate freely, they can win games.

      But to win when it matters, during a playoff run, seems to always require much more, especially when adversity hits. Whether this Leaf squad has that, I don't know. Thanks Alton.

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  6. The Leafs have a bit of time before the March 2nd Trade Deadline and more time for practice during the break. I'm anxious to see what happens with Holland and Komorov returning. I think the lack of scoring has gone to their heads too much. I'm not that worried about it but I've never seen players like Kessel, Kadri, Franson etc. miss the net so many times.

    I agree with Alton that they are making mistakes that can be cleaned up. They could use a refresher course on how and when to leave the ice at the end of a shift. Bozak decided to hop off after losing the puck behind the opponents net leaving Smith (coming on) with no chance to help Gardiner on one of the goals the other night. (It's hardly fair that the goal counts against Smith not Bozak.) No one really discusses good/bad changes but with players jumping into a play, being late to the play and too-many-men calls, they can change the course of the game. I remember watching a Pittsburgh game where, as the play came up ice out of their zone, one player hopped off and there was Sid at the far end jumping straight into the play at the blue-line. Perfectly timed. They scored. Whether it's avoiding a long shift, shortening shifts or simply getting to the bench quicker, it's something they could be working on.

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    1. Colleen,

      I agree with where you are going here. Lots of these problems could definitely be fixed if the team was a work hard, conscientious defence first outfit. Maybe they can get there, I hope they can. It just seems to me that if I was to pick a word to describe the team as a whole, it's lazy.

      Did anyone else catch the post game interviews? Kessels' in particular. His main point was that they were trying. Uh, really? That effort last night certainly does not meet my definition of trying. Maybe trying to get out of the game uninjured. It took 50 minutes of game play for the Leafs to even bother to skate hard.

      The comments by Kadri were also concerning. Look, if you buy a Leafs jersey, it's yours. Do with it as you please, but don't throw it onto the ice during the game. Someone could step on it and hurt themselves. The only true damage to the legacy of this franchise is being done by the players dumb, dumb. And Nonis, can't forget his boneheadedness. Paying Gleason two million bucks a season to play for the Hurricanes. Nice one Dave, nice one.

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    2. Hi Jim.
      There was a play last night where the puck was shot into the Leafs zone at the half boards and 4 Leafs stood there and looked at it as the Carolina player raced into the zone to claim it. Was that a coffee break? I agree with what you're saying completely--I just can't for the life of me figure it because it's not just one or two players, it's a large portion of the team. The puck's a "hot potato". No one wants it.

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    3. Hi Colleen,

      They certainly do seem to have a problem with will. Will they adapt to playing defense? Will they bother to play hard and show some will to win?

      They, as a group don't seem to have a whole lot of fear in the locker room right now. There are a lot of marginal players on this team. Especially on the 3rd and 4th lines, are they not scared of being relegated to the minors again? It would scare the bejeezus out of me, that's for sure. Are none of the top players on this team scared of being shipped out of town?

      Is no one in that locker room worried about how the hockey world perceives them? So far, since the change they don't seem as a group to have a lot of heart. This is especially true of the core. There seems to be very little fear of being labelled chronic losers.

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  7. Leafs Fan in MexicoJanuary 20, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    For as long as I can remember, folks have been begging for a "shut down" centre to help Kessel et al. But what we have really needed (as many of us on VLM have been braying fruitlessly about for sometime) is someone who can embarrass, motivate, inspire, kick cans, or otherwise get the boys to play better. Right now they are definitively less than the sum of their parts and cant seem to get past that.

    Conclusion? This group has gotten to where it is going to get. If we can't trade for a leader before trade deadline, trade as many of them over the summer as we can.

    I would keep guys like Santorelli (he is not expensive, he's good value). Ditto Komorov, Polack (worth it for his face beating response alone), Holland, Kadri, and a couple others....

    The core? Stick a fork in em, turn em over, they're done.

    Leadership? That's management job now.



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    1. Hi Leafs Fan in Mexico- everyone here at VLM has a slightly different take. Some remain hopeful that this team is close and will get better with the core essentially as is. We just need some reinforcements, in that view.

      Others feel, as you suggested, that this group has gone as far as it can, essentially, and a re-boot needs to occur.

      I don't think there is one "correct" point of view. We are all searching, as I said in the story headline, for answers.

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    2. Leafs Fan in MexicoJanuary 20, 2015 at 7:53 PM

      I agree with everyone having a different point of view Michael, usually stated articulately with great observations. However mine is the only correct perspective (ya right!!! - sorry couldn't resist!!!).

      I did want to point out an editing error in my last, instead of braying, I meant praying, no slight offended (i.e., calling any VLM a donkey!)

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    3. My smile for the day, Leafs Fan in Mexico!

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  8. I haven't given up hope yet that we'll see some better hockey. I liked what I saw the first few games under Horachuk. The Leafs played well and weren't rewarded. The last two or three games have been difficult to watch with the power-play drying up but I still want to see what they're like after the break. Getting away and playing in an All-Star game with such talented team-mates may be really positive for Kessel.

    I still want to see Santorelli on the first line.

    I'd like to see Reimer in a few more games and there's no excuse not to have him in against Ottawa. He looks very relaxed right now and I haven't liked Bernier lately. Reimer seems less effected by what's going on around him, as if he's managed to distance himself and is focused on nothing but what he has to do himself, when given a chance.

    I wasn't happy to see the second slap-shot in three games aimed directly at Phaneuf. It's a blatant attempt to injure a fellow player and I hate to see this in a game, no matter who the target is. This is not acceptable.

    I'd like to see Clarkson forced to wear a full face-mask for the remainder of the year so he won't be tempted to start fights during the power-play--which he is still on for some reason. He played his best hockey as a Leaf with a broken orbital bone.

    Lievo and Percy have been called up, which is good even if it's for assessment purposes rather than changing the mix. I'm hanging in there (with my hands over my eyes), Michael.

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  9. Rather than thinking about the players we might like to see leaving for greener pastures, I thought about what we might have to give in order to get into the lottery mix this coming June. For instance, what do we have to offer the Oilers that could pry the first pick out of their clutches...

    We've often thought that they need a goalie and we always talk about Reimer, but what if we kept him and considered trading Bernier? He still has a lot of cache and could be part of a package that could extract the high pick from a team that needs to grow apart from high picks. Two years ago, the Oilers reportedly offered more to Clarkson than the Leafs as a UFA. One has to think that the spotlight may be too bright in the big smoke for him to thrive, yet he may still bring to the Oilers that which they still need (or wanted from him before).

    The Oilers would likely need more than these two positions filled on their roster, so perhaps offering Jake (to reconnect with his college buddy, Schultz) in a package would be enough to garner their first rounder. I would suggest that another 'off the books' opportunity is also available. The Oilers signed Dallas Eakins to a 4 year deal that the Leafs could 'match' to bring him back into our development team and relieve their bottom line for the next 3 years.

    I'm only interested in garnering their 1st rounder and am unconcerned about the other pieces that would make the deal happen, but the Oilers do have a bit more cap space to play with, so I would offer Bernier and Gardiner and a player to be named later (i.e. Clarkson after we pay his signing bonus in July) for the first and let them pick something reasonable to send back. If we take back Eakins, I think the Oilers just might release the pick.

    I often try to keep the players that we like or that have potential and skill, but I wonder if we shouldn't be hoping for something like this to 'shake things up' and get us that high pick that we yearn for! It would surely satisfy the hope that the horizon isn't so far off as we thought.

    The other benefit to us would be the ability to resign Franson, the relief pertaining to Bernier's likely contract demands and the release of Clarkson's cap hit, while carrying most of his salary for next year (thru the signing bonus). It's sad that we're still talking more about the future than the current team, but it's better than giving up all hope!

    I'm truly curious what you (and others) might think about the above proposal and look forward to your thoughts.

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    1. Fans always enjoy reflecting on trade possibilities, InTimeFor62. Your above proposal is an intriguing one, for sure.

      My only thought is this: no team want to trade a pick that might represent the opportunity to acquire a generational talent. This year's draft seems to offer precisely that, so I wonder if the Oilers (though they have not progressed as we all thought they would with all those high picks) would consider such a proposal.

      But that said, Bernier and Gardiner would surely have appeal for the Oilers. If the Leafs retained some of Clarkson's salary, maybe that would help.

      I'd say this- if both sides "knew" it wasn't going to be the first overall pick, maybe there'd be a deal from the Oilers side. Edmonton would get instant help and the Leafs would get, say, a top 5 pick.

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    2. That's very interesting, InTimeFor62, and good thinking because I read today somewhere that the Oilers are considering moving down to a lower pick. I like this idea!

      And there are questions about Bernier being able to handle a heavy workload. He's not done it yet and his save % has dropped or he has had injuries when he's tried. Reimer has proven he can do it. Personally, I see little difference between our two goalies- their save % is very close if their style and opportunity is different. If the Leafs went for a partial rebuild, Bernier could be more easily moved than James, and Bibeau is looking very promising. (To be honest, though I've had some favourite French Canadian goalies over the years, I was perfectly happy with Optimus Reim and Scribbles.) Bernier is a good goalie, no question, and Nonis had been after him for over a year, but I thought there were pieces we needed a lot more at the time.

      Buy outs that could have been put to better use, signing injured players, ridiculous and immovable contracts, over the cap penalties, good (and cheaper in the case of MacArthur) assets walking away for nothing--do you think the Leafs can undo any of Nonis' and Loiselle's ( and probably Leiweke's) handy-work from the summer of 2013?

      Talking about and next season halfway through the present season seems to be our Leafy fate.:)

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    3. Thank you both for taking the time to comment! I know I'm hoping beyond hope for something special to happen and know it's unlikely we can pry a lottery pick from anyone, yet I wonder if Edmonton 'thinks' they're ready for more than a pick again.

      I'm glad you mentioned Bibeau, Colleen, because he seems to be developing at an accelerated rate. And, with him in the pipeline, we could do very well if a veteran backup was available in the meantime (and there seem to be plenty of options, especially if we're 're-tooling' - it gives Bibeau a bit more time to 'settle in').

      I think Reimer could find 'new life' if given the chance again... and, personally, the team could use some of his 'battle' and 'compete' rubbing off on them again.

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    4. Potential trade talk is as juicy as it gets, InTimeFor62, and God knows we're in for plenty of it, in this market. I'm not sure if a blockbuster Edmonton/Toronto trade would ever materialize though. These teams have one thing in common; close to a decade of losing culture, and squads that seemingly never live up to their potential. I wonder if both teams might look more to successful franchises, to bring in players that existed in an environment with better leadership and development, hoping there's a trickle-down effect that helps their current squad.

      I agree with what you said about Reimer, InTimeFor62, as he's the one player on the Leafs that I think would benefit the most from a change of scenery, and a potential trading partner should recognize that. He's a heart and soul guy, and more importantly, a decent goalie that's been thrown under the bus more than a few times by management and media alike. There's been all sorts of talk lately about the lack of "likability" of the current roster, and I get it.... as there are a lot of players, that based on their lack of work ethic, I tend to feel indifferent towards. I don't harbour those feeling for Reimer, as he works hard, has battled injuries, and I think he's really a team-first guy. I'm still a bit confused, in terms of which young goalie I'd want going forward, as Bernier certainly isn't without his faults. I agree with Colleen on this one.... different styles, but not separated by much.

      I'd be eager to see an actual rebuild here, as long as it doesn't involve pushing a few of our talented youngsters off of the roster. I think Kadri has done a lot of growing up, and at 24 years old, there's gonna be a lot of quality years in Nazem. Past management got 'bored' with Alexander Steen, and look where that got us.

      I don't feel the same way about Phil and Dion, however. Quality players, but one has to wonder what they'll have left in the tank, by the time this team is actually ready for a deep playoff run. Those Cap hits are crippling, so if there's some decent draft pick returns available for them, I'd roll those dice.

      Most importantly though, Shanahan needs to decide (sooner rather than later) if Nonis is going to be his GM in the long term, and I hope the answer is an emphatic NO. We have a critical trade deadline approaching, and if Nonis isn't our long term solution, do we really want him making transactions that affect the next GM? We've seen this a hundred times over the last decade (it feels like a hundred, anyways), where a new GM inherits a bunch of crap, goes into 'evaluation mode', and buys himself another couple of years of stagnant results. Get the upper lever of decision makers that you want in place, and get the ball rolling. If I hear one more new Leafs upper executive preach patience, claim that no Cup since 67 isn't his problem, and go into 'evaluation mode', I may as well move to Edmonton.

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    5. Your Steen reference resonates, Russ.

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    6. Seems like the only talk of interest is trade talk, eh Russ. I had another uncomfortable experience while watching the game yesterday (not unlike the years we floundered to get Rielly and Nylander), it was the first time this season that I actually cringed when it looked like we were getting back into the game at 3-2, then felt 'relieved' when Ottawa scored their 4th (the only thing that made me feel 'guilty' was the impact upon Reimer).

      For a lifelong Leaf fan it's telling when the only thing I'm looking forward to (with 1/3 of a season remaining) is a high draft pick in a purportedly exceptional draft year. Granted, my future orientation is happy to see Nylander in a Marlies uniform. After watching him in the World Juniors, I'm actually excited to see him play, develop and impact that team for the rest of the season.

      I think Kadri could be another Steen, like you say, and hope his contract terms make him worth keeping at a reasonable price. We need to stop the bleeding on overpaying people we like, hope it starts with Nazem, so I can continue to like him and enjoy his continued development (funny how big contracts impact the likeability of players, isn't it?!).

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  10. Have to admit I have been totally and 100% wrong about where the Leafs are and what the Leafs are after watching yesterdays game against the Canes. The Canes are not a good team and the Leafs really did not even try to put up a fight. I know it was the 4th game in 6 nights so they were tired but after losing 4 games on the road and playing the Canes I was expecting a little more. I would have even been happy with a loss if they were out there working their asses off but to me they looked like they were floating until the Kadri goal. Too little too late.

    I am now 63 years old and the analysts and the Leafs Lunch boys (have to say they are pretty funny at times) are now saying the Leafs need to totally rebuild which they think will take five years. So that means when I am 68 the Leafs will be a legitimate contender. I am actually starting to worry that I am not going to see another Leaf Cup win in my lifetime. That was just starting to be a joke 20 years ago when buddies would say they hoped the Leafs would win in my lifetime but now it is an actual reality and I am worried.

    I am a life long die hard Leaf fan but it is almost at the point where I can no longer take it. Leafs play the Sens tomorrow so I will be pulling for the Leafs but if they lose I will also be thinking just a little closer to a good draft pick and heaven forbid a Leaf lottery win. It really is sad when your team starts losing and you start hoping they keep losing.

    My prediction though is the Leafs will kick the Sens ass tomorrow and make the playoffs. But on the other hand losing the next twenty and picking up Connor McDavid would be nice.

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  11. I think a lot of us have been "wrong", Alton, in assessing the team over the years. There have been a number of times when it looks as though recent Leaf squads were turning a corner. We could point to their youth, their speed, their ability to score goals and last season, their netminding. But it takes so many different factors to build an organization with a mindset that can make it happen consistently on the ice. The Leafs haven't found that yet, it seems.

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  12. Part One:

    I may be a little paranoid here but consider, just for a moment this narrative:

    Shannahan and Dubas have intentionally orchestrated a disaster because they didn't want to see Burke/Nonis/Carlyle team have success. The team was in the playoff spot when Carlyle was canned and, say what you will about Carlyle, it was unfair to expect him to win that game in Winnipeg at the end of a long roadtrip, with a decimated roster and against a rested team at home in a loudest arena in the NHL and on an enormous upswing.

    Horachek is not looking like a proper head coach - he was and will continue to be good for our young defencemen but he doesn't seem to know how to win (as his record as a head coach shows). Let the inexperienced crew struggle for the rest of the season and you get exactly what you want - a licence to put your 'personal stamp' on the team and begin another rebuilt with Babcock at the helm and in a Detroit mold (no goons, no fights, 'possession game' etc.). Literally everyone is calling for it now.

    It's all politics and egos.

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  13. Part Two:

    On the bright side, I'm looking forward to the annual annihilation of the Sens tonight - it happens once a year without fail and usually around this time. I will be really surprised if the Leafs don't win this one. It's too bad we can't beat them up as well as we don't dress tough guys anymore...

    I expect the team to try their best for the rest of the season and threaten to make the playoffs and mount, so to say, their last stand. But I also expect Shannahan to not allow it and trade whoever he has to in order to ensure that the team fails. We'll get a decent draft pick and a new coach/GM in the summer and begin another rebuild.

    I really like this team - I was especially excited about them in the shortened season when they took the Bruins (who went on to the Stanley Cup finals) to game 7. That was a team that had a chance if only it was allowed to stay on the same course. But it wasn't. Carlyle was pushed out, the 'goons' were sent to Orlando, Bolland got hurt, and now we're left with no coach, a GM who is nothing but a figurehead and a fan-base that is buying the new rebuild talk hook line and sinker.

    There's actually a lot of will/compete/heart on this team - the Captain's and Clarkson's fights in the 3rd period of the infamous Nashville game were followed by a really nice winning run and I expect the same energy to come out of Dion's 3rd period hit on J. Staal followed by a beating of E. Staal. Roman Polak is a beast out there and his return after the puck in the face was truly inspiring. Say what you will about Clarkson's contract but 5 million is not the worst contract in the history of hockey for a guy that finishes his checks, stands in front of the net (as in on Kadri's goal in the last game) and drops the gloves against men twice his size without hesitation.

    Our stars/skilled players are in a slump (and we all know those never last forever) which no doubt has a lot to do with Horachek's new defensive system but the heart and soul guys (Dion, Santorelli, Winnik, Polak, Clarkson, Komarov) are holding the forth and should really get some love for refusing to go down without a fight.

    I must admit that I'm a little worried about Komarov getting run again as he has been lately. His style of play (agitator) requires a tough guy on his line to protect him. Same goes for Kadri. Personally, I hate the fact that we've given up on Orr, McLaren, Broll and Devane. Our pests are neutralized and exposed, our stars are fair game for other teams' players to run and we're playing with fear. I remember when Dion was told not to fight, that we have other guys to do that job few seasons ago. Now he's back to having to fight to prevent the team from being utterly humiliated night after night. That shouldn't be his role. He should be scoring and hitting and having a real tough guy step in when the other team wants revenge.

    Here we have it - a sure recipe for failure: scared, small team that is exposed to physical play every night - the skill guys are targets, and agitators have no back and the Captain is made to play the role of a goon. The guys are dropping like flies and it's just a matter of time before they are out of juice.

    In the end Shanny and the stats guys are going to be able to show that this team is useless and start on their merry rebuild...

    Good for Dubas and Shannahan, bad for the Leafs.

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    1. A different perspective- thanks leafdreamer.

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  14. Michael,

    We have talked about the Leafs a lot, and a lot of similar topics have popped up. The compete discussion I like to call it, who has it, how much do they have, who can we get that has more than the guys we have.

    Even though the Leafs are getting terrible results right now. I could go on a long winded stats based rant about how their percentages were unsustainably high under Randy, and now they are unsustainably low under Horachek. It will all even out people. They are not this bad, but they aren't as good as the team that went 10-1-1 either.

    For me it comes down to precisely a small number of truths that everyone needs to get their heads around. Including the players on the team, and the people in charge of making the decisions.

    When asked if they were going to go back to the more open, loose defensive game that the Leafs had been playing under Carlyle, Peter Horachek, love him for this by the way, said, "None of the good teams in the League play that way" This, a thousand times this. The Leafs are not a good team, they don't even play the game the way the good teams do.

    The players on this roster, the core guys especially, are not committed enough to playing the game the way their coaches instruct them to. Are they un-coachable? I don't have any idea, only people on the team know these kinds of things. They sure don't seem to be willing to do the things that most teams do. Stand together, all the cliches that we hear frequently come to mind. I have quite honestly had fights with my team mates in sports that I have played either in high school, college, or recreationally. This pales in comparison to the animosity I had for the other team, should someone try to take liberties with my team mates. I see no us against them mentality from the Leafs. They continually seem like a bunch of guys thrown together who don't care about each other.

    This team, despite the wishes and dreams of the fan base, is not one or two players away from playing from the Stanley Cup. They just aren't good enough. Full stop.

    Management has to, absolutely has to, stop putting band aids on gaping wounds. Its not fixing anything in Toronto to add a Clarkson. This organization is more like a Monty Python sketch every freaking day. The Black Knights arm is off, but all I can hear is Nonis saying that the team needs David Clarkson and his character. This team does not suffer from a scratch, or flesh wound. They are not invincible, they are broken and need to start over.

    After all of the misery this team has put me through all the false hope, all the we're smarter than everyone else attitudes, all the terrible trades, the free agent flops. After all of the disappointment they have given me each and every season, over the last 40 years. I am decidedly more hopeful today, than I have ever been in the past.

    Maybe, just maybe, my beloved Maple Leafs will take the road they have never taken before. It is my most fervent hope that they will finally do things the right way, rebuild. Draft and develop your own players, lots of them, every year. Allow a Maple Leafs culture to flourish from within. Cultivate the assets that you acquire, let them develop over time, becoming the team you desire. It's true that it may not work, and that it will take time. Stop trying to infuse grit, character, compete, heart etc. onto your team from the outside. It hasn't worked in the last 47 years, please Toronto Maple Leafs, try a new path.

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    1. Jim, you are the man! Love the banter on here between you at Michael! Great stuff. The Monty Python comparison is spot-on. On another note, the Buffalo Sabres seem to be trying the rebuild the way you're describing... they have two first-round picks in this upcoming draft, and are collecting an assortment of young-talent. Maybe the Leafs need to look at what the 'other' southern Ontario team is doing and take a page out of their books!

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    2. And though the Sabres aren't winning much, Alex, I still like what Ted Nolan does with that squad. They may just (like the Chicago Cubs in baseball, who basically sold/traded all their vets and built with/drafted and traded for talented young players) be in a better situation in two or three years.

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    3. Thanks Alex, appreciate it. How interesting, and sad it is that we are suggesting that we would rather be the Buffalo Sabres going forward? I agree, right now they are in a much better position for the future. My hope is that in the next season or three, Shanahan makes a really great run at changing the fortunes here in Toronto.

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  15. Hi Michael,

    the fact that they bought in defensively under Horachek is a joke. Limiting the shots from one game to another from 40 to 20 shots against can not be managed with another system or anything else a coach can cure in that short time. I am with you that Carlyle hadn't ask anything diffrent of them.

    No, only a good coach won't do the trick for sure.

    It is hard to name such a player ( 9 out of 10) who belongs to the top players on this team.
    I can say Leo and Komarov and Santorelli and Winnik but they do not belong to the top group of this club and I can not name one of these names.

    The lack of leadership and the lack of followers is equally big. And it is very sad that only the few followers that really follow ( if you do not lable them the real leaders) are the 9 out of 10 players on this team.

    The Leafs have an identity , but we do not like it.


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    1. You comment is on the money, Marcus- the Leafs may well have an identity, but it's not one that fans like.

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