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Western Conference road trek a timely test for the Maple Leafs

Brendan Shanahan has had his media conference. The Leafs have a new interim coach for the rest of the season (while everyone dreams of Mike Babcock). They just won a game against a recently on-a-roll Blue Jackets squad in impressive fashion.

Now comes a mini test—maybe it’s a big test: four road games against very good Western Conference opponents.

At this point I’m not quite sure if Leaf supporters want to a) see the team go into a tailspin so they can grab a really good draft pick b) hope that the team makes the playoffs, or c) simply want evidence that this will be a committed, hard-to-play-against team—without losing its offensive capabilities.

Whatever, as the team kicks of the second half of its season in earnest, the early returns from this upcoming trip may tell us a bit more about the ‘character’ of this club.

What haven’t we talked about here?  Coaching. Leadership.  Defensive mediocrity. The much discussed Carlyle ‘system’. Whether the ‘core’ should be shaken up.

There’s not much we haven’t debated.

Myself, I’m tired of hearing the words—whether they come from the players, the coaching staff or Shanahan himself. I have no idea if Shanahan really has a vision or just a lot of ideas. He came into the job with precious little managerial experience, and seems to be running the team—albeit with the help of his people like Dubas, etc.—more than Nonis is.

So I don’t really know where I stand right now.  A few wins won’t be enough to convince me fans should be hopeful. Just as I’m not sure we should be standing around waiting for Mike Babcock to decide to come here as a saviour. He’s worked with teams in Detroit that were good before he ever got there—and while not as impressive on paper as they were a few years ago, they are still led by players like Datsyuk and Zetterberg who lead by example every night at both ends of the ice.

I know Babcock is a good coach, but we’ve had a lot of good hockey people in this organization over the past fifteen years, and we have never quite gotten as far as we hoped they could go. But everyone has a hand in where the Leafs are now, including ownership, past and current management—not to mention coaches and the players.

Right now I’m from Missouri concerning the recent Leaf changes—and with regard to Shanahan’s vision. I’ll have to see genuine progress for the rest of the season before I believe.



32 comments:

  1. Hi Michael,

    I am in full agreement with where you are going here. I sense a moderate amount of frustration on your part with respect to the Leafs. I long for the days of Mr. Quinn being in charge and the credibility he brought the franchise.

    I do hope that the team Shanahan is assembling, is a move back towards credibility and away from the mind boggling mediocrity that the Leafs have come to be known for. I think Shanahan has some work to do, and first on the list is assessing Dave Nonis' contribution to that mediocrity. I think that the majority of the moves Nonis has made since he was left running the ship have been failures. He can do better for sure, will he get the opportunity before Brendan brings in his own guy? We'll see.

    The Leafs kept shots and chances down in the last two games, this is good. Can they make the commitment to playing consistently defensively long term? That is a much bigger question than against teams at the end of a road trip. They still have a lot of road games in their next twenty games. Tough test, that is for certain.

    If I was to be honest, I would have to say that I am in the boat labelled SS High Draft Pick. A top five pick would go nicely with what we already have. Who knows, maybe we get lucky and the balls fall for us to draft McDavid.

    I'm with you, this group needs to show me, and for more than a handful of games. They simply have shown me in the last three years that they aren't willing to be tough to play against for very long. I sure do hope they can change. I'm sure some of the faces in the dressing room will, if they can't. And to be honest, some of these guys have been here long enough to prove that they are those kinds of players, or they aren't. Instead of griping about who isn't on the team, start doing more with who is.

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    1. Jim, I guess one question is: will a new coach (Babock or anyone else) be able to change the 'will' of the core players here?

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  2. As a fan, I've been more than a little bit disturbed that the Leafs seem to have motivation issues, regardless of the coach. It seems immature to expect "compete level" to be something the coaching staff provides, as that should just be inherently built in as a pro athlete. I'm glad Carlyle is gone, but nobody is going to convince me that he was the coaching voice that was pleading for all those slow line changes, and lazy forechecking. That's on the players, plain and simple.

    I'm never a proponent of the "tank" mentality, and hunting for a high draft pick. Playing loose, losing hockey year after year to assemble a bunch of high draft picks might sound nice, but ultimately it creates a bunch of loose playing, easy to play against losers. The job of every player, is to leave it all on the ice every game, regardless of the coaches X's and O's, and regardless of the squad that the GM has assembled. See Edmonton as an example. Chicago ran into massive Cap trouble after their first (recent) Cup win, and had to jettison some quality pieces out of the organization. They kept playing hard, serious hockey, won a second Cup, and look like they could still keep the ball rolling. No pity party in Chicago these days, despite of the Cap issues that being successful presents.

    As far as the whole Babcock thing goes, excuse me if I'm a little bit indifferent towards it. He's an excellent coach for sure, but I think the "saviour" tag will be distracting to everyone involved. In other words, Babcock isn't the answer to Kessel back checking, or the answer to Gardiner not being so easy to play against in his own zone. Those choices come from within the players, and it's frustrating to see a lack of effort from talented guys, especially when they've already been rewarded with big piles of cash. Work hard for that money, boys. Also, Detroit was a well oiled machine of drafting, player development and free agent signings in addition to Mike's fine coaching, so the Leafs would just be acquiring one piece of that bigger machine.

    I agree with your Missouri reference, Michael. Show me..... and not just for short periods of inspiration.

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    1. Coaches can certainly inspire players, but I'm with you that players need to find that ongoing motivation within themselves, Russ.

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  3. I feel that a lot of the media and bloggers and even we here are working under the assumption that this team has been the same for a long time - as in 'they chased out 2 coaches', or 'they keep falling apart'... But the fact of the matter is this as still a young team, this 'core' is only now approaching maturity and it is only now that we should realistically be expecting them to start achieving consistency and 'character', ability to not go into long slumps etc. I think Russ nailed it above - the job of the players is to play hard every night - the model should be Chicago, not Edmonton. We have the horses - it's time to set them loose.

    The last two games are nothing new - they are a result of the work that Carlyle and Horachek have been putting in, a result of a team finally 'getting it', and, more importantly, being able to carry out the plan. Franson has been getting it this year and Kadri and Gardiner are finally starting to get it. Kessel and the rest of 'the core' are beginning to emerge as leaders, supported by an impressive cast of veterans that were added during the summer. It's time to go for it. I think we should be buyers at the deadline if anything. I really don't think we're far from it.

    I may have overreacted in my last post but it is only because I fear that Shannahan may be moving in the direction of a total rebuilt before we've given the existing team a chance to show us what they've got.

    I never liked Ron Wilson and his recent petty tirades only prove what I always thought of him - that he is a charlatan - a guy that talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk - a guy that doesn't really care, someone who'd rather take a day off than practice.

    But Carlyle, I maintain, was a good coach - a hard-working committed gentleman who lost some hair trying to whip these kids into shape. When Horachek was added to the coaching staff I hoped that the Leafs management was finally starting to realize that they can use their financial muscle to build an organization that has more than one expert at each position, I was hoping that, in the summer, we may see something like a Babcock/Carlyle/Horachek combo behind the Leafs' bench. I guess I was dreaming... as usual.

    I really like Horachek and I've been saying since the day he arrived that he is exactly what our young defencemen need - a guy with a proven record of developing young talented defencemen in Nashville. I wish he had some support from a more experienced coach (i. e. Carlyle) but I guess the management was of the opinion that things needed 'shaking up'.

    In any case, I really hope they let this team stay together for at least another season before tearing down everything that competent people have built over the last half decade or so.

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    1. I think I can, on the one hand, understand your reluctance to see everything re-started from scratch, leafdreamer. That said, I sense Shanahan is looking at the core and trying to determine if they are maturing as you say. He is also likely assessing whether the Leafs have the leadership skills needed to compete soon with the top clubs.

      I will need to see a lot more- including this road trip- before I believe they are on the right track!

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  4. I had said earlier that I would wait until midseason before evaluating this team but the happenings of the past few days have altered that. It is going to take a few games "post-Carlyle" before a fair assessment can be attempted.

    I agree with Jim that the next order of business should involve the status of Nonis. Shanahan has replaced assistant GMs, assistant coaches and the head coach with people of his own choosing. Nonis is the last influential management person from the previous era. Nonis has given out enough bad contracts that I believe serious consideration should be given to replacing him. I do not believe I could trust him to sign Kadri, Franson and Bernier to reasonable contracts.

    It seems to me that Shanahan began with a dysfunctional group. He had a head coach who was not signed by the GM. He appointed assistant coaches to replace the head coaches ' choices. He appointed assistant GMs to replace the GM's choices. All these people brought with them different philosophies that clashed with Nonis and Carlyle. A new GM would complete the cycle and put the Shanahan stamp on the entire management group.

    I would hope that the Babcock speculation will die down. Rarely does a savior come into an organization and live up to the expectations and the hype that accompanies him. There are too many variables at work and most find that the new unique situation that confronts them is not quite what they expected.

    Peter Horochek has a wealth of coaching experience. He proved in Florida last year that he could be an effective head coach. I hope that if he proves effective with the Leafs he will be offered the head coaching job for next season. I have certainly liked his work so far and I have also liked the way he comport himself in the media sessions. If he can keep the Leafs playing like they did in the Columbus game he will certainly deserve serious consideration, Babcock or no Babcock.

    I have never and will never hope that the Leafs lose. A high draft choice is not worth the loss of integrity. I would go with (c) on your want to see list. The Columbus game was the first that I have enjoyed in its entirety in a long time. Efforts like that should reward them with a playoff spot.

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    1. Could to hear from you on this one, Pete Cam. I know you have followed this team for many years.

      Whenever assistant coaches or assistant GMs are let go, we all know the next step is the coach and/or GM will lose their job, too.

      Fans may or may not like the job Nonis has done, but he was thrust into the gig with no notice years ago, and a year ago, most fans were liking what he had done.

      While I'm not a Nonis guy, I do think he was placed in a terrible situation by Shanahan. Shanahan may have thought he was being fair by giving both Carlyle and Nonis time to be fairly assessed, but realistically, he wants his own guys. Neither could be fully "themselves" under Shanahan. They had to bend and twist to try to appease their boss. That never works.

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  5. Unfortunately the coaching change comes at a time when the schedule is particularly difficult, on the road against good teams with a B2B included. They need practice time and they really won't get much during this next stretch, while fitting in a day off, until the All-star break. A very challenging week or so ahead for the Leafs.

    I don't know if Babcock is in the future plans--I haven't completely convinced myself I want Babcock yet. I'm happy that Horachuk is in place for the remainder of the season so i don't have to think about it for a while. I really like Horachuk and I haven't felt that way about a Leafs coach in a while.

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    1. I agree it's a challenging time to be named coach, Colleen. That said, it would work wonders for this team if they could play well on the road under Horachek. It would give the coach some instant credibility with the players, and may create an improved coach-team dynamic.

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  6. I agree with what leafdreamer said and would hate to see them start another rebuild at this time. I think the team has already shown what they are capable of this season during the hot streak and beating the Wings the last three meetings and the Bruins the last two and several other top teams like the Kings, Hawks, Bolts Rangers so they have shown the players they have now can win against the best teams in the league. They just have to start doing it consistently.

    The fact is they still have a lot of young players, especially on defense that will improve and a player like Nylander could be another Patrick Kane.Then they have guys like Percy, Finn, Brown. All young players that are expected to make the team. They have a good core now and a tear down could set them back five years. They have been rebuilding for over forty years so it has to stop.

    I also agree they should be a buyer at the trade deadline if the price is right. Even a rental as long as as it is for at best a 3rd round pick. Just none of those over the hill vet for a 1st round pick deals.

    I have to admit there are times near the end of the season after the Leafs have reached the need a miracle to make the playoffs point I start hoping they lose. This will hopefully not be one of those years but it just makes sense because a couple of losses at the end of the year means a better draft pick. Fortunately they lost to the Habs on the final game two seasons ago which moved them from eighth Pouliot to fifth Rielly.

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    1. The upcoming road trip may indicate how realistic the playoffs are this season, Alton. As you said, the leafs have beaten some good teams already this season. The concern is that we have seen this movie before, and fans (and management) are wondering if this group can play determined hockey for an extended period.

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    2. Leafs Fan in MexicoJanuary 13, 2015 at 9:37 AM

      Good food for thought (no need for real food after this holiday season!!). Two years ago trade deadline was when we could have gotten true help for this core. I would have traded a lot to get Kessel et al two things: super hard working drag the team to higher heights centre and two bonified veteran defenders. We needed some vets in the room, everyone always talked about a getting great center, when we always only needed was a leader.

      Now its too late. This trade deadline I would not hesitate to trade Phaneuf (if possible) Kessel, Lupul, Bozak and Gardiner for two fine forwards - not draft picks mind you, we have enough players in pipeline and the risk drafting poorly is too high. Probably trade Riemer as well, cause we need couple good/reliable defense-- or perhaps wait and pick em up during free agency....don't need superstars, just shut em down types with a vet presence.

      Then I would tell Clarkson (yes him), Kadri, Reilly, Santorelli, etc. along with the guys in the pipeline, this is your team now... make it happen.

      Clear out the culture, grow leadership.

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    3. You've touched on the heart of the challenge for Shanahan, Leaf Fan in Mexico- do they still feel they can build around the core, or do those players become assets to re-tool the squad?

      I'm with you on the value of leadership. We see it in LA, Chicago, Detroit, Boston the past several years. We see what happened here back in the early '90s when Gilmour arrived- it helped turn the team around. When you have leaders who play that hard every night, it usually inspires everyone else to max effort.

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  7. Did anyone else read that Nylander is coming back over to play for the Marlies? Modo hasn't been very good and just fired their coach. I guess they feel he's better here under their re-vamped development staff than on a losing team there. I didn't see this coming.

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    1. My original expectancy was that Nylander would finish the (shorter) year with MODO and then come over to the Marlies for some N. American ice for the remaining games (and playoffs?). Now that we have passed any chance of burning a year off his UFA eligibility (if he played over 40 games, I think), this is probably the ideal scenario for his development, given that MODO has no chance at the playoffs AND that the Marlies have gotten themselves back into that picture in the AHL.

      With all the call-ups the Marlies are lean down the middle so this should give them a real boost there (not to mention increasing their scoring threat assessment and improved playoff chances). The 'A' is a tougher place to play sometimes, so it bodes well (Bodie's, if he was still there) that the likes of Orr, McLaren, Biggs, Devane, McWilliam et al are there to 'look out' for him as he gains strength and 'awareness'.

      Hoping for the best, while watching the road trip. Horochek has clearly opened the lines of communication, so this ought to give management a good window into the future of this core group. Let's see how they respond...

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  8. Leafs Fan in MexicoJanuary 12, 2015 at 12:14 PM

    Haven t had a chance to read all comments but was struck by two things Shanahan said in his press conference (paraphrased):

    1. Individual players will be judged not just on individual performance, this is a team sport, so individuals will ultimately be judged on team performance

    2. We do not find it acceptable....

    Point two was most impactful for me. It just felt for the first time in some time there was a serious line of accountability in place.... Shanahan's determination was palpable - and it doesn't hurt it comes from a guy who knows how to play the kind of gritty, hard to play against, consistent hockey it takes to win.... who would you put on your fantasy team Kessel or Shanahan... nuff said.

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    1. Well said, Leafs Fan in Mexico. I've stated before, that I consider the most important thing Shanahan brings to the Leafs is a very credible resume that can influence the players. Keep Brendan out of Cap issues and boardroom shenanigans, and let him focus on his strength.... being a hard-nose Hall of Famer, multiple Cup winner and Olympian, that certainly knows a thing or two about dressing room culture and the expectations on a 'serious' professional athlete. The video they played at his Hall of Fame inclusion was like a Wendel Clark highlight reel of goals, fights and hits..... but his longevity was amazing, based on that style of play. Sort of our modern day Gordie Howe. If they brought Shanahan in to be just another 'suit' with an amazing history, then it was money wasted.

      I'd like to see Brendan offer a bit more a of grass roots approach, and I could care less if he steps on the toes of the coaching staff or the GM. He's not some mature gentleman, telling the kids about what he was like "back in the day", as Brendan is in his mid 40's, and these players basically grew up watching him.

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  9. Watching the LA game I found myself wishing Ron Wilson showed up behind the bench in the 3rd, tapped JVR-Bozak-Kessel on the shoulders and got them to do what they do best - cheat a little and score on those rushes. There's definitely a flaw in this 5/5/5 system and it is the inability to create offence against a disciplined team that plays the same way.

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    1. Maybe, as the team becomes more comfortable and playing better D becomes more automatic, Horachuk will throw out that line when it's most needed. They sure are fun to watch when they're really clicking. Maybe on home ice when the Leafs have the last change and can line-match and for sure worth a try when down one with the time running out. Horachuk said he's not finished trying different things with the lines until he has the mix he wants and he still has Lupul and Holland to work back in eventually. It's a different sort of game than what we're used to, that's for certain.

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  10. Hi Michael,

    Pretty quiet around here today. Not sure why really, there is a lot of things on the precipice in Leafworld, and I am really curious what happens. I have some thoughts, and would like to hear the opinions of some other people here, including yourself, Michael.

    The biggest question the team faces, in my opinion of course, is what is the long term strategy for building a cup contender. Cause let's all be honest, stop pretending, and just tell the truth. Becoming a true Stanley Cup contender is never going to happen without drafting and developing your own talent. Does anyone know how many home grown players the Leafs currently have on the big club, excluding injuries? According to the Leafs site, including guys like Holzer and McKegg, seven. My god, what a pathetic attempt at building a winner. I count four regular team members drafted and developed by the Leafs.

    Why even have a scout on the payroll? Is there a point in having the Marlies at all? They produce nothing for the big club. Yes, our esteemed management team trades a lot of picks, part of the problem I'm afraid. Watching Anaheim lsat night with all of their homegrown, developed talent, is heartbreaking.

    Are the Leafs ever going to figure out that trading for middling NHL'ers, or ones with gobs of talent but with huge holes in their games, isn't the way to the Cup? There has to be a reason that these other teams were willing to give up on guys like Lupul, Gardiner, Kessel, JVR, Phaneuf, Franson, Bernier, Polak, on and on and on. Other teams aren't trying to do the Leafs a favour and make them better. They honestly believed that they were better off without them. It seems pretty obvious in most cases that there were good reasons why they felt that way.

    Sometimes you have to give up talent to get talent back, it's true. It never, or rarely, seems to be that the Leafs are trading from a strength to get something another team has a lot of. It seems so often to be we'll take your problem contract, or dressing room, for ours. This guy isn't working out, can we have your guy that isn't working out in exchange for him?

    I have said before that I have the patience for a five year rebuild. I still do. As a fan base are we always going to be afraid of the long way, the hard way? Are we going to continue to try for the easy fix, the home run pass at center? The Kessels. the Clarksons. the Phaneufs. Are we going to constantly talk about bringing Nylander to the Leafs before he is truly ready? Heck, why not? We did it with each and every other prospect we have had, and it's worked out so swimmingly well so far.

    Is the ownership and management of this once storied franchise, ever going to pull its head out of its collective behind, and once, just once, endeavour to travel the road that may seem difficult, but just may pay off in the end?

    There is a path to greatness, it just isn't the easy one we have been so accustomed to taking.

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    1. Well said, Jim. The couple of years they truly stunk the place out, Boston owned those juicy draft picks, so we missed an opportunity to get the ball rolling on an actual rebuild there, and claim some tangible assets.

      I think the biggest problem is with an endless management replacement cycle, that continually allows Leafs management to bunker down in "evaluation mode", figuring that a couple new suits up top bought another couple of years of treading water in mediocrity while they....um.... evaluate, I guess. Fans aren't stupid, and this failed strategy is completely transparent to all.

      Anaheim, Chicago and LA are perfect examples of building a team for longterm success, where the key pieces of the roster are so good that the Cap trouble that comes with winning Cups doesn't really present itself. The top tier NHL squad is full of enough talent, that Cap space can be cleared, and younger players are still offered time to develop before being brought up to the big show. In other words, calculated moves that aren't made out of desperation..... not the Leafs blueprint.

      It's ironic that with one (single round) playoff appearance in 8 years, you'd think that Toronto actually WAS doing a down-to-the-bone rebuild, but instead we got zero results, and nothing to build on either.

      I agree with most of your list players that other teams just plain didn't want, with a couple of exceptions. I'll take JVR for Schenn in a trade any day of the week, and I think Bernier was a reasonable risk, based on what he cost the Leafs in return. But I totally agree, Jim, we've been inheriting other teams' problems for a long time now.

      Habitual Cup contenders are recognized for their core players... Toews/Kane/Keith, Kopitar/Doughty/Quick/etc, Getzlaf/Perry/(Pronger and Niedermayer at the time), a pretty solid list of names there. Our core is Phaneuf/Kessel/Clarkson, in terms of big money and long term guys that were brought in to lead this team. Feel free to play that old Sesame Street game.... can you see the difference?

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    2. Hey Russ,

      To expand a little on your management angle. I think its a great one by the way. Does it seem to you that every time a new guy comes in they are forced to sell the same old mantra about being better/smarter than the guys that just got canned? It's hilarious to me that the new guys think that they are the inventors of sliced bread, that the guys before them never thought of trying to exploit other teams inefficiencies via trades.

      Burke was great at this in my opinion. How many years of wandering in the wilderness has it been anyway? We clearly had the patience for a five year rebuild. It seems to me that they get hired on the premise that they can do something no one else in the history of hockey has been able to do. From league basement to penthouse in three years. Yet, this is what they promise at their huge press conferences, they fail inevitably, are fired, and we the fans(suckers) get more crappy hockey. Where we are sold on the premise that if everything falls our way, and we get every break possible, we might surprise a team in the first round, and then no one knows.

      Lots of us clearly know. Lots and lots of us. The team stinks, has very little of promise in the minors, trading all those picks hurts, and here we are, again. This is a team that has better goaltending than they have had in a long time, an elite scorer, and almost nothing else.

      I too like the JVR, and Bernier trades. I would do both of them again in a heartbeat. The problem is that we shoved Luke Schenn into a situation that only Bobby Orr could have survived. It's not his fault that he didn't blossom as an NHL'er. He was being played 20 minutes a night by Wilson, solely because the geniuses in charge couldn't find quality players to hold his place while he matured.

      I just really hope that the philosophy in the boardroom changes. It was nice to hear Kyle Dubas say that Nylander will not play any games with the Leafs this season. I hope that Shanahan has learned from his time in Detroit and Jersey. Develop the players you draft, let them mature and thrive. Then they can become a solid NHL'er, heck they may even become more than that. Oh, and don't give away your draft picks, ever.

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    3. Well said about Luke Schenn, Jim. I remember a story about there being a 7-foot tall poster (larger than life, Leafs style) of Schenn in the lobby near the ACC elevators, before he'd even laced 'em up for a single game. Luke had a tremendous first season, hard-hitting, and dropping the gloves constantly when he was clearly over-matched, just to stick up for a team mate that took a cheap shot. Speaking of cheap shots, Ron Wilson was always a cheap shot artist with Luke, dumping a bucket of acid on him in post game pressers, instead of building a young man's confidence. Luke never had a chance in Toronto.

      It seems completely silly and misguided that the Leafs management doesn't seriously pursue an actually rebuild, accumulating draft picks as opposed to signing the likes of Tim Gleason, John Michael-Liles, David Clarkson, etc, etc. Gleason is still eating up Cap space for the Leafs, and there was zero upside potential in that over-priced contract. The one downside of a rebuild, is lack of results for a few years, going into the season knowing you need a small miracle to squeak into the playoffs and then get spanked in the first round. In other words, it's the results the Leafs have been getting regardless, but without the hope of the young, highly drafted prospects, that are eventually going to build roster depth.

      Like you said Jim, the fan base isn't dumb, ill informed, or delusional. It would actually motivate the fan base, seeing young 'studs' drafted, and no money being wasted on stop-gap free agents. We'll gladly watch and support this team through ugly years, waiting for pieces to be assembled under the guidance of decent coaching, management and development. Mind you, those coaches, scouts and management types (suits) don't seem to exist in the Leafs current mix of executives. Edmonton has taught us a cautionary tale on how to screw up what should have been a pretty decent rebuild.

      To borrow a quote from you Jim, "Oh, and don't give away your draft picks, ever."

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  11. Hi Michael,

    Primarily since it makes me feel better to talk about the Leafs, I have some road trip thoughts. Even though there is still a game to play in St. Louis, there are some things that I have noticed so far. Maybe someone else would like to talk about them.

    The increased level of commitment to playing defense has been wonderful to watch. They aren't quite to the level they need to be, but at least in my opinion it is evident that they are making progress by listening to their coach. I think it's a trust issue. LA, San Jose, and Anaheim all trust their coaches and each other. It starts by believing that the coaches way is the right way. They adhere to that, and gain trust in each other. They are in the position they are supposed to be in from practice, so plays are made quickly. Very little doubt creeps in when these teams have the puck. They as d'men know where the forwards are going to be, and when they look to give them the puck, they are there. Trust is also about believing that your team mate will make the correct play, get in the way, get the puck out, take the body. Again, all three California teams are hard to play against in this way. They always want to be first on the puck, they battle to win races, and they get in your way if they happen to lose the race.

    This is where the Leafs need to get to. In the Anaheim game, I constantly saw Getzlaf at his own goal line to give his team mates a good option on the outlet pass. There was no cheating by the California teams, they trusted the process and each other. Toronto can do this, they really can. They just need to believe in their coaching staff, and each other.

    All three games were reasonably close, LA and San Jose especially. They just didn't steal a win is all. That's just the way it goes, sometimes the other guy gets the breaks. The opposition didn't do a lot to hurt themselves either. Unselfish, is the word I would use to describe all three of those teams. I'm sure Joe Thornton wanted to spar with our captain, he didn't because the team comes first. What do you say to your captain coming out of the box after taking a stupid penalty on the power play when your team is down by one? I tell him that it's not about you Dion, it's about us. I could say some things about Clarkson in the same way, but it's not worth it. LTIR is basically my only hope for him. Perhaps a fall into the boards will do him in.

    The goalies have played really well on the trip so far, giving the team a chance to win every game in my opinion. The Anaheim game was a little lopsided, but I can't look at Bernier and blame him for any of the ones that the Ducks put by him.

    The goals will come if the team remembers that the process is more important short term than the immediate results. They have a chance to win in the NHL if they play more responsibly. They just aren't talented enough to run and gun their way to the Cup. Honestly, I don't think there is a team in the League that is anymore.

    I am so impressed by the play of Mike Santorelli. He is exactly the type of player they need to rely on. Why isn't he getting Clarkson's power play time? I like Mike, a lot.

    Thanks again Michael, for allowing me to vent here.

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    1. I'm with you, Jim, absolutely. It's not about necessarily winning games right now, or where the Leafs are in the standings. If this organization can establish real expectations, insist on a level of actual accountability from all concerned (players, coaches and management) and play to the needed standard (effort), fans will be able to think about a more promising future.

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  12. It's always nice to click on VML and see some new posts. I'm here quite a lot.

    Where to start ?

    Clarkson--A good example of an organization expecting a player to be something he has never been. In spite of Nonis saying that goal-scoring was not what they signed Clarkson for, they kept trying to push him into that role. They truly thought they were getting a goal scorer in spite of an extremely low career shooting percentage that said different while , at the same time, recognizing that Kulemin's 30 goal season was an anomaly. When I think of the process, the months it takes from scouting an upcoming free agent to the actual signing of a contract this bad, I realize they had no one in the or. to say at any point- " Let's.... just think about this for a moment".
    I'm very surprised to see Clarkson still on the PP. To continue to put him in situations where he can't succeed doesn't help the Leafs and further undermines his confidence. I'm wondering if this decision comes from higher up than the coaching staff. I'll stop here.

    My brother lent me his book " Why The Leafs Suck " at Christmas time. I haven't started it yet but I was very surprised at it's handy size. I wonder when Vol. 2 comes out --I have an awful feeling it's in the works.


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    1. Hi Colleen,

      The biggest puzzle to me regarding signing Clarkson was clearly, who in the organization scouted this guy? He put up goals in only one season, then the lockout shortened one he was on a decent pace I think 25 or so, if he played 82. Did no one in the Maple Leafs organization realize he couldn't skate? Did the scouts say this guys numbers are not replicable outside the top line, number one power play unit with skilled guys, and the structure of New Jersey?

      I'm just a fan. I watch a fair amount of hockey, and pay attention to the game as best I can. I thought we were getting a player who would score 20+, be hard to play against, forecheck and all that. I really thought it was a great signing when it was announced. Why were the Leafs so out to lunch on this guy? How does an NHL GM watch this guy, in person, or on tape, and not see that he is barely an NHL calibre player, and one who can barely skate?

      Were the scouts wrong? Were they overruled by the management team? You remember some of them, they used to appear on Toronto talk radio, talking about character, and being great in the room. Who in fact, made the decision to sign this meat head? If as I suspect, it was Nonis, how can we allow him to have any hand in making more decisions? If he signed him without seeing him play, and trusted his people, ok. If he saw Clarkson play the 100 games I personally would have watched him in, oh my God.

      If a guy scored a lot of goals on the PP, greasy rebound goals, and don't have those types of players to put him with. Why sign him at all? Pressure from above? I can't believe that this is only year two of seven. I am astonished to this day that the Leafs went all in on a player and came out with absolutely nothing of value.

      Is it possible that Clarkson is going to spend a lot of time in the press box over the last 5 years of this contract. He wouldn't be the only one in the League, I hope he's the last huge blunder by the Leafs.

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    2. I think similar to the terrible Tim Gleason signing, this was supposed to be another "character guy", Clarkson being a local boy (Leafs publicity department was giddy, no doubt), that was supposedly going to elevate a few of the easy to play against loafers that the Leafs have on the roster. I remember many media types being ecstatic, based on Edmonton offering MORE money to Clarkson, yet the Leafs nabbed him ultimately. You're setting the bar pretty low, if your goal is to outwit the Oilers' management team, in my opinion.

      His first year with Toronto might be the worst year I've seen from any player at that dollar level, with the exception of maybe Scott Gomez, with the limited skill he offered the Rangers, after signing that crazy big contract. If there's a silver lining in all of this, the Gomez contract actually turned out to be movable, with Montreal inexplicably offering a decent package in return for this boat anchor. Note to Nonis: phone 29 teams, and see what happens.

      Clarkson's first year with the Leafs was real embarrassment, as beyond the suspension(s), he seemed to be more active after the whistle, than during actual game play. If the benchmark of a great NHLer was chirping and facewashing with gloves, then David would have been an all-star last year.

      People complain about Phil and Dion a lot these days, and I don't distance myself from that group, as there's plenty of gripes to air out there. It seems that despite Clarkson's gigantic contract, the fan base has given up on him to the point of indifference, so he almost gets a free pass, as Kessel gets grilled endlessly by media and fans.

      I get frustrated a whole bunch these days by the media not offering direct and repeated questions to Nonis regarding the failure of Clarkson. Are they worried about losing their media pass if they actually grow a pair and address the 800lbs gorilla in the room? Press conferences are such touchy-feely events, which end up insulating Nonis and the rest from having to publicly own up to the disaster they've created.

      As Colleen once offered in her profanity filled post.... good gravy!!

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  13. I see I'm going to have to tone it down a bit.

    I wonder what sort of creative "expletives" Shanahan is coming up with right about now. I hope he follows up with a few more pink slips. Though I don't know if it's actually possible for Nonis to increase the damage, I'd just as soon they didn't test that theory.

    I read an article the other day about how much blame is constantly heaped on players but how completely acceptable incompetence is at the highest levels of management, and this is throughout the league. I've heard that it's very difficult to for teams ban any member of the media yet reporters steer away from any question that might make them uncomfortable. Why are they afforded such a high level of respect? They haven't earned it. A player must earn it every shift and even then they've only earned it until the next game.

    Remember when we used to look forward to a game? Right now for me it's more like "Yay! there's no game tonight". I've been temporarily reprieved.




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  14. Hi Michael,

    what do you expect to see regarding Shanahan's vision?

    As far as I can see he believes in drafting and developing his own players as you can see in the moves he had made and how they talk about Nylander and Brown. Or in other words the fruits of Shanahan's vision (if there will be any and I still believe) will only be available in a greater number in 5 years or later and I am not talking rebuild I am talking about the Need of developing and drafting properly and through all rounds. Some bloggers and writers write about tanking and generational players but that is only another illusion. The Leafs are not one Crosby away from winning a Cup.
    And there is not very much talent in the system now.

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  15. I'm not sure we know what Shanahan's plan is, Marcus, but I sense you are right, that he wants to draft well. And I agree, it will be just as important to develop those players properly- that's been a missing ingredient for many years in Toronto.

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