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So much for "every game is a try-out" in Toronto

The NHL and broader hockey community has been hit by a number of tragic occurrences this summer.  The crash involving the KHL team yesterday was yet another. ...


I’m sure most of us are at least moderately satisfied that Burke and company have improved the team again this summer (though that is being said in 30 NHL cities at this time of year, so we shouldn’t feel too comfortable…)

But it was interesting to hear Burke opine this week that there may be all of one position up for competition when the team hits the ice in a few days.

Now, in the salary cap age, we all realize that when you have a certain number of guys signed, it’s very likely you are going to run with those players.  (You can only stuff so many guys on one-way deals in the minors…)  But for a team that ran ads all last season that “every game is a try-out”, well, I guess that’s not the case any more, eh?

Part of the fun of training camp for a fan is waiting to see if some young guy, or some unknown, may burst through and actually earn a spot on the big roster—and stay beyond the first week.  (That’s how Dave Keon made the team in the fall of 1960, when I was a young Leaf fan.  No one, and I mean no one, thought he would make Punch Imlach’s team.)  But it sounds as though this Leaf team is already “set”.  The first three lines have basically been named- four lines, really, with Dupuis being the designated fourth-line pivot- along with the "top-six" on defense and the two goalies.

On the one hand, hey, that’s OK.  It’s just that I’m not sure this team is so good that we should be so satisfied before camp even starts that the brass is not even really looking for new blood.

I still believe both our "top-six" and "bottom-six" forwards are not where they need to be.  Better?  Sure.  Maybe. 

I’m not buying that Connolly is the answer, or that new assistant coaches will make the difference.  Or that our special teams will suddenly be better.

I'm certainly not sure the team, as Burke suggested, is "dramatically" improved.

A team needs confidence, maybe even that swagger people talk about.  And players need to have a certain degree of security that they are core guys and will be around for the duration.  But here’s hoping this squad doesn’t rest on its rather narrow laurels.

They haven't proven a thing, yet.  It's one thing to look good in training camp.  or to start a season well.  Or even to make the playoffs, which seems to be the very modest objective now viewed as progress in Leafworld.

But we all know that once you make the playoffs, that's often when your real weaknesses are exposed.  And that's when you find out how much better you really need to get.

And the Leafs have not even got near that stage yet.  And we're talking like we have an established roster.

I just don't quite get it.

Every fall we hear that the team is better.  That they can, will or should make the playoffs.  Then reality sets in, and we hear that it takes time to re-make a destroyed ship.  And the talk, again, turns to the "next" season.

Hey, maybe this season will indeed be different.  Maybe this squad will be that gritty collection of guys that we just love because they work so hard, and flash some skill, too.  Maybe the goaltending will be superb and the defence will be better than we have seen in years.

And we'll make the playoffs.  Only to see our true weakness exposed.  Or maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

People have written here to say: be patient.  I've written the same thing many times myself.  The Leafs and their fans want to be really good for years to come, not just a bit better for one season.

Makes sense- if it works.

I'm not sure I like the idea that the players already have a crutch.  No real, meaningful competition for jobs and if things go south, Wilson will get the blame.

Then what?


  1. I agree on this. I was amazed that Burke made it seem like all the spots are pretty well locked. We're nowhere near that comfort level yet! It's headline news when the Blue Jays make it to .500. I'm really expecting management to set the bar much higher than that.

  2. I think you may have to listen to what wilson and burke have to say a little closer. Wilson said what the lines are likiely to look like due to he knows how these guys play but they all have to work for their jobs regardless. Sure Connolly may not be THE answer, but who was available that was better? Richards who basically made up his mind about the Rangers before he even heard other teams out? You realize this is the first year in a long time that this team has depth? Not only do we have a top 6 but there are several prospects ready to step in in case of injury. As for the bottom 6, same deal. Defense we have basically 4-5 guys playing for 2 spots. You can't just throw people in the minors and hope they don't get picked off waivers. You know what happens when a big Salary is picked off waivers? We have to pay half of the remaining contract. This is why there are CORE 1-way contracts. This has to be the most negative article I've read in a long time. Are you Steve Simmonds other personality? To say nobody on the roster has proven anything is absolutely ludicrous.

  3. To be clear, the article does not say that no one on the roster has proven anything. It does say the team has not proven anything yet, which, to me, is true. Personal opinion. That's the fun of being a fan-we can disagree. I've written extensively in recent weeks about the team's depth. It was simply interesting to see the team move away from its very public campaign of "every game is a try-out".

  4. I think that Burke is a little of column A and a little of B, A being putting some healthy pressure on the team by stating he has high confidence in their collective ability to improve over last year because he has "dramatically" improved the team and organization- in other words, time to get your collective well-paid asses in gear, and B being a mix of cap and waiver realities and the need to give the media a nice pre-season sound bite that can be easily quoted. I'm trying to think of what I would say in his place, and I keep coming back to how unbelievably difficult it must be to reverse a whole team culture in a couple seasons AND keep the Toronto hockey media blood-thirst somewhat satisfied. I hear even our enemies saying that today's Leafs never quit like they did a few years ago, and that is one of the things I include in MY sense of the team being dramatically improved. I also think of the extensive amount of Marlies call-ups that happened last year and how we're even better shaped for that this year. We all understand and fully agree we don't have the talent on paper to win a Cup yet, but I can't let go of the awareness that this team only has to win four, 4 more games than last year and we have a legitimate grab at the playoffs, where we can begin what I hope is a long era of wrecking other team's hopes and dreams.

  5. Thanks Gerund O...we're on the same page, I sense.

    KidK...well said.

  6. Gee Michael, Not much confidence and not much optimism, just doubt and negativity. Is there no weight put on the 35 game play where they were the 4th best team in the East and played solid in the other guy's barn. No plus for the guys that they added, no plaudits for the improved play of the goal position.
    I see some real pluses for this team. First line center certainly upgraded from Bozak, Power Play center certainly upgraded from Joey Crab, defense certainly upgraded from Lebda and with those guys they gave us an interesting finish last year. Burke has done an admirable job of getting the system stocked with decent potential.
    Just me, but I would think that these plus a couple more interesting moves he made should be the basis for some optimism and not negativity.

  7. I've posted quite often about the team's improvements since Burke arrived. We all like Reimer's quick emergence, and the building of the back line. I simply find it interesting, as I mentioned earlier, that the team is declaring essentially that there is no legitimate competition for jobs, after making such a big deal about it all last year.

    The intent is not to be negative, if that's the way it appears. I just think it's fair to raise questions, and point out that the team, while better on paper, has not proven anything just yet.

    We'll all be pleased if they play as many, including I, think they can.

  8. I sure do not claim to have any inside info or anything, but I believe that if Komiserik does not play better, he could be hid in the Marlies and if say a Frattin comes and really surprises I am sure that he would find a place instead of a guy now penciled in. To say that the lineup is set to me is just saying he is not looking to make an other move.

  9. For sure. I have to believe they they will make room for someone (like Frattin) if they step up and show well during camp.

  10. I like the point your brought up about the fact that this team hasn't proved anything yet, because they haven't. Yes, they played very well during the second half last year. There have been individual improvements, but nothing collectively, a valid point.

    But I still believe that the "every game is a try out" mentality is very much alive. Kessel, Grabo and Kuli all need to prove they can maintain or better their production from last year (which is not an easy thing to do.) Phaneuf needs to demonstrate he can continue to lead, be physical, and generate more production. MacArthur needs to prove he isn't a one hit wonder, same goes for Reimer. The young unproven guys (Bozak, Kadri and Frattin) need to prove they must belong. Connolly and Lupul need to prove that they are changed and improved players in a new environment.

    Every team has players who have "guaranteed" spots, but I GUARANTEE you, that every single one of the players on this Leafs roster knows that if they don't produce, or they aren't improving, or working hard, Burkie will very quickly show them the door and bring in someone else who will work to show they have earned that spot.

    That may come in the form of a Marlie player, or somewhere else. It always depends on availability. Every game is always a tryout, especially for a team that hasn't proved anything yet. You better believe that if the "culture of losing" enters the Leafs dressing room, Burke will take action.

  11. Very well stated, Jack. I think the way you framed it makes perfect sense. They do have an essentially "set" roster, yes, but Burke will not be afraid to make moves if there is a reason to.

  12. I'm pretty sure "Every game is a tryout" was the Toronto Marlies campaign and that is still true. For players on the Marlies you never know when a roster spot will open up on the Leafs so you want to be the #1 call up choice.
    Also on the Leafs just because Lupul (as a random example of a player that will be with the club on opening night) is on the roster doesn't mean he will be guaranteed a spot in the top 6. If he is being outplayed you can expect him to move down the lineup I would think. Internal competition is just as good as being pressed from the Marlies.