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10 reasons why Leaf fans can be genuinely encouraged 10 (11, really) games into the new season

I know, Leaf world has been a “Cup-free” zone for a few years.  Well, 45, actually.  (As an aside, I’ve never quite been sure what a full “generation” entails, so I’m not really certain how many generations that covers but suffice to say there are fully grown people, some with grandkids, who don’t know what it’s like to cheer for a Maple Leaf championship team…)

But with that sobering opening behind us, we can talk about the present rather than the past.  So where are we now, as we mark the 10-game point (11, yes, but detail is not always my area of expertise)?

Well, to be honest, better than I thought they’d be.  Probably better than many (most?) Leaf fans figured they would be. The team’s record of 7 wins, 3 losses and 1 OT loss stands them in good stead, for what it’s worth, this early in the NHL season. But more importantly, there are specific reasons that I believe Leaf supporters can feel rightly optimistic about not just just some uncertain timeline in the future, but this very season.

Let’s see if you tend to agree with any of the following, as causes for not undue optimism:

  1. The Leafs have achieved their (albeit modest) early-success success without operating at anywhere near full capacity. Let’s start with special teams.  It’s a familiar refrain, to be sure, but if a team rarely scores when they have a man advantage but allows the other team to score at a pretty good clip when they have a power play, generally you are a team doomed to failure.  So if the Leafs improve in even one of these important areas over at least some of the rest of the season, how significant could that be?
  2. My sense is that despite some nice wins so far, Leaf fans—ever hopeful and yet feeling like they are always about to step on a grenade simultaneously—are nervous about the team’s defense.  Everyone loves what Phaneuf has done so far in terms of his play at both ends of the ice and about his apparent leadership impact.  Young Gardiner has also turned heads, but Twitter updates reveal a nervousness about our “D” not uncommon with a franchise and team that hasn’t won a lot in the past seven or eight seasons. But if the overall Leaf defense pairings have been less than perfect so far, where might the team end up if the “top-six” blueliners all start to perform to their capabilities?
  3. To this end, I must mention Luke Schenn.  Last year he was often playing upwards 25 minutes a game.  His sometimes uncertain play so far this year has landed him with fewer minutes, but we know he is capable of playing a simple, tough, eliminate-your-man kind of game.  If he can regain whatever lost confidence or mojo or whatever it is, he will be an invaluable presence on the penalty kill and as a shutdown defensemen—as he was at times last season.
  4. The "second line", as we like to call them, has shown us glimpses of the kind of productivity that they have demonstrated in the past.  But we all believe they can do much more, and we may be starting to see it already.  My man Kulemin (who I have written about glowingly for a couple of years now) can be even better and I think he will be.  Grabbo is working and once the puck starts to go in for him a bit more regularly, we will have our number-two/almost number-one line back in order.  Again, the Leafs have managed what they have with comparably little from this unit until the last couple of games, and that surely will change.
  5. While James Reimer can rightly take credit for a fair bit of the opening-season four game winning streak, his injury has necessitated a return to prominence of The Monster.  Most Leaf fans are hoping Reimer will return healthy and strong and ready to resume his position as the “number-one”.  But it is refreshing to be able to feel (if somewhat nervously at times) that Gustavsson can indeed win some games and take the reins if and when necessary to not only keep the team afloat, but winning more often than not.
  6. While no one can argue with the offensive productivity of Lupul and Kessel through this first segment of games, this has been accomplished without the availability of a bona fide, proven “first-line” NHL center.  Bozak, Steckel and now Connolly (off the injured list) have provided variety, but not continuity.  What might happen if Connolly (or anyone else, for that matter) emerges as that trigger man that will make the wingers even more productive?
  7. The youngsters, and I’m thinking specifically of Kadri and Frattin, have barely contributed offensively yet this season, but both have played largely hard and well when given the opportunity.  Kadri will likely put up big points with the Marlies while waiting for a recall (unless he has grown discouraged and weary of his ongoing yo-to life with the Leafs); Frattin is playing some key minutes and could have half a dozen goals by now.  Once they start to go in, Frattin should be even more relaxed and productive, assuming he doesn't join Kadri with the Marlies.
  8. Depth.  While I don’t think we are there yet with the roster mix, especially in the “top-six”, this team has depth in all positions: goal, defense and on the forward lines.  Before the season goes too far, we will likely need the 8 NHL-ready defensemen in the system, including Aulie—and maybe more (Lashoff, Finger and Holzer make us 11-deep, which is ideal).
  9. Also waiting for his chance is young Colborne.  We know he is putting up points with the AHL team and no doubt would love the chance to strut his stuff on the big-league stage.  That may come sooner than later but for now, it’s good to know the Leafs have not had to accelerate his development unnecessarily to accommodate a need like they had last season when they rushed Kadri up prematurely.
  10. The Leafs have cap space and roster flexibility to make trades at a time that suits them, and that should come in handy between now and February.

Will all of the above happen?  I mean, will Schenn be better, will special teams improve significantly, will our “second-line” recapture last year’s prominence, etc.?

We can’t know for sure, but the team has demonstrated they can pick up wins and points in the standings even when they are not operating at full throttle.  If they ever do, well, that’s why I’m suggesting there is legitimate cause for some at least cautious optimism.


  1. "Legitimate cause for... cautious optimism" - now that's a long-time Leaf fan talking, for sure! My Charlie Brown has been fooled by the Leafs' Lucy too many times to be able to go any further than you have, but I can echo your feelings. I have a slightly different take on a few things:

    1. I think we can say that the Leafs MUST improve in the special teams area. It actually baffles me that we've gone so long without an effective PK or PP. How is that possible at the level of the best league in the world?
    2. Funny, the D is what I'm least worried about. By and large, they're playing well, they've increased their mobility, and they're moving the puck well. I'd like to see a little more Ed van Impe action in front of the net, but I sense everyone's worried about penalties being called. Same with rubouts along the boards.
    3. Yes, Schenn isn't being his assertive, take-the-body self yet. I wonder how long till he sits a few out and Aulie or Franson comes up? To my eyes, it would be warranted.
    4. The second line does seem to be finding its rhythm again. It's good to see MacArthur pot a few. It feels like they're getting stronger game by game.
    5. Goal is still a question mark for me. As someone said - maybe you, Michael? - Reimer tends to let a soft one in early, and Gustavsson lets one in late. I do see improvement in Jonas, though, in the games he's played. And the fact remains we're doing pretty well with the two of them.
    6. Funnily, I'm starting to get concerned about the Kessel line. I don't see that furious forechecking and backchecking we saw in the first few games. Against the Pens, they were hopeless in our zone. But there's no denying the offensive spark they've provided - and Connolly looks as if he might be the right fit. We'll certainly need two lines that are threats if we hope to advance to the playoffs.
    7. Actually, three lines that can score wold be even better. I'm concerned that the Lombardi/Bozak/Frattin line isn't putting away their chances. We all keep saying when Frattin gets his first, it will be lights out, but I'm beginning to feel maybe he just can't score at this level.
    8. Burke has done a great job in increasing our depth. I expect it will stand us in good stead as the season progresses.
    9. Who else is salivating over the thought of Kadri/Colborne/Frattin (assuming he can score!)? I'm starting to enjoy watching Marlies games now, too!
    10. This is a great point, sometimes forgotten. We're in a very strong position - both for trades or straight deals - to bolster our roster if necessary. Another aspect of the good job Burke has done straightening the team out.

    Legitimate cause for cautious optimism indeed!

  2. Long suffering Leaf fanNovember 1, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    As captain Darryl Sitter used to tell us Leafs fans way back when..."don't get too high or too low just enjoy the moment". And that is exactly what I am going too do with this addiction of the Leafs. Even so, I need to chime in on a few things...
    1. Even though it looks as if Dion is developing into the player most believe he could become...I still have issue with him taking untimely risk.
    2. Agree with the point on Schemn...but I wonder if the new coaches have something to do with his early play...Luke looks uneasy and confuse with his positioning.
    3. Heard an interesting interview with Calgary Flame legend Hakan Loob on Gustavsson. He said, that the Jonas who played for him is not the same one who is playing for the Leafs now. He believes that the Leafs have taken away his natural abilities with the butterfly style!
    4. At the risk of sounding like another Leaf fan dumping on Komisarek...but he still looks slow and cumbersome.
    5. As with many Leafs fans, love Jake Gardiner, but I think he's beginning to trier a little.
    6. Special teams are still an eye sore. Shame on us when Ottawa has the league top power play unit and our Leafs with its skill players are at the bottom of the league! As for the PK...I know that everybody is given lots of love to Mr. Brown, but will some one please teach this guy how to ice the puck! Mr. Brown softy off the boards isn't doing need to bear down and reel it. Speaking of the PK, why is Liles on it? And wasn't Phaneuf on the ice when the Sens player sneaked in behind the D and scored? If so, why was it only Luke who had to park himself on the plank and not Dion? Hmmm...
    7. And on the topic of specialty teams...wasn't Liles suppose to be the answer for the PP? So far he's been a bust with no goals and 4 helpers. Just saying.
    8. I wonder where Tom Fitzgerald that was a player who knew how to get the puck out of the zone!
    9. Wouldn't it be nice to see a PP man like Dave Anderychuk?
    10. Here's hoping that Mr. Wilson just had a little too much Halloween candy when he said that Dion was the best D-man in the league bar-none...he may win the Norris, but his statement on Saturday is a little over the top.

  3. Gerund O'...Thanks for a detailed comment. I know we agree on special teams- and yes, we've both been "around" long enough to know it's early, but there are hopeful signs. My central theme in this post is that, despite some clear flaws, the team has still been in most every game. So if they ever do improve in other key areas, they might be even more successful...but we'll see!

    Long Suffering..Sittler learned that from Normie Ullman, as I recall. And I agree.

    .interesting comment about Schenn and the new assistant coaches. Also, on your point about Loob and The Monster, I've tried to point out much the same thing in various posts in the past. Swedish observers seem to say that this is not the sam guy they know- he has been "Allaire'd", it seems and thus he is neither fish nor fowl. I still sense he may only reach his true potential somewhere else.

    We probably have to give Liles more time...but we said Kabby was a power-play specialist for years, eh, and he really wasn't....

    Thanks for another good post.