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10 things we can’t know for sure, but that I sense Leaf management really feels

I want to be clear:  Like most observers on the “outside”, I have no idea what Brian Burke and his management team really think about any number of Leaf-related personnel issues.  Oh, we all know what they feed the local media, and what they say, tactically, for public consumption.

But do we really know what they want, who they like, which players may disappoint them?  Not really.  We might get a glimpse once in a while, if they’re trying to light a fire under someone’s butt, but most of the time, no, we have no real clue.

That said, I have to believe there are things that the Leaf brass is thinking but won't disclose, for obvious reasons.  Here are, in  my view, some of those things:

  1.  I think, fair or not, the team is disappointed in Kadri.  I’m not sure if they expected him to play a lot better early last season (we have discussed this here, of course).  They claim to have been satisfied with his late-season efforts.  But I believe he was “on the table” when trade talks were taking place this past summer, and I have to believe that, if the right package was offered up, Kadri would be gone—even though he was indeed Burke’s first “first-round” draft selection with the Leafs. He is coming back from a relatively minor injury now, but I wonder if they are really feeling as patient as they would like us to think they actually are.
  2. My belief is that the organization has tired of Gustavsson as well.  (Just a gut instinct.)  While, like the much younger Kadri, “The Monster” is just now in his third season, his health woes, combined with his inconsistent play would seem to make him expendable in a league where most teams have a decidedly clear “number-one” and a “fill-in-the-blanks” back-up.  I just have this image of Allaire scratching his head -and Gustavsson doing the same- before and after their chats.  (Some of you will know that I have opined in the past that Jonas may well be better off playing somewhere else, where the organization would just let him play, make mistakes, develop—and not try to “change” him.)  If the Leafs can find someone in the system who they think fits the Allaire-can-work-with-him mold (Scrivens?), they won't even try to re-sign Gustavsson. (Personally, I'm a big Reimer guy, but I'd love to see The Monster gets a chance here at some point, and not just a game here and there.  If not here, then somewhere else...)
  3. Wilson really does have to have success this season.  (He's certainly off to a great start...)  Not that Burke doesn’t like Wilson, simply that this is a results-oriented business and winning is the bottom line.  So, the minimum expectations, one would think, as part of the coach’s survival strategy in the fourth and final year of his current contract, is real improvement this season on special teams- and a playoff spot.  Anything less would surely lead to changes.
  4.  For reasons I don’t really understand, I think the organization is ready to move Gunnarsson.  I’m not saying that they desperately want to, just that he seems to be the guy (Burke did not draft him) they would be willing to part with to as part of a deal to obtain an impact forward.  Those who follow this site know I'd like Gunner to be here for a long time.  I like him right now, and I really like his potential as a two-day defenseman.
  5. A recent National Post story (Traikos?) suggested the Leafs may be shifting their thinking on the third and fourth lines; as in, there may be less and less need for Orr/Rosehill, and more for guys (if these two can be those guys, great) who can disturb, play tough but also create at least a little offense.  My sense is that’s exactly what management is thinking, whether stated publicly or not.  (Brown, for example, can play tough, fight and make the occasional offensive contribution so he stays in, for sure.)
  6. I think they are preparing for life without Connolly.  No, I’m not dumping on the guy, or saying he isn’t a good player.  I acknowledge (why wouldn’t I) that I was not thrilled with the signing in the first place (check out earlier posts…), but I recognize that if he catches lightning in a bottle, 4 million a year could be a pittance if he gets the Leafs deep into the playoffs.  And not to over-react to what may well be a minor training camp injury, but I’m pretty sure the people in Buffalo (not that we should care) are saying…”I told you so…”.  I just think the brass is already making plans in the event that Tim comes back but is injured in some other fashion as the season wears on.
  7. I sense the team is wishing they had just started Jake Gardiner in the minors.  They clearly love him, but their decision to rush him into a stacked line-up has already caused some ruffled feathers, and if he stays up with the big team, that won't end.  I could well be proven wrong, but I think they'd like a mulligan on that one...
  8.  I think management is praying for another season like last year, when the Leafs avoided the serious injuries that plagued so many NHL teams, including many clubs the Leafs fight with for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  Yes, Toronto has some young depth on the blueline and even up front now with guys like Kadri and Frattin, but I don’t know how comfortable they are with the current configuration of the “top-six”.  Maybe they’re giddy.  I’m not just yet.
  9.  I think they’re hoping last week's schedule break and planned retreat pays dividends as the season wears on.  I certainly won’t want to hear in a few weeks that they haven’t had much time to practice or work on special teams because of a busy schedule.  The whole week better have been about bonding, yes, but also about systems, the penalty kill and the power play.  They had their normal roster available, a healthy line-up, and time to implement said tactics.  Just do it.
  10.  You have to thing they are hoping the local media won't make too big a thing about the early season "winning streak".  We all know what happened last year and while this feels different, we can't be too far off from Wilson chastising the local scribes for building the Leafs up too much...
It’s early.  We’re three games in.  But it’s never too early to think, and that’s what I believe the Leaf
decision-makers are thinking about….


  1. Michael as always a well thought out post. I read it twice and the only thing I can come up with is I think they want to deal Gunnarsson instead of Schenn. Other teams are going to want a young dman with upside and I bet most are after Schenn. However, with Schenn's poor camp ( and I think he was not good at all in pre season) and even rougher start I think they may start looking at moving Schenn instead of Gunnarsson. I can't put my finger on it, but I get the sense that Schenn is no longer untouchable like he was in previous seasons. I really think a big trade could be coming in which Schenn and Kadri are packaged for a premier top three forward under 25 years of age.

  2. PS I seem to have a horrendous time posting comments here. I bet only one out of five times seems to get through.

  3. Wilbur, thank you for the post and my apologies about the trouble you have had posting. I know it's annoying and I honestly don't know how to solve the problem. A number of readers have contacted me and I feel badly but don't have the answer, unfortunately.

    I think we are on the same page. "Something" is brewing but I don't know what, though what you mention could well be one of the things the brass is contemplating...

  4. It's always tricky deciphering those management tea leaves!
    1. I think they're being patient with Kadri, which is a healthy approach. I think the FANS are feeling disappointed.
    2. I actually felt management gave him a vote of confidence by picking him over Scrivens. He had a pretty solid pre-season, I thought.
    3. Agreed. Pro sports is about winning. This is Wilson's last kick at the playoff can in Toronto.
    4. Again, I feel they're showing him support by making him one of the top 6. And he's rewarding it, I'd say.
    5. I love Brown's play, but I also like the way Rosehill and Orr aren't afraid of mixing it up in front of the net. Who knows - maybe they'll start scoring a la Cooke!
    6. I think Bozak's play is going to make it difficult for Connolly to find a place on the team when he's healthy.
    7. I dunno. I think a couple of games gave both management and Gardiner a chance to see what he needs to work on. No big deal - if he goes to the Marlies, he'll be back soon enough! as for ruffled feathers, I can't help feeling the media are making more of it than it warrants. Play well, and you'll stay.
    8. Ha! Agreed!
    9. So far, it appears Operation Trenton was a success. The Special Ops, er, teams seem to have improved. And how about a 21 stick salute for last minute recruit Steckel?
    10. I don't think it's prudent to hope for anything when we're talking about the media and the Leafs!
    As you say, it's a long season...

  5. Jake Gardiner forced them to start him. From their quotes about "Blue and White disease" to "Every Game is a Tryout" there was no way they couldn't give him a spot after his great training camp. It shows future rookies in camp to go balls out because they really do have a shot to stick with the big club. Big league pay check is a nice carrot to dangle in front of hungry kids.

  6. Great post. I can't find fault with a single one of your arguments. My gut tells me the same. I think what people need to appreciate is that Burke is a bull. And bulls don't wait very long before doing. Interestingly, this team has taught Burkey a whole new level of patience. Where the rubber hits the road is after we've strung together 2 or 3 losses.

  7. What is it with you and Kadri? You have something against him and I have yet to figure out why.

    He's done everything right and yet somehow he's failing. It's ridiculous. He puts up a PPG in his rookie AHL season (which is pretty damn good) and had he played more in the AHL, he would have matched Luke Adam and given him a run for the ROY award. What did anyone expect with him playing third line minutes when he was in the NHL? To put up a PPG in his first NHL season?

    Give the kid a break. He's going to be a stud someday soon.

    Now I won't say I wouldn't trade him, but it would have to be a damn good deal. Kadri has top line talent. It would be a shame to start making the mistakes of the pasts.

  8. Thanks for the comment, Josh. My comments, as I have posted in the past, with regard to young Kadri have to do with the way the organization has handled his situation. I have not been impressed with the yo-yo approach. They erred last season in calling him up way to soon and expecting him to deliver goals when they were struggling offensively. Then, he went from a first-line guy to a third/fourth-line player and back down to the Marlies.

    That I point out that the organization may be willing to trade him does not mean I have "something against him". I certainly don't. He's 21 and is a talented young player.

  9. make a very good point about Burke and patience. While I have criticized Burke for stressing in his early days here that he had "no patience for a 5 year re-build", he has had to shift his thinking. The reality is that it will take at least 5 years from the time he arrived for this team to become a true contender, and he has no doubt realized that for some time. And while he will always want to make the roster better (what GM doesn't?) he will indeed need to be patient.

  10. Long suffering LeafOctober 17, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    I have to agree totally with Gerund O'Malley on all ten of his points. How often has it been in the past that the Leafs management (fans included) gave up on a player like Kadri? For that matter, for all the praise Kessel has received early this season, how many were ready to ship him out of town? As for Gustavsson management gave him a vote of confidence in the summer when they didn't resign Giguere.

    Hey Mike, after watching Kessel improve play at both ends of the ice after three games, does he kind of remind you of a certain former Oshawa General back in 73? I remember going to the old forum in Hamilton to watch my beloved Red Wings take on the Oshawa Generals. It was in that game were I fell in love with a flashy, if not, very highly talented winger who happened to burn my Wings with 4 goals name Rick Middleton. I remember saying out loud " Boy,I hope the Leafs draft that guy!" To my surprise an older gentlemen sitting in front of me said "I hope they don't". He went on to explain to me as gifted as Middleton is, he would never be nothing more than a fringe player in the NHL because of these 3 points.
    1.Middleton scored most of his goals from the outside, therefore NHL defensemen could easily contain him
    2. He was unwilling to play in the dirty scoring areas.
    3. He is lazy on the back check if he checked at all.
    As it turned out in the first 3 season of Middleton career this gentlemen was going to be right! But to his little bit of knowledge as we know now, a tough coach named Don Cherry turned Mr. Magic into a complete player. Here's hoping that Wilson tough love has finally paid off on Phil the thrill!

  11. I think if you move your perspective a few degrees from "problems" to "possibilities", you can see big chunks of this post, which is a series of good to great arguments, reverse themselves. I think BB is delighted to have the problems that #1,2,4,5,6,7 and 8 are causing as opposed to the problem of "who the hell do we have to replace this guy?" Every question mark or injury this year gives someone on our Marlies a chance to see the Show and flaunt what they've got. Look at Connolly specifically- short or long-term, his injury is giving Bozak another chance to prove he's the real deal and not an over-age bust. Who here was feeling last year that we couldn't care less if Bozak was dealt at the end of the season? *raises hand* It's also allowing RW to find out what Lombardi's upper limits are RIGH at the moment he's ready to play. Think of what MIGHT still happen with Gustavsson and I'm certain WILL happen with Kadri. I think BB is loathe, really loathe, to dump a player before he's really certain what he's got.
    On Gunnarson, I hope to hell BB and his team is thinking, "we're 3-0 and looking good, why should we move one of our top-pairing D-men unless we get well over paid for doing so/" It's one thing if he can fleece the crap out of some desperate GM, it's another to throw away pieces that are more than just useful and almost critical along with potential future 1st liners.
    I think we should coin a new twitter hashtag- #NHLdepthproblems

  12. Long Suffering...I always appreciate Gerund O's comments. He provides a thoughtful analysis of the hockey scene. (Whether we always agree or not doesn't matter- his points are always made respectfully and well. And he's not alone. We have great posters here, who know the game and can articulate their points very well, without resorting to foul language and name-calling, etc...)

    And yes, you are absolutely right about Middleton. In his "Ranger years", he was a talented but seemingly un-motivated player, as I recall. Gifted scorer in junior, as so many are. And he became, as you quite properly note, one of Cherry's "favourites" in Boston, because he did indeed become a well-rounded player- while still making those sweet plays!

  13. Great post, KidK. I do think you're right, that management would rather have these problems than the reverse- not having enough guys who can play here.

    There are some "ifs", of course. If they can "manage" the roster...if they can keep players relatively happy and playing enough to stay sharp...if they can keep 8 NHL-ready d-men satisfied with their location (Marlies) and/or ice time...if Bozak keeps performing...if Phil is good Phil...if they can play well when they hit the inevitable stretches where the bounces don't go their way against better opposition....

  14. Long suffering Leaf fanOctober 17, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Sorry, Mike, no disrespect on my part to your thought out post. I just feel sometimes we fans over analyze or read too much into every movement our beloved Leafs make. If Mr. Burke packaged Kadri, Bozak, and Gunnarsson in a trade, I believe it will be for a missing piece of a winning puzzle, and not because he had grown weary of their development.

    PS. Personally, by Wilson statement about Franson, I think he's the d-men that is being shop.

  15. No problem at all Long Suffering...I always appreciate it when you take the time to chime in.

    In my case, because I post pretty much every day, it is inevitable that it will sometimes look like things are being over-analyzed, I guess. I love writing about the old days, but readers seem to want more current Leaf talk and that means analysis and opinion and inevitably, fans and Leaf observers who visit here will disagree with things I write. For me, that's part of the fun of being a fan.