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40 Leaf and NHL thoughts as we reach the quarter-pole

To be clear, as this is not a full-time gig, I do not follow other teams as closely as I follow the Leafs.  But there are a number of thing that have stood out for me as teams begin to reach that 20-game mark, which pretty much brings us through the first quarter of the season.  This is when we can a bit more accurately gauge where teams—and individual players—seem to be at and if there are trends that we should be mindful of.

Some observations relate to the Leafs, of course, but without further ado:

  1. Is Ray Whitney amazing or what?  The guy will be 40 come playoff time, but now with his 8th or so team, he just keeps putting up points wherever he goes.
  2. Speaking of guys that have moved around, what do we make of Kris Versteeg’s renaissance in Florida?  Here is a young guy, 25, who is already with his 5th NHL organization and  has a Cup on his resume with Chicago.  Burke brought him in and shipped him out before we really knew what he could bring over a period of time.  The Flyers turned around and did the same thing.  Now Versteeg has 24 points in 20 games.
  3. While Jaromir Jagr has not been an imposing presence for the Flyers in his comeback season, he is putting up a point a game and is a solid "plus" player.
  4. Roberto Luongo has not been Luongo so far this season (or maybe has has).  I wrote a few weeks ago that it will be more important for him to be at his best come playoff time rather than during the regular-season.  The Canucks have already proven they are a top team.  They will need Luongo when it counts.  So far, in my mind, he has not delivered in the playoffs.  He gets another chance next April.
  5. If most Leaf fans are honest they will admit they are more than a bit surprised with Lupul’s productivity so far this season.  We expected Kessel to deliver offense, but without a bona fide center between them, Lupul has made that a first-line, anyway. While the impact is certainly mutual, you have to believe Kessel is a better player with the more experienced Lupul on the other side.
  6. The Lightning are only doing (with a slightly different “formation”) what Lemaire and the Devils perfected starting in the mid 1990s.  Boring?  Yes, coma-inducingly so.  But what can the league do?  Remember when Ken Hitchcock said a few years ago (just after the lockout and the introduction of the “new”, more open NHL), give him a bit of time and he can shut down any team, anyway?  That’s what coaches do in this specialized era.  Kill the flow of the game, because winning is their only bottom line.
  7. I find a guy like Marc-Andre Bergeron an interesting story.  Everywhere he goes his teams seem to go deep into the playoffs.  He is small at 5 foot 9, but talented and is putting up almost a point a game for the Lightning from the back end.
  8. I don’t know if Tortorella is getting through to Gaborik or not, but the enigmatic though supremely talented winger is still scoring and is also a “plus” player for the resurgent Rangers.
  9. I'm glad to see the Jets have started winning more often.  I’m not close to the situation there, of course, but something seemed to be “off” through the first part of the season.  I mean, a new team in a new/old city.  They love their hockey.  There was energy everywhere, except, it seemed, but on the ice.
  10. If it’s true that a team reflects their coach, maybe in this particular instance, they needed someone behind the bench who was going to provide more passion and inspiration than laid-back logic and analysis?  It’s still early, but with the young talent on that roster, I expected more on-ice passion early on.  Maybe we're beginning to see it.
  11. Dave Tippett, on the other hand, continues to have the player’s attention in Phoenix.  I don’t know where they will be playing next year, but he has them playing pretty good hockey most nights.  What a change since he took over after the Gretzky coaching era.
  12. There are a number of coaches that must be on the firing line.  It happens every year at this time.  We’ve already seen the change in St. Louis.  We may be moving away from that recent trend of young coaches coming out of Junior or the AHL (Boucher, Payne, Bylsma, Boudreau, Noel, DeBoer, etc…).  I’m thinking Calgary has to win more or Sutter (not Feaster’s choice) may be gone.  The aforementioned Jets were struggling but have, for now, turned things around.  You have to believe Columbus hasn’t cleaned house because they don’t want to pay more in management and coaching salaries.  Some are suggesting Carolina will make a move but I don’t see that one.  Rutherford and Maurice are too close.
  13. The Ducks  gave Carlyle an extension a while back, but I have a feeling that things won’t end well there. 
  14. Is anyone else tired of seeing Hitchcock re-surface on cue every couple of years in a new destination?   I realize the guy is a “career coach” and a good clinical guy but wow, he just seems to spend all his time in between gigs lobbying for a job until he finally gets one.
  15. San Jose seems to have righted itself after a slow start.  They are back where they belong.
  16. I like Price a lot in goal, but I just don’t see the Habs as a serious player in the East.  I may be off but I just don’t see them even making the playoffs, much less making a run deep in the playoffs.  And if Price ever gets injured, all bets are off.
  17. I admit, I like some of Ottawa’s young talent.  But I still think Murray has taken a team that was “this close” to being a Cup team not that long ago and turned them into a rebuilding project.  Somehow, Melnyk keeps buying what Murray is selling.
  18. Given the amount of money young players make nowadays (this isn’t the ‘60s when guys were trying to move from say, $12,000 to $13,500 a season, if that, and needed summer jobs to get by…) hold-outs are just plain dumb.  Doughty gets his money—more than he will ever need—but isn’t in shape, gets hurt and his play is uneven.  Who is that kid in Phoenix?  Turris?  What’s his point?  He has already made more money than everyday people make in a couple of decades, but I guess that’s not enough for a guy who has proven nothing.
  19. I still have a hard time believing the Bruins will be able to overcome an exhausting playoff run and a busy summer of partying and feeling good about themselves, but they, for now, have turned certainly things around.
  20. Even the most die-hard Leaf fan can’t help but notice that 19-year old Tyler Seguin is playing with confidence and putting up significant numbers. Good linemates helps, of course.  But he has uncanny smarts and legit skill.
  21. I’m interested to see where the Oilers go from here.  Fantastic start, some good goaltending from the veteran Khabibulin and the youngster, Dubnyk.  That young core of talent up front is awfully impressive.
  22. While I’m happy for the Sabres to have great new ownership and money to spend, I’m still not certain they spent it in the right places.  I could be wrong.  But regardless, they are banking points, just like the Leafs.  Interestingly, they have done it with Ryan Miller not playing like he can, then missing time because of injury.  I wonder how the Sabres will hold up over time...
  23. I’ve written here a few times over the past couple of seasons about how impressed I am with the Predators’ organization.  Despite ownership issues, being in a non-hockey market (and it is, c’mon) they are a model expansion franchise.  David Poile hired Barry Trotz a year before their first-ever NHL game and they are both still there.  They have built things the “Predators way” and it is working.  They have a strong fan base and a nice, gritty team that is hard to play against.  The Preds may lose a key player this summer, maybe two, but they will just fill with the next guy.
  24. I don’t know where the Panthers are headed, but I believe General Manager Dale Tallon will make sure it is in the right direction. He turned Chicago into a Cup winner.
  25. I know next to nothing about the new coach in Dallas, but those who do say the guy is doing a tremendous job for Nieuwendyk, the GM who hired him.
  26. I realize he was out the lineup for a while, but someone remind me how much Lamoriello is paying Kovalchuk, and for how long?  He is minus 4 in his first 14 games.
  27. Like Vancouver, the Capitals are all about what they do in the playoffs.  That’s when Ovechkin has to lead the way.  We should not necessarily be misled by what we saw against the Leafs on Saturday night, though Ovie's frustration may be a bad sign about where team harmony is at right now. On that note, Semin was a healthy scratch Monday night...
  28. Hard to believe the guy who was the best all-around player in the game 12 months ago has been away from NHL action for almost a full season.  Now that Crosby is back, hopefully it will be for good. Four points in his first game back is more than we can expect all the time, but it's great to see him in action again.
  29. Funny how life moves on.  Perry Pearn was fired.  Many people were supposedly upset that the Habs blamed their early-season woes on an assistant coach.  They win a few games and no one seems to care anymore .
  30. I used to look forward to the second period intermission of Hockey Night in Canada.  I’m just not enjoying that part of the broadcast these days. They tried something a bit different the other night (Friedman and Healy along with Milbury).  I prefer free-wheeling discussion.  That all seems a bit too scripted.
  31. I forecast the demise of the Red Wings ever September.  I’m always wrong.  It’s good to be consistent, at least.
  32. As I have posted here previously, I am absolutely of the view that Gilmour deserved his Hall-of-Fame induction.  I will say, however, that the standards for entry into the NHL Hall are low, and always have been .  Most people won’t remember that in the early 1960s, almost 50 years ago, Rocket Richard said exactly the same thing.
  33. I hope NHL players are watching the NBA mess.  While everyday people and many fans surely would miss the action if the NHL players and owners cannot agree on a new deal next time around, those same everyday people will have little patience for athletes (already making more money than most of us could ever imagine in our wildest dreams) wanting even more. Most people can’t afford tickets to games as it is, at least in Toronto.
  34. Let’s be clear:  no one, and I mean no one, needs to make more than 5 million dollars a season.  Yes, NHL players are “elite” athletes and should be compensated very well.  But the salaries are out of whack.  I sense a lot of sports fans won't be that upset if there is no NBA season.  NHL players won’t necessarily learn from the NBA lockout, however.
  35. If players really cared about fans, they would play for a bit less money (and still be enormously wealthy) and help make ticket prices more affordable.  Of course, this would require less greed from the owners as well.  Not going to happen.
  36. We are now about 21 games into the season and we still don’t quite know if the Leafs have a number-one center.  Connolly has showed something, though, and (like Sid) hopefully he is back for good.
  37. Grabovski (now injured) has not quite been himself, and neither has Kulemin.  I’m not quite sure what the issue is there.  They have been "working hard" but they have just seemed to be a bit off, somehow.  Other teams are paying more attention, sure, but players always have to adjust.  (It only gets worse in the playoffs.) Kulemin needs a break-out game or a big goal to restore some of that old-fashioned confidence...
  38. Ex-Leaf Ian White is having an impact in Detroit.  Some will recall that I posted long ago that he was the one guy I missed who left in the Phaneuf trade.  Like Versteeg, the guy has really bounced around.  But he is a talented, gutsy player.  He was hurt blocking a shot recently but I’d really like to see him do well with the Wings
  39. Eric Stall should be in the absolute prime of his career.  And perhaps he is playing much better than his surface statistics would suggest.  But it's difficult to believe that he has only 4 goals and 10 points so far this season, while earning a minus 15 ranking already.
  40. The next three games on the road are obviously important for the Leafs.  They have a chance to create some separation from teams close to them in the standings. They haven't allowed injuries to affect their 'compete' levels.  I think they will maintain their early-season pace.  They have a lot of players with something to prove- to themselves or management.


  1. It's nice to be reminded there are some other teams in the league, from time to time!
    A couple of thoughts:
    5. I think Kessel is a gifted playmaker as well as scorer, as is Lupul, and Bozak seems to be on their wavelength. Unlike some of the other lines, they seem to know when to shoot and when to pass.
    23. I visited Nashville a few years ago and was amazed at the general knowledge of the hockey team - when I expected general ignorance. The Preds fans are the real deal.
    30. I'm really tired of the bluster of old guarders like Milbury (and Cherry). I just turn to another channel during the intermissions. Where's Ward Cornell when you really need him?
    37. I'm beginning to wonder why we don't get a look at Kadri, or some other well-performing Marlie, and sit Kulemin for a game or two. The results can't be much worse, can they?
    38. Ian White is definitely one of those players I like, no matter where they are.

  2. 40. You've said it, huge trip, we're already 0-1, but we can definitely compete with the teams, however the forum hasn't been kind to us. Dallas is regressing like us and Anaheim is Anaheim, as you mentioned about Carlyle. Maybe a roadie is what this team needs.
    Further, I just wish Reims would return. We're a different club with him for sure, I get the feeling he's "one of the guys" and I think that makes a big difference

  3. Gerund O'...I love the reference to Ward Cornell. I now really appreciate his basic, no-nonsense approach to in-between periods hosting and interview style. (For that matter, I liked analysts such as Bob Goldham who not only played the game, but didn't treat viewers as though we knew nothing, and could still provide insightful video analysis...)

    NL Andrew...agreed- every game is important, of course. But this road trip can either separate them a bit, or push them back into the pack...