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15 observations around Leaf camp—with Montreal only hours away

If you're looking for an objective look at the Leafs as they prepare to break camp, I invite you to tune in to Episode 23 of the "Leaf Matters" podcast.  Kevin Mcgran, the Leaf beat reporter for the Toronto Star, is our guest.  You can catch the latest episode on iTunes.  It is also available on MP3 via the Podalmighty Network.

Having followed, in one fashion or another, Toronto Maple Leaf training camps for decades, I have come to understand one thing:  lots of players look "good" at training camp.  You’ll always hear, “so and so is really flying”…”fill in the name… looks slimmer this season…”.  We hear players say, “this camp is tougher than previous years…” and “we’re really more focused with this new coaching staff in place…”.  Everyone, we're told, is working harder than ever before.

Hey, like baseball spring training, hockey training camps bring out the usual cliches. It's part of what we expect.

Every year is always better than the last.  Camp is more organized.  Lots of high-paced drills.  (Are there ever camps with just slow-paced drills?) Guys are always in better shape.  The attitude is fantastic.  Yada yada yada.

It’s all standard stuff.  Players that got bigger and bulkier (by organizational request) the year before now come in slimmer and faster—because that was the new request.  Or vice versa.  Players generally always look good at camp because, let’s face it, they are pent up and have tons of energy.  Everyone gets along, we're told, but there is always competition- which pushes younger players, rookies and bubble guys to play over their heads.

In any event, I have to say that as pleased as I am that NHL hockey is back, I already can’t wait for Leaf camp to be over.  Every little move is over-analyzed (is this happening in Tampa Bay?).  Every mistake is under a microscope.  I mean, I know that’s always the drill, especially in this market.  There is all kinds of speculation about who will make the team, even though that debate is usually more hoopla than reality.  The roster is largely set.  But hey, there could always be some late surprises, right? Lombardi was traded Wednesday night, so maybe more deals are on the way.

The Leafs have had what is it, 28 players left in camp?  Well, on any given night, there will only be 18 skaters in uniform so not everyone can be here when the games start for real.

Here are my initial random thoughts (and I need your input in some areas) from the first four days of trying to follow what’s going on in Leafland:

  1. Training camp scrimmages mean….nothing.
  2. While we are all frantically trying to determine the Day One roster of 23 guys for Saturday night in Montreal, the truth is that line-up can change a lot in the next couple of weeks.  Friday’s setting of the roster is not cast in stone.
  3. I know I’m in a minority, but I really (still) hope Morgan Rielly heads back to Moose Jaw.  The Leafs have plenty of NHL experienced defenseman (none other than Gardiner with Rielly’s skills, I acknowledge).  Surely we don’t need to rely—in a short season—on an 18 year old. 
  4. Let’s not rush Gardiner back.  I know it’s a short season and Carlyle is trying to say all the right things, but reading between the lines, I just don’t want Gardiner to feel pressured to come back from his concussion too soon.  He’s way too valuable to risk further injury.  Exposing him now seems premature, based on his rehab schedule.  Are we planning to win a Cup this season?  If he misses a few games, so what?
  5. I really hope Reimer starts in Montreal.  It’s not that I think he has “earned” the job at camp, but I sure don’t feel that Scrivens playing well in the AHL means he should be a starting NHL goalie just yet- and surely not on “opening day”.  C’mon.  I look at it this way:  Reimer was the clear number-one guy heading into last season.  He had earned that designation.  He started 2011-’12 very well.  Only a serious injury curtailed his season.  He was never healthy last year after he got hurt.  We can throw away the last part of the season.  Should Reimer lose his job to a guy with a handful of NHL games behind him because he hasn’t been healthy?  It’s not like we’ve exactly brought in an established NHL starter to take Reimer's job.
  6. I think Reimer deserves to feel like a number-one again until he plays himself out of that job.  I think it would be a mistake to play with Reimer’s head, especially as he is fighting to regain his confidence after that injury. 
  7. On that goaltending note, I’m anxious to see the Leaf goalies without Allaire looking over their shoulder.  Allaire’s method of teaching is clearly not right for every goalie and it will be noteworthy to see if Reimer, for example, can return to his earlier career form—and playing style.
  8. It’s time to give Kadri the opportunity to play on the big club without worrying that a mistake will see him back with the Marlies.  Like Reimer, let him prove he can’t be a factor here.  Give him regular linemates and real minutes. No more up and down, yo-yo, “prove yourself” stuff.  Just let him play.
  9. Phaneuf, Liles, Gunnarsson, Franson and Gardiner (when healthy) are surely part of the projected defense corps.  I have no idea where Komisarek fits, because I don’t know if a buy-out is still an option or if he has shown Carlyle enough that he will be one of the defenders that can play with sandpaper.  If so, that’s six guys right there, and we have not even discussed Kostka, who has excelled with the Marlies and by all accounts has not looked out of place at Leaf camp.  If you’re looking for “jam”, there’s Mark Fraser.   We also haven’t mentioned Holzer.  (Paul Ranger is not even here, though he has the skills and experience to be an NHL player, obviously.) Am I missing someone? Oh yes, Rielly. If he stays, who, then, is gone?
  10. I think Liles will have a nice start to the season, as he did a year ago.
  11. Will Kadri finally be used as a center on a regular basis with the Leafs?  I always thought that was his position, but you’d never know it by the way the Leafs utilized him the last couple of years.
  12. How do you feel about a third line of Kadri between Komarov and Frattin?
  13. Do you want Colton Orr on the roster?  Various accounts suggest he is slimmer and playing a hard fore-checking game, and will be here as a more versatile performer if he makes the roster.
  14. We are over-loaded at center ice, even with Lombardi now dealt to Phoenix (I'll take that pick, by the way.  I did not expect a third or fourth rounder for Lombardi, given his injury history...).  Bozak, Grabovski, Kadri, McClement, Steckel, Connolly and Komarov are all still here.  Cap and contract issues aside, I’d like to see Grabbo, Kadri, Komarov and McClement get the jobs for now, though I realize Kadri could be on the wing, too.  Who would you like to see start the season up the middle?
  15. Not that exhibition games are necessarily an indication of what is to come (remember when our power play was “scary good” in pre-season a year ago?) but it’s odd going into a season with no idea whether our special teams are in good shape.  At least all teams are in the same boat.
Exhibition games are not usually very exciting, but training camp without exhibition games is even less exciting.

It’s time for some real games. We’ve waited long enough. 


  1. MIchael,

    1. These games mean nothing. They are a good rehearsal for the cheerleaders at LeafsTV. Other than that, not so much.

    2. Injuries will play a role for every team I imagine.

    3. I don't even want to see him dress for an NHL game yet.

    4, Agree, pushing the kid to be in the lineup is a mistake. Crosby is a great example of this.

    5. If Reimer isn't the starter and playing 8 out of the first 10. I don't even want to tell you where I think that goes. Bad place, all I will say.

    6. Agreed. See if he can do it or not. Long term is the goal for me.

    7. Hope so. Hear good things about St. Croix. Not sure what else they would say about him though.

    8. As long as he earns his spot on the team. If Connolly plays better in camp, he should get the job. The rest of the season with the Marlies can't hurt Kadri. A long playoff run in an important role may even benefit his confidence and play.

    9. Lots of guys who all seem the same, or interchangeable to me. Not much to choose from here in the 5-8 d'men.

    10. He sure was playing well last season when he got hurt.

    11. Nope. They have had him primarily as a winger the last 2 seasons.

    12. Too many veterans on this team for this to be possible. Frattin and Kadri will be Marlie bound if I had my way.

    13. Don't care. If Carlyle wants him on the 4th line with Brown, I am ok with that. 4th lines don't win or lose hockey games very often.

    14. Bozak is a much better centreman at this point in time than Kadri. Frankly I am puzzled as to why you would include him here. Are you sad that he hasn't made the team on merit?

    15. Most of the time the exhibition games are just a way for the owners to get full ticket prices to see a couple of NHL'ers play half speed and the rest of the team are minor league bound the moment the game is over. I am not missing them at all.

  2. You know what I think it is with Kadri, Jim (my perspective, that is): we've all been following this bouncing ball now for years, since he was drafted in 2009. It feels like a decade ago. Same cliches (has to get bigger, faster, too many turnovers, etc.) from the organization every year at camp.

    I just think there is a time to acknowledge he has tried to do what the organization wants from him. I wanted him to spend the last two seasons with the Marlies full-time, not be shuttled back and forth as he was. Now I'd rather he be here.

    In terms of earning it, well, yes. That's fair. I've actually always liked Bozak as a player more than Kadri. I don't see Kadri as a speed guy, or as a physical presence at the NHL level. He mostly has good vision, nice hands and some decent moves.

    But I just want to see Kadri get a legitimate opportunity to see what we have- and if there is genuine promise for the future there. I don't think we'll find that out in the AHL.

    Just my view.

  3. Michael,

    You make a fair argument. I just don't see how a professional sports team can be anything other than a meritocracy. If he is the better player in camp, he should play and someone else should sit. That's the only fair thing to do. I don't see how keeping the 5th best centre on the team, if thats what he is, helps anyone including Kadri. He would not be the first high draft pick to come up short so to speak, and he certainly wouldn't be the last.

    It just seems to me that your reasoning is that you feel bad that he has been moved up and down, and never seemed to find his place. That I disagree with. It is up to Kadri to prove to the team that he deserves to be here. They can't make it up to him, so to speak, by giving him something that he hasn't earned.

  4. "I know I’m in a minority, but I really (still) hope Morgan Rielly heads back to Moose Jaw."

    Me too, can't screw up another dman.

    "Let’s not rush Gardiner back."
    Yep, that's what Kostka is for.

    "I really hope Reimer starts in Montreal. "
    Let's see how Thursday and Friday go. If Scrivens is lights out, then go with him. Considering how little Riemer has played last year, he should have grabbed a gig in some European league, even the ECHL just so he played lots of real games and was fresh and sharp. If a guy wants to come back and be no 1, he has to do more than Reimer did.

    "How do you feel about a third line of Kadri between Komarov and Frattin?"

    It's ok . The Lombardi trade clears up some things. I would like to try lines like this:

    Lupul Bozak Kessel
    Mac Grabo Kule
    JVR Kadri Frattin
    Komorov McClement and mix in Steckel, Brown, Conolly

    Give Kadri the time and linemates to show what he can really do. He already has good chemistry with Frattin. Really roll 4 lines. Play the third and fourth lines like 3A and 3B.

    "Do you want Colton Orr on the roster?"

    Not really, he would have to play the best hockey of his career. I thought Orr was done. I was actually hoping 235 lb David Broll would force out Mike Brown. Broll is bigger, probably tougher and better skill level than Brown. Unlike Rielly, at 235 lbs there is less worry about him being pushed around by grown men.

  5. My guess, DP, is that the roster Saturday night may look quite different in two weeks!

  6. I had a further thought about Colton Orr and there is no way he makes the team. With his large contract, Orr can easily pass through waivers and be called back up for a team like Boston or Philly. Orr has has already cleared waivers once.

    Mike Brown, Kosta, Steckel and Mark Fraser probably get claimed off waivers if you try to send them down.

    I think Holzer is waiver exempt, so he will probably be sent down in the effort to trim the roster...just because you can send him down without losing him.

    For that reason, I also think Rielly does not make the can send him down without losing him.

  7. It is good to be talking hockey again where actual games loom on the horizon. I must admit I took a hiatus, sickened by the CBA mess and the Bettman - Fehr schoolboy bickering.

    I was shocked by the Burke firing but pleased with the Nonis promotion. I look forward to a lot less bombast and a more measured approach. The Burke legacy will be with us for a time but Nonis has already started chipping away at it by trading Lombardi. I think Connally will be next and dare I hope...Komisarek.

    The time is ripe for playing the kids. A third line of Frattin, Kadri and van Riemsdyk would be refreshing and could very well produce valuable secondary scoring. At the very least Frattin and Kadri could be fairly evaluated and decisions made on their futures based on an uninterrupted body of work in the NHL.

    I would like to see a fourth line of McClement, Brown and Komarov. This line would produce solid defense and could provide some scoring. Steckel and Orr are spare parts. I would much rather have seen them keep Aucoin or Hamilton over Orr. Playing Orr 5 minutes a night is a tremendous waste of manpower. He has become an anachronism in modern day hockey.

    I would keep the Bozak, Lupul, Kessel and Grabovski, Kulemin, MacArthur lines intact. Scoring was not the problem last season. I believe that Kulemin will have a bounce-back year and that Bozak will continue to improve.

    Defense presents an enigma, compounded by the Gardiner injury. I would not be averse to seeing Rielly on a 5 game trial. That might give Gardiner enough time to heal and give Rielly a taste of the NHL before returning to Moose Jaw.

    The roster is currently listing 10 defencemen. Phaneuf, Liles, Gunnarsson, Rielly, Fraser and Gardiner are all left hand shots although Phaneuf has been playing on the right side. Komisarek, Franson, Holzer and Kostka are right handers.

    The Leafs will probably keep 7 defencemen. I think it is well past time to part ways with Komisarek. Gardiner is injured and I believe Holzer has a broken foot. Gardiner will eventually replace Rielly. Kostka and Fraser deserve a shot based on their play with the Marlies and eventually Holzer also deserves a look. Pairings after Phaneuf - Gunnarsson are going to present a challange for Carlyle and his assistants. One can only hope that Gardiner heals quickly and that Liles regains his early form of last season.

    I am optimistic that Reimer and Scrivens can produce NHL caliber goaltending. Pre injury Reimer gave us a strong net presence. Scrivens has paid his dues in the minors and looks like he will be at least a solid backup. I would be very unhappy if we gave up a package of players and draft choices for a Roberto Luongo (he who would rather be in Florida).

    You are correct, Michael. We have waited long enough. Game on!!!

  8. What a massive and important trade by Nonis to salvage the big Burke mistake by taking on Lombardi boat anchor roster stealing contract. This kind of methodical and difficult trade convinces me he is much superior GM to Burke and JFJ.

    Also I'd give Orr, Connolly and Steckel big minutes to extract maximum trade deadline value.

  9. Waiver eligibility (as in, without risk of being lost) will no doubt be key in these decisions, DP. You may be right regarding the names you cite.

  10. Good to hear from you, PeteCam. A hiatus is well understood, given the circumstances and pettiness around the protracted CBA dispute.

    I like the term "uninterrupted body of work". For me, that absolutely applies to Kadri and Frattin. Let's see them on this stage and let them go. Let's not assume they can't until we see if they can.

    I'm with you on Reimer. Again, let's let him prove he can't do it.

    As for Reilly, I love his skills but just don't want to see us start depending (and I know we will if he's here) on an 18 year-old. I've seen the end to that Leaf movie too many times before.

    Thanks PeteCam. So good to be talking hockey, for real.

  11. I'm not sure how much money on the cap (if any) the Leafs are keeping with this Lombardi deal, leafernhleastfan. I'd be stunned if the Coyotes took on all of his salary against their cap- or in real dollars. But I have not seen all the details yet.

    No question Nonis is a smart hockey guy. But I'll wait a while before I assess him versus Burke- or any good NHL GM's. Thanks.

  12. DarrenDreger: Tim Connolly not on the ice at Leafs practice. It's expected Connolly will be placed on waivers. More opportunity for players in system.

  13. Bob McKenzie ‏@TSNBobMcKenzie

    NYI claim Keith Aucoin from TOR.

    so Connolly takes Aucoin's place?

  14. As I write, Connolly's on waivers. No complaint from me! Two of last year's bigger disappointments have been jettisoned from the good ship Maple Leafs. Unlike many, I like Komisarek, and expect him to flourish under Carlyle's system. Like you, Michael, I hope Rielly is sent back - perhaps after a quick look. He's definitely a future cornerstone, no need to rush him.
    As for Reimer, I don't think we have the luxury of starting him just to spare his feelings. In this shortened season, we've got to go for the W's right from the first puck drop. If Scrivens looks better in camp - and i understand that's the case so far - then we should go with him. Reimer will get his shot(s) in the weeks to come.
    I wish someone could explain to me why Hamilton never sticks.
    I like the idea of Frattin/Kadri/Komarov. There's a good potential for speed, scoring and hitting in that combination!

  15. Hamilton seems to be that guy that is just a step off being a regular NHL'er. Not sure why, Gerund O'.

    We agree on Rielly. And yes, it's time for some kids, or at least some younger guys with potential and upside.

    Game on, finally, Gerund.

  16. i'm sensing some sarcasm from our friend, leafernhleastfan. regardless, i think moving lombardi was a decent first-step (as he was expensive, and injury-prone). i guess i don't understand hockey-politics enough to grasp why certain players make the roster each year, and others do not. i get the sense it goes beyond skill-level and effort.

  17. Sometimes training camp is a mirage, Alex C. Sometimes players look great and then not so much when the season kicks in.

    Politics, cap issues, guys who have guaranteed spots- I agree, Alex, it's hard to figure what "competition" means sometimes....