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Jake Gardiner's agent just delayed his return; the Maple Leafs face their most pivotal game of the season; and let’s highlights some Leaf blogs we like…

For me, the game Thursday night against Sid and the Pens is the "biggest" of the current NHL season for the blue and white.  It's not a "must-win" in any life and death standings sense, but it may well be an indicator for us as fans when it comes to whether this Leaf team is indeed "different" and better than the version we saw fall off the proverbial cliff a season ago.

We just had the Penguins in our park, and it's not often you get a team in your barn almost back-to-back.  But I like the timing, because Carlyle and crew are surely aware that if we aren't ready to go, we could get hammered by a pretty talented Pittsburgh squad.

That said, I like our chances.  As I write this, I don't know if Carlyle is leaning to Reimer or Scrivens (I'm guessing Reimer, but based on Carlyle's "stand" earlier in the season, he is prepared to change goaltenders after a loss.  So we'll see.) I do believe we are an improved team and Thursday night is a good time to show it- and also give the Leafs a chance to put a bit of a stinker in Winnipeg behind them.

It sure didn't sound to me on Wednesday as though Jake Gardiner will be here any time soon. (Carlyle basically said he had his chance and wasn't ready, so the team moved on...) but we'll see if the coach's view shifts at any point. Right now, there is no sense of organizational desperation, though there will certainly have to be some urgency in the team's play.

I will add this, however:  when I posted Tuesday night about the possibility of Gardiner joining the Leafs, I was not even aware of the now infamous "tweet" situation I'm about to cite now:  that is, the move by Gardiner's agent to tweet "Free Jake Gardiner" or whatever it was.  Expressing that sentiment publicly during a game did - and does - nothing to help the young man's cause.  No organization likes being called out.  And certainly not by an agent.

As a result, everyone, from Dallas Eakins and Carlyle to Dave Nonis, had to be "prepped" to answer media questions as a result of the agent's tweet.  It's distracting and silly.  We can say those types of things don't influence a team doing or not doing the right thing (if promoting Gardiner is "the right thing" to do), but I also know these public missives can cause bad blood.  It was unnecessary, and I just see no way this helps the kid.  None at all.  There are veteran NHL'ers sitting (and stewing, I'm sure) up in the press box every night saying nothing, just biding their time, hoping for a chance.  We can argue that Gardiner is more talented and all that- and that may be true.  But almost everyone has to earn their place, and in Carlyle's mind, Jake hasn't- yet.  My guess is, fair or not, a meddling agent just set the time table back for Gardiner's return. (Gardiner telling the media his agent on Wednesday "didn't mean anything by it" didn't exactly stem the tide of questions.  Of course the agent meant something by it.  He meant exactly what he tweeted.)

In any event, are there other roster tweaks ahead of us for the Leafs?  Again, we'll have to wait until game time to see.  Many of you know my views:  Carlyle is showing more patience than I ever thought he had.  He is assessing everything, and I mean everything, this season.  This is the "can't lose" season because expectations were non-existant anyway. He is trying out things and knows his job is secure.  But we should make no mistake:  he is trying to win every night.  When he plays certain guys, it's because he thinks they are giving him what he (and the team) needs.  It also means that those other guys, the ones seeing less ice, aren't giving him that in that particular game.  He didn't like the Grabovski line in Winnipeg, so they didn't see the ice much when a lot of fans thought we needed them.

But Carlyle's not easily fooled.  He knows what he wants.

In any event it's a huge game Thursday against Pittsburgh.  If Leafs win, they'll put the "losing streak" (the first, really, of the season) behind them.  And then they'll really be ready for a return match with the Jets at home on Saturday night.


Every few months I like to try and give shout-outs to Maple Leaf writers and blogs that I enjoy.  The truth is, there are all kinds of really good Leaf blogs out there and I can’t think of one that I’ve come across that I don’t like.  Every site has their own distinct voice and provides hockey and Leaf fans with a nice menu of reading options. From post-game write-ups to features and advanced stats, it's all at our fingertips.

I don’t pretend to be aware of every site out there.  But I’ve highlighted in the past (and still enjoy) the following sites (click to visit any of them...):

I could list others, too.  I realize those are probably the most familiar names.  But I’d like to provide a forum today so that you can add your thoughts with regard to Leaf (or for that matter, other solid hockey sites you enjoy and would like to boost) outlets you like and feel to a nice job covering the blue and white.

Let’s be positive.  (The readership here is fantastic, so I probably don’t need to mention that.)  But I’m not looking to trash anyone.  If we were discussing the mainstream media, as we have here in the past, I have no problem with providing critiques.  They’re well-paid professionals and that’s part of the deal.  But when it comes to bloggers, it’s different.  Let’s compliment the good work that is being done by writers and fans to help keep the Leaf legacy alive “off the ice” .

If you have a favourite Leaf site let me know—and why.  If there’s one I haven’t mentioned and may not be aware of (and should be) fill me in.


  1. Your title comments on Gardiner were my exact thoughts when I first heard about the tweet... how unfortunate for Jake (and I do hope he didn't actively pursue the action taken by his agent... perhaps the agent wants his percentage pay to increase with Gards' promotion, though I'm not sure how their pay actually works, to be quite frank).

    It may actually take the pressure off the organization to 'do something' before the trade pies are fully prepared and baked to perfection. I truly hope that Jake can work on the compatible systems expectations that will be required upon his return to the Leafs. We've already seen Kostka, Holzer and even Franson with Phaneuf... I wonder if Jake's 30 minute games are part of the plan to pair him with Phaneuf for some significant minutes upon his return... could be interesting!

    I often pop in to Maple Leaf Hotstove and really enjoy when Anthony Petrielli puts up a post (or adds some comments). He's very detailed and makes some very salient observations.

    I used to spend a little time at PPP, but their site seems to freeze my browser so haven't been there in a while. When I first checked them out, they had less people posting comments and some of the threads were quite hilarious...

    Kind of ran out of time to read through the increased commenting on both sites... guess all the people indicate a healthy (except for the 'trolls') interest in the Leafs.

    Still enjoying the people commenting on this site... it's still my primary Leaf interest site. Thanks for keeping us coming back for your observations, insights and discussion fodder, Michael - your efforts are appreciated!

    1. Thanks for the nice words!

      Please don't hesitate to comment on something if you ever want to.

    2. Anthony, I find your posts far more interesting and thought provoking than anything I read in the mainstream news. Your insights are very much worth my time, in much the same way as I enjoy spending my time on this site. I am glad to be an encouragement to you... your writing is appreciated!

      I probably won't be making comments on MLHS (being the unsigned 'lurker' that I am) because I find it far too easy to get 'caught up' in the feeling that I should spend the time reading everyone's comments (and I really don't have time for that)... said desire is probably a lack of self-control when it comes to Leaf matters!

      A lot of the comments here seem more like mini-articles and I've allocated my Leaf leisure reads to the comments here (along with the articles at MLHS - of which, yours, are exceptional).

    3. Appreciate your readership, and I'm glad that you do enjoy it.

      I understand how easy it is to get caught up in the comments section there (it reads as a conversation sometimes, more than anything), so I get your point.

      I'm sure there will be a time on here where we get into a discussion regarding more hockey-related things, and I look forward to it.

      --- Keep up the good work here Michael.

  2. Gardiner will be a full-time Leaf some day soon. But after the "tweet", I do wonder if the recall will be delayed even more. Carlyle already had concerns about Gardiner's game. I don't imagine this approach will help the relationship.

    As for Leaf sites, yes, MLHS has a number of fine writers on board. A very good Leaf site.

    Thanks for the kind words about VLM as well, InTimeFor62.

  3. For me, the most "important" upcoming game will be on Saturday vs the Jets. Of course I hope we'll do well against Pittsburgh, but if we don't, well, they're a really good team with many talented players who know each other's moves very well. They've been through the stage the Leafs are now at, and hopefully in a few years we'll be at the stage teams like the Pens are now at.
    But we need to make a team statement against Winnipeg. We've got to have a whole lot of fight, of muckulence, in our game - across the roster. We were embarrassed by the Jets the other day, and it will be a true test of team character to see how we respond in the rematch. If we see the same kind of disorganized and somewhat disinterested team we saw Tuesday night, or the team that only shows up for one period, then I fear it's going to be another trail of tears to the end of April.

  4. Well I kinda come down on the side of the player and the agent here. My guess is the agent felt he had exhausted all the possible avenues open to him. He has probably spent enough time on the phone with Nonis to pay my electric bill. All this does is galvanize public opinion which was already starting to build in Gardiner's favour. Let's not forget it was Carlyle who put pressure on Gardiner to return early from concussion to make the team coming out of the lock out. I remember there being some discussion about that very fact. To now claim he didn't show enough is a bit disingenious of Carlye.

    As for where he fits in it sure won't be with Phaneuf. They both shoot left handed and Carlye refuses to play defensemen on the opposits side. I wouldn't panic too much about the recent slide. My feelings on the matter are going back to the Islander game in Long Island is that the leafs haven't really played all the good, not all that bad just kinda average. I think the last game was one where the bounces are starting to even out after the first half when they seemed to go the Leaf's way alot. They are probably life and death to make the playoffs this year. It wouldn't suprise me if at the deadline the Leafa take a step back by dealing some of the veterans for future help. Bozak, McArthur maybe Lupul could fine themselves gone. Shouls be an interesting few weeks.

    1. I'm quite sure the agent (and perhaps the player) felt they had exhausted all avenues for a return to the NHL and it would appear that your observations have some merit, but I think it has more to do with 'holding your corporate cards to your chest' and that the timing is not right, rather than anything disingenuous that would be intended to alienate the player. I, see what you're suggesting Willbur, though still think it has more to do with the agent's agenda than an impressionable young player (who doesn't seem to like a lot of attention) that may have been swayed by such external pressure (that happens to match his own desire to return to the NHL, soon).

      Regarding the possible double Left hand pairing I suggested (with Phaneuf, clearly, back on his - but not Carlyle's - preferred right side)... I thought that 'more likely' to be accepted than my thought that they may be grooming him to replace Phaneuf. I could see him paired with a real shutdown defender and thriving in such a role.

      We have all thought about Dion's leadership role (and I've read recently that he may not be well-appreciated in the room, but hate to let rumours guide me in such matters), I'm just wondering if he is a highly sought after player and Nonis has a major shift in store for us. If we lost Phaneuf, we'd need a minute muncher who can take care of the front of the net and cover for someone like Gardiner, when he 'takes off'... perhaps the focus on our forwards role on defense is preparatory to the presence of the likes of Gardiner and Rielly on a roster where forwards will have to be VERY aware of their tendency toward the offensive side of the game.

      We could be on the threshold of some significant changes, here, I was just reticent to bring up the idea just yet... but you caught me (which may also have something to do with your last few sentences, regarding our shared anticipation of significant deadline changes). I do believe Carlyle wants his defensemen to play on their strong sides and that, as you say, will probably continue during his tenure here.

  5. I agree Gerund O' that the Jet re-match will be important. I'd like them to play well against Pittsburgh, for sure, but they need a real push back game at home against Winnipeg.

  6. I hear what you're saying Willbur. I guess I see it a bit differently. While I agree two games after a serious injury and a long layoff aren't a fair measuring stick (I remember writing at the time that Gardiner should have started back with the Marlies after the layoff, not start right away with the Leafs- that made no sense) there must be legitimate reasons Carlyle is not pushing Nonis to bring Gardiner back. It might be the waiver thing, I don't know.

    Agents are hardly unbiased observers. As InTimeFor62 suggested above, they get more when their guys are earning an NHL salary- a lot more. I'm surprised Gardiner is not here, but maybe some of the things I wrote about last season (the flaws in his game) are the same things Carlyle sees and feels.

    It will be a fun few weeks. Nonis will get to put his stamp on things a bit. We'll all stay tuned.

    1. I actually see both sides here. I don't really think anyone is at fault here. This is just the unseemly buisness side of things. This is just a young player caught in a numbers game that wants to play in the league where he was an all rookie all star. I do believe that Gardiner knew what his agent was doing but at least this way he has plausible deniability. Look, we may not agree with the way it has gone down but similar tactics have worked in the past for other players (most notably Halak and his agent). Sometimes we forget that it's just not a game anymore but a multi-billion dollar buisness as well.

      I agree Michael that Gardiner should have probably started in the AHL but a bigger problem is that it is pretty obvious in hindsight that he came back to early from the injury in the first place. For that I can and do blame Randy Carlyle. Espicially in the context of today's game and head injuries, for a coach to publically put pressure on a young player is just flat out wrong.

      I do wish Dion played his off side as that is where he has played most of his career. This would allow the Leafs to make the changes needed to get Gardiner back in the line up. This might be where I have my biggest problem with Carlyle, he is stubborn. I know he doesn't want to break up his d pairings but as BMaximus pointed out they are giving up 4 goals a game over the last eight, not exactly a ringing endorsment if you ask me.

      I'll take Gardiner's defensive miscues everyday if he can move the puck and put up some decent offensive numbers. In my mind even if Carlyle doesn't feel he is ready, he is still better than every other dman but Phanuef.

  7. While I'd be shocked if Nonis moved Phaneuf, there may be other considerations on his plate, InTimeFor62. I half wonder if Gardiner (previously untouchable in the Burke regime) is more available today than he was 48 hours ago.

    1. If Carlyle truly has noted deficiencies in Jake's game (that he will not abide on his team), we may well see a major deal involving the young defenseman (especially with Rielly in the wings as a similar, but probably stronger, more well-rounded player).

      Phaneuf really is important to this team (even if he's not as noticeable as in his younger, more reckless, days - so there would have to be a major shift in direction (probably a bit further into the future) for him to go (hence my reticence to suggest the possibility :).

  8. Michael, I admire Carlye's work thus far. It does seem evident that there is a creeping decline in defensive performance over the past few weeks. As save % begins to normalize (the .94 stuff wasn't going to last)the GAA rises. The 32 goals in the past 8 games (4.00 YIKES)is ample evidence. Maybe we have the worst GAA over that time period.

    Recently the team is looking much like previous recent additions in their own end. The basic approach to moving the puck up ice has been figured out and teams are adjusting forechecking. Losing 'system' advantage can be offset by talent. Unfortunately, simply put, the talent to move the puck up the ice in the face of more efficient and effective forechecking isn't there.

    One only has to take a peek at our giveaways number(no more than a peek or one risks being turned into a pillar of salt) to see the evidence needed to reach these conclusions.

    Jake Gardiner may not be Randy Ready but I fear the season will end like all other recent ones if we are left to rely on Kostka, Fraser and Korby (half our d-men are career minor-leaguers!!!). They are all workman-like and can serve a purpose but none have the skill set to adjust on the go when the system isn't able to operate effectively.

    We have no rearguards who can grab the puck and carry it up the ice.(at least ones not in the press box or the 'A') Not one. All the competition knows this and so preparing to stop us, forecheck us etc. has become very simple. The opposition has caught on and caught up and now our very limited talent base is costing us on the scoreboard. That is undeniable.

    Jake will likely help with this a lot. Maybe not now, but he will. As Morgan Rielly is likely to do. But seemingly we are not talking 2013 solutions. Not in the coach's eyes.

    That's the reality. Until he have some puck carry defenders AND the coach is willing to play them we are living with a defensive core that is genuinely, per their very career history, primarily minor league. We fans need to keep this in mind and manage our 2013 expectations properly.

    Our defense is 50% minor league and in the past 8 games our GAA of 4.00 shows it. By Carlye's own ,albeit indirect, admission, we have nobody who is 'ready' to help out. So are we now left to pray Phil continues with his 5 goals in 5 games stuff and both Lupol and Frattin return with a vengeance? I don't see baskets full of 2-1 victories in the crystal ball.

  9. I was nodding a lot as I read your comment today, Bmaximus- thanks for that. Well said.

  10. Willbur- your point about Carlyle's "stubbornness" just made me think: you know, coaches, like the rest of us, have behaviour patterns, personal comfort zones. They know what they feel they have had success with in the past. So whether it's the left-hand, right-hand shot thing or a certain system of play or a type of goalie or type of player, they like what they livk and they believe what they believe.

    This is not to suggest Carlyle has not "evolved". He's not as crusty as I thought (at least publicly, so far) and he does seem to have more of a rapport with players than I thought he would have. But I'm sure he has certain ways of looking at things and he will usually stick with the tried and true.

    I believe he has actually experimented a lot this year. He knows this is far from the roster he will need or have to try and win a Cup. So while we get impatient at times with what we see as not the best roster decisions, I think he is doing what he feels he needs to do to get the most out of this group.

    As for Gardiner, in a year this won't be an issue. He'll likely be a regular, big-minute defenseman for us- unless he begins to annoy the organization and is traded in the interim. But surely his agent will calm down and all will be set aside going forward.

    I will say no professional team at any level in any sport wants to be perceived as doing the bidding of an agent. It was not a smart move for the agent to do what he did. He hurt his player's cause, in my view.

  11. Well I can guess the Leafs don't want to look like they are doing what the agent wants but there is some risk in that strategy. At some point you run the risk of alienating the player as well as the fan base. In Gardiners case it may make him less likely to resign and not want to be here which is never a good thing. Secondly, if it looks like the management is not giving the team the best chance to win simply to make a point you run the risk of loosing the dressing room. We all saw what happened last year when Ron Wilson lost his players. The same aslo aplies to the fans. We all saw what the final third of the season was like last year and no one wants a repeat. My opinion is all these guys are making big money for one reason, to win.

    I believe that Nonis is above all this and the reason Gardiner is not up is simply no room. He won't make a move just because an agent tweets something but neither will he hurt his team because of the same tweet. This will be rectified at the deadline and I predict in 2-3 weeks he will be on the big squad.

    Actually the timing of this makes a lot of sense from the agent's view. Nothing was going to get done until the deadline anyway. Now when it does get done he gets to take some credit in forcing the Leafs hand. Is that true, probably not but perception is half the battle. In the end none of it matters, the Leafs will do what is right for the team (I hope) and the season will go on.

  12. The Leafs have a historical tendency to rush the young, undeveloped prospects into the NHL level too soon, though it bodes well, for both Jake and Morgan, that we're not heeding the fan base by rushing each into their respective possible NHL positions too soon. I just came across an interesting quote to back your oft-mentioned perspective, Michael:

    "Back in 1981-82, Leafs management opted to throw a trio of teenagers into the NHL wars rather than give them time to develop on the farm.

    And with that one decision, it would be baptism by fire for Bob McGill, 19, Fred Boimistruck, 19, and Jim Benning, 18.

    Upon further review, it proved to be, in the minds of many, one of the worst gaffs the Leafs organization ever made. Benning and Boimistruck never lived up anywhere near to expectations while McGill grinded his way to a blue-collar professional career.

    “I think I was rushed,” Benning, now the assistant GM of the Boston Bruins, told the Toronto Sun in 2009, “But I had no choice. That’s the direction management went. I just had to go along.” "

    That should silence any critics respecting your position!

    [Put this in an older thread in case you might like to use it in a future article... :) ]

  13. And one more encouraging quote from Morgan Rielly:

    "Rielly also earned the Defensive Player of the Year award, the Fans’ Choice award and the Three Star award. While he is striving to make the jump to the NHL next year, he said it would be fine by him to return for his 19-year-old season."

  14. You know my feelings well on this question of "rushing" our young defensemen, InTimeFor62. We've done it far too often in the past. We did it with Schenn- to his detriment. And we were clearly considering doing it with Rielly. I was relieved that we let him finish out the season in junior.

    While that trio of kids you quite properly cite are not the only examples (and thank you for the quote from Benning himself), they represented wrong-headed thinking then and also through the years with Leaf management.

    Young defensemen do not need to be force-fed into an NHL line-up...especially when there are not the proper support systems in place (the "right" veterans on the team, etc.) to guide their development.

  15. Ooops.. copied the commentary instead of the quote:

    “I’ve always enjoyed playing here in Moose Jaw and I might get a chance to play here next year. If I got that opportunity I would be happy about it because it’s a great place to play junior hockey,” said Rielly. “I’ve always enjoyed my time here.”