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Remember Kadri’s goal if he struggles later this season…

Admit it:  when the Devils scored twice in the second period—against a fourth line comprised of Steckel, Orr and McLaren—were you among those who thought, “we just traded the wrong fourth-line guy to Edmonton?”.

Before some brief thoughts on the Monday-nighter at the ACC, a parting thought on the departed Mike Brown:  any player, no matter how long or short a stay he has with the blue and white, will always be fondly remembered if he left everything he had on the ice, regardless of skill level, when he was here.   That's just the way Leaf fans are.  Whether it's Brian Spencer (seen in early '70s game action right, against Bob Plager and the St. Louis Blues), Rocky Saganiuk,  Brad “Motor City Smitty” Smith, Brad Marsh, Gary Roberts or Tie Domi, we generally love individuals who play hard- and tough.  Mike Brown will forever be one of those guys.  He gave the Leafs—and we fans—everything he had.  Last season, when not many guys were willing to step up and be counted, Brown finished his checks and fought regularly on behalf of teammates.  He did it this season, too.  Edmonton is getting a useful, dedicated team guy. 

I’m not suggesting we should not have made the deal.  We need some roster spots soon.  But kudos to Brown for playing with a lot of heart here, and for making himself valuable enough to be worth at least a fourth-round draft choice, and maybe more. He's still helping the Leafs.

One related comment.  It’s funny.  We were playing sometimes with three “tough-guys”, two of them (McLaren and Orr) thought to be one-dimensional by many Leaf fans.  There is a belief in Leafland that that was too much of the same kind of player to have in the lineup on any given night- and maybe that’s true.  But in the same breath, an injury to Orr or McLaren and suddenly we’re down to one player of that ilk.  Still, Nonis had to make a move.  It makes sense.


Kadri is the most dangerous guy the Leafs have right now.  In fact he has been almost all season.  Kessel has been our biggest threat for years, a high-skill guy who can do also things at high speed.  But there seem to be more dimensions, to use that word again, in Kadri’s game.  Phil has some staple moves, and he continues to set up sweet opportunities for linemates most nights.  But Kadri is one of those players with eyes in the back of his head.  He has a knack for seeing the whole ice surface and knowing where to be—and where his teammates will be.  I know there have been some Gilmour comparisons and there’s a long way to go before that’s a thing.  But he’s impressing a lot of people right now.  His goal against the Devils was of the fluky variety, but his set up of MacArthur for the lead goal in the third was a beauty—and far from the only time he was a threat on the night.

  • Let’s remember Kadri’s opening goal if he goes dry later this season.  When you’re hot and catching breaks, too, those somehow end up in the net. When you’re not, nothing goes in, it seems.
  • Given the opposition, (albeit a struggling Devil squad- I think they had lost 7 of their last 9 games), you have to be impressed with the Leafs collecting themselves and finding a way to come back in the third period against a normally stingy New Jersey squad.
  • Even the best two-way players make mistakes:  A Patrick Elias miscue turned the game around on McClement’s tying goal in the opening seconds of the third period. (McClement had another nice night, doing a lot of small things that help win games besides scoring a goal.)
  • Kessel scored at the ACC (which hasn’t happened lately and should help him a bit) on a gorgeous feed from van Riemsdyk.  Not everyone can make that pass. (Gunnarsson started that play very smartly…)
  • I did notice that, in the second period, Phil was in on a two-on-one, and while he is never afraid to shoot, he passed—and it didn’t work.  I thought there was an opportunity to drive right to the net himself, but that’s not always something he likes to do—and it’s something I sometimes wish he was more willing to do.
  • Elias had a chance to redeem himself when the score was 3-2 Toronto but Reimer made a huge (and awfully timely) save going post to post.  Given his lengthy absence, it will uplifting if Reimer is “back”—and he looked it Monday night.

You no doubt have other observations on a game that didn’t look all that promising through two periods, but the Leafs were full measure for the win in the end.

A question for you: with Reimer back and Lupul and Frattin returning, is there a reason the Leafs could not compete with the Devils in the playoffs? It’s just one game but it does get a fan thinking…


  1. Admit it: when the Devils scored twice in the second period—against a fourth line comprised of Steckel, Orr and McLaren—were you among those who thought, “we just traded the wrong fourth-line guy to Edmonton?”.

    I was thinking Brown would be the one go. I thought it would be at the end of the season. I am glad they got a 4th round draft choice.

    I don't really have any problem with Brown, but Brown won't help intimidate a team like Boston.... McClaren does. Boston was very polite with Orr and McClaren in the game. McClaren can fight an ultra-heavyweight like John Scott. McClaren also puts up points at twice the rate of Mike Brown. I actually thought the problem was Steckel, who even looked iffy on the PK. That line works much better with McClement.

    I would actually be happy if the Leafs took the third round pick and other assets and traded them for another defensive specialist like McClement and sat McClaren against softer teams.

    "A question for you: with Reimer back and Lupul and Frattin returning, is there a reason the Leafs could not compete with the Devils in the playoffs? It’s just one game but it does get a fan thinking…"

    Sure, the playoff lineup of this team could be scary:

    Lupul Bozak Kessel
    JVR Grabo Kulemin
    MacArthur Kadri Frattin
    Komorov McClement (Orr/defensive specialist)

    If the Leafs keep it up, teams would look at that possible line up and say, "I hope we don't draw them in the first round."

    My question: who is the defensive specialist that we should trade for?

  2. Your last question is a good one, DP. And that may be the very (low-cost) piece Nonis is looking for between now and the deadline.

  3. Michael,

    Another interesting night in the NHL. Sure are lots of mediocre hockey teams this year. I guess I may have a different opinion if I was watching the Western Conference more frequently. I usually try to watch some of those games when I can, just not as often as I would like. This must be the goal of the salary cap and the draft lottery. One or two really good or great teams, a couple of good ones, a couple terrible teams, and everybody else. If there aren't twenty bad hockey teams in the League, someones watching different games than I am. Montreal is atop the East, Pittsburgh can barely handle Tampa, the Leafs and Devils trade the lead. You get my point. These are not the Oilers and the Islanders from the 80's.

    I think Toronto has a lot more problems with Jersey if Marty is in the crease for them. Hedberg looked awful on more than one goal tonight. You know I loved Mike Brown. I am sad to see him go. I think that in bigger, more important games, he has more to offer than either Orr or McLaren. He just never really got it going with the injury, I hope he does well in Edmonton. He was an honest, hard working player for Toronto. He always did whatever was required of him, including some fine work as a penalty killer. I don't see either of the two guys we kept, getting much ice in a playoff game for example. They sat the entire 3rd period tonight. That doesn't bode well for the tight checking games of the future. There usually is quite the lack of fighting in the second season. I will acquiesce that you need to get there first, and maybe Orr and McLaren give us a better shot at that. I just really don't know for sure how it is all going to play out.

    Thinking more about the game, it strikes me just how little margin there truly is. Jersey hit the post two or three times in the second. It certainly would have put the game away if they had been on the other side of the post so to speak. Maybe like other teams in the past, lady luck is on the Leafs side for a change. It certainly would be nice for them to win just enough against the other middle of the road teams to get a playoff berth.

    I have to ask. Does anyone think that Boston is staying up late trying to figure out how Chara will fare against our group of forwards in a playoff series? Or how to defeat the Leafs in their own zone? Whenever I hear Joe Bowen say the Leafs are hemmed in their zone and need a change, we all know who is on the ice. Sports is a funny business, soemtimes funny ha ha, sometimes funny strange. This in my opinion is a funny strange kind of season.

  4. I liked Brown as well, Jim.

    I agree this was a game that could easily have gone the other way. Those second period posts were good fortune for us. But this season, we seem to be catching those breaks.

    I don't know how many teams in the East are unbeatable in a series. We'll soon see.

  5. We had luck on our side for sure last night. Those softies don't usually go in, and those "clangers" an inch inside and we are blown out of the waters. Happy it went our way.

    Kadri, JVR and MacArthur are just rolling along and Kessel seemed to have more spunk, even threw his body around once.

    I still can't believe how terrible our power play set up is. We just can't do it right. It was so easily done last year and this year with the same guys it's non existent. Is it so hard? Mr. Carlyle, please no more dump and chase on the PP.

    As for the playoffs, aside from our "nemisis" Bruins (we just cannot beat those guys), we could actually beat anyone in our conference. We just need to get there and play like we can.

  6. I have given Mike Brown a lot of support here in the past, and I am certainly disappointed to see him go, as much as I understand the circumstance. I have to admit that he has looked a little clumsy since coming back from the injury, I don't know if he just isn't fully recovered or what. But Edmonton no doubt received a hard-working banger and they will be better for it. As for our own fourth line as it is set, I have to admit it seemed a bit odd they turned in an awful game the day Brown left town. Could it be that having to compete with each other for playing time might have been a good motivation for them all?

    As for who remains on the roster, and with Frattin and Lupul coming back soon, it will be evident soon whether this is a playoff roster. I agree with Jim here, this is a mediocre field the Leafs are playing among, so maybe they are getting their chance to move up the ladder by circumstance. All the same, this is the league they are competing in, and all signs have shown that the Leafs are in fact being built for competition in 2013 NHL. The end of last season, in hindsight, was showing that Burke's vision had become outdated.

    The current roster is doing the little things they need to do. Playing within a tight defensive system. Aggressive hitting all over the ice. Blocking shots. Most importantly, not allowing the competition to take over and completely dictate the game in the third period, last night being of course a good example.

    Nonis' job at this point is to figure out what missing pieces to the puzzle will lift the Leafs from the sea of mediocrity they are among. We have all of course stated various ideas here on that, mostly that we need to unload some surplus defense in favour of forwards, and whether Kessel stays or goes and if we are going to continue to move forward with Bozak as a number one center. I hope those questions are answered before the start of next season.

  7. Exactly, portuguese leaf- not sure there are many unbeatable teams in the East right now!

  8. The Leafs remind me of the Rangers last season, Pete. An inconsistent (in terms of actual production- I know he's skating and trying every night) "superstar" in Kessel (see Gaborik), an emerging young player in Kadri (pick a young Ranger from last season) and a lot of hard-working guys who play their coach's system, doing the things you cite, like blocking shots, etc. (The Rangers have a bit more high-end talent with Nash, Richards, etc. but they succeeded last year largely because of goaltending and their work ethic...)

    Who's to say the Leafs can't compete in the East, which as I've said here for ages, is pretty ordinary.

    You're right about Nonis' job moving forward. There are some big decisions to be made, but I sense he will tick things off one challenge at a time, while shaping the roster bit by bit. Thanks Pete.

  9. Just as I have said that Jay McClement 'reminds' me of Norm Ullman's work ethic, I will say that Mike Brown 'reminds' me of Wendel Clark's heart (and unfortunately, rest-of-body). Their hearts are bigger than their bodies will allow them to play through the grind of season after season. I truly love Mike's 'leave it all on the ice' play - and he is clearly a beloved (now former) teammate who will always be welcome amongst the alumni in the future.

    That said, I realized the 'writing was on the wall' in the game where Brown had his last fight... he seemed desparate to prove himself to the team that has now traded him... trying to make things happen - seemingly 'outside of himself' as we have come to appreciate him. There was another play where this was the case and his effort took him out of position along the boards and I thought... 'oh boy, Randy is NOT gonna' like that'.

    Despite such 'desparation' during his final Leaf days, I believe this is a positive move for both teams (and, eventually, for Brown once he bonds with his new team - and it is good that there will be no 'cross-over' til the Stanley Cup finals, so he has time to let go and start over in Edmonton). Edmonton clearly values Brown in a way (4th pick to possible 3rd) that many are hoping we could get for others that do not appear to fit in our future (that cost us a lot more than Brown did with a 5th and a reasonable contract). His departure opens a place for more opportunities, whether now with Matt Frattin or later with one of the Marlies.

    Frazer MacLaren has some speed (not quite Brown speed) and some fighting skills (not quite Orr's) that might make him the primary player of that ilk on our 4th line going forward. We'll see if Orr is re-upped, but he has probably earned a place for the remainder of his contract... next year we get a look at Devane, Crescenzi, D'Amigo, Broll and Biggs in camp, so we won't be lacking in options to make further changes if younger players prove ready for the jump.

    Even Kadri's 'fluke' goal came because he attracted 2 defenders and was able to sneak a pass through them for a cross-crease opportunity that would be 'wide open' (for Komarov, I think)... Nazem even commented that Hedberg made a nice stick play to stop his intended pass from being a tap-in... of course, that's what opened the 5-hole for the dribbler to look so flukey.

    In light of your wise counsel, tempering expectations and downturns in productivity, I am reminded that Kadri is up for his first RFA contract at any time through the start of next season. I'm hoping he accepts a Matt Duchene level contract within which he can grow into his role (and be beloved without the anchor of 'proving his value'), rather than a Ryan O'Reilly/ Drew Doughty holdout level contract, where all the pressure to perform to the contract hits right away... Perhaps a JVR contract with transitional (lower) values and (increasing) dollars over term might be worth pursuing for both sides of the pending negotiation. If his performance numbers keep moving in the present direction (sustained 'point a game' through the remainder of this SHORT season), I hope Kadri and his agent realize how many more opportunities he has to thrive in this hockey mecca.

    Take a lower contract, give your team more opportunity for success, inspire others to be part of a great team within the cap, take the pressure off yourself as a player, be beloved by the fans and leverage that for endorsements in a huge market... that's my counsel for a mature Nazem Kadri - I hope he gives it due consideration!

    I hope he can retain some of the 'love' he is engendering with his current play and NOT over-leverage that into his next contract... let's see how mature he can be... cause the proof is in the pudding!

  10. I whole-heartedly endorse your comments about how Kadri "should" handle his next contract with the Leafs, InTimeFor62.

    I remember how popular and loved Mike Comrie was with the Oilers many years ago. Young, a local kid as I recall, a fast skater, smart, great vision, dynamic. One contract holdout later and his career was never really the same.

    Let's hope our young player, as you well articulate, rises above ego and all the other usual stuff. If he's as good as some think, he'll get his money in the years ahead...

  11. As you said Micheal, most all fans will miss Brown's energy, and hard-hitting style. He gave his all every night and fans embrace those type of players. Its unfortunate that a number of NHL teams continue to feel it necessary to employ hard-hitting "enforcers". Brown, although quite willing to take on much bigger opponents, was a middle-weight. I thought when Orr was sent down, and Burke gave his little "rats" speech, that just maybe the NHL was turning the corner. Apparently not.

    Now that the team is getting some roster players back, it is more likely Orr will sit out in favour of MacLaren (assuming MacLaren stays healthy). Orr provides insurance in case of injury, or for the odd night where Carlyle feels he needs extra muscle.

    Just a quick comment about Kessel. There was an earlier 2-on-1 in the game that Kessel and JvR had where Hedberg was holding position figuring Kessel was going to shoot. The NJ player coming back on the play, was trying to keep up with (and stay between) Kessel and JvR. Eventually he committed to trying to take out Kessel, forcing Kessel to either shoot or pass. Hedberg held position for a shot, and instead Kessel passed to JvR who was in a much better position to score. Kessel made a nearly perfect pass, but JvR couldn't connect. At that moment I thought to myself, had JvR made the same pass to Kessel, he'd fire it home. Sure enough it happened later on.

    Personally I only want to see Kessel drive to the net when he's sure his speed can get him by any defenders. I think he is playing smart hockey this year, and he's made some incredible passing plays. Look at his assists compared to JvR's. Sadly, Bozak is just not a #1 center, and is dragging the other two down, rather than feeding them in open areas or in front of the net. I hope Nonis finds a solution for a #1 center, because until then Kessel and JvR/Lupul are being marginalized. I've heard people say Kadri should be moved up to the first line. I had hopes for Bozak improving from last year, but if anything his game has declined. Not a good situation for a player about to become a UFA. Even his trade value is declining.

    1. I agree the Leafs would benefit from a bonafide number one center. Which team wouldn't? But I don't think people are given Bozak enough credit.

      On the offensive side, I think Bozak is too Kessel oriented. He is too willing to delegate the play to Kessel. If you review most of his goals this year, it is because he took it upon himself and dictated the play. It seems like he trying too hard to get Kessel the puck so he can get out of his scoring slump. Do I believe he is a true number one center? No but he isn't that bad. Is he in the Seguin and Bergeron's league? No but he isn't that far behind. Is he the Crosby and Malkin of the league, absolutely not but most teams don't have them and are quite successful.

      I actually don't think he's game has declined but rather the opposite. One has to look at his current wingers, JVR and Kessel are not defensive responsible players. You'd be playing a very poor defensive team if you have more than 5 odd man rushes a game. The ability to play in your opponent's zone for extended time will likely yield more rewards. The problem with JVR and Kessel lack of defensive awareness is that once a rush is nullified, Bozak is on his own. No number one center can play that game consistently. You're asking a lot out of Bozak to be all things and punish him for his line mates' shortcomings. Lupul's return will help because Lupul is more defensively responsible than JVR.

      I do hope Bozak is not traded unless the return is comparable. That said, I don't know how he would fit under the salary structure next year given Gabbo's over value salary.

  12. Keseel is making some sweet plays almost every night, Don (TML_fan), agreed. I guess he'll never go to the net the way I'd like, but he's not a Cam Neely or Shanahan. Just not in him.

    I think you're right about how Carlyle will deploy his "tough guy" regiment going forward...

  13. Hi Michael,

    You're right on point regarding Brown. It is unfortunate but because of the other variables, it is understandable. He will be great for the Oilers no doubt. I think the Oilers got the better of the deal.

    Kudos to Kadri. Very impressive performance thus far but we still need to see how he does over long term. I still think he's hasn't really seen truly tough competition. I'd like to see how he does against the Charas of the league. He is still getting protective minutes thanks to Kessel.

    On a note of last night's game. Although they won and performed much better than the Islanders game, there are still work to be done. The Devils could have easily been up 4-1 if not for the posts and bounces. There are still missed coverages and executions. These must be eradicated if they want to truly compete against the elites. Although I don't think the Devils are an elite team, in a 7 games series with Brodeur playing, I don't think the Leafs will advance if they don't fix these issues whether Lupul or Frattin is playing.

  14. I was nodding along while reading your post, Lukas.

    Those who follow VLM know I've often stated that the playoffs is where the flaws (individual and team) are really exposed. Look at Joe Thornton. One of the great players in the game, of this era, really, but because his playoff "record" is not what people would like to see, he is questioned, much like Marleau- and the Sharks as a team, for that matter.

    Fair or not, that's another of those 'steps' in our perception of a player's development. So if Kessel and Kadri excel in the springtime, they will have "proven" to their doubters, including people like me, that they are more than just nice, highly-skilled, regular-season players.

    Yes, plenty of things to work on for this team. Carlyle knows that. He's not getting ahead of himself. He's coached good teams in the past and knows we're not there yet. Thanks Lukas.

    1. I just love playoff hockey. It is where you truly see the fire and where every player must elevate their game to succeed. Inherently skilled players will now only succeed if they fight for every inch and execute when the opportunity present itself. Their flaws are exposed. There are no freebies no auditions. This is a time when all the regular season practice comes in, where system play counts, where the little things truly matters. But most of all, the will to win is exemplified. From what I can tell, Kadri seem to have that fire bordering on arrogant at times. Determined to prove something which bodes well for playoff hockey. I think Kessel has that too, elements of "I'll show you". Time will tell though whether they are the Gilmours and Roberts or the Thorton and Marleau's.

      From what I can tell, Carlyle is not overly moved by a win here or there either. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of him when he was first hired. Looking back after he took over for Wilson and ended the season with what I believe as 6 win in 18, he was probably shocked how poorly this team execute on a nightly basis. I sense he is not overly moved by the fans nor the media but is not Wilson arrogant enough to be derisive either. I am glad he was hired but still mindful of the potential lost of Dallas Eakins if that day come.

  15. Your thoughts on Carlyle are entirely fair, Lukas. He is not particularly impressed when they win, rather pragmatic when they don't. He knows the difference between a team that plays well - and doesn't. And the game outcome is not always indicative, as we know, of how a team played.

  16. Nice tribute to Mike Brown, Michael. I think we all agree he gave everything he had for the team, and will always be thought of fondly by Leaf fans. Don't be surprised if he returns to the Leafs at the end of the season! Nonis seems to like him. Though he may not be in the heavyweight division for fights, he was definitely the spark that got the other guys on that line going. I loved to watch the way they could create a ruckus in the opposing team's end, Tasmanian-devil style, when they got a chance.
    Yes, Kadri is currently our best player, no question. Creative, feisty, energetic. I think he, MacArthur and Frattin could be a potent unit. I was at the game last night, and he clearly was trying to make things happen. Both he and Kessel are terrific playmakers - that pass to MacArthur (not to mention MacArthur's quick hands in scoring the goal) was a beauty. Phil seems to have lost a step this year - he's often unable to beat the D on a rush. Or is it that he's too predictable? I think it's a bit of both, but it will be interesting to see how he does with the return of Lupul and with the attention of top checking lines going to Kadri & Co.
    What concerns me is the sluggish way the rest of the team played for the first two periods last night. The kind of inconsistency we've demonstrated in the last few games guarantees a quick playoff exit, if we should indeed make it that far. As others have pointed out above, but for the fortune of some posts, there goes the game. We could have been down and out before the third period even began. On a positive note, our D is so much more rugged than in previous years. Lots of solid hits, and no-one's being pushed off the puck. Gunnarsson had his best game since returning, I thought, and just missed a highlight reel open-ice hit. As you mention, his pass to JvR was perfect.
    I had been thinking that teams seem to have found a way to contain us just before the third period started - and then the "other" Leaf team showed up. We don't get to see that team nearly enough - but as we've often said this season, it bodes well for the future.
    You touch on another point that's becoming increasingly urgent - injuries notwithstanding, who do we move to allow the return of Frattin/Lupul, maybe Gardiner (I guess I'm the only one who doesn't see his return as being essential)? Holzer to Marlies, sit Orr/McLaren? Our team is really starting to feel like a "team", and that's the undefinable quality that allows a front runner to be taken out by a lower squad in the playoffs. It seems to me that Nonis and Carlyle are crafting this atmosphere around the Leafs, and it's a refreshing change.

  17. Really well said, Gerund O'. You see things in person that you can't always detect from simply watching on television and as you say, Kadri shows a lot.

    Interesting point about Kessel. I really want to see him in the playoffs and see what he's got against the tough checking.

    No question this is beginning to be a "team"- I sense these guys like each other...

  18. Once again, I only managed to catch a recap of the game. Kadri's goal was more than a bit lucky, but he got a spirited start to the season, and now he's not afraid to try and make things happen. That's a natural result of a growing confidence, which, seems to me, is a team-wide trend that has been steadily growing throughout the first half of the season. Kadri's still a point-per-game player, which means, that even if his luck completely dries out right now, he'll still have been more effective than most of us would have predicted before the season started. I still can't figure out why he wasn't given a shot at playing center when he was first brought up; I mean, he has never been the sniper type for whom it might make sense to convert him to playing the wing. Sure, he is scoring goals as well as making plays nowadays, but that's beside the point. The point in my opinion is, that for the first time in the Leafs, he is being allowed to do what comes naturally. This is hockey, after all, not nuclear physics. You'd think professionals of many years would have caught on to the basics sooner rather than later.

    Which brings me to another person I feel deserves some credit. That person is Randy Carlyle. When he was first appointed, I wondered if he was a step in the right, or indeed any new, direction. I wondered if he would bring a change in approach that was surely necessary, or if the change would be in name and face only. Carlyle's start with the Leafs at the closing stages of last season provided no fireworks, which was not too surprising as we were down, out, and generally bereft of confidence when he took the reins. But so far this season we have not lost more than two in a row. We've had a "won" game go to overtime, but, and correct me if I'm wrong, not lost in overtime thus far. And not a single shootout, and again, correct me if I'm mistaken. These are pretty good things to have on your résumé, both as a coach and as a team.

    It's been a curious season thus far, teams have run hot and cold, except for the Blackhawks, who have been red hot thus far. The Habs have gotten pretty hot since they got Subban back in their fold. And our Leafs, who refuse to go cold after a setback. I'm not planning the parade, but we have a winning, hard-working team that has no real reason to fear anyone. We're no longer fun to play against. For years, our odd hot streaks have felt fluke, and sure enough, they've turned out to be just that, sooner or later. Now I'm not feeling that way at all. No, we're not even close to making the playoffs yet. We could very well not make the playoffs this season. We're certainly not the most talented team in the league. But even when things are not going our way, there's no panic in the air. And that, more than anything, is a huge change from the near past.

  19. You've well captured where the Leafs seem to be "at", CGLN. Not a great team, but grinding enough and getting solid enough goaltending most nights that, playing their "system", it gives them a chance to win most games.

    And no, they've not lost in OT, haven't lost more than two in a row- good signs for any squad. The ability to bounce back and avoid a string of losses is always helpful.

    They seem to have enough skills and determination to compete in the East- which is about all we can ask of them at this point. Thanks CGLN.

  20. Hi Michael,
    To echo another poster, nice tribute to Brown. It's easy to cheer for a guy who plays with so much "heart." I wish him the best with a very exciting team in Edmonton, where he will likely play an important role helping the youngsters there build more confidence.

    As for last night, relating to Frattin coming back (soon, I hope), I noticed one particular play where Kadri came in hard, creating havoc in the slot as usual, took a quick shot, forcing NJ's goalie to give up a fat rebound that Komorov couldn't quite reach. This play is exactly the kind that led to many of Frattin's goals from Kadri; Fratts gets to the right spots to capitalize on opportunities that other players might not anticipate or be in position for. So, yeah, I'd like to see Frattin back with Kadri (although I love Komorov's game too).

    I'm also looking forward to Lupul rejoining Bozak and Kessel. I think having these two important players back will allow for a very dangerous and well-distributed offence across the top three lines. Perhaps we'll also see a revised, more defensively-responsible fourth line, which could take on more of the nightly checking duties and free up the Grabbo line to play some more offence. I don't know what Nonis and Carlyle are planning vis-a-vis trades and lines, but here's my line choices for the near future:

    Komorov-McClement-(Orr/Steckel/McClaren fill in as needed)

    Yes, mine are very similar to DP's, but I like Mac back with Grabbo & Kuli, and I think JVR with Kadri and Fratts would be a nightmare for other teams and their coaches, who might end up having to match their top checkers against Toronto's "third" line.

    I don't know what to do on defence. I see the Leafs just gave Holzer an extension... I'd like to see Gardiner back in the lineup. I think the team could use his ability to skate the puck out of/through the defensive and neutral zones. It seems Coach Carlyle likes having the young, more malleable players on D who follow his strategies without question.

    During the lockout, Carlyle watched a lot of the players, who are now with the big club, practising and playing with the Marlies. He was in constant communication with Coach Eakins, and was properly complimentary of Eakin's excellent work in preparing the likes of Kadri, Frattin, Gardiner, Holzer, Fraser, and Kostka to play in the NHL. We can expect more great players coming up in the next few seasons...maybe Eakins too.

    And..Optimus Riem is back! I really like Reimer, and I think the team does too, because they simply win games with him in net. Scrivens and Reimer have almost identical stats in terms of GAA and save percentage, but Reimer is 8-3, Scrivens 6-6. This quality, winning games by making key saves at the right time, is what endeared Reimer to us in the first place back in 2011. He may not be the most spectacular goalie or have the most shutouts, but he seems to go to another level when a game is on the line and especially in the third period, as we witnessed again last night. Again, this is what I remember about his game when he first played himself into the lineup two years ago: he could shut the door and allow the team to come back in the third period. Scrivens is a great goalie too, but I'll assume he's the "1B" of the "1A and 1B" Carlyle mentioned.

    Finally, to sum up and directly answer your question, Michael: with Reimer back and Lupul and Frattin returning, there is no reason the Leafs cannot compete with New Jersey in the playoffs. However, Boston is another story.

    Looking forward to Ottawa and Boston back to back this week..!


  21. I see the same thing in Reimer, Matty D. Even in his impressive early days with the Leafs, he often gave up early goals in games or a "stinker" here and there. But somehow, he always managed to gather himself and be at his best when the game was on the line.

    I'm slightly befuddled by the Gardiner situation, too. Something tells me it's not just that he isn't 100% healthy. I'm sure he's fine. But Carlyle is obviously liking his 'top-six' right now, and it will likely take an injury before Gardiner sees time with the big team.

    Good post- thanks Matty.

  22. I liked Brown I thought he was a decent player who tried hard. That being said though it is a good sign the Leafs traded him because it means that better players have taken his spot. That can only be a good thing moving forward for the Leafs. The thing about this team that really impresses me is the depth they have right now. Sure there aren't too many bona fide superstars but there are a lot of decent servicable players in the pipeline. This is a good thing. I have long argued that until I saw guys from the farm contributing at the NHL level I wouldn't get to excited about the "supposed depth" that was there. Well I have seen that depth and it really is as advertised.

    The funny thing I keep seeing and reading here on the comments is how hard this team works (and they do). The thing is if you go back and read the comments back from a year ago when the Leafs were doing well this was the same thing said back then. All NHL teams work hard. It is the bare minimum expected of an NHL level player. The big difference this year is the goaltending has been much better than in recent years. I think you can chalk up the record to one simple fact, both Riemer and Scrivens have been way better than Gustafson, Toskla, and Raycroft were. The other thing that sticks out to me is the Leafs have been lucky this year. Last night was a perfect example, a couple of inches the other way and we talking about an ugly, ugly loss. The Islanders also had a 3-4 posts as I recall and the Leafs were lucky to get that win. Nothing against luck because Lord knows the Leafs deserve some but they need to play better to have a chance in a playoff series as others have pointed out.

    I read a very good article the other day where some super math genuis figured that it took about 50-54 games before the best teams started to seperate themselves. In other words luck is going to play a bigger factor that any other this year and right now it seems the Leafs are benefitting from it. Which is about time if you ask me.

    This team is on the right track but there are still some glaring holes and the defensive side of the game has taken a big step back in the last month or so. The last 2 weeks in particular have reminded me of the running around in their own zone Leafs from years gone by. I'm still not sure Carlye is the right coach for this team and to be honest I don't really see too much of a difference from Wilson during games. Off ice is a whole nother ball game and greatly improved on the sarcastic, snippiness of Wilson.

    I recommend this article to people for the math side of the game. It points out that though the Leafs are winning the underlying numbers point to a pretty big stumble coming. The good thing is the author doesn't think it is a personel problam but rather a coaching problem. Here's the link

  23. Solid post as always, Willbur.

    I scanned that article. While I respect bloggers who focus on "numbers", I'll take Carlyle's instincts as a guy who played the game at a high level and also has a record as a successful minor-league and NHL head coach- including coaching a Stanley Cup team. This doesn't mean Carlyle is not capable of mistakes behind the bench. Of course he is. But I'm prepared to see how his team develops over time.

    I think the defense has actually played beyond its capabilities because of his coaching. Individually, I wouldn't honestly offer that much for almost any of the the current "top-six". They're fine, but not much more. Yet together, they have been passable enough that, combined with generally pretty good goaltending (also partly related to coaching), we have gotten by most nights.

    The bigger issue for me is the East is not strong- at all, and so some of this improvement is a bit of a mirage. But I'll take it.

    Thanks Willbur.

  24. I defintely agree Michael that the numbers aren't the whole game. As Brian Burke of all people pointed out, nobody has won a championship using moneyball. The other side of that is, it is one more tool in the box to be used and I am not sure Carlyle is capable of using it. For sure experience counts for a great deal but times change and for once I would like to see the Leafs in front of a curve instead of playing catch up.

  25. My sense (and I could be wrong) is that the Leafs review the available data but may not be "guided" by it. I agree that, in this day and age, organizations should use everything at their disposal.

    At the end of the day, a coach will follow his gut- but it will be a fully informed gut! Thanks Willbur.

  26. Mentioning Rocky Saganiuk reminded me of how he was another highly rated Leaf prospect, one of many Leaf saviors from that era, I remember thinking he would be a good one and I remember the Leafs played Hartford and Rocky was yapping away at Gordie Howe and Gordie was asked after the game about the conservation and said Rocky had told him he had had his time but now it was over. Now it was his (Rocky's) time. Then Gordie said it was good to see a kid with a lot of confidence. I remember thinking Rocky was going to be a real star and had really told Gordie the way it was going to be. Pretty silly when I think about it now.

    As for your question I didn't think the Leafs traded the wrong guy but I did think they still have two tough players and they need to get rid of one to make room for Lupul. I know a lot of people want the toughness but a few nights ago the Habs showed you can still win by playing hockey and refusing to fight, what you need is a big physical team with skill that can play. Maybe Colborne at 6'6" could be skilled and physical. Colborne by the way is starting to really come on in the AHL and I recently read he really had not fully recovered from his wrist injury until Jan. of this year. So maybe Rick Dudley was right when he said Colborne would be a good player.

    I'll admit it, I believed and still believe Dudley when he said the Leafs were only a player or two away from being an elite level team - that was before JVR and Reimer showing he can still play goal. If you start to look at the players on the Leaf team and in the system and the position they were actually drafted it doesn't seem so far fetched that the Leafs are a lot better than most people realize. That is also exactly what Rick Dudley said - the Leafs are a lot closer than most people realize and he knew it from actual experience and he also wasn't surprised when fans didn't believe him. I guess we'll find out but I expected them to win last year so this year was not a try out as far as I was concerned.

  27. Saganiuk was one of my favourite young Leafs in the early '80s, Alton. I tended to think at the time that they tried too much to curb his enthusiasm and his unstructured game (in an era when a lot of guys had success playing the way he did). He was not an "up and down" winger. Much more a rambunctious guy with tons of energy. I always felt he could have been a really nice player here, but he had a pretty short NHL career in Toronto.

    I've wondered about Dudley's comments, as I have said here in the past. It's customary to say nice things on your way out the door. But maybe he was in fact being straightforward at the time. Whether he was "right" about Colborne and the Leafs, I think the jury is still out. But the team has responded this season so far under Carlyle. Thanks Alton.