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As we look ahead to a Leaf playoff appearance, on being right...and wrong

Before I get into today's post, any younger Leaf fans who may enjoy a flashback to the last time the Bruins and Leafs met in the playoffs (and a remarkable goaltending performance) might want to read about a trip down memory lane going back to the spring of 1974...


One thing is certain:  when you write about anything—including hockey and the Maple Leafs—as I do here at the VLM site on a regular basis and take a public position on a subject, you will likely be wrong as often (or more often) as you are right.  And I don’t doubt that, if I was to review the well over 1,200 columns I’ve written here over the past three and a half years, there have been times when I was simply off the mark when assessing the Leafs, or projecting how certain things and situations might turn out.

That, after all, is part of the fun in hosting a site like this.  And also why I always try to invite feedback, opinions and other perspectives—even if they may conflict with my views.  As those of you who visit here somewhat regularly know, I enjoy and even look forward hearing to conflicting views.  If they are presented in a thoughtful and respectful way, it makes this experience all the better as the host of a  forum like this one.  I like to think that approach to “blogging” has made this site one where Leafers (and hockey fans in general) can visit, relax and enjoy reading various points of view- without rancor and vitriol or put-downs.

So yes, I have been wrong at times, for sure.  I didn’t like Kulemin’s play through the beginning of the season, though many thought he was just fine.  I still don’t think he is anywhere near physical enough (not enough big hits) but I concede that the winger (who I consistently supported a ton through his first four seasons in blue and white) is making a contribution and could be a valuable playoff performer.

I’ve not always been a Phaneuf guy.  I’m not sure if I see him as over-rated in the Toronto market, or maybe not the leader I somehow picture Leaf captains to be.  But there is no debating he is playing not only huge minutes, but well, for the Leafs heading into the playoffs.

And I really liked Kostka’s play, even long after others were openly critical of him.  I’m not sure I was entirely wrong, because I still think he could be a valuable contributor in the right slot in the playoffs, but I’m open to hearing that I over-rated him (if you can over-rate someone who wasn’t even supposed to be here in the first place).  And I’ll throw in that I didn’t care a whit that Franson was un-signed just days before the season started.  He has proved to be imperfect, certainly, but immensely important to the Leaf cause.

I was also unimpressed with the McClement UFA signing, and I was very wrong on that front.  However, I won’t go through the full list of “errors” on my part! The above admissions should suffice.


That said, every once in a while (more than that, in truth), certain views I’ve expressed in this space  have proven to be much closer to right than wrong.  Is that good luck, or years of experience having watched this great game—and this particular hockey franchise and those who run it?  It doesn’t matter, really.  But when it comes to the present Leaf team, as they head to the playoffs, as I look back on posts here over the past while, there are some things I have consistently talked about that I believe have stood the test of time, as it were.


  • Heading into this season, I noted regularly that the East was wide open, that there were very few, if any, truly “elite” teams.  (That hardly makes me a prophet; I’ve bee saying the East is mediocre for years and I can't be alone in suggesting that…)
  • I have said since the early days of this mini-season that the Leafs could well make the playoffs, in part because the Conference was indeed not that strong.  I don’t believe most observers held that position and yet the Leafs have indeed made the spring dance.
  • I declared that a number of teams thought to be shoe-ins by experts were in fact "bubble teams" for the playoffs and that proved to be correct.
  • I was opposed to the notion of acquiring Luongo, for a host of reasons I’ve declared here many times.
  • To go along with that, I maintained my support for Reimer as an emerging goalie who I felt could handle the job as the Leaf netminder.  I did not predict he would become Johnny Bower (see the great old photo of the Maple Leaf Hall-of-Fame legend at right), but I believed he could rebound from an injury-plagued 2011-'12 season.  As this year progressed, I kept saying here that I wanted to see Carlyle essentially make Reimer his 'number-one' guy—even if the coach did not declare it so and make a big fuss about it publicly, as coaches too often do.  In the end, this is exactly where we landed.  Reimer has earned the job.
  • Of the many things I’ve posted about young Kadri over the past few seasons (other than my frustration with the organization not simply letting him play regularly with the Marlies without being ‘yo-yo’d’ between theMarlies and the Leafs in the hopes he would be a goal-scoring savior for the big club) is  simply this:  no one can play with a piano on their back.  No athlete can stand being constantly criticized for every little mistake. Just let him play, I said again and again.  This season, Carlyle let him play, and put him in a position to succeed.  Oh, when Kadri messes up, Carlyle will pull him back sometimes, but Kadri has finally been allowed to use his natural creativity and vision.  Mistakes were critiqued, absolutely, but did not lead to punishment—and public abuse—for the young center.
  • I also wondered, still speaking about Kadri, why he was playing the wing under Wilson before when he was a natural center.  I don’t think he’ll be playing the wing in the near future.
  • I often questioned whether Gardiner, for all his immense skills, would play the kind of hockey that would be effective in the playoffs.  What will be interesting now is whether the young defenseman will be a playoff regular for the Leafs (he sure has the skills that should make him valuable) in the playoffs. It seems to be for the very reasons I discussed here about Gardiner (not being physical enough in his own zone, not being hard enough on the puck, playing too casually when Carlyle demands that his defenseman not freestyle, as it were) that there is even a question as to whether Gardiner will be a mainstay in the playoffs.
  • Early in the season I was, admittedly, shocked at the contribution Fraser was making.  But I soon posted that he was becoming a hard-to-replace Leaf.  And I think he has become that kind of player for Carlyle.  When we discuss who will ‘for sure” man the Leaf blueline starting Wednesday in Boston, Fraser is one of the guys I can’t imagine won’t be there.
  • I posted often that an environment where the previous GM’s need to talk “me”, “I” and “my” all the time was not healthy for the franchise, and I stand by that.  Whether his presence this season would have mattered at all, how can anyone “prove”?  But I like the environenment around the team much more now, in part because it is indeed about the “team” and not individual hubris and loud, unnecessary proclamations or an ever-changing “vision” about how the team would be re-built.
  • Over the past few months, I have often opined that this has been an "experimental" year for Carlyle.  Oh, he wants to win very badly every night.  But this is not quite the roster he wants (not that he would ever say that), and he has been giving lots of players a shot in different situations.  Critics have not liked some of his choices (they want better linemates for Grabbo, Gardiner to play regularly, Bozak somewhere else, etc.), but for me, there's no question he has been planning ahead while still doing everything he can to squeeze wins out of this roster, this year.

So, I guess we could say I’ve sometimes been right, and sometimes been quite wrong about our beloved Leafs.  (By all means share the ways that your Leaf views have emerged as on the money, or not...)  But the point of hosting this site, for me at least, is not about always being right.  It’s about batting around things we all, as hockey fans and Leaf supporters, care about.  It’s about providing a forum for respectful dialogue.

And maybe most importantly, it’s about helping along, in our own small way as “only” fans, the Leaf pride that was built 80 years ago by Conn Smythe and those players, coaches and managers who have built —and in some cases, built upon—a wonderful Maple Leaf hockey legacy.


Leaf supporters who live in and around the Greater Toronto Area can be on the lookout for a visit from the "Leaf Matters" podcast Wednesday night at Wegz Stadium Bar in Vaughan, Ontario.  Matteo Codispoti, Scott Wheeler, Dante Martella, Mark Rackham, and all the fantastic young folks at We Want a Cup are hosting an event as we do a "live" podcast from Wegs before, during and after the first playoff game in Boston.  Drop by and say hello....


Monday, we posted Episode #59 of the growing "Leaf Matters" podcast, featuring two of the emerging writers with the popular Maple Leaf Hot Stove blog, Jon Steitzer (who also hosts the Yakov Mironov site) and Michael Stephens as part of our Leaf playoff round-table preview.

Today, we release Episode #60, with a fabulous guest- former Leaf player and longtime coach, Pat Quinn.  Pat talks about his playoff memories behind the Lench bench, and he also shares some thoughts on the current club on the eve of the playoff match-up with the Bruins.  (Historical note- Pat played in the playoffs for the Leafs against the old "Big Bad Bruins" in the spring of 1969.  His hit on Bobby Orr in Game 1 of that series remains one of the most famous open-ice hits in hockey history.  Quinn is a Leaf supporter to this day- not surprising, given that he was a Hamilton boy who grew up as Leaf supporter...

We hope you enjoy the conversation.  You can catch the show on iTunes and also on the PodAlmighty Network.


  1. looking forward to hearing Pat Quinn! And while I will be watching game 1 at a place a little more accessible to downtown, I wish you a great podcast up at WEGZ and here's to a Leaf win in game 1!

    1. Hope you get to hear the Quinn show, Sean- and thank you for your best wishes. The Wegz event should be fun....

  2. Hey Michael,

    thanks for the great site, it really seems like a one of a kind place for any and all sorts of leaf fans to drop-in and join the talk about our team.

    I respect your humility in pointing out your own mistaken opinions/thoughts about the team in the past. Of course we are all humans - and of course "to err is human - to forgive divine."

    Examples of things I got spot on:
    1. I always thought James Reimer had it in him to be able to repeat what he did in his rookie year - and he did just he had a sophomore slump thanks to a concussion/neck injury.

    2. Kadri would work best in the position that he grew up playing/where his instincts were best - Centre.

    3. Luongo would be a bad idea. Although I am still not opposed to a vetern back-up - like a Giguere or Tim Thomas - lol I know not gonna happen - but one can always dream.

    Things that I have been wrong about:
    1. I thought the leafs would be going for a lottery pick this year - not the Stanley cup.

    2. I thought Dion was over-rated - but he has proven me wrong - although I think we still need a strong #3-4 D-man to be added to this team or someone to really emerge and grab it for real - not just by circumstance.

    3. I thought we should have traded Bozak and/or MacArthur at the deadline for picks - but the team has shown that it needs these guys - for now anyways - as their offense has been sorely missed in the last week or so.

    We never know what we will get right or wrong - hey we would never have thought that in 09-10 playoffs the bruins would have that epic collapse - so even the most obvious assumptions/thought can turn out to be wrong - it all depends of circumstance.

    In the end, I thank you for giving the wealth of your experience as a fan of the leafs to someone young like me and many others.

    And of course, GO LEAFS GO!!!

    Can't wait for Game 1....

    Anon from Scarborough.

    1. We're all right and wrong about certain things, eh, Scarborough Anon? Coaches and GM's, too!

      Game 1 should be exciting, time to play the game.

  3. One of the advantages of my advanced age is that I can claim to forget my pronouncements on various players! In fact, Reimer assuaged my doubts about him (owing to the limited sample size we had), Kadri has shown he belongs, and Komi is long gone. I was right in thinking Kulemin would not return to 30 goal form, that Phaneuf and Bozak were under-appreciated and valuable to the team, and that Gardiner was not ready for prime time. I think we all agree that a trade for Luongo would have been a major mistake, but I can understand the GM's point of view: would you rather have him or Scrivens as your backup?
    I'm looking forward to your new "Leaf Matters" podcast. Love 'em! I just saw a replay of that Quinn/Orr hit the other night, and of course I remember it from back in the day. What a crusher! Has to be in the all-time top ten of open ice hits.

    1. To your first point, Gerund, we are now both in that cherished time of life where we can indeed wander about claiming to have no recall of our earlier mis-pronouncements. Works for me...

      We both recognize there have been some things that evolved as we expected, others not as "planned". All part of the ups and downs (and fun) of being long-time Leafers, eh?

      Yes, the Quinn hit was marvellous. Hope you enjoy the new episode with him.

      Playoffs, at long last...thanks Gerund!

  4. I think I have been mostly right about the positive influence of the players on the Marlies.

    I can remember Mark Fraser playing really well and mean on the Marlies and thought he could play on the third paring up on the Leafs. I even posted videos of him fighting Konopka.

    I thought Komorov was a sure fire NHL level pest on the third or fourth line, I thought Kadri could play on the Leafs centering the third line. I thought Scrivens would be a capable NHL backup. I thought Kostka was a third pairing NHL defenseman. I thought Frattin would evetually play on the third line.

    I'm no hockey savant. It's just that I have closely watched this type of thing before. I saw some terrific players make the transition back when we had the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg. Down in the AHL I got to see Ryan Kesler, Alexander Burrows, Cory Schneider, Kevin Bieska, Alexander Edler and Michael Grabner. You could just see they had more potential than the average AHL players. When the forwards are playing good defense and getting close to a point a game they are usually ready.

    What do I think about the future?

    Colborne is getting close. I think he will make the Leafs next year.
    Our future is really bright. We have 14 rookies on the Marlies right now. People may criticize the lack of elite talent, but I think that is wrong. We already have a have a good number of young top 6 offensive players: Kessel, Lupul, Kadri, JVR. As we have seen this year with Jay McClement, better lower line players can make a huge difference.

    We are going to get some decent players from the Marlies over the next few years. Biggs now skates better. I am thinking he will become a Ryane Clowe type player with less offense. I think Jessie Blacker is only a year or 2 away.

    I think we are going be like the Detroit and New Jersey teams of the recent past. We will have a deep AHL team and our injury call-ups will be better than the third and fourth line players of lower ranked NHL teams.

    1. You have indeed posted here over time about promising Leaf hopefuls that have have begun to earn their time here. The jury is still out on the longer-term, of course, but if some of the youngsters you have talked about before continue to develop, the Leafs should be better positioned in the years ahead. Thanks DP- enjoy Game One!

  5. As occasional posters buried in the comment section, we have a distinct advantage over Michael. If we get it wrong no one remembers. If we get it right, we can rub it in later. So, as everyone knows (except me) I am 100% right all of the time. For the more publicly notable among us humble pie isn’t that bad. You eat it, digest it, and move on. As we are probably getting from “Leaf Matters”, Michael has pretty good timing on his delivery. On that note: Has there ever been a day on the calendar that Leaf fans are in a more forgiving mood than May 1, 2013? In a word, dopamine is racing through the collective Leaf Nation brain. In a state of bliss, all errors in judgment are forgiven. Well timed, Michael!

    So, I think I will take today to buck the status quo. I know that Leaf’s Nation is in love with James Reimer, and with good reason. He has performed admirably and shows the mental makeup of a winner. When the Leafs went looking at Kiprusoff and Luongo at the deadline I, like many, went ballistic. Most fans went “mental” because they did not want a probably declining veteran to replace Reimer, the rising young star. While I agree with that point, I have another one as well. I did not want to see Scrivens given away or shuttled to the press box. In my opinion, Scrivens is the more talented of the two goaltenders we currently have. Does that mean that I would start Scrivens over Reimer in Boston? Definitely not. For now, Reimer is the guy, and health permitting, looks to be a notable goalie for years to come.

    Am I dreaming in Technicolor? Think about it Leaf supporters. There is a reason why Vancouver wanted Scrivens for Luongo and it wasn’t to occupy a seat in the players’ box. Therefore, be careful here Leaf management and supporters. While not quite ready for prime time, I would say watch out for Scrivens in the long run. If the stars line up for him, he could be quite the goaltender in years to come. And the last thing we need is another Tukka Rask returning to haunt us!

    1. I love that Scrivens is a battler, and has some talent, too, Bobby C.. I know that you understand the goaltending game because of your background, so I respect your view when you opine there is something in this young man's skill set that makes you want to keep him around.

      I often think back to someone like Dwayne Roloson. He was (and was pigeon-holed as such) thought to be simply a "nice" minor-leaguer/sort-of NHL backup. Then suddenly, in his 30s, he got a chance, and became an invaluable netminder for three different over many years, in fact, well into his 40s.

      Goalies are hard to gauge, so I particularly appreciate your thoughts on the suddenly forgotten Leaf "back up", Bobby, as we all talk Reimer.

    2. Happily my regular season prediction of Leaf 9th season of futility did not come to fruition.
      However Blue and White have misfortune of their dance card punched by Boston Bruins with their adorable blue collar bravado fan base. Many of whom have predicted Bruins in 2 or 3 games, oh so cute and precious.
      Even though these are not your Stanley Cup quality players, even in 1st or 2nd gear they have defeated Leafs.
      Look Reimer will have to put up Vezina Trophy performance and Kadri will have to get out of his funk and begin to produce as he did mid-way through this season.
      Kessel must find someway around Chara et al, and Lupul, JVR, must must begin to score.
      Shutting down Kessel is not the end all.
      If, and this is a huge if, Reimer stands on his head while balancing on the CN Tower and we have 2nd and 3rd lines scoring, Leafs have a chance.
      Grabovski must perform as he did 2 or 3 seasons ago, with fire and passion.
      Even with a depleted Bruins, a significantly wounded Bear, Leafs must play a full 60 minutes, and dispel all those ghosts of Bruin losses past.

      My prediction if all these pieces are not in place, and this pains me to the core is
      Bruins in 4 games.

      My heart is bleeding blue as I'm typing this a few hour before game one. I'm in pain as I type.

      Again I hope I'm wrong and our players discover their 2nd wind and fire and passion.

      God's speed and bless us everyone.

    3. Thanks for chiming in, Walter- sorry I was late getting back to you. I just returned from doing a podcast during Game 1 of the series. Things did not go the Leafs way after a good burst to start the game. Let's see if the things you cite above (Grabbo, Reimer, Kessel, etc.) emerge as factors in the Leafs' favour in Game 2!