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Leaf fans struggling to cope with “success”

It’s hardly time to trumpet the current Leaf season as a triumph.  First of all, while it’s clear the blue and white will be in the playoffs (the cliffhanger victory against the hated Rangers helps to cement that likelihood), I think most of us recognize that they still have a ways to go in their ongoing re-building process.  But while I wouldn’t go as far as some people have in paying homage to the team’s previous GM for building this “great” team, it’s clear that some pieces are in place that should position the franchise to be very competitive in the years ahead. (I will add that any decent GM should have been able to put “pieces in place” over the course of five years when there was an opportunity to draft “high” year after year…but that’s not my discussion point today.)

My theme today, however, is that while most would agree that the Leafs have improved and in fact moved ahead of a number of their former fellow bottom-feeders in the woeful Eastern Conference, it seems to me that many Leaf fans are still struggling, in a sense, to “accept” that the team is having success.

No, it’s not ultimate success, as in a Stanley Cup championship, but they are playing winning hockey, and have become a tougher team to play against—a squad most teams no longer look forward to playing against.  (The Rangers found that on Thursday night, as Reimer made some huge saves, the Kessel line was dangerous all night and the pluggers like Komarov and McClement for the most part did their job, with a few mistakes thrown in to make things close.)

So why the non-stop uneasiness in Leafland?  Why the doubt? Why the constant harping about coaching and the team being “lucky” to be where it is?

The short answer is….I obviously don’t know.  I mean, I’ve been following the Leafs since 1958 and I like to think I’m not easily fooled—at least not anymore.  I hardly think this is a Cup team in terms of quality, but peculiar things happen come playoff time.  I sure didn’t think the Kings would win last year, or the Tampa Bay Lightning or Carolina Hurricanes in relatively recent times.  Nor did I think the Habs would win back in 1993, for example.  I could go on.  The “best” team does not always win. So goodness knows what we will have with the Leafs, come the playoffs. 

Where is Al Michaels to say, "Do you believe in miracles?".

In any event, my guess is there a few factors that play into the negativity.

One could be the hate-Carlyle campaign.  I don’t get it but it seems to be out there.  More than a few fans have suggested he be fired, which at the very least is, ah, premature.  It is a bit baffling that we are even talking about that kind of thing.  Carlyle’s detractors seem to dislike his roster choices (I admit to being baffled with his steadfast determination to play Orr and MacLaren, but it’s working in the regular season.  He will no doubt re-assess come the playoffs…).  They also don't like Grabovski as the “defensive” center, or Gardiner in the press box, it seems.

The related criticism of Carlyle seems to be that the team is not actually playing better than they often did under Wilson, they’re just getting better goaltending. (I’ll have more to say on that subject in a future post.)

That’s the only difference people see?  Really?

From what I can tell—and those who visit VLM somewhat regularly know I’m not a stats guy and certainly not an “advanced stats” person, though I understand there is some value in such anguished breakdowns of individual player performance—that serious stat element is dismissive of Carlyle as well.  I don’t know if people think coaching staffs and GM’s in today’s NHL aren’t aware of these “numbers”, or somehow the number-crunchers think that Carlyle and his staff should coach based on those numbers rather than an acute awareness of the strengths and limitations of players he sees day in and day out—live and on film.  Whatever, they sure don't like what he's doing, though we are playoff-bound.

I suppose some of this is that Leaf fans are historically snakebit, so we assume there must be a problem lurking behind every corner. If it’s not the coaching it’s the goaltending, if it’s not the goaltending it’s the “whipping boy”—individual players that we feel we have to blame when things go badly.

Me, I’m just enjoying that we have an imperfect team, coached by a pretty darn good NHL coach, with decent to sometimes better than average NHL goaltending most nights.  That we win more than we lose lately is all the better.  Heck, I wish this was about chasing the Cup.  But I’m not even thinking about that.  I just like the fact that the Leafs don’t give up, are in every game pretty much, and compete hard most nights. In the East, that gets you a ticket to the spring dance.

Would I like to expect even more?  Of course, just like I did from 1999-2004 when the stakes truly were high and winning playoff games meant we actually had a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But until we’re good enough to worry about that, I won’t spend my time playing with numbers, or looking for why O’Byrne was a lousy pick up because of a chart analysis.  If some fans find meaning in that, great.  We all look at these things differently.

I’ll just watch from my rocking chair, assess in my own way, and enjoy the wins—and not sweat the inevitable losses.


  1. Some are already lamenting the inevitability of a first round exit vs Boston, but as we have seen in the last two games vs the Bruins, Michael: Toronto can skate with them, particularly if and when Lupul gets back in the lineup and Reimer is on his game. Besides, should those predictions of a first round exit come true, the experience gained by young players in a series vs. a tough opponent like Boston is certainly more valuable to the franchise than the only alternative of the previous 8 seasons: 'Hoping for a high draft pick.'

  2. Michael,

    I guess, for me anyway, some of the uneasiness lies in the fact that I don't see them as an elite hockey team. I would have to give the team as it stands right now, a chance to win the Cup only scarcely above zero. Personally, there is so much cheerleading on the part of the media and fans of the Leafs. Can you call the games broadcasters anything other than team employed lackeys? That it just becomes too much, and reason takes over. All through tonights game I was told how great Kessels line was. I didn't see that. Yes, they scored. They also were hemmed in their own zone for vast periods of time, again. With the Rangers getting a lot of shots and chances. The line scored, but was also scored against. The Rangers could have won that game. With a break here, or there. The Leafs hung on to win and that is great, it is difficult when others try to turn it into more than that.

    The only way I see the Leafs winning the Cup is just that, a miracle. There is no other way. I see the team as you do, just not quite good enough, yet. The only thing I think is different, the willingness to be more critical of their performances. I feel it is the only way to go.

    I hope you heard Randy Carlyle's comments from the other day re: concussions and the effect that helmets have on them, because they raise the temperature of a players brain. I lost all faith in him from that point forward. He might have wanted to check with the team doctor, or any of the neurologists that he should have come into contact with during his career. I will always think of him as someone who is less than intelligent. I too question his willingness to play the goons. Not as much as I used to though.

  3. With Bergeron out, Sean, the Bruins are still strong but vulnerable. Anyone in the East can lose a playoff round.

    I'm with you - the playoffs beat dreaming of a lottery pick any day.

  4. I've been made aware of the concussion comment, Jim. I don't understand Carlyle's response, I admit. I'd like to think that was a "one-off', a consequence of facing too many media questions over the past few weeks, day after day.

    For now, while I question some of his moves like any fan, I will not let that answer detract from what has been a reasonably successful season with an only OK roster.

    You use the word elite- I will be posting on that notion soon. Thanks Jim.

  5. I agree the team is flawed but still winning. The old adage applies here you don't critique a win. I think the big thing for myself Michael is this, is the winning sustainable over the long haul? To me the answer is no it is not. A team can not be outshot night after night by a large margin as the Leafs are and expect to win on a consistent basis. I think the stat was tonight the Leafs have been outshot in 28 games, that's just crazy almost 2/3rds of their games. While I am not a advanced stats crazy ( they have their place but aren't the end all be all), the simple law of averages says that sooner or later this will catch up to the team. That's not being stats crazy it's simply a fact. Let's not forget that over the same amount of games last year the record was fairly similar, then the law of averages caught up to the Leafs in a big way. In a shortned 48 game schedule I feel luck plays an out sized part. Over a longer 82 game schedule things would average out.

    I guess the big thing is how much stock do you put in a shortened season? Is this the real Leafs or is a mirage? I just feel that over the long haul the way they are playing is pretty dicey.

    By the way I do feel that Reimer's play is the single biggest factor in the record this year. For the last decade everyone has been screaming for a goalie to steal games. This to me is exactly what has been happening all year with Reimer. The Leafs really didn't deserve to win in New Jersey or either time they beat Boston. His stats this year are beyond reproach. A .920% is simply outstanding. If he plays the same as last year a .900% this team is on the outside looking in and we are talking about draft picks.

    As for Carlye, I'm still ambilivant towards him. I said this right from the start to be an elite coach you have to show growth, what worked in Anaheim probably won't here ect. I siad I would have to wait and see to make a judgement on him. Have I liked all his moves, not really (the goon thing being foremost) but he has also shown himself to be far less crusty than advertised and does seem to have the respect of his players, which wasn't the case in Anaheim (his relationship with Lupul a good example although Lupul haven't played a lot a games under Carlyle due to injury). I think the same thing applies here a 48 game schedule is not enough to show your true colors. I like some things, dislike others we'll over the long haul.

  6. I certainly would agree the 48-game season makes things awfully difficult to assess, Willbur. And I acknowledge we have had our share of puck luck this year- which always helps. That and improved goaltending have absolutely made a difference.

    But are we elite? I hardly think so. As I said to Jim, I'll be discussing that here in a post soon.

    Building a truly top team is rarely easy. Boston did it with some shrewd moves (e.g. Chara) and draft picks, signings, etc. and Tim Thomas sure helped. Vancouver has been building for over a decade, and still hasn't won a Cup.

    The Leafs are in the midst of something that may work out nicely, or may just be a constant 'build' with no success at the end of the rainbow.

    The jury is out on a lot of things- including Carlyle and a lot of players. That's why I keep saying I don't worry about this team- we're not good enough to fret over, but as long as they win and are generally fun to watch, that's better than what we've had in a while. Thanks Willbur.

  7. Imagine, if you will, that we are a team utilizing a, seemingly uninspired, Tim Connolly at center and a not-quite-ready-for-primetime Marlie on the wing for the second or third line... The deadline rolls around and we need some soon-to-be UFA upgrades as we approach the playoffs. The prices are rather high, yet we manage to pick up Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur in time for the playoffs.

    We still have ALL our 2013 draft picks and now have the luxury of making Connolly a depth centerman (with the Marlies) and have a playmaking winger with some skills and a bit of grit in the fold in time for the playoffs... Would this change anyone's perspective on those 2 players?

    I think that's why they're still here and why we're waiting to discern the landscape that the lower cap will bring. This may be as much an answer to your article yesterday, Michael, but I think it helps to identify a point of concern amongst fans... we didn't 'do much' to prove we think we have a chance in the playoffs that are tantalizingly within our grasp (that we, more than the players, seem afraid will depart over the next roadside cliff!).

    Rather than overspend out of fear regarding what others are doing, we prudently risk the loss of 2 UFA's (who can now determine if they want to be here going forward) this summer, rather than incorporating new people into the mix while gaining replacement picks with their departure.

    Perhaps the critical perspectives we've all seen, is an underlying desire to actually help us reach our goal... a desire we're 'owning' with such verve, within the context of so many years of disappointment, that it just comes out wrong!! I know that there have been many times when Carlyle is being treated as though he's intractable and refusing to try something different, yet he almost immediately implements a different combination that even matches many desires, yet he's just as quickly lampooned for the effort (even when somewhat successful).

    I believe that the Leafs believe they can 'do it', even if we all have recognized or latent fears about that future we all desire. I, for one, am glad it's those guys who are putting the product on the ice! Never let the people who think "it can't be done" get in the way of those doing it!

    Let's enjoy and cheer them on!

    [PS I thought Kulemin was an energetic 'beast' tonight - time away from Grabo seems to have helped his game immensely - he's found new life lately and doesn't seem so 'stagnant' to me]

  8. "Carlyle’s detractors seem to dislike his roster choices..."

    There's allot of second guessing out there. Much of if comes from the simple minded idea that icing the most talented line-up every night will produce the most wins. It doesn't always do that. History is littered with talented lineups without the will to win.

    These same people will complain that Gardiner did not play even though the Leafs won tonight. Some people have trouble seeing the complexities of the game, how young players develop and the importance of good defensive play.

    I actually heard somebody complain today that they should take out Orr or McLaren and bring up the more talented Tim Conolly. Anybody who watches Marlies games knows Conolly is invisible. He is barely getting half a point a game, while Colborne is scoring at a much higher rate, is bigger and plays a better defensive game. Colborne has more of a future with the team, he should have got the look.

    I think some of the Carlyle critics will disappear once the playoffs start and we see less of the fighters. Based on his history we will see less of Orr and McLaren. I think Carlyle played Parros about five games during the Ducks Cup run.

    Leaf fans better get used to having a decent team. We have lots of young Leaf players and more prospects.

    There were nine in the Marlies lineup on Saturday. Garret Sparks collected his first pro win, while Stuart Percy notched his first AHL goal. Two other rookies collected goals while David Broll finished the game with a fight.

    There is a nice sense of team down there. Take a look at this picture:

    With a good farm team, the Leafs could be decent for a while.

  9. Thanks InTimeFor62. I get that fans are so passionate they are invested in the team's success. I was that kind of fan throughout the '60s and '70s- every game, every play, every night, every trade, analyzing what we were (in "my" opinion) doing right and wrong.

    As the years go by, I still have a rooting interest, of course but it's probably more measured- and understanding of the imperfections of players and coaches. I've worked with coaches players and have a (very) small sense of what they have to deal with every day.

    Can fans influence the team's decision-making and success? To a degree, I guess. In the building, for sure. In terms of the "pressure" they apply? Maybe a bit. But I doubt Carlyle is too worried about what anyone other than his assistant coaches or GM thinks/think.

    As for Kulemin, I'm glad to see it. As I used to write here all the time, I loved his career arc in his first three seasons in Toronto but not so much the last two years.

    1. I agree that the degree of influence over the team exists primarily in our own minds, yet I think that fans 'take ownership' without any real outlet, other than blogs and comment sections. All I would suggest, is that we 'enjoy the game' (and our interest in all the intrigue/trades/etc.) and be the most positive in our support of the people actually in the game.

      Perhaps the players/coaches/management can become more than they thought possible because we support them in the arena and in our hopeful perceptions and comments that would balance the critiques they regularly hear from the press!

  10. That's a level-headed perspective, which I can always count on you to provide with many others here, DP. I may not be quite as optimistic about what's down on the farm in terms of truly high-end prospects, but I do prefer what I'm seeing now with the Leafs and Marlies to what I have in recent times.

    I agree that we should not rush to judge Carlyle- until we see him in the playoffs and also until he has the roster he really wants (or at least closer than what he has now...). Everything until then is just experimentation- while still trying to win every night.

    Thanks DP.

  11. And that doesn't mean, InTimeFor62, that we have to agree with everything that management or the coaches do- not at all. Fans have a right to criticize.

    But it's not necessary to micro-critique every decision. I mean, if that's what fans enjoy, that's their prerogative. But coaches and players are people too. It's trite but true. I can't imagine that constant negativity helps either the coaches or the players. It's part of their world, of course. And they are more than well-paid to deal with it. But sometimes it's over the top- and simply unfair.

  12. Good Morning Michael,

    Once again I enjoyed your article and respect your point of view. While there are some that completely disregard Carlyle for his reliance on pugilists and dismiss solely on that point, I take issue with whether Carlyle is the best fit for the blue and white at the moment. Of course anything can happen and any team can make a magical run to the Stanley Cup Final as you pointed out above, but I think even the most optimistic of Leaf fans can recognize the 2013 Leafs are not one of those teams capable of doing that, nor are they expected to. The 2013 Leafs are still in a rebuilding and developing stage. Icing the 4th youngest roster in the NHL, this season is more about the development of young players than making a run to the Cup.

    Carlyle's style is well known, he likes hard edged and physical players. In fact, I think you yourself wrote a lengthy piece predicting issues between Carlyle and Phil Kessel due to #81's style of play. While that issue has not arose (yet), Carlyle has seemingly found a reason to dislike Jake Gardiner. At 22 Gardiner's development takes priority this season over the success on the ice in my mind. Winning games and making the playoffs is exciting and unexpected however Carlyle should be using this opportunity to allow Gardiner (and the other young players) to test themselves in the high pressure games against desperate teams like the New York Rangers last night. Instead, Carlyle has decided to hold Gardiner (and only Gardiner) accountable for seemingly defensive deficiencies. I am not an expert, but Carlyle has had no problem slotting in Mike Kostka, Cody Franson, Mark Fraser and Korbinian Holzer following awful defensive performances from them this season. Gardiner though has found himself in the doghouse and appears destined to remain there. Carlyle has also come out and contradicted his GM by saying "now is not the time to develop". This is the prime time to develop. Let the young players sink or swim in these intense situations. Carlyle was, is and appears to always be a coach that relies heavily on his veterans and the Leafs are not in that position at the moment.

    In the end all Leaf fans (unable to cope with success or not) want what is best for this organization long term. We don't want to make a miracle run, we want to be a favourite and perennial contender. The best way to create that environment is by growing the team from the bottom up. We've certainly been at the bottom lately and are slowly moving up, but identifying that today's youth will be tomorrow's veteran contributors is what is key at the moment. Nothing personal against Carlyle, in fact I think he's well spoken (when not discussing concussions) and thoughtful. Sadly his stubborn streak has created angst and frustration among many. This is one issue that I have with Randy, there are more.

    Sorry for the extra long comment. Enjoy your day.

  13. We Leafs fans are a negative bunch, it's true. I think we critique everything because we're just used to it. So many bad teams in so many years can do that. We are not that bad (or good) as people say. Our team is playing fairly well, tough, almost old school hockey, lots of hits and fights are part of the game too and it seems to be working for us.

    Would we have believed it last year if someone told us we would be 5th in the conference and 7th overall with 9 games left this season?

    As for this being a shortened season and not being able to assess the team properly, the season is shortened for everyone, the same problems and dificulties are there for every team, so I think we can assess the team.

    This year's 48 games, and last year until the all-star break (our 18 wheeler going off the cliff was just freaky) is how this team can play.

    People calling Carlyle "dumb" or "ignorant" for his unfortunate comment about helmets seems really unfair. I don't think hockey coaches are going to win nobel prizes, but ignorant they are not. We just need them to get the X's and O's right. All they need to know is hockey.

    Let's hope JVR and Kessel stay hot and Lupul comes back in time for round one.
    Was it just me, or did we see less Grabbo in the 3rd last night? I think we need to see a "Free Grabbo" next.

  14. Hi HS- I appreciate a thoughtful assessment of the concerns that you (and others) have regarding Carlyle.

    I'll have more to say on the coaching subject later today, but for now I will say that I understand your thoughts on, for example, the Gardiner decision. I won't try to "defend" Carlyle. I will say a couple of things that may or may not be acceptable to Carlyle critics.

    Historically, as I recall, he has played young defensemen (Fowler in Anaheim) so I'm not sure that his issue with Gardiner is anything more than he wants to see him play harder with and on the puck. GM's are always looking to the future, coaches want to win now- though I do believe even Carlyle has looked at this season as one to "experiment", as I have said here before. I think Gardiner will likely play down the stretch at some point, or in the playoffs.

    Is he missing valuable time? I guess he is. And I agree, he is hardly alone in making mistakes. But he has had two different "shots" this season, or is it three, (one coming after a serious injury, mind you) and simply has not done what Carlyle asked him to do. (It doesn't help when your agent makes a public fuss, and then you come up and can't hold onto the puck under pressure...). I love Gardiner but tend to see Carlyle's point of view. Should he be learning on the job, with an eye to the future? I suppose, but if I'm coaching a team that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, I'm trying to win every night, while also thinking ahead. Gardiner is not the only young defenseman in the system who wants to play here in the future. They'll all have to earn their ice now.

    I think some fans, HS, would take a miracle run. Not necessarily at the cost of the future, but always promising the future has not borne out well for this organization, either. We can all see some roster improvements have been made, and more are needed to be legitimate Cup contenders year after after.

    We all want the same thing. How we think we should get there may differ. Solid stuff, thanks for chiming in today, HS.

  15. Thank you for that comment, portuguese leaf. I don't think most of as as fans fully comprehend the demands on a coach at this level. They are bound to do or say things on occasion that rile us, or dumbfound us.

    As for Carlyle's "decisions", we can agree that we, as fans, don't and won't always agree with him, or each other! For now, I'll take his approach and his winning record. If there are things to (fairly) criticize down the road, I'll do that, too.

  16. Michael
    Just 2 thoughts today. Did anyone else notice JVR's comment during his on-ice interview after the game when he noted that the fans were particularly loud and supportive during the game? It seems positive reinforcement from the fans doesn't go unnoticed. Maybe the earlier cheering helped them buckle down and get the winning goal right after the Rangers tied it up?

    Secondly, I read in Seigel's column (April 7) about how Carlisle was working with Gardiner 1 on 1 in practice and demonstrating how to play his position effectively through stick and body position to compensate for his relatively small size when playing against larger forwards. Personal instruction from a Norris trophy winning defenceman would seem to be pretty valuable as a development tool. Picking the spots to play him where he is likely to be successful can only build his confidence and make him better at the part of his game that needs improvement. It also sends a message to the team that he is going to manage everyone's ice time based on performance every night. I'm not unhappy with this scenario.

    I too am just sitting back and enjoying the progress of the team. I think we are improving rather than regressing and that works for me!

  17. I for one don't understand why we can't all just embrace the success the Leafs are having, and believe that they are in fact turning the corner. For sure, at times a team might be outplayed and steal a game due to a lucky bounce or two. I have always firmly believed that, although the lucky bounces tend to even out during a season, good teams do get those "lucky" bounces more.

    I can't buy into the notion that the shortened schedule makes this an abberation. A look at the league standings shows mostly predictable results. Hawks, Canucks, Penguins, Caps leading their divisions, Flyers and Rangers underachieving, Flames, Avalanche, and Panthers bringing up the bottom. The surprises of the league this year are the Canadiens and our own Leafs. Every year of course brings a couple surprise teams and a couple disappointing clubs.

    The advanced stats thing that you brought up, I know I've said before that I have little use for them too. Seeing sometimes is believing, and Carlyle I don't think misses much. Call me old school, but this morning I'm thinking about Captain Video, the late great Roger Nielson. Carlyle along with every other coach in the league has the ability to watch video of his own team, look for the flaws, and find out who is missing assignments or playing sloppy. Then teach, reinforce, and as Carlyle has been quick to do, sit a player who is not playing responsibly.

    Remember last year when everyone worried about Carlyle's past relationship with Lupul? Mega-contract and extraordinary play from Lupul since that time seems to kill the notion of a hard-headed coach.

    Don't get me wrong, the Leafs are not a great team. They have seen a coach-GM tandem both shown the exit in the past year, and they have seen themselves benched and scratched from the lineup. Blue and White Disease is gone.

    Remember when the Leafs spent three years with the absolute worst penalty kill in the league? It's over 92% over their past 28 games. Remember pre-season predictions placing the Leafs at about the 26th best team in the league? Remember a time when, if a team shut the Leafs down and took a lead into the first intermission, we all got that sinking feeling that we simply could not force our way back into the game?

    To quote the Joker, I have to ask all the gloom and doom fans, "Why so serious?"

  18. While there have been some personnel changes and some maturing players, notably Kadri and Fraser and additions such as Komarov, the biggest differences between this season and last season’s team seems to me to be in the area of coaching and goaltending management. Reimer is playing better coming off his injury year, however I think that the save percentage is reflecting more of a team stat than an individual stat. I have heard that there are statistically less shots from dangerous areas, however I do not need a statistician to tell me that or “prove” that the front of the net is being cleared much more efficiently and that shooters are being kept to the outside. The save percentage is identical irrespective of which goaltender is in net, so to me it really looks like a team stat. Reimer’s improved play has more to do with full recovery from injury and not having multiple coaches bending his ear with conflicting styles. He was forced to play last season when he was clearly “not right” and bizarrely when the Monster was winning at close to 80%.

    It seems that last season’s coaching staff had a dysfunctional dynamic and lacked the personnel to succeed with the coaching style that was being implemented. Or, perhaps we are not in an era in which that freewheeling style can succeed irrespective of the personnel? I don’t know. However, I do know that we are much more likely to make the playoffs this season than last. Trying to figure out why that is the case is a little like asking where the milk starts and the coffee ends in a café au lait. What is more, I really do not know what will happen in the coming weeks. Ascribing limitations in the playoffs to a team, particularly one with a high winning percentage is about the same as determining in advance that they will not make the playoffs, something which many Leaf fans were guilty of prior to the beginning of the truncated season. To me, Carlyle is the most important element in determining the outcome because he will be the one orchestrating the various disparate elements and insuring that the systems that he has implemented are adhered to.

    At the moment, Gardiner does not seem to be a good fit, however if he tightens up his defensive game then his offensive abilities will surely become irresistible to the coach. I was skeptical about Carlyle when he was hired, however I am in his camp now, simply because I think that there is no way in hockey to argue with success. I mean, what is the purpose but to win games, make the playoffs and try to advance from there. If they make the playoffs two of those goals will have been accomplished. What is our role in all of this? I would say from the outset that I am convinced that the fans matter. I would welcome a future discussion about how we matter.

  19. I believe that we are one player away from being an elite team (hello parity).

    We already have an elite offense that does not need to be on the power play to score goals (we are right at the top with Chicago, Tampa Bay and Pitt).
    And I don't think that is going to change next year. In fact, we might have an even better offense next year considering the ages of Kessel, JVR, Lupul and Kadri (and with continued steady development of Bozak, Kulemin, Grabs, etc.)

    I think that if were somehow able to add a #1 defenseman thus making Phaneuf #2 (or 1B) we would be an elite team. Phaneuf has really elevated his game lately and it becomes obvious when he is not on the ice. If we had Chara (or Weber, Keith, Suter, etc.) on the ice for 25 mins and Phaneuf on for another 25 we would have defensemen who could settle the team down and who could actually get the puck back once turned over, on the ice for the vast majority of the game.

    I realize that this is an extremely difficult commodity to obtain but its what I think we are missing assuming everyone else is healthy (particularly Reimer and Lupul).

  20. You raise two great points today, Ed (haven't heard form you in a while, glad to connect again...).

    I too believe the "noise" and support inside the building can be very important for an athlete. That has been shown through history. Athletes feed off it, without question.

    As for Gardiner, as I've tried to say here, I don't see any personal animosity from Carlyle's end. That he is spending time with Gardiner, as he does with a lot of players, is great to see. If Gardiner is as smart as I think he is, he will soak up the knowledge and recognize that his natural skills will only take him so far. Even Gretzky, as instinctive and brilliant a player as he was, constantly worked on his game.

    Thanks Ed.

  21. I nodded all the way along with your comment today, Pete. Thank you.

  22. I love that post, Bobby C. I, too, was Carlyle-skeptical when I heard he was the new guy. I won't share all my reasons. Let's just say I was doubtful, at best.

    But I think he has morphed into something different than what I anticipated. When I see him laughing on the bench, patting guys on the back, I'm just, well pleased. I know he hasn't lost his intensity or will to win.

    The guy knows the game. I'll be writing about this later today. Is he a perfect coach? No, but neither was Scotty Bowman, who may have been a hockey "genius" (and I do respect Bowman, of course) in part because he had phenomenal players, and some outstanding goaltenders in Montreal, etc.

    You have long held the view that goaltending is a team thing, and I agree. Of course we need our goalie to make huge saves at the right times. All winning teams do. But that's their job. They can't do it on their own. As good as Ken Dryden and Grant Fuhr were, their teams made them much "better" and vice-versa.

    Your last comment and question is something we should discuss here. I will aim to post on that subject if I ever feel inspired (or enlightened!) enough...Thanks Bobby.

  23. It seems implausible, apollo678, but you may be right. In this age of middlish rosters and cap-driven parity, the Leafs may indeed be a stud defender away from being (assuming solid team play and solid netminding) an elite team in the Eastern Conference.

    Of course things can always go sideways, for a host of reasons, but as I continue to ask: who is unbeatable in the East?

  24. Wow, how I love the Carlyle haters and the analytical geniuses out there. Amazing how many times they blame any success on luck, or credit the Leafs' success almost entirely on Reimer. He's a good goalie, but he is not the second-coming of Bernie Parent. He is not outright winning them games, but he is giving them reliable goaltending that gives them a chance to win.

    I'm not denying that statistics have some value, but lets keep in mind that the statistics are heavily slanted by "shots", and not just shots on goal. For me, the importance is not in the number of shots, but rather the number of QUALITY scoring chances. A weak shot from the point with a number of bodies in the way hardly compares to a shot from point-blank range with a goaltender out of position. Yet most statistics treat those shots the same.

    Lets face it the Leafs still have a lot of areas to improve upon, but they have made some significant strides this year. Who knows what they can do in the playoffs. Expectations are somewhat guarded, as most fans are just pleased that the Leafs will make the playoffs. We'll get a better measure on the team, and its players, during the playoffs. That will raise the bar higher for next year, and help management make some important player evaluations and contract decisions.

    I don't love or hate Grabovski's play, but these fans that think Grabo is the second coming of Datsyuk are just dreaming. They vehemently believe that he is being handcuffed by Carlyle. Last night Grabovski had TWO excellent scoring opportunities, but flubbed on both of them. Statistically, that is a small sample size, but good players put those away!

    But lets not argue with statistics, they tell the whole story. ;-)

  25. You hit it out of the park today, Don (TML_fan).

    For me, "shooting percentage" is one of the most useless stats out there. But some people swear by it.

    Live and let live! Thanks Don.

  26. What I can't figure out how is after a half season, and that is all the Leafs have played this year is the big rush to annoint Carlyle a genuis. Again I will ask is the Leafs style of play sustainable? Let's not forget that last year after 39 games the Leafs were in a similar posistion. If the season last year had been the shortned one Ron Wilson would still be coach and the Leafs would have been in the playoffs last year. In a regular year there would still be over half the season to play. We have all seen the Leafs play good for stretches before and then collapse. Is this team different, I believe they are but I want to see it for a whole year not just 39 games.

    I have seen the shot stats this year compared to last ansd the fact is the Wilson's teams gave up less shots from in close the Carlyle's teams did. That's right Wilson's teams were better at keeping shots to the outside than Carlyle has so far this year. I actually linked to the page here a couple of weeks ago and the math was right there in black and white, shot charts of every shot taken on a leaf goal over the last 2 years. Is the differecne huge, not really but it is shaded in Wilson's favour.

    I fine the notion that the goaltenders aren't really responsible for the wins to be laughable at best. Yes save % is a team stat as are ultimately all stats in hockey but it is the best way to measure how a goaltender is playing that we currently know. Reimer's even strength save % is even better amongst the very best in the league. How anyone can say he isn't winning games is really just plain wrong. I guess getting outshot 33-13 and winning against Boston is just dumb luck on the part of Reimer not an example of him stealing a game.

  27. My guess, Willbur, is that not many Leaf fans think Carlyle is a genius. But they see him as a better coach than his loud detractors give him credit for. Reimer certainly has played a key role in the team's overall success.

    That said, the jury is still out on him, Carlyle- and this team. But winning some games has been better than the alternative, for sure.

  28. I don't want to give the wrong impression here.

    I am glad the Leafs are going to the playoffs. I would rather see them there than at the draft preview on TSN.

    I don't really have an opinion on Carlyle one way or another. Some things he is better that I thought. He has improved the PK dramatically. Some other things I'm not too sure on. Overall he seems to be doing an allright job.

    I think a half year is not indicative of where the team is really at. I would like to see a whole year under Carlyle to know what is really going on.

    Again, after half of last year the Leafs were flying high but ultimately their syle of play was not sustainable over the long haul. I still see a lot of the same mistakes being made and I'm just not sure if over the course of a long season things wouldn't average out.

    You have said it best Michael, this season is really a bonus year. It's great to see them in the playoff hunt but there are still some serious holes to fix on this team. I have never heard of a team that gets outshot in 2/3rds of it's games yet goes on to win the vast majority of them. I just don't think that style of game is conducive to long term winning. Eventually, those shots have to even out. Last night the Rangers hit two early posts, if those had gone in we're talking about a completely different game. Over the 82 game schedule there will be nights when those go in. If a team is taking more shots every night it has more chances to score, (you can't score at al if you don't shoot) some chances are better yes but the law of averages says that the Leafs are playing with fire.

    I still very excited that we are going to see some playoff hockey this year. I actually think the Leafs might win a round. I am beyond ecstatic and can't wait. However, I just have major questions on how next year will go. For the record, Anahiem is in the same boat as the Leafs. It wouldn't suprise me to see both teams take precipitous falls next year. Every year sees suprise teams that fall back the next year. For example Florida from last year to this year. I just don't want the leafs to be a one year wonder.

  29. I was just thinking about the Panthers, Willbur. Major strides a year ago. Goaltending went south this season, and injuries didn't help. Suddenly, things don't look as good there.

    We'd like to think the Leafs are better positioned than that, of course. We'll see.

  30. Willbur - coaching involves more than numbers. It also involves motivation, having a team that hustles and believes that the effort will lead to success. And Carlye seems to be producing in these non-measurable stats, as well as the most adavanced stat of all - WINS!!

    1. I agree and as I pointed out above a couple of times I really have no opinion on Carlyle. I even said that hockey is a team game that is the sum of many parts. That's my big problem with "advanced stats"/per say. They only measure the offensive side of the game. Because no has come up with a way to measure defensive play it remains a subjective part of the game. I think it is patently ridiculous to say blocked shots and hit don't matter and are actually indicators of bad players as some of the advanced crowd does. Going by possesion numbers an elite team such as LA has the puck about 55% of the time. That still means that you don't have the puck for 45% of the time, the other team does. You had better be able to play defense for that time.

      I totally agre that Leafs right now are more than the sum of their parts. Some of the credit has to go to Carlyle for that. I espicially give him credit for the much improved PK it's quite a turn around. To me though the single biggest improvement is the play of Reimer. This level of goaltending hasn't been since Cujo was here. I'm not saying Carlyle doesn't deserve some of the credit. I also don't think he is the genius some fans are trying to make him out to be. We pillorized Wilson for his handling of Schenn, to me Carlyle's handling of Grabovski is just as big a crime. The guy is a shell of his former self and Carlyle has to take some of the blame for that as well.

      I see both good and bad in Carlyle. The biggest thing is for half a season last year the Leafs were just as good as they are now and then it all came crashing down as the numbers regressed to the mean. I see a lot of the same thing happening now.

  31. Hi Rav- thanks for visiting. I do want to point out that Willbur is not commenting here simply based on 'advanced stats'. He always raises fair and sobering analysis. I think he is simply pointing out that it is unlikely the Leafs, over an extended period of time, could maintain their degree of success if certain trends continued.

    But as I have indicated here, I have a lot of regard for what Carlyle is doing- and has accomplished, if we can call this season an accomplishment given the low bar in Leafland. There are some things that fans are obviously questioning, but coaching is very much about pushing the right buttons at the right times to get some wins.

    If you do that, and your team play hard and smart and helps your goalie out (and he plays well!) you're usually in good shape as a coach. Thanks Rav.

  32. Michael, I have to completely agree with you. I do agree that the advanced stats don't look good for the Leafs but to say that the Leafs success this season is solely due to goaltending is a bit ridiculous. Should Torts not get credit for the NYR finish last season because Lundqvist is an allstar goalie? What about what Trotz has done with Nashville the last decade? That's all Weber, Suter, Vokoun and Rinne? I hardly doubt that. Although those players are all big pieces, the coaching staff still has to put those pieces in a place that they can succeed in.

    At this point, I'm just excited to FINALLY being able to watch my Leafs in a playoff game for the first time in HD with a beer legally in my hands. It's great to have a young team that looks like they can give us some form of success (potentially) for the next 5-10 years. Cheers!

  33. When I try to take a moment and reflect on watching hockey pretty closely for more than fifty years, it always seems to me that real success is indeed a little bit of all the things we're talking about- good coaches who get the most out of good, committed players, really good goaltending, catching enough breaks, special teams. So hard to say one element is more important than the others. It all goes together. But a desire to win is huge, we can agree on that. If the Leafs show that this spring, they may do OK. Thanks Sasko.