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Lupul gone: now we’ll see what depth really means for the Maple Leafs

I’ll say this:  by now the Maple Leafs should be accustomed to playing without Joffrey Lupul, eh? After a breakout start to his first season with the blue and white a year ago, the veteran winger was lost for almost half the year.  While his absence could not be blamed for the Maple Leaf pratfall from February on, there was at least evidence of collateral damage—that much is clear. He was not around to help stop the bleeding.

This season, we had barely got underway after the prolonged lockout when Lupul was knocked out of action again.  When he returned, most of us would agree that his play was nothing short of magnificent.

Then came the Flyers at the ACC Thursday night, a day after all the Leaf players could finally exhale—given the rumours that any of a number of them could be headed out of town in return for Kiprusoff, Luongo or some other coveted deadline piece of the new Nonis puzzle.

Suddenly, a hit from Adam Hall (was it really a dirty hit?  I looked at it several times and it looked like a shove, nothing more, perhaps I did not see the proper angle) changed everything.  Hall ran into Lupul, and that contact shoved Lupul into ex-Leaf Rosehill which apparently id the damage.  If it is a concussion, these things are never day-to-day any more.  It’s generally a question of weeks—and tons of uncertainty at the other end of a player’s return.

The Leafs certainly have people to fill the slot (Hamilton is already here; Colborne may stick around now that Lupul appears to be going on IR), no question.  But Lupul was part of the special three-pronged attack that gave the team two very strong offensive units—and some crucial individual threats in the persons of Lupul, Kadri and of course Kessel.

A loss is a loss, not necessarily anything more meaningful than that.  Teams are going to lose games and the Leafs will have a battle on their hands down the stretch, I’m thinking.  The Flyer game doesn’t really change anything, but it does reinforce that we aren’t exactly home and cooled out yet when it comes to the playoffs (though no one in the Southeast Division is exactly running away from the crowd…).

The argument could be made that the game meant a lot more to a desperate Flyers team than it did to the Leafs.  While I, to a certain extent, accept that psychology and where a player and/or team are “at” mentally influences the outcome of any given game, the Leafs aren’t exactly in a position to be “out-motivated” by another team—any team—at this stage in their development.

It’s been an interesting season, to say the least, and now things get really interesting.  Should be fun.


A few observations/comments after the Philly game:

  • Those who follow VLM know I hate given up young defensemen in trades.  We did that with Schenn and Aulie since the middle of last season.  Neither has been exactly spectacular in their new surroundings but both have been solid more often than not.  Aulie is a plus 1 on the season, averaging between 12 and 13 minutes a night on a middlish Tampa squad, mostly as a 6th defenseman. At 23, he has his best years ahead of him, if he continues to improve.  Schenn has struggled at times, including in two earlier games against the Leafs this season, when he was a minus player (van Riemsdyk beat him to the outside on one particularly memorable goal).
  • But things sometimes even out, and I’d say Schenn more than acquitted himself well in Thursday night’s matchup.  The Flyers are missing a ton of guys due to injuries, and Schenn has been playing pretty significant minutes some nights, including well over 20 minutes the past several games.  Against the Leafs he logged more than 25 minutes, and was a plus 3, nudging him to plus 4 on the season.  Once again van Riemsdyk scored against his former mates, but I’ll wait a while to make a declaration as to who “won” the one-for-one trade between the Flyers and Leafs.
  • Schenn was the only Flyer to be on the ice for more than 20 minutes.
  • Phaneuf was the reason for the Leafs third goal.  He jumped off the bench on a mission, made a great play to van Reismdyk and almost flew through the air a la Bobby Orr (while colliding with a Flyer defenseman) after van Riemsdyk scored to bring the Leafs within one.
  • Kadri is almost unerring when it comes to his instincts for the game.  I’m sure those who have watched him closely for much longer than I have could have told me this, because instinct is just something you have.  It’s an extra dimension.  I remember watching Gretzky up in Sault Ste. Marie during the 1977-’78 OHL season.  I was working there at the time, and for the first time I was able to see the young man in action.  More than anything else, I was stunned by the “little things” Gretzky did.  How he seemingly always found the open man.  How he virtually never went offside.  How he had a sixth sense about where the puck was going to be.  When I watch Kadri, I am finding myself just focusing on him because of his ability to do the “right” thing, so consistently.  It’s amazing to watch. You’d think he would be easy to check, but he’s not. He constantly finds open space, like a Brett Hull, but with more playmaking ability because of his superior vision.
  • Question:  should Kessel be a minus 5 on the season?  I ask this because Kadri, for example, is plus 19.  You may say, hey, they play on different lines; Kessel plays harder minutes, etc.  But if Kessel is drawing a checking line, this means he is either on for more goals againsts while facing checkers.  If he is playing against the other team’s best line, the result is the same.  Either way, should your elite offensive player be a minus this deep into the season?  I know plus/minus is an imperfect stat, but all stats are, in my view. Plus/minus does usually tell us something.
  • Speaking of “minuses”, van Riemsdyk is now minus 6 on the season.
  • I think we’ll see Scrivens, the almost-Canuck, on Saturday night.
  • Do you foresee other lineup changes?  Gardiner and O’Byrne in, perhaps?

Question of the day:  do you feel a little less secure about the Leafs and the playoffs or much the same as before, after the loss against the Flyers?


  1. Well, they seemed a bit rusty from the long layoff--but I still feel we'll get in and make some noise

  2. What can a guy say. Early in the year the Leafs often benefitted from missed calls like the winning goal tonight. These things tend to equal out over the year. The hit on Lupul wasn't dirty it just ended bad. The rest of the team has to suck it up and play better.

    Schenn had a good game tonight no doubt about it. I still wish we hadn't traded him. Don't get me wrong I like JVR but I wish we hadn't given up Schenn to get him. The advanced stats crowd will tell you blocked shots and hits don't mean anything but they are wrong. Like all things in hockey they help paint a bigger picture. I saw Schenn throw a hit tonight, not a huge bonecrusher but one that seperated a Leaf from the puck that led directly to a Flyer goal. I also saw him block a wide open Kadri shot late in the game. These are little things that do mean something. Are they as important as some like to make out, no but neither are the advanced stats. They all have their place.

    No Kessel shouldn't be minus 5 on the year. The advanced stats guys love Kessel but the last time I checked if your on for more goals against than for goals scored that is bad. Again +/- is an incomplete stat but it does tell part of the story. Same applies to JVR. I know everybody love to blame Bozak (clearly he is in over his head as a number one center) the other two guys need to take their share of the blame as well.

    Kadri is a beast fast becoming my favourite Leaf. Still love him, Kulemin and Lupul as a line.

    My guess is Reimer plays Saturday. His game was alright tonight. The defensive turn overs were the culprit here. Gardiner should draw in for Kostka Saturday in my opinion. It's not like he could play worse defensively. Besdies for what he brings offensively I can live with with his defensive shortcomings. Like people have been talking about with the goalies getting experience the only way to get it is to play. I fail to see how having Gardiner in the pressbox helps him or the team at this point. Very puzzling decision to my mind.

    The Leafs should still make the playoffs but losses like this do nothing to make me think they are are going to do anything but loose in the first round.

  3. True- they hadn't played in a while...almost came back at the end....Thanks hockeykazi.

  4. MIchael,

    Your last question really puts it right there where we live and breathe doesn't it? There are 5 games coming up immediately that the Leafs need a good showing in. Except for the Montreal game, the other teams are trailing the Leafs. Three wins in the five games will go a long way to easing the fears I have regarding this team and the playoffs.

    You are absolutely correct, the game meant a lot to the Flyers and they made the most of their opportunity and got two points. The Leafs on the other hand, didn't show any desperation. They have built a lead in the standings and they are afforded that luxury, for now. Throughout this shortened season, the play of the team has been at times breathtaking and at others really discombobulated. It really has been helter skelter, all over the place. Good and bad, often in the same shift.

    I was very sad to see Lupul get hurt again. He is by far, to me anyways, the most important Leaf behind Reimer. He willingly goes to the dirty areas of the ice, and is more than willing to get his nose dirty. It is these qualities that I see lacking in Phil and JVR. Phaneuf logs a tonne of ice, but I just don't see what he does exciting the other players. Or the fans for that matter. I realize that without Dion playing so much, for the most a dependable game, we are nowhere near the playoffs.

    It was only one game. I guess we can chalk it up to having a long break between games and being a little out of sorts. I despise these kinds of excuses, we say the same thing when they play back to backs. I don't think it should matter to professional athletes, but maybe I am wrong. They have a nice cushion and very few games to play. I am still of the mindset that they shouldn't have any problem making it to the dance. Ask me again after the next five games.

  5. All solid observations, Willbur. (I put a mental star on your second paragraph- you and I share very similar views on the all that...)

    I'd like to see Reimer Saturday because I think he needs to be the guy come playoff time and I don't want to bounce back and forth after every loss, but we'll see. Carlyle likes to change things up.

    I think Gardiner plays Saturday, yes. Thanks Willbur.

  6. Lupul is an important guy, for sure, Jim. For a few games teams can overcome those kinds of losses, but over time it gets harder sometimes.

    It's good to have something to "play for". They will now. I'm guessing Carlyle will remind them that they weren't good enough Thursday night. Thanks Jim.

  7. "do you feel a little less secure about the Leafs and the playoffs or much the same as before, after the loss against the Flyers?"

    A little less secure, but not much. They were rusty. They have won allot of games recently. The 4 goal was a missed goaltender interference. They really should have gotten a point in that game.

    The real test will be Saturday. If they win, all is well.

    I don't think Gardiner will be in. My guess is Kostka is out and O'Byrne goes in with Liles.

    I am not that worried about Lupul, as Carlyle said it was 50/50 on him practicing tomorrow. It doesn't sound that serious and the team has won without him before. I actually like the idea of getting a look at Colborne.

    I am changing my opinion of Kadri. I think he will be that future leader and first line center. He had amazing shift where he was hitting guys in an attempt to mount a comeback:

    That's Gilmour type stuff.

    Kadri also finally got on with Kessel and JVR, that was the third goal:

    Kessel, Kadri and Lupul would be tough to contain in a late game surge from behind in the last few minutes. They should try it.

  8. I don't doubt Carlyle would play Kessel, Kadri and Lupul at certain times, DP. Kadri is indeed playing at a different level than most players right now.

    O'Byrne will no doubt have a chance to prove he is a Carlyle type of defenseman sooner than later. Thanks DP.

  9. It's kind of a catch-22, because I really want the leafs to finish in 6th (not 5th, as they were sitting last night), to draw the SE div winner. I know this is often dangerous stuff, but no one could honestly say the Bruins would be a better matchup than whichever trash wins the SE. At the same time, we can't take games for granted and "play into a position." We aren't good enough or experienced enough to do that, as 1 bad game could turn into 3 or 4, easily. If they alternate wins and losses for the rest of the year (fairly conservative outlook I'd say), they should finish in sixth, which would really be ideal. Hopefully we just play solid even in the losses...

  10. You're right, Anon, teams always play to win, so ultimately the Leafs will end up where they end up.

    As fans, we can hope for a particular position, and most no doubt would prefer a match-up with whoever comes out of the SE- though the Caps are playing a lot better, it seems, of late (as opposed to Winnipeg or Carolina). Thanks Anon.

  11. I think it's really important to remember we aren't in the playoffs yet. But what we saw last night was a pretty good approximation of playoff hockey - from the Flyers. The Leafs stepped it up as the game went on, and but for Schenn's knee pad and a post or two, we could have had at least a point. So I guess the good news is that we managed to stay in the game, despite a pretty lacklustre performance overall.
    Reimer looked very Reimerish, making some big saves and letting that Brayden Schenn one through. For me, that's a stop he has to make.
    Both JvR and Kessel could have had a couple last night. That was a promising sign.
    When I saw the Lupul injury, the way his head snapped on the impact with Rosehill, it reminded me of how I felt last year when Liles got concussed - ie, we won't see him again this year. That would be a real shame, since we were finally getting that second line threat we haven't had for ages. For me, there's no question that's why we were doing so well over the past 6 or 7 games, and I'm a little apprehensive about what may befall. Call it the past-experience jitters!
    I expect to see O'Byrne replace Kostka on Saturday. Time for us to see what impact he can have, and Kostka has started looking outmatched. Hopefully O'Byrne and Liles will click as they apparently used to. I think Carlyle knows what Gardiner brings to the table, er, rink, and it doesn't seem there's a fit right now.
    We agree about letting young D go. Schenn looked strong last night, and even lucked out on that empty netter, for good measure. Does anyone else think the Leafs should hire Pronger as a defensive coach as soon as possible?

  12. Pronger as a coach, Gerund O'- interesting, could he teach mean-ness??!!

    I'm not sure of Lupul's status today, but it's usually never as short as clubs first say/think.

    Thanks Gerund- big few games ahead....

  13. How sad would it be if the Leafs missed the playoffs again? I'm really worried they may slide off the cliff. Flyers beat the Leafs last night with their physical game and desperation hockey. Most of the teams the Leafs are facing down the stretch are in the same position as Flyers and have the experience and grit that is required to play hard hockey. I'm very worried.

    Gunnarson's been pretty bad this year - I wonder if it's the injury or if he's just a bad hockey player - he's not very physical nor is he a good skater... doesn't really seem to have much going. He really screwed up on that 3rd goal last night. I think he should take a break and Gardiner should get to be Phaneuf's rookie of the month for the rest of the season. I'm excited to see the big Irishman on Saturday.

    Yeah, the Leafs sure should be used to playing without Lupul by now. I hope he manages to put together a season of play at some point before his contract expires - he's so good when he's healthy.

    Schenn needed to go - he experienced too much losing in Toronto. JVR had a great game - it's almost like he stepped in for Lupul as the latter went down. What a beautiful goal that was.

  14. A win in New Jersey may alleviate some of those fears, leafdreamer! Check in next week- we'll see where things stand....

  15. Remember when the Leafs faced a home-and-home against Boston? - I thought it was the most important week of the season.
    Now I think that this week is the most important of the season. Can you tell that I still don't trust these guys? It's a serious illness being a Leaf fan and the only cure, unfortunately, is winning.

  16. Exactly, BCLeafFan...every game is the "most important" one and every week is the "most important" week. In a short season (and after so many years without being in the playoffs) it can't be any other way for us, I guess!

  17. Kadri has swiftly become my favorite topic in hockey, and not in small part due to, what I suspect, is the best Leafs-related trolling post ever. It was a rather well-constructed piece on how Kadri has been, over the season, always been paired with the wingers in the Leafs roster who were on the verge of a hot streak, and Kadri benefited from their presence. And how he's always gotten new guys to play with once he had pretty much sucked his earlier linemates dry.

    For me, the +/- is a helpful reference. You can compare it to others within a roster, you can look for the reasons for it, but in the end, it's just a mathematical result of what happened earlier on. Any statistic, no matter how advanced, is no more than that. Sure, the Corsis and Fenwicks cut a bit deeper than that, but the bottom line for me is, that stats generally speaking are the effect, not the cause.

    Kadri has been nothing if not magnificent. Was that ever going to happen under Wilson? I don't think so. Carlyle's been getting some flak, some of which I think is valid, but people tend to rely on stats, like how the only difference between Wilson and Carlyle is that latter has gotten the benefit of decent goaltending. I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of how Carlyle is constantly setting Grabbo up to fail, but I love how the Leafs nowadays have a general plan to win the puck back once they lose it, and how they group up for the counter-attack once they actually do win it back.

    I remember all too well how often our goalies had to scramble on the cross-ice pass with Wilson on board, and nobody around to defend it. It has simply happened less often this season, for what I've seen. There should probably be a statistic for it, something like "Wilson/Carlyle Conundrum".

    But back to the Kadri vs. Kessel +/- situation at hand. Kessel has some uniquely dynamic offensive skills going for him. Kadri has dynamic vision. For me, Kadri is the one gem we have. My problem with Kessel has always been, that he's not exactly keen to venture into the most contested areas on the ice. He has scored many a goal after a brilliant solo move once we've been trailing by 2 or more, and the opposition has sat back a bit. Kadri, on the other hand, waits for no such luxuries, he often seems to materialize where needed, which is an attribute I remember Gretzky of. Of course Kadri is no Gretzky, but he's currently our best shot at a franchise player in my mind.

  18. I would be hard-pressed to support any thesis, CGLN, that suggests Kadri has benefitted from wingers "due to break out". Goodness, the guy is the reason those guys started scoring. Do we need to list the different wingers who have benefited from playing with him this season?

    This is not to canonize the young centre. He has plenty to prove over time to demonstrate that this has been more than simply a "show you" season- and a short one at that. But if people actually get away from your computer screen and playing with numbers and actually watch the guy play, it is fair to ask: where would the Leafs be without him this season?

    I always respect your views CGLN but I'm not sure I agree that Grabovski has been set up to fail. He is a highly paid second-line center, and I expect high-end, highly-paid NHL centers who play on a second line to contribute at both ends of the ice. Is Grabbo not a minus player this season? For me, there is a lot of "Grabbo protecting" going on, and that's fine. I get that people like Grabovski (I do, too) and many don't like Carlyle. But I'll take an NHL coach with a track record over guys who analyze statistics when I want someone making real-life decisions in the big leagues.

    Someone has to do the tough jobs, and if Grabovski has to play against "good" players, well, isn't he a good player? I would expect a guy making two million a year as a third line center to do that job and do it well. As a great former Soviet player told the legendary coach Tarasov in the '60s when the player was told to cover an elite opposing centre, "I will play so that he has to worry about me, not me about him..."

    Maybe if Grabbo had that attitude, he would be able to cover his man and score more goals.

    I think we agree Kadri is showing some exquisite skills, mostly an uncommon instinct to make the right plays at the right time and get to the right places, as I mentioned above. Kessel is a dynamic guy as well, but the holes in his game are easier to find- including an unwillingness most of the time to be around the net.

    We'd be better with Kessel, Kadri and Lupul healthy and well! Thanks, CGLN.

  19. Well, my point about Grabbo was, that he gets shifted around and he tends to get less scorers with him on the ice as the season grows older. He's not a natural "defense first" type of player, and if you're a coach it isn't fair to throw him in with Colton Orr and then complain about his ineffectiveness. Grabbo is a good hockey player, but he's at his best when his team has the puck, and I do feel he's in Carlyle's doghouse at the moment.

    Grabbo's defensive play comes mainly from puck control and smart distribution, and if you pair him with players with neither wheels nor hands, it's just plain unfair in my mind. Carlyle is an old school guy, and Grabbo isn't exactly the sort of guy he sat next to in the dressing room in his heyday. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I sure don't feel Carlyle is doing Grabbo any favors by sending him out against the top lines with the least talented forwards in the Leafs' lineup.

  20. It's not that I think your assessment is "wrong", CGLN, I just believe Grabbo has to play better. That's the job. Earlier this season, there were times that Kadri was playing with third/fourth line guys like Orr and he was still dangerous.

    Has Grabovski not played with MacArthur and Kulemin, who both scored and put up points when they played with Kadri?

    If Grabovski is in Carlyle's bad books, there is seemingly a reason for that. I would think Carlyle would like Grabovski, a player with a big heart, etc. For whatever reason, things have not seemingly worked between them. Most of the time, the player has to adjust to the coach; that's just the way it is. Other guys seem to be handling the Carlyle reality. Maybe Grabbo will emerge and thrive soon. We need him to be at his best.

    For the record, who do you think he should be playing with?

  21. I agree with you on that he should have showed up earlier on. Not the only one who played in the KHL during the lockout who didn't start the season with flying colors (Ovechkin), but he has more ability than Bozak, for example.

    Have Kessel and Grabbo really been on the ice together since early Wilson days at all? I don't think Carlyle has given it a real chance at any point. Grabbo, when at his best, knows how to get attention. Kessel thrives when he's not getting too much attention. Could be worth a look?

    Bozak is a fine player, but I think he's both overpaid and overused as it is. Trade deadline has come and gone, and he'll not likely be a Leaf next season, strange as the market goes. As player agents are, he'll probably rather crawl to an early grave, than come back asking for a fair contract from the Leafs if he happens to go unwanted. Which wouldn't surprise me.

    And in the same spirit, we have a rather expensive, and currently ineffective, player in Grabbo. What would you do about the situation?

  22. I admit your question is a good one, CGLN. It feels like the guy with the long-term deal is on his way out the door and the guy who may be leaving in free-agency is a preferred Carlyle option.

    Could Kessel and Grabbo thrive together? Carlyle seems to like Kessel with Bozak.

    What would be telling is if Phil lined up with a different player in the middle, but not just for a game, but over a period of several games to see if he has chemistry with other guys. He has played well with van Riemsdyk and Lupul on his opposite wing, so surely he could adjust to a different centre...

  23. My point exactly. Bozak, while an NHL caliber player for sure, is as drab as they come when thinking of a setup man for your best winger. "Drab" on the other hand, is not exactly what you think of Grabbo in his worst day out.

    Kessel is being Kessel, game in, game out, as you've said more than once during what has been a bit of a rebound season for the Leafs, while having been bit of a season off for both Grabbo and Kessel. And don't even try to tell me Carlyle is anything but old school; he expects players to help themselves!

    It's just that old school only goes so far, and how many rounds can you expect to go without getting the absolute best out of your team? I'd rather have Randy realize you need to help your guys to win, as a coach, than be pointing fingers around to the media once the ship already sailed because you just couldn't bring your top guys together before the opening round was already 0-3.

    ...and rant off. I just feel, we'd be better off heading into post-season on a high note, than with an identity crisis. And while we're almost there, I'm not feeling comfortable right now. But maybe I'm just paranoid, with our two highest-paid forwards not finding the net with any regularity at all, and stuff...