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The playoffs will bring a lot of fun for fans—and even greater scrutiny for the Maple Leafs….

If the Maple Leaf players—young as many of them are and never having been in exactly this position in this market before—perhaps feel the scrutiny has been a bit much the past week as they finally successfully stumbled their way toward a once seemingly certain playoff berth, the fun is only beginning, one would think.

The players may have felt their collars a little tighter around their neck in recent times as we well-meaning Leaf partisans pounced on—and commented on— every mistake, the giveaways, puck possession issues, shots (or not) on goal, breakdowns, coaching decisions, ill-timed fights, whatever.

Despite all that, I will say ‘kudos’ to them for making it this far.  Most hockey and Leaf observers, if we are honest, did not expect a playoff team, and I’ve noticed many Leaf fans (somewhat understandably) bouncing from one emotion to another.  One week it’s, “Burke sure deserves credit for putting this great young team together”.  The next, the more common views is apt to be, “Our defense stinks, other than Phaneuf.  Where is our secondary scoring?  Thank God Reimer has been outstanding lately.  We still need a first-line center….why is Carlyle doing what he’s doing?...”.

There’s nothing wrong with those views.  In the “good times”, fans can, if they wish, choose to laud Burke for the good things he did in his four loud years here. He certainly re-built the 'system', made some daring moves and while he was not the man who drafted/acquired current contributors Grabovski, Kulemin, Reimer, Gunnarsson or Komarov, he had a hand in pretty much everything else on the big club and in our system—good and bad.  (Arguably, Nonis’ contribution - beyond toning things down around here, which is actually pretty important -  was perhaps waiving Connolly, allowing Carlyle to sit Komisarek, and trading Lombardi, all Burke acquisitions.  This has allowed Carlyle to blend in youngsters with potential, playing to win now while still looking to the future...)

And if fans feel we still have a long way to go to be a true Cup contender, that’s fair, too— and likely realistic as well.  Some see this year as a mirage, a short season where good breaks and generally very good goaltending overcame statistical anomalies and what they perceive as Carlyle’s poor coaching or maybe a still limited roster.

Fans are always all over the map, and that’s part of what makes Leafworld a bit of a pressure-cooker. Sports fans in every market, in any sport, are passionate.  We’re no different in that regard. 

But Leaf fans are found in every corner of the earth.  And we tend to micro-analyze every little error, every coaching staff decision, pre- and in-game, every goalie flub.  The Toronto media is part of this equation as well, and when you have 24-hour sports radio, TV, hourly internet critiques, etc.—and all that with a huge focus on the Leafs 12 months of the year, the players may say they don’t “read the papers” but they know what’s being said, what’s “out there”.  And I would argue it has an impact.  Players are people first, with egos and feelings, obviously.

In a sense, despite the team’s relative “success” this season, the pressure is just beginning.

As I’ve written here recently, even though this was, in my view, an experimental year for Carlyle; even though fan expectations were modest, at best, heading into the season; even though the Leafs have now achieved more than most fans honestly thought they would or could…now the “second season” starts in this market for the first time in almost a decade. The dial is just now being really tuned up, as Leaf fans that have been on the sidelines after the lockout, etc. are maybe just now willing to let this team toy with their emotions—just a bit, for starters.

There is a whole new generation of young Leaf fans who barely (or don’t at all) remember Mogilny giving the puck away against Carolina in Game 6 in 2002 semi-finals to end that series. (That still hurts…).  They may not remember Roenick’s overtime goal that eliminated us against the Flyers in 2004.  Those were outstanding Leaf teams that weren’t perfect, no, but they were awfully good.  The days of Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, Sundin and Gary Roberts and McCabe and Kaberle—big hits, blocked shots, overtime magic and fond memories…though, yes, always heartbreak in the end.

My point, in a rather long-winded fashion?

Simply that even though this is an 'bonus', though we weren’t expecting it, despite the fact that we are, in a sense, “just happy to be here” (i.e. in the playoffs), as fans, we can’t help (at least most of us) now hope for more.  The bar in Leafland has been so low for so long that, hey, we can’t help but want to believe we can do better than just “squeak into the playoffs”, eh?  We’d like to see if this team can actually somehow surprise people in the first round, and then, who knows?

Goodness, I’ve said often enough (you're tired of hearing that, I'm sure, but it's true...) these past few years here at VLM that the East is pretty mediocre.  Of course there are elite players and some solid teams but every roster also has flaws.  It’s the reality of the cap era.  So, I tend to surmise, why can’t the Leafs—and here come the “ifs”—advance…if they get solid goaltending, if they block shots, if they drive to the net, if they play a smart, simple, tough game?

We all know they have some skill in players like van Riemsdyk (who was huge for the Flyers just a couple of years ago in the playoffs ands can go on "hot streaks" where he finds the back of the net), Kessel, Grabovski, and of course Lupul and Kadri (and some would argue, Bozak and MacArthur as well…).

They have toughness beyond just their fighters, who also try to finish their checks, at least.  They have McClement, who is tenacious; Komarov, who is certainly edgy; Fraser, who surely has surpassed any Leaf fan’s expectations, and of course the captain- all of whom are capable of a physical, playoff-style game.

And in reality, almost all players raise the level of intensity in their play when the first round starts.  The Leafs will, too.  Guys who don’t normally block shots, do.  Players who don’t finish checks hard, do so.  Players are more willing to take cross-checks to virtually sit on the goalie’s lap in the crease, and fight for pucks along the boards and in the corners.  That’s what makes hockey at this upcoming time of year so compelling—16 teams (and the Leafs now one of those teams, finally) fighting like mad not to be eliminated.  It brings out the passion in all players, who already are some of the most driven, competitive people around.

But the players surely know that with all this fan support, all this energy, we will also be raising, fair or not (maybe it is indeed unfair) our expectations for right now.  Not just hoping that this will be a great experience four our young players, and it will surely be that.  But we, as fans, will naturally want more.  We will harp on every mistake, every goalie flub, every giveaway, every missed check.  Our standards for players maybe not quite capable of hockey “perfection” will be higher than it maybe should be, but it is what it is. We are fans, after all.

And we fans are a bit desperate, too.  It’s been a while for us as well, not just some of the players or the Leaf organization.  We may all point to this as merely a building-block year, and it is.  But will that be enough to satisfy long-starving Leafers? Some yes, but maybe not all.

I hope we can all enjoy the ride, as short or long as it will be.  And yes, look at this opportunity as something that will help this young team out in the years ahead, when they are closer to being, we hope, a true Cup contender.

But in the meantime, I’m betting we’ll be rooting hard in the present, nit-picking along the way, and hoping against hope our guys overcome whatever obstacles they face in an Eastern Conference that is there for the taking.

It will be fun.  And about time.

I hope you feel the same!


If you missed these recent (and slightly older) posts, I would enjoy hearing your thoughts...


  1. As one who thinks it's all gravy from this point on, I couldn't be happier that the Leafs made the playoffs. As you point out, everyone's going to get the kind of experience you can't get any other way, and it can only stand us in good stead going forward. Even the Blackhawks and Pens took a few years to put it together in the playoffs, despite their young stars.
    I don't see how we're going to be able to advance very far if we continue on the short side of the shot differential we've been seeing lately, but who knows? As I said the other day, if sports could be reduced solely to stats, Billy Beane would have a World Series ring on every finger.
    We have the nucleus of a very good team this year, and it really feels like it can only get better.

  2. And as much as Billy Beane got a ton of attention years ago, Gerund, not everyone in baseball has bought into his approach. It's not the only way "to win", clearly.

    Fans will generally want more than the minimum, so we'll see how many, like you, are "satisfied" with just getting in!

    The experience will only help, as you say, whether one round or more. Thanks Gerund...

  3. Well I would like to believe that this is a "bonus" year, and a chance to simply enjoy the ride and gain some valuable experience that will pay off in a year or two. Then I saw a HNIC poll yesterday. Seems a full one third of those voting predicted the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. Welcome to Toronto. I've often wondered if the pressure here might scare as many good players away as it attracts, hopefully the team will internalize and come together for a nice playoff showing. They need a good taste of tight playoff hockey so that they know what it will take moving forward. Let's just hope they don't bake too much in the Florida sun this week and hit the post season in full stride!

  4. Michael,

    It is great that our beloved Maple Leafs have qualified for the postseason tournament. Lots of the things that have bothered me this season are less important today. Teams have won the Cup on the back of a hot/exceptional goaltender. It can happen again this year. It is my wish that Nonis feel stupid for trying to acquire a goalie at the deadline. It is clear that we should all believe in Reimer. And one more thing, can Carlyle really play Orr and McLaren in the playoffs? I do hope that he doesn't.

  5. Now that we're "in", I think it isn't unrealistic to want to go past the first round. We will likely face Montreal, a team we have played well against this season. After all the Leafs are fifth in the conference. It's not like we're the worst team in the world. There are some high profile teams below us in the standings and point-wise.

    We didn't forget how to play the game we've been playing untill now, and if we do have another gear we could have an intersting playoffs. The team isn't as bad or as good as some say. I think we're as good as the standings indicate. Fifth best in the east and 8th overall. With 22 teams worse than the Leafs, I don't think we're too shabby at all.

    There will be no Stanley Cup, but if the team keeps building steadily in a few years... who knows?

  6. The Stanley Cup? Well, that's a pretty big dream, eh Pete? Maybe those fans have not seen the West play this year?

    Anyway, it is fun and we should enjoy the good moments, for sure.

    I admit, I had the same thought about Florida myself...I'd rather they be somewhere where it's cold and snowy- hockey weather!

    Thanks Pete.

  7. Good to hear from you, Jim. Haven't chatted for a while.

    I think a lot of us will be wondering over the next week or so what Carlyle will do when it comes to a playoff roster. I can't conceive why Orr and MacLaren will both be needed, but we'll see, I guess.

    You said it about goaltending: I'll be posting on that subject likely later today. The good news, if Reimer continues to play as he can be and has been, is that he is entering his prime. It would be nice not to have our own goaltender while still young than getting a guy who used to be a star, or that another team was simply trying to move...we keep our assets, too.

    Thanks Jim...stay in touch.

    1. Hey Michael and Jim,

      no need to worry about orr and McLaren both playing in the playoffs - at least for now - since McLaren hurt his right arm or shoulder in Saturday's game vs. the sens. So for now - the worst case is that we see Orr in every game.

      Anon from Scarborough

  8. I agree with that assessment, portuguese leaf. And you make an important comment: "if the Leafs have another gear".
    I've been saying much of this season they are already playing playoff-style hockey (yes, too many giveaways, not enough shots lately...) . They try to finish their checks and play physical and are hard to play against most nights. Their "system" as best I can tell is designed to be "defensive" though some nights it's not exactly well-executed. Still, they have players like Komarov, Kulemin and McClement who should be ideal in a playoff circumstance.

    Most importantly, as you say, it's about building for the future as well, and getting experience for our core players who will still be here in the years ahead.

    Thanks portuguese leaf.

  9. Thanks Scarborough Anon- I knew MacLaren was banged up on Saturday night but wasn't sure if he was out long-term...



    No more maple laughs jokes or 7 years jokes - lol.

    Finally we can see a leafs playoff game in HD, live stream on the net, recaps on youtube, have playoff fantasy facebook pages, and live game commentary on twitter - how much have we missed out on.....

    Although there is a while to go before we can get rid of those 1967 jokes.

    Anon from Scarborough.

  11. I'm pretty sure you speak for a lot of Leaf supporters, Scarborough Anon. It's been a while, eh?

    Social media has certainly evolved since the last time the Leafs were "in", so it will be a bit wild, I'm sure. Hppefully people can sit back and enjoy...

  12. Hey Michael,

    Now I finally reply to your actual post - had to get that out.

    This is most certainly a year which began with many leafs fan - myself included - hoping for a colossal tank - to get the #1 pick in the draft and get our hands on the next big thing coming out of the junior ranks.

    And here we are now - talking about 1/3 of the HNIC poll respondents saying the leafs win lord Stanley's chalice.

    What a change eh? Of course this still should be a bonus year - for evaluation, chemistry and valuable experience of what a playoff series in the big league is all about for these youngsters.

    I have tempered expectations of the leafs - but as a fan - once u r in - u can't help but hope/dream of them making some hay and catching teams of guard - Reimer is definitely helping people with that - but we will find out what he is made of - in terms of compete and fighting the puck - come playoff time.

    I would love a mon-tor 1st round - no matter what happens - it would be epic.

    And imagine a caps vs. islanders series - goosebumps - lol.

    I don't know who will step-up for us come playoff time - but there are an awful number of forwards who need to get it together right now - Clarke, Matt, Grabo.

    I have one interesting question - and wonder if u think u can answer it for me - if we need to have an emergency call-up in the playoffs - who do we call up - for forwards? defence?

    Anon from Scarborough

  13. Your last question is a good one, Scarborough Anon....not sure who would get called up; right now, they already have Frattin waiting in the wings, and Ryan Hamilton. On the back end, beyond Gardiner, I would guess Holzer is in the picture (not likely Rielly, I'd be stunned if they inserted him into an NHL playoff atmosphere just yet...). Blacker was called up before but those are all guesses, nothing more. Others may have much better insight into this than myself.

  14. Does anyone know what the rules are for playoff rosters - how many players can be on the roster? How many emargency call-ups are allowed? Are there issues with wavers etc.? What do you think our roster should look like? - funny I have to ask this question - we've been out of it for so long and I don't remember the rules and they probably changed anyway...

  15. If someone has the answer to those questions, leafdreamer, they can perhaps respond here....

  16. I'm not quite sure what the rules are, but they must be rather liberal. Look what Montreal just did:

    Canadiens Recall Eight Players

    MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens announced Monday that goaltenders Robert Mayer and Dustin Tokarski, defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi, as well as forwards Michaël Bournival, Louis Leblanc and Petteri Nokelainen have been recalled from the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.

    All eight players will practice this week in Hamilton under the guidance of the Bulldogs’ coaching staff. They will arrive in Montreal on Sunday, April 28, 2013.

  17. I don't know if things have changed this year due to the shortened season or the new CBA but what I know from the past is that - after the trade deadline has passed - u r only allowed 4 emergency call-ups till the end of the playoffs. However, u can have a few more players in your roster during the playoffs than the strict 23 player roster in the regular season - however u cannot add any players to a team roster mid-series and then can only use an emergency call-up to fill a roster spot.

    Hopefully this helps.

    Anon from Scarborough.