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As the dust settles, taking stock of where the Maple Leafs are right now…

Rather than focus on Tim Leiweke’s half-hearted attempt at “apologizing” for his remarks of last week (the guy really has a hard time admitting he just doesn't get it- and it feels like he may never, but more on that another day) I’ve been focusing these summer days on exactly where the Leafs are right now, as we begin to look forward to the 2013-’14 NHL season.

What I’ve tried to do is look at the here and now.  That is, I’ve set aside concerns about Nonis having traded away some down-the-road draft choices, and about whether we will miss Komarov, Frattin, et al.  I’m just trying to think about what we do have, not what we let go, and see if I feel any better about the club’s prospects going forward compared with recent off-seasons.

I’d like to be able to give a definitive 'yes' that I feel really good about Nonis’ work or conversely, to be able to unequivocally give the Leaf brass a ‘thumbs down’ for their work this summer.  It’s just that there are so many unknowns, so many nuances here, so many uncertainties, that I am struggling to determine whether I’m looking at the jar as half full or half empty.

I’ll go one step further:  I’m so tired of trying to be a ‘capologist’ or a hockey economist, that I’d also like to make my observations in a bit of a vacuum.  That is, I want to forget what we are paying a guy like Bozak (who I think is, you know, a nice player and everything) more than 4 million a year (boy, the world sure has changed) and that we will also be paying so much to Clarkson for the rest of his useful hockey life (and likely a few years beyond that…).  I simply want to assess this roster for what it is in hockey terms, and set aside the silly money that is paid, as well as buy-outs and bad contracts.

I just want to think about the hockey team, full stop.

So let’s look at things as best I/we can, recognizing that hey, the Toronto Blue Jays (for those baseball observers who visit VLM), for example, were supposed to be really, really good this season, and last I checked (I’m not a Jays fan, by the way, though one of my grown sons has been since 1994) they weren’t really good.  Similarly, some may think the Leafs have made massive improvements this off-season, but, well, we will only really know if that's accurate once the bell rings and we get through the first twenty or so games of a new season.

(Interestingly, as an aside, this will be Randy Carlyle’s first “full-season” behind the Leaf bench—an 82-game schedule, I mean, though he will be in his third part-year already of being in charge.)

So where do I start?

I guess I have to look between the pipes first, and if I ignore all of my previously-stated reservations about how the team has basically, in my view, shown Reimer the door (no one will come out and admit that, I well realize), I will say this:  in theory, we should be better in goal this coming season.

Why?  Well, I felt Reimer played strongly most of last season, and pretty darn well against the Bruins in the playoffs.  Do I have to say one more time that, if we could have put the puck into an empty net, Reimer would have been a full-blown dragon-slayer and Leaf hero and not a bum for his part in the last-second Game 7 free-fall?  So why would I believe that Reimer will be anything other than pretty darn good again this season—assuming he is not knocked off the rails by Carlyle’s silly “win and you’re in” goaltending philosophy.

I can’t say much about Bernier that hasn’t been said already somewhere, but we all know  that a lot of hockey folks claim he will be great, so, while the proof will be in the pudding, if he is really that good, then the Leafs, with a tandem of Reimer and Bernier, should be set in goal—regardless of who is “number-one”.

Now, are we good enough in goal to win a Stanley Cup?  That’s the million-dollar question.  I would not have said Jonathan Quick or Cory Schneider were those kinds of goalies three years ago, so I can’t answer my own question.  Not yet.

On defense, while I have never been Phaneuf’s biggest backer, the guy logs huge minutes and, what can I say, he is a good NHL defenseman.  I did not say great, but while I could focus on his flaws, that would not be totally fair.  He has answered the bell for this team, whether it was Wilson or Carlyle behind the bench, and delivered his best most of the time.  We can debate whether that is good enough given his gargantuan salary (I guess it’s not as gargantuan as it seemed a few years ago, in light of the zany money other defensemen are making now), but he is surely no worse than a number-three “D” man on an elite NHL team, and certainly a one or two here.

Beyond the captain, Gunnarsson has re-signed and should continue to be a steady presence on the Leaf blueline.  I think readers here know I’ve generally liked Gunner since his early Leaf days.  I appreciate guys who don’t bring undue attention on themselves and play hard and generally well.  While he has not quite developed as much as I had privately hoped (I know, I know, Lidstrom was a pretty high bar…) he’s a nice player who I think can be part of a winning team. Certainly he should be a bona fide second-pair blueliner for the next couple of seasons, at least.

Franson seemed to earn Carlyle’s trust as the season wore on a year ago.  He brings more than just a quick release and accurate shot from the point, but after years of watching the captain blast them all over the building most of the time, if Franson did nothing else, that one element of his work alone would be a welcome sight. He is more than that, of course.  He seemed to be more of a physical presence at times than I thought he would be last season, and was fine most of the time in his own zone.  Is he a solid “4”?  A really good “5” on a good team?  Whatever, he, too, seems like a fit here now.  Before last season, I barely cared if he re-signed here, so that tells you something about how my view on him has evolved.

I think Jake Gardiner has a world of potential (that’s hardly a breakthrough notion). I tend to focus too much on what I perceive as his not being hard enough on the puck in his own zone, but when he plays as he did most of the time against the Bruins in the playoffs (getting rid of the puck quickly and smartly, though still a few too many “Lone Ranger” rushes for my liking), he is a gifted player who is a pleasure to watch. He definitely will play on the second pair this season, and some nights I’m sure he will log 25 minutes of ice.

I loved what Mark Fraser brought last season, though, as I have admitted here, I wouldn’t have known him from Adam twelve months ago.  He seems to do exactly what Carlyle wants from a third-pairing guy.  He's nasty and hits clean.  He can fight.  Whether he will lose ice to emerging Leaf defenders I don’t know, but we’ll have to use someone on the blueline that holds the other team accountable.  And I don’t see Gardiner, Liles, Rielly or most of the up-and-coming “kids” in a position to do that.  My guess is Fraser sticks as no worse than a seventh-defenseman.

I’m guessing Liles will have a great training camp.  He has to.  Whether that is enough to restore Carlyle’s belief in him, I have no idea.  We know there are any number of promising young rearguards who are poised to take that next step.  Liles seems to be the likely candidate to see his role impacted by the promotion of one of the youngsters, but time will tell.

Overall, it's a nice group of defenseman. Maybe T.J. Brennan (he’s the left-hand defenseman we got from Buffalo, right?) can play a role.  Regardless, I think it’s good enough as a unit to be very competitive.  I don’t feel it’s championship-level at this moment, though two years from now, when Gardiner is in stride and Rielly is on board and one or two of the other young defenseman (Blacker, Finn, Granberg, etc.) assume a place, maybe we’ll be closer.  But we still lack a stud on the blueline—not just a minute-muncher but a tough-as-nails guy in his own zone and someone who the opposition worries about at both ends of the ice.  Until we find that guy, I’m thinking we are not Cup contenders, unless our goaltending is a lot better than I think it is. (It’s quite good; I’m just not sure it is truly “elite”.)

Up front, if you take away my above-noted concerns (who we have lost, contract costs, term of contracts, etc.) I like the addition of Clarkson on its own merits. My only question is did we get him on time? Leaf history is riddled with acquiring/signing guys who were, sadly, just a bit past their best-before date.  Clarkson may be in his prime for the next two seasons and if so, that should be very helpful.  We need grinders, and grinders who can score.  We don’t need him to score 30 goals, but I’d like to see him help create a hard-edged attitude among the forwards, especially with Komarov gone.

I like what I’m hearing from Kadri.  He wants to be a go-to guy.  Look, I admit I did not expect Kadri to have the break-out season he had in 2012-’13.  Heck, there were nights he was the most dangerous guy on the ice for either team. He hit guys, moved the puck really well, found those empty spaces a-la Brett Hill.  There wasn’t much not to like.  Didn’t he score a big goal in Game 7 on the road against the Bruins?  The kid can play, and should be an impact player for years to come.

Bozak will do what he does.  He won’t likely score a ton of points, but he will win face-offs, kill penalties, make some nifty passes (and play with Kessel) and generally do the little things that Carlyle seems to like.

I don’t know whether Lupul or van Riemsdyk will draw first-line minutes, and I don’t know that it matters.  Either way, we should have a good skating, high-scoring first line, and a solid second line centered by Kadri.  (Will van Riemsdyk and Clarkson be on his wings?)  Bolland will anchor the third line, I presume, with Kulemin.  McClement wil bring his workmanlike attitude and tenacious play to spearhead the fourth line.  Sometimes his wingers will be, yes, Orr and MacLaren, but some nights other guys may get a shot.

I’d rather Colborne play center than the wing, but he may have to adjust to working along the walls if all the regular centers stay healthy.  I can see him getting ice time early in the season, so Carlyle can continue with the tinkering and experimentation (which was his approach much of last season) to see exactly what he’s got.

I like the forward group, but as with our backline, we have a large hole when it comes to the first-line center slot.  Yes, Bozak can play there and do a credible job, but can we win a Stanley Cup with the forward lineup that we have? Maybe we have three ”second-line” centers on this roster.  I don't know.  Maybe we don’t “need” an elite first-line center.  But something tells me we do, just like we need that high-end defenseman.

Can we compete without them?  Absolutely.  Can we make the playoffs in the newly revamped Eastern Conference?  More than likely.  Parity will still rule the East.

But if we are talking a championship, we remain, in my mind, three of four pieces away.  But that’s OK, that’s a good thing.  When was the last time we could legitimately say we were maybe a couple of moves away from being serious contenders for a Stanley Cup?

Things can always go south, as with the Blue Jays example cited above.  But the Leafs have been built (and built up) differently than their baseball counterparts in the big smoke, and I would argue that while I am far from completely confident championship success is around the corner, to answer my own question as to “where the Leafs are now”…I’d say we have plenty of work to do but we are on the doorstep if being contenders.

How about you?


  1. Hi Michael,

    I am in complete agreement with your assessment. So far, I do like Nonis' performance and believe the moves made are improvements over last year's squad. Unlike other years where the Leafs were dealing from a position of weakness, it appears that they are starting to turn the corner.

    Phaneuf's status is an example where he may exercise a trade to improve in other areas, namely that coveted bonafide center. Although I am not much of a Phaneuf's fan, nonetheless recognizes his attributes. Given the upcoming youth on defence, he may be part of the required package. This is where dealing from strength comes from - where quality parts can be sacrificed for specific needs. Something that is also reinforced by the Gabroski's buy out. Cap hit aside, had Kadri not coming into his own, there's no way we would be signing Bolland and let Gabbo walk.

    On the goalie front. As much as Reimer has done, I am a believer that there are still serious questions. I think like the defacto Bozak situation, James was positioned in much the same way. As much as he was the guy last year, we still have to take into consideration that it was only half season. Although there were many games he performed well, there were also games that he didn't. Thus his performance was reflective of the Leafs - Competitive but not elite. My personal view is that Bernier and I don't pretend to have seen much of him, but totally relying on the many experts that have, will only improve on the goaltending front. Bottom line is I am not completely sold that Reimer is elite whereas by others, Bernier has that potential.

    As for Clarkson, as much as I believe that ultimately the last two years of his contract will be a waste, anticipation of increased cap space and performance in the previous years would offset the pain. Somehow, I have a feeling that he will have that Gary Roberts influence as well.

    At the end of the day I see that Nonis recognizes the needs and have addressed them as best as he can given the circumstances. It is nice to see that there are a more systematic balance approach but the upcoming season will really be the barometer. I think it will be very exciting and the potential personnel changes will be much talked about as well.

  2. If I read your comments correctly, Lukas, we are seeing a similar picture. We aren't there yet, but we are on track- and closer, at least.

    I need to be convinced on Bernier, but let's see him play behind this defense and in this market and then we can make some assessments.

    Whether Phaneuf remains a cornerstone or is in fact dealt for different pieces will indeed be an interesting decision before Nonis.

    Thanks for starting the conversation, Lukas.

    1. It will be interesting to see how Bernier react and perform under the pressure both from opposition and the public glare.

      Ultimately, my feelings are that Phaneuf will be dealt. If the responses for Bozak's contract are any indication, any extension will likely create an expectation that will unlikely be met given that it is not being viewed that he is meeting them now. I don't see how Phanuef will take a pay cut to sign and if anything will command a raise. Given the much love bestow upon him the moment he makes a mistake, it wouldn't surprise me that he will not entertain the idea of staying. Reality is this will likely be an unattainable position for him and best that he leave. Given that, I doubt Nonis is going to let that happen without compensation.

  3. Despite having positive memories related to Grabo, McArthur, Frattin and Scrivens, I am actually not missing them the way I did when McDonald left! I can cope and am quite hopeful to see what Clarkson and Bolland can bring to the table.

    Of course, there is Bernier, too (which heightens my concern that we could lose a fine young man and always improving goaltender in Reimer - but for now, at least, he is still in the mix with a chance to hold on to the #1 job). One thing that Bernier brings to the table is better puck handling skills, and that could be helpful for an increasingly mobile defense. Whether that (along with his stop-ability) is enough to supplant Reimer remains to be seen, but the latter's work is now 'cut out for him'.

    I'm hoping that Kadri and our other remaining RFA's (with an improving Franson and 'healed-cranium Fraser) are brought in under the cap so that we are able to see what we have in a season that may have little flexibility for further change.

    Though, when you mentioned "Maybe we don’t “need” an elite first-line center. But something tells me we do, just like we need that high-end defenseman." I keep wondering if Liles and a U. Denver grad Bozak might just bring a Stastny or O'Reilly (when his year before trade-ability arrives) into the mix before the end of the season. If the former, then we may have the US Olympic top line as our own. If the latter, then O'Reilly returns near his Clinton roots.

    In either case, I think we would have time by the trade deadline to ascertain whether Joe Colborne is in the future plans for the team... If the brain trust thinks not, then I could see a Calgary boy returning to the west in a deal for Ontario boy (?) Sean Monahan (if Calgary needs a big centerman close to NHL ready).

    Whatever the case turns out to be, I'm mostly happy with our direction and improvements, waiting to see what gets done as we move past the cap issues this season... oops... there I go entering 'cap-oligist' world. "Sorry about that Chief"

    On a side note, I believe you might have only been able to discern the difference between Fraser and Adam in the locker room... it is suggested that the latter would lack a belly button...

    1. Not to worry, InTimeFor62- it is almost impossible to have a hockey discussion nowadays without referencing salaries and the cap- I understand that almost has to be part of any discussion. (I was just trying to set aside as much of that as I could today...)

      You come up with some intriguing trade possibilities, but that only enhances the discussion. Those Colorado players are enticing, but as with so many who look fantastic from a distance, I wonder if we over-rate them sometimes.

      All good stuff- thanks InTimeFor62!

    2. Colorado got rid of a younger pre-post concussion syndrome Liles. They certainly don't want him back now. Especially dragging a 2nd anchor along with an overpaid, Bozak.
      They wouldn't take those guys for free let alone give away a good centre for them.

  4. I am usually an optimist during the summer but this has required a pretty thick pair of rose colored glasses during the past few seasons. For the first time since the Pat Quinn GM/Coach era I think that optimism is finally truly warranted. This looks like a playoff team to me and one that can go well beyond the first round.

    For the first time since the pre 2004-05 lockout Eddie Belfour days the Leafs are solid in goal. I am a James Reimer booster and feel he will only get better. I just hope it is with the Leafs. I found Leiweke's comments about Bernier and the guy who's already here very disconcerting. I have a feeling that Leiweke was behind the Bernier acquisition. I can only hope that they provide Reimer with an even playing field.

    If Gardiner and Gunnarsson are fully recovered from their injuries our top four defense is pretty solid with Phaneuf-Gunnarsson and Franson-Gardiner pairings. The last pairing could include Frasor, Liles, Brennan, Blacker, Granberg... A Frasor-Granberg pairing intrigues me.

    I will match the Leafs top nine forwards against anyone in the East. The Kessel-Bozak-van Riemsdyk and Clarkson-Kadri-Lupul lines will cause match-up problems for most teams and will provide balanced scoring. The Kulleman-Bolland-McClement/Colborne line will be tough to play against and should provide secondary scoring. The fourth line, depending on the opposition, should include some combination of McClement/Colborne, Orr, McLaren, D'Amigo, Ashton...

    The power play has enough pieces to be more than adequate and the penalty kill could again be one of the league's best as it is intact from last season with the exception of Bolland replacing Komorov.

    I can't help but feel that there is a trade in the offing. Cap space is tight and there are 3 RFA's to sign. Trading a player like Liles for a draft choice would free up cap space. I don't know if that is a possibility but something has to be done.

    The Leafs have some holes (an unsettled bottom six defense pairing, a less than stellar fourth line and a lack of depth) but so does every other team. I am enthusiastically looking forward to the season and am planning on heading north to take in a few games.

    1. We are seeing much the same picture here, Pete Cam. Your last sentence says a lot for me: while we have some (gaping?) holes on the roster still, so does every other team.

      (The Leiweke/Reimer comments were beyond disturbing, but the guy just doesn't get it. He is a egotist of the highest order, and sees the world only one way- his. Sadly, this will have to be his creation, apparently- at least in his own mind.)

      Thanks Pete Cam.

  5. The Leafs in my mind are:

    1. Theoretically better in goal (although a tough situation is coming)
    2. The same on D.
    3. Not better or worse up front, but different.

    I agree with Carlyle's “win and you’re in” thinking in goal. If the number 2 guy is outplaying your number 1 (and winning), isn't it smart to play him? Winning is the objective, so it seems natural to me to ride the hot goalie. Like I´ve said here before, players shouldn't feel entitled to anything, and certainly shouldn't be promised anything by coaches or management.

    Phaneuf has battled for us, and it's very appreciated. That beeing said, the good old college try can't just be enough. If just trying hard and giving your all were enough to be a #1 D-man, almost anyone could do it. He is a very good player but not #1.

    As for the forwards, we are deifferent this year. Nonis may have stepped in it. The way I see it, we traded away (and bought out) talent for grit. Yes it is needed, but did we get more than we lost? I hope I'm wrong, but it seemes the puck will go in less this year. We all know a team needes a bit of everything and every kind of player, but it´s easier to win with a lineup full of Gretzkys than with one full of McSorelys.

    The top six should be just fine. The bottom six, I'm not so sure. Although as a Leafs fan, I think we´re going to win every game when I sit down to watch (at very late hours here in the Azores).

    1. Your post certainly got me thinking, portuguese leaf. The only area where we perhaps differ significantly is, while I see your point, I'm not a fan of "win and you're in".

      I'll try to explain: I think top teams generally do have a full-fledged "number-one". The successful psyche of the team works from that basic premise- just like a quarterback in football. The top guy has earned that spot over time. It's not a question of entitlement; they have worked to earn that spot.

      Unless you are a truly marginal/borderline player at the pro level, if you are a defenseman or a forward, you know you have your job heading into camp. 90% of the Leafs know their spot is assured, truth be told.

      Reimer doesn't.

      Beyond that, I think Carlyle's approach pits guys against one another. That's fine in theory and in the overall context of building a hockey team. But goaltender is a unique spot, in my view. There is only one who can play. Every night, at least six defensemen and twelve forwards will play. One or two may be truly "fighting" for a job that night.

      Given how tough goaltending is, and in this market especially, win and you're in sets up the equivalent of a quarterback controversy, and good teams rarely survive that kid of approach intact.

      Thanks for that, portuguese leaf. Good stuff as always.

  6. I could be wrong but I think that the current Leafs might be no better and might even suffer a bit of a setback from last year.

    Grabovski, Frattin and MacArthur. That's a lot of speed and scoring potential that is gone. Komorov is also gone. We have replaced these players with Bolland and Clarkson.

    I hear rumours out of Chicago that Bolland is geting rather banged up. He will not be the Bolland of the past. There was a reason Chicago was willing to trade him and did so while his value was still high.

    What worries me most is that we won't have the same speed and scoring ability from three lines. That three line speed and offence was hard for many teams to handle. We gave Boston fits in the playoffs, but we haven't continued in that direction. Instead we have become slower, tougher, and more defensive. It could be a wrong choice, especially considering that Chicago (a fast offensive team) ultimately beat Boston in the final.

    I could be wrong, but we probably won't be able to determine until 20 games into the season.

    1. I'm not surprised to hear that about Bolland, DP. There is almost always a reason why a team is willing to trade a player, though I'm sure cap considerations were part of the equation, too, from Chicago's perspective.

      I do wonder if the speed part of our game will still be intact...

      I'm with you on the 20-game thing, too. That's generally how I feel heading into a new season, particularly with a shuffled roster. Thanks DP.

  7. I just read that Leafs are close to signing Paul Ranger to a 1 year deal. If this is true (the source is Damien Cox so take it for what it's worth) then the Leafs have gone a long way toward shoring up one of their weaknesses.

    1. I'm happy to see Ranger "back", Pete. I wonder if this means "Leafs" or Marlies??

  8. Paul Ranger just signed with the Leafs!

    And "no" it doesn't say "with the Marlies" so that is very interesting in the context of Franson... Is he on the block for a big name (still wishing for Pietrangelo, so what if Franson, Liles and Kulemin went the other way with Stewart in the mix along with the appropriate picks and prospects - always wondering how a blockbuster might come about!).

    No Rangr contract details were given yet (nothing on Capgeek, either):

    1. It is with the Leafs, not the Marlies? Interesting. Thanks, InTimeFor62.

  9. There is another reason why I am not so optomistic about the upcoming season.

    Many here at VLM probably realize that I track the Marlies and prospects and the AHL very carefully. Before Winnipeg got back the Jets I was watching lots of live and televised AHL hockey. I saw Cory Schnieder for 3 season in the AHL. I watched AHL playoffs series with Carey Price, Michal Neuvirth and Brayden Holtby.

    Over the past few years I have been trying to figure out what we had in Ben Scrivers. Scrivens was a killer in the AHL...consecutive seasons of .924 and .926. When I researched and conducted analyis one of my best comparibles for Scrivens was....Johnathan Bernier!

    So despite what people say, I think we may have traded for a player of equal value and given up Scrivens, Frattin,and 2nd round pick, plus taken back salary and used cap space.

    Behind that LA defense Scrivens might look every bit as good as a backup as Bernier.

    1. Interesting perspective, DP. I know that Bobby C. has posted here with similar thoughts on Scrivens, wondering aloud if we traded away a goalie with similar skills to Bernier and gave up a lot of assets as well. I guess we'll find out in the years ahead!

  10. I agree with DP whole heartedly. Far from improving I think the Leafs have actually gone backwards. The whole Bernier thing was un needed and has only put us in a precarious cap position. The only mention of the cap I'll make, just let me point out compared to to Scrivens the Leafs are paying an extra 2.3 million a year for a goalie who may or may not even be better than the back up they traded for him let alone the incumbent. All of which ends up leaving less than 5 million to sign Kadri, Franson and Fraser.

    As DP noted the only two teams that even tested the Bruins were the Leafs and Hawks. The Pens and Rangers who tries to match the Bruins brawn wise were completely out classed. Say it with me people, "the leafs did not lose to the bruins because they weren't tough enough, they lost because they weren't as skilled or as experienced as the Hawks". So how do the leafs respond? By getting older, slower and less skilled but hey Clarkson fights and he loves Wendel so he must be the second coming. This ignores the mountain of evidence that power forwards go into steep decline as they hit thirty the best example being of course Wendal Clark who was a shadow of himself after turning thirty and out of the NHL by 33.

    I have been saying for a while now that the Leafs were on the verge of becoming a very good team. This off season has thoroughly dampened my out look. Look if Bernier is what the "experts" say and plays like the second coming of Bower maybe they make the playoffs. Then again they have to compete in their division now not the conference to make it. Are you confident the Leafs are one of the the top four teams in the division? I'm not, at best they fight it out for the last playoff spot and will be hard pressed to make it.

    PS On the the news of the Ranger signing and the limited cap space the Leafs now have I sense a move coming. One of the Leafs top dmen and Reimer are on their way out. Franson could be the guy going or maybe Phaneuf or Gardiner but one of the top guys has got to go. A package deal with Reimer could potentially net a lot of return. It would be the wrong move but something has to break the logjam the Leafs have put themselves in.

    1. While I aimed to look at where the Leafs are now with a degree of optimism in this post, Willbur, you make some compelling points. I suppose some of that gets thrown out the window if Bernier comes in and plays like the second coming of a young Jacques Plante, but the jury is still very much out on that.

      You're right about Clark- and guys like Al Secord and others come to mind as players who were in the same situation. The seem to suddenly lose that ability to play hard-edged hockey consistently and also score a lot. Once that goes, they don't get it back, generally speaking. We'll see where Clarkson will be in a year or so.

      And yes, I've assumed Reimer will be going as soon as they can make a deal happen. He is the "guy we inherited" after all. Thanks Willbur.

    2. The Ranger signing and the cap situation isn't as bad as many think.

      What it may tell us is that negoiations with Fraser aren't close and Ranger at slightly less than $1 million is a better value. Ranger may also be a backup plan in case the arbitration award is so great that the Leafs need to walk away from Fraser.

      With his great plus/minus stats, Fraser may win a heavy raise in arbitration. Do you want to pay Fraser $1.5 million to $2 million?

      The cap situation isn't as bad as one might think because has some players that are probably AHL bound, counting against the cap with 6.5 million left.

      Trevor Smith, T.J Brennan and Holzer probably wont make the Leafs and that's $1.937 million in cap space. Players under $900,000 playing in the AHL don't count against the cap.

      So with Ranger the Leafs still have about $7.5 million for Fraser, Kadri and Franson.

      7.5? That is possible. $3.25 million for Franson, which is more than Gunarrson got. $2.9 million for Kadri in slightly richer bridge deal than Subban and $1.25 million for Fraser.

    3. I think we'll all be following the next few weeks closely, DP, for many of the reasons you cite. Some manoeuvring is required. I'd hate to lose Franson, but again, how much do we want to pay for him, or Fraser? Good questions...

  11. this team can win the cup.

    I'm really excited about the fact that we have so much depth on defense now to be able to trade for wingers or a unicorn center or whatever it turns out we need - Lucas made that point above and I think it is a very good one.

    I really like Bozak and I think Kadri and him will come out strong this year - I think Bozak is a legit 1st line centre (mostly because of 'intangibles' - useful in every situation, able to find Kessel, face-offs etc.) and Kadri has a huge upside - 'magic hands' as Don says.

    I love the direction in which we are going in terms of loading up on strength and grit in exchange for a bit of skill (not great skill, just some skill). Yes, Chicago won against the grinding tough teams in both instances in recent years but the role that Bickell and Byfuglin played should not be underestimated (nor should the beating Bruins took from us in the first round).

    Bernier is better than Scrivens, our young defnece is loaded with talent and our offence will not suffer from the loss of 3 pretty good but not great hockey players.

    I think the Leafs are in a great position right now. I think we are already a contender and in a position to become one with very little work if necessary. I can't wait for the season to start.

    1. I can feel your enthusiasm, leafdreamer. Let's see if your glass half-full feeling is prophetic compared with what Willbur and DP suggested above. Stay in touch...

    2. I believe that parity is the key factor in the Leafs' success this year. Last year this team proved that it can compete. About the most optimistic thing I can say in many long years.

      Every year there is unexpected surprises, both good and bad. Nonis must have a keen eye for future talent (with higher end potential) and try and trade some present players while their value is high. I'm willing to see some of our Leaf stars traded.

      Nonis' legacy will be more accurately judged after this coming season.

    3. Well, I do feel a bit better with Ranger signed. I had heard rumors that Ranger was following Eakins to Edmonton, so I wasn't counting on that.

      Phaneuf, Gunarrson, Franson, Gardiner, Ranger, Fraser, Liles...that's a pretty solid NHL calibre defence.

      We don't have to rush any prospects. Perhaps Liles has a comeback year and we trade him to a team that gets into trouble with injuries to offensive d-men and bring up Blacker.

      Kadri sure seemed confident and mature in interviews the other day. If he has a really good year that solves many problems, but that's lots of pressure for a young man.

    4. You're absolutely right about Nonis' legacy, drgreg. It will take years for us to determine if his vision and personnel moves worked.

      To your point about Leaf stars possibly being traded: I almost feel that is inevitable, and not necessarily unhealthy. Now, if they trade away character players, that won't help. If they deal good players but improve the roster and team chemistry, I'm all for it. Phaneuf could be one of those players moved. Thanks drgreg.

  12. Just a few more comments that I forgot to include:

    As we've witnessed yesterday - the dust hasn't settled yet - Paul Ranger has been convinced to play a season in the NHL. As far as I can see he's in shape and playing very well - along with Gunnarson and Phaneuf we have here a very solid top 3. The rest of the defence is a bunch of very talented young guys many of whom (Reiley, Gardiner, Granberg, Franson) have top-pairing written all over them in the near future. Beyond that we have a number of very serious defensemen in the system (Liles, Fraser, Holtzer, Brennan, Blacker, Finn) any one of whom can play in the NHL and who knows how well. Some of these guys will have to go and we are currently a little thin on the wings. Leafs trading some defence for some offence will happen before the season starts.

    I can't help but notice the general lack of enthusiasm for our 'Winnipeg blue bombers' and I'd like to address it by pointing out that our point production has not suffered from having a 4th line that plays very few minutes but in those minutes manages to keep the puck away from our net and seriously and literally hurt the opposition. They are functioning exactly the way the 4th line is supposed to function and they have been very good at it. I'm really surprised that Colton Orr is not considered a hero in Toronto - the guy learned to skate and keep the puck on the boards and/or chip it in (in one offseason) and he's been beating up pretty much everybody he got into a fight with and he's been hitting Chara in the playoffs and the monster was hurt. And all this for less than a million bucks/year. Is there a better 4th liner out there? I don't think so.

  13. I'd like to know what everyone thinks of Cathal Kelly's article today in the star trotting out the old tired formula of 'Can't win the Cup without tanking.' I am not a fan of Kelly, his recent puff piece on Lewike being one reason, and my opinion is this so called formula is crap. Yes, Chicago and Pittsburgh won the Cup recently with a core of top 3 picks, but Boston and LA were built with lower picks and trades, and Detroit is a perennial contender(at least until this year) without going into so-called 'tank mode.' The relevance to this discussion is that I think the Leafs may finally be developing some lower picks smartly and with some shrewd trading and luck, may surprise us...

    1. I'm more of your persuasion, Sean. Of course if you are awful several years running and you run into generational players you will likely end up with a very good team. But that is not a plan, it's not a strategy, and players don't tank. It's a silly concept.

      The Star piece on Leiweke speaks for itself. The follow-up on tanking is about as insightful.

    2. How is Edmonton model working thus far? BTW look at what the Leafs's roster vs most who argued for tanking referenced teams and you see the following:

      JVR 2nd
      Kessel 5th
      Kadri 7th
      Lupul 7th
      Phaneuf 9th
      Bernier 11th
      Colborne 16th
      Gardiner 17th

      Komisarik 7th overall


      Kane 1st
      Toews 3rd
      Seabrook 14th
      Leddy 16th
      Frolik 10th


      Crosby 1st
      Fluery 1st
      Malkin 2nd
      Iginla 11th*
      Sutter 11th
      Morrow 25th
      Niskanen 28th
      Bennett 20th
      Despres 30th

      * shouldn't be counted.

      Remember wade Belek was 12th overall too. You basically see there is 2 or 3 elite first rounder but then the gems come from the next round.Silly article

    3. Thanks for that, Lukas. That bit of background helps to inform our thinking. As I mentioned to Sean, I see no wisdom in tanking, not that players ever would, anyway. You don't need to 'tank' to build a solid organization. As Sean noted above, Detroit never picks in the top 10 yet competes - and very well - every season, and has for more than 20 years.

      Yes, if a team is terrible enough to finish last year after year, like Edmonton, of course you should be able to pick elite, skilled players. But there's not even a guarantee the Edmonton "model" (which I'm sure we would agree is certainly not a model- it's just long-standing incompetence) will ever be a great team, despite all their access to the best talent year after year.

    4. As much as I appreciate the Detroit model, they did have Yzerman during the championship years after finally finding some good goaltending. They have been the top ten teams year after years through smart asset (Reilly anyone?) management and scouting acumen. I think there has to be a balance approach. You need some superstars, good supporting players, role players to be in the game. Then for championship you need to add leadership, coaching, chemistry, being injury free, and some luck.

      There are so many aspects that are required to be truly successful and to believe that one particular way will win you championship and not taking in the many other variable is silly. Granted if Edmonton players turns out to be what they have been projected to be, they will eventually be successful. Championship success is another matter. To tie into the Leafs, they have some of the pieces already and are heading in the right direction and to suggest that they should really tank now is beyond dumb. Reality is they already have. Unfortunately the year that they did, that Seguin guy went to Boston but we didn't do too bad either.

  14. Balance is always the key, agreed, Lukas. There is no 'one' way to be successful. But tanking is not a solution, either. Thanks.

  15. Just had a bit of an epiphany moment, though it's probably just something I ate combined with a tidbit I just read.

    "•Jason Gregor: Predators Shea Weber can be traded as of yesterday." [i.e. July 24th is a year since the offer sheet by the Flyers was matched by the Predators]

    Since we know that Leiweke asked the ownership if he could pursue a 'David Beckham' type player, and was told they would pay for that to happen, I started thinking about the financial burden that contract presents to the Predators who signed Shea in order to be masters of their own fate (to some degree), yet the weight of that contract is now well-experienced.

    Perhaps this is where the win-win trade scenarios give hints of Phaneuf's name being bandied about, because this strikes me as something that could work on many levels... Captain for Captain;
    famous Singer wife (Underwood-Fisher) is joined by Actress wife (Cuthbert-Phaneuf);
    expiring contract goes for massive front-end bonus-laden contract;
    Nashville gains flexibility & adds big enough 'name'/ offensive/physical R (or left) defenseman to satisfy fans losing Weber -7.86 M Cap Hit (14M salary);
    Toronto gets big name and contract balancing the cost with Liles joining Phaneuf in the deal sending 10.375M cap hit (9.7 M Salary) the other way.

    This drops a player (Liles) 'not in our future' and a player who may be wanting more than we are willing to 're-up' for, to a team that may not re-sign the player, but has a functional year to see how Seth Jones integrates at a young age.

    I don't know if the Leafs can take on the cost of the signing bonus (13M of the 14M salary for Weber), but I hope we could use our financial clout there.

    I imagine that the Leafs would probably add pick(s)/prospect(s) to the deal to satisfy a frugal and responsible Nashville club's needs.

    This opens cap space to sign our RFA's since Nashville has over 4.6M in cap space to absorb the extra 2.5 M Cap hit going their way (while saving over 4M in actual salary on the deal).

    It seems we then keep TJ Brennan, Holzer and Ranger to cover 5-7 and Toronto would use 1.4M (of our now 8.7M cap space) on the upgrade to Weber, leaving 7.3 to sign Kadri, Fraser and Franson (likely to short term deals needed to bridge the year until a new cap). 2.5 for Kadri (1 yr); 800k one way for Fraser, and; 3.5 -4 M cap hit on a 2-3 year deal for Franson.

    Alternately, it may be that Nashville wants Franson back, in which case I can't see Phaneuf going the other way, so that means a lot more puzzle pieces to make such a blockbuster work...

    Hope you enjoy my musings!

  16. Nashville is an interesting organization, InTimeFor62. For me, they are a model of hard work, smart planning and consistency. No, they've never "won" anything, but they play Predator hockey, which generally is all about being in the right spot, discipline and hard work (along with goaltending!).

    David Poile has worked for years with limited budgets yet has tried to keep the franchise competitive, which they largely have been. Not since their really early days have they had those real high draft picks, so they have had to make good choices. They can't keep all their good players (e.g. Suter) but continue to plod along successfully. They have the same GM and the same coach since Day One of the franchise, and they have never fallen back to being awful.

    Whether they would ever move Weber, I don't know. Again,. we tend to over-rate guys that have a big reputation (and that we don't see a lot ourselves) and I don't know if Weber is a true stud defenseman or not. He certainly is by reputation and salary. But if I'm Nashville, I would not trade Weber for Phaneuf straight up, and I would not be interested in Liles. Again, I'm not a cap person so maybe that comes into play when discussing these kinds of potential deals.

    With Nonis now officially on board with an extension, we'll see what he has in mind in the weeks ahead. Thanks, InTimeFor62. Your musings are always fun to follow!

  17. I'm not actually advocating for the Weber trade, just imagining that might actually be the 'splash' that Leiweke is looking for (despite the fact that it's a bigger contract than I think would bring the commensurate value, as you commented, Michael).

    Given the fact that Reimer is probably on the way out the door (despite our desire to the contrary), he might be a player that interests Poile, since they have no backup for Rinne signed.

    Of course that means we need a backup, which makes me wonder if that was the reason to sign McIntyre AND Gibson...

    Maybe a 30 yr old McIntyre could be our inexpensive backup, providing another 1.2 M in cap flexibility to sign the RFA's.

    I think that Liles would only be attractive because Nashville is sending >4M in real salary to the Leafs in this scenario. Certainly wouldn't believe Phanuef alone would satisfy Poile (especially with Liles in the mix for Cap Issues), hence the probability of pick/prospect inclusions...

    Poile is too efficient and successful to want any less, but may budge a bit to offload a contract Leiweke seems only too interested to acquire!