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Maple Leaf musings two weeks into a new season…

OK: so who (honestly now) predicted the Maple Leafs would start this season with five wins against a single loss? My guess is not too many folks were prepared to make that call.

Regardless, it strikes me that the blue and white are right in the middle of a very interesting stage in their development.  They are not a “great” NHL team, but given a) where they were just a few short seasons ago and b) the parity in hockey these days (especially in the Eastern Conference), well, these are, relatively speaking, heady times indeed.

This is not to suggest that the Leafs should, as our new MLSE President has already proclaimed, be planning a parade route of any kind. It is simply to suggest that while there will no doubt be down times this season (and beyond), by current NHL standards, this is a pretty good team.  And that means they should comfortably make the playoffs and we all know that once that happens, just about anyone can advance.  And a good team has an even better chance of playoff success.

And I’ll say it:  I now think the Leafs, while flawed, are a “good” NHL team.

How can I say this?  Well, they win games they shouldn’t (Saturday night being a prime example).  The can kill penalties and score on the power-play.  They have more depth than they have had in years.  They are winning despite a slew of early-season injuries (and a key suspension).  They have received generally stellar (though not so much Saturday night against the Oilers) netminding. They are not fun to play against, and can even win games when they don’t engage in fisticuffs.

Yes, things are not so bleak around Leafworld any longer.


  • Do you ever wonder if James Reimer would be a nice fit for the Oilers or the Flames?  I’m hardly trying to rush him out of town—anyone who visits here regularly knows my feelings about the young Leaf goaltender.  But ultimately, might that not be an answer that will make everyone happy?  Bernier will be the undisputed number-one guy (that has been pre-ordained form the day he was traded here) and Reimer, who cannot possibly be happy plied to the bench as he is, could earn the top job on other teams trying to fight their way back to respectability.
  • Wonder if the Jake Gardiner trade talk will fizzle as the Leafs pile up the wins? (Did you notice Saturday night that his old teammate, Justin Schultz, only played 13 minutes even strength?  There was lots of ballyhoo about the college free-agent in the summer of 2012 and that fact that he chose Edmonton over Toronto. It will be interesting to see how these two talented young defensemen develop in the years ahead.
  • Morgan Rielly obviously (as we’ve all known all along) has the skill to play here.  I just still feel we could use the roster spot differently. I’m sure he loathes the idea of going back to junior, but long-term, why waste a year on his entry-level deal when he could instead lead Team Canada at the World Juniors?  But I’ll soon give up the fight—I’ve said since camp Carlyle wants him here and I believe Rielly will  stay here.
  • Carter Ashton likely has only a fragile hold on a fourth-line wing spot right now.  There are lots of players nipping at his heels, I would think. He’s done some good things but there is plenty of competition for that spot.
  • It will be interesting to see the team dynamic evolve once Clarkson returns.  If the team had been struggling, the typical response might be that he would help kick-start things, that they had really missed his presence.  But they may be 8 and 2 by the team he is back and playing.
  • Both Broll and Davane have played (albeit limited minutes) already this season with the big club.  If they can put up the occasional point and play tough, will this make McLaren expendable at some point?
  • I don’t know if we can say that Gunnarsson has been great, but he’s playing 20 minutes a night and is often hard to notice (which is usually good).  Not sure we can expect much more than that.  He seems to be delivering.
  • A lot of us have wondered in Ranger is totally comfortable yet, but, like Gunner, he’s playing 20 minutes a night.  He is also a plus player.  He has an edge to his game and should only get better with time. (And also like Gunnarsson, he has only drawn two minor penalties all season, which means he is not putting his teammates in a tough spot killing off any bad penalties.)
  • Kessel has been Kessel; Lupul is Lupul.
  • Phaneuf is playing 25 plus minutes a night and is a solid “plus” player so far.  To sign or not to sign, that is the question…
  • Kadri is kicking it into gear, earning about a point or so a night. Some are upset that he is not playing more but I think this will all get sorted out in the weeks ahead.  He’ll play plenty when all is said and done.
  • It no doubt drives some Leaf fans crazy, but Bozak is playing more than 22 minutes a night (24 against Edmonton).  But even his critics must see him back-checking hard, putting up points, fighting to win face-offs, killing penalties.  I’ve not always endorsed him in the most glowing terms, but I've always said he is a nice player.  Right now, he is doing a job.
  • McClement remains a personal favourite. I’ve always admired players who reek of just being good, old-fashioned solid professionals at what they do.  Without any fuss, they simply do their jobs well.  This guy seems to fit that bill.

All in all, it's an encouraging time for Leaf supporters.  How many young Marlies have already played with the Leafs this season?  I don’t know the number off the top of my head but every night seems to bring a new face.

Again, I’m hardly forecasting destiny here.  But things are looking better.

Maybe what I need to do to finish this column is simply to ask:  what lurks around the corner?  What am I missing that should make me think that the Leafs, while not a juggernaut, area anything but a top team in the East?  If not up there with Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh, they are surely in a tier just below—with very few others, right?

We're not at the 20-game mark (when many of us think it's time to make real assessments) yet, but let me know what you think…


  1. Michael,
    Nice recap of the early going. You touched on what I think is just around the corner, and that is the addition of a top 6 forward to the team when Clarkson returns. Nice that the Leafs are doing so well without him - having him join the lineup at game 11 may provide a boost that will help keep the momentum going.

    1. Thanks Steve- it surely is a good sign that the team has responded so well without Clarkson. Not to say they haven't missed him, but they have put up points without him in the lineup.

  2. They are a good team but they haven't really faced the elite the NHL: Boston, Chicago, L.A. St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit....

    Colorado may be a very good team and the Leafs lost to them, so lets not get ahead of ourselves.

    At present I have no problem with the Reimer\Bernier tandem. Good duos have won the Stanley Cup: Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck. If Bernier gets injured, having Reimer could save a season.

    In some ways the suspension for Clarkson and the good play of the Leafs could work out well. With the Leafs already doing well, Clarkson will feel less pressure from the big contract. He won't feel the need to carry the team. He will be trying not to disrupt it and acting more naturally.

    I think Orr and McLaren will play out their contracts and Broll and Devane will be here full time in two years. Broll had an assist on Saturday. It sure is nice that you can push a tough guy up to the second line with Kadri and Lupul, but I think ultimately Broll is a third liner. He might be the guy that allows the Leafs to trade Kulemin for some good assets plus he's 2.3 million cheaper.

    That JVR trade sure looks good now and that brings me to my final point. In Kessel, Kadri, JVR and Lupul the Leafs have 4 players that are game breakers...guys that can make a goal out of almost nothing. Many teams have only one or two like that. That's a big reason that the Leafs are winning.

    1. I especially like your point regarding Clarkson, DP- he should be able to "fit" now without undue expectations.

      You have followed the progress of Broll and Davane for some time. It's nice to see them both reach this point with the Leafs.

      And yes, not many teams have that many guys who can turn a game around. As you say, we'll know more when they have played certain teams. Thanks DP.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Yes, lots of good signs so far and there's nothing like starting the season with a few wins to get all excited about our chances.

    My thought for today is that I hope they don't get carried away with early trades. You mentioned Reimer and if they keep winning without Kulemin they may start to wonder if he's expendable too, but I hope they wait. If we are developing into a dangerous team, why rush? By February we'll have a much clearer idea of what our true needs are to succeed in the playoffs.

    1. I agree, KiwiLeaf- I am probably thinking from Reimer's perspective. But sure, if you can somehow keep him happy, from a team perspective you'd love to have two good young netminders. Why rock the boat, as you say. Thanks KiwiLeaf.

  4. Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving Michael. Being the eternal optimist, of course I think the Leafs are a good team and headed in the right direction. But no, I would not have guessed 5-1 at this point, especially with Clarkson out and already a few injuries. To the points you made:

    I almost hate myself for thinking this, but watching Saturday night and hearing the report that Yapukov was benched, I suddenly wondered how much better Edmonton might be with Reimer in net and Liles on defense. If they are so overloaded in young talent up front and don't know what to do with them all, well, that is what trades are for. As much as I have supported Reimer here, if the Leafs are intent on moving forward with Bernier, it would be best to get something in return for him.

    I never looked back after losing out on Schultz. Maybe after winning the bidding war for Gustavsson, and seeing where that got us, and not landing Fabian Brunnstrum (remember all that?), I've learned not to get too excited about hype. Time will tell if Gardiner rounds into the player Carlyle wants him to be, and whether that player will be a valuable asset.

    I do think that Rielly is here to stay, and I suppose I'm okay with that so long as the Leafs continue to prove that the future is now, and they are not still rebuilding for a few years into the future.

    I would have to take a look around the league to know this for sure, but does every team only play their fourth line for 4-6 minutes a game? I'd sure like to see how effective Ashton can be if he gets closer to ten minutes. That of course, would mean giving Orr or McLaren that amount of time too, but that's another discussion...

    I think Clarkson will bring a positive impact regardless of how well they've played without him. I've noticed a lack of toughness on their part the past few games that belies their nature. It would be nice to see him come in and wake up a sleeping giant in that regard.

    I would sure love to see this team succeed without having to roll a line with either McLaren or Orr. As I started to allude to earlier, I think having those liabilities on the fourth line hampers them from putting out a truly effective checking line ala Boston Bruins.

    I can't say much more about Gunnarsson other that he goes unnoticed most nights, which is typical of a dependable, steady defenseman who they sorely need in their lineup.

    I think Paul Ranger played his best game Saturday night, and he is starting to make the plays he flubbed earlier on. I am crossing my fingers that this is a sign of positive things to come.

    I thought I heard someone comment on TV the other day that Lupul could be a 50 goal scorer. That would be something.

    I would hope to see the Leafs sign Phaneuf by New Years. If he is still languishing without an extension after that, it will become a distraction heading toward the trade deadline that the Leafs do not need.

    As much as Kadri has put the points up, he has given up too many dangerous turnovers at this point. I don't think putting him down on the third line will help him, he is a playmaker. He needs to continue to clean up his game, however, so he is not seen as a liability.

    This argument might start to sound old, but I think Bozak would be a wonderful third line center who takes crucial faceoffs and kills penalties. In six games so far, I think I need two hands to count the goal scoring chances that he failed to bury. I realize even Kessel won't get every one, but for the seven or eight that Bozak has missed, I think Kessel puts in four of those.

    Okay, maybe it's my third time this post in saying this, but wouldn't it be wonderful to see McClement and a strong fourth line have a larger role?

    Looking ahead now, the Leafs will not win 85% of their games this year, we know that. They will have a couple of slumps. It would be nice to see team leaders emerge during those slumps and get the team back on track quickly. That would be the best sign of a good team that is ready for prime time.

    1. Great post, Pete. Your last point may be your most significant one: there will be times when the team is really off (and unlike the present, not putting up points). Then we will see what kind of leadership we have.

      I won't go through all your talking points, but it's true that Kessel creates lots of scoring chances for his linemates. How many would a true "first line" center bury? Hard to say. For now, everyone seems happy with the arrangement.

      Ranger could be the guy who helps determine how good this defensive unit will be.

      As for Reimer, it's inevitable he will be elsewhere. The question is whether it is next season, or sooner. Thanks Pete.

  5. There's no way I would have predicted this start, but I never thought the team was as bad as some critics were claiming. There is probably too much reliance on advanced statistics. I can understand how they can be used effectively in baseball, where it can be reduced to a series of one on one battles and there is a huge sample size for just about everything you can measure. But I think hockey is far too dynamic a game to rely on just the numbers. I guess the stats supporters won't give up though, apparently they are already claiming the Leafs start to the year is just a mirage (referenced by Shoalts in the Globe and Mail). I'm not suggesting they'll maintain this pace and finish 68-14, but as you say, they are a good team. I wonder when people will recognize that instead of dismissing them as lucky. Luck could explain these 6 games, but if we include the playoffs last year we have been watching this team (the only changes since the beginning of last season seem to be generally regarded as improvements) for over 60 games. That would be quite the run of good fortune...

    It looks like we'll get to test the validity of your Reimer theory this week. Bernier has been great for the most part, but if you have a true competition then he can't be back on Tuesday night after giving up 5 goals. This is Reimer's opportunity and I hope he grabs it. As much as I'm in his corner, I recognize that he's going to have to be stellar. It's tough to argue with a .946 save percentage.

    1. Somehow there has to be a meeting of the minds between legitimate hockey "observers" and those who seem so focused on numbers and statistics. Of course statistical analysis is part of an overall assessment of play and value. It's been this way in sports, including hockey, for many years. The current "advanced stats" have a role, for sure. But an entire industry, it seems, has been created around all this and I'm not sure it's necessary. Scotty Bowman didn't need "measurables" to tell him Bob Gainey was really good at shutting down the best right winger on the other team back in the 1970s. He kept putting him on the ice because it worked. Coaches generally have a feel for what is and is not working and what players are performing as expected.

      Bernier caught a break Saturday. He "won" ("win and you're in") because the other guy was not good. But as I wrote, Bernier is pre-ordained to be the guy, whether people want to believe it or not. He'll get the extra opportunities. It will, as you say, be up to Reimer to be stellar when he gets his shot. Thanks Oliver.

  6. Michael,

    I was baffled by many pre-season predictions of "experts", "insiders" and media polls that had the Leafs far down the list and not making the play-offs. I firmly believe that the Leafs are a solid play-off team. I hoped for but did not expect their great start, more impressive by having been achieved without Clarkson, Kulemin and Fraser.

    I think that it is generally overlooked that the Leafs are icing a still very young team (youngest in the league Saturday night). Orr (32), McClement (30) and Lupul (30) are the team Greybeards. The rest are in their 20's with the exception of Rielly (19). Key players Kessel, VanRiemsdyk, Kadri, Gardiner, Reimer and Bernier are in their early to mid 20's and still have considerable upside. I can only see this team getting better.

    Another factor to take into consideration is that Nonis added 7 new players to the starting roster in Clarkson, Bolland, Raymond, Bodie, Ashton, Ranger, Rielly and Bernier. Assimilation is occurring but it takes time. In the meantime, mistakes are inevitable. It is a testament to their skill and desire that they have been able to win despite their mistakes.

    I hope they do not trade Reimer. I think they will need both goalies down the road and that Reimer will play an important role.
    I hope they do not trade Gardiner. He is a special talent and not easily replaceable. Ranger has settled in, played within himself, and looked solid in the past two games.
    I hope that Rielly is returned to Moose Jaw when Fraser returns. I would much rather err on the side of caution with him than take the chance of retarding his progress by rushing him.

    I believe that the one critical area where the Leafs must improve is on face-offs. Presently their face-off percentage is near the worst in the league. They are giving up possession every time they lose a face-off and the results of defensive zone losses can lead to disaster.

    We will have a better read after they play the majority of teams in the division but so far so good.

    1. Appreciate your input, as always, Pete Cam. There's no question while this is Carlyle's team, Nonis has placed his imprint on it. It's still early, but there are plenty of good signs. Thanks Pete.

  7. I know they can play better and a good face-off man would sure help

  8. I think we are relying too much on dynamic scoring right now. If our scorers hit any slumps we could be in trouble. I thought our fourth line did a good job against the oilers for the amount of time they were on the ice. The other lines weren't checking at all. We would not have beat a better team. We nead to keep Reimer. Bernier is not perfect and an injury to him could mean disaster without James stepping in. Much as I like MacIntyre, it sure feels good to know Reimer is there. Trading him would be a big mistake, a gamble we don't need to take. I agree that eearly success is partly due to the fact we haven't been tested yet. A few more games against some top teams will give us a better idea where we stand. Easy wins are hardly motivating. We don't want to think we're better than we really are. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! C.N.

    1. Sobering but realistic, C.N.- thanks for chiming in today!

  9. Very good observations, Michael. I agree with your overall assessment of our team. Sure is nice to have a positive glow around the team for a change.
    If I could complain about something it would be our play in our own end, but I believe in time that will tighten up.
    Another concerning element would be our top 6 prospect pool at the moment. We seem to be deep in defense, bottom 6 roles but lack the upper tier talent level at our top 6 prospect pool.
    Overall I believe we are going in the right direction, and have been for some time.
    Boston, Pitts, Leafs closing.. Don't see Detroit a powerhouse. They again are having problems scoring.
    To be winning with the likes of Kuli, Clarkson, Fraser, McLaren out is just a bonus. Be interesting games 10 thru 20 when players start returning.
    Great read as per usual.

    1. I think we all recognize that the team still has flaws and plenty of things to work on, but I have to believe most fans do see an improved roster and a team that should be better as the season moves along. There just aren't that many elite teams in the East. Thanks Tans66.

    2. "Don't see Detroit a powerhouse"

      They beat Boston today...just when you think they are done, they find a way to win.

      I don't want the Leafs to take them lightly.

    3. Every year (though I have not done it this year) I suggest the Wings will fall back, and they surprise me by being very competitive and sometimes doing well in the playoffs. I've stopped betting against them, DP!

  10. Hey Mike, in the summer i seemed to be one of the fans who took a more optimistic approach on the Leafs. I noted their array of goal scoring talent up front including: Kadri, Lupul, Clarkson, van Riemsdyk and Kessel all guaranteed or potential 30 goal scorers. Add in proven Western winners like Bolland and to a lesser extent Raymond and theirs two top-6 defensively strong forwards playing in a third line role adding even more depth to the Leafs. I loved the Bernier acquisition noting how it should not be a problem having two young capable goalies, but a strength. The team is young and therefore improving, I saw no foreshadowing for regression, but for ripe improvement. So far so good, but it is a long season. Morgan Rielly is definitely good enough to stay, but if he could break Canadas gold-less streak and then rejoin the Leafs, I could not be happier. He needs more PP though. The D is shaky, but will sort itself out internally as the team has an overload of defensive prospects. I like Bozaks work ethic, but as some others have pointed out, he squanders multiple glorious chances every game. If they could get a real 1c and one more legitimate top 4 d, they will win the cup.

    1. It's good to feel a sense of optimism, and I sense you're not alone in believing that optimism is warranted this season, Garey. Thanks for checking in. We'll see how we all feel in February!

  11. TheReal_JamesOrdanisOctober 14, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    We should all remember is was Brian Burke who built this organization into what it is and put the foundation in place, trading for Kessel, JVR, Lupil, Franzon and Gardiner. This was to be his dynasty and he was going to reign for a longtime with this lineup. Too bad George Dope didnt see the same vision and got him canned. As much as Nonis is a great replacement (because he was hand picked by Burke no less) and we have a great farm team and the future looks bright none of this happens without Burke. Calgary will have the same Truculence, Testostorone etc type team in 5 years too because they were smart enough to realize Burke is a genious at spotting diamonds in the rough. He was also very closely assosiatednwith the US olympic system as well. The whole damn leafs organization was put in place by Burke. So everybody who is relaxing with family say a prayer for Brian Burke who lost his wife, his son and his job, the last one because of some corporate dweeb takeout play, because he is themain reason why we Leafs fans have hopr these days. Burke once said they would make someone the pope if he ever brought a winner to TO. Thank you Pappa Burke ;-)

    1. If the Leafs attain success, many will cite Burke as the reason. That's fair.

      My view is a bit different. For me he was/is indeed a factor in the organization's improvement, but it's not all Burke. He clearly made some nice moves, intertwined with a number of questionable decisions- just like most GMs. My view is he was not dismissed because he was a bad hockey General Manager. There were seemingly other factors at play.

  12. TheReal_JamesOrdanisOctober 14, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    He was not without his faults some may say it is because he is to loyal (Wilsons contract, JML, Komiserik etc.) but nobody can argue with his trading accumen and knowledge of US players. Like I said without Burke we dont have our game breakers. No JVR, No Lupil, No Gardiner, No Kadri, No Riley. His contribution cannot be overlooked but probably will be but just wait until Calgary is destroyng everyone is 5 years time. Burke should be celebrated and cheered everytime he comes to the ACC. And we cant play down the tradgedy he suffered while here. Give the man the credit and respect he deserves! Go Leafs Go!

    1. I've commented many times here over the years about the terrible personal tragedy he and his family have gone through. His own family asked that people separate the personal and the professional, and I have always done that here. Any comments I have ever made about Burke have to do with how I viewed not only his hockey decisions here and elsewhere but his apparent need for public attention. Some like his approach; I did not. I'm not a fan of managers/leaders who talk constantly about "me", "I" and ""my".

  13. TheReal_JamesOrdanisOctober 14, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Great Article and discussion Michael amd thanks for your respone. I agree some of his press conferences were pretty wierd and he was no darling with the media. Kind of typical of this city to rip a guy for his ego or lack of manners but this is hockey were talking about and this guy knows hockey. Period nd of story with a cup in his back pocket. He can talk about I or Me or whatever the hell he wamts because he is a winner and I dont care if he does up his tie or campaigns for gay rights, I care about his hockey sense and George Cope should have left him alone and let him and Nonis do their job. Oh I dont like his shoes or the way he parts his hair....give me a break I love the guy warts and all because he doesnt f...around or bs and knows how to build a winner. Wow whats a nice tie Nonis is wearing and isnt he so polite...go have a beer with him and Burkie on their annual fishng trip and see how polite Nonis is. I dont like him......lets get him fired...Hes so selfish he gave his heart and soul to this city for 5 years and promised a winner and now were getting one....thank you Papa Burke!

    1. Always happy to chat here, James, whether I agree with the particular views of those who post here or not. Thanks for visiting VLM.

  14. TheReal_JamesOrdanisOctober 14, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    Sorry for getting a little fired up I'm half Scottish lol Were just lucky he brought Nonis with him and he seems to be puttng some great finishng touches on the team. Hey we may not win this year or next year but we're in the discussion and its been 20 years since we could say that. Im also pleased about the depth on the farm, especially Mac William, one of the good things Fletcher did drafting him, he might even end up being better than Shenn from the same draft. And Leivo is going to be a star that goal in the pre season when he cross checked the opposing player out of the way and then tipped it in, that has winner written all over it and he's listed at 6,2" great drafting both those guys are going to do damage, along with Percy and Broll, all big Burke type guys. Recently in an article written in Calgary... Burke says the Flames must get bigger gee where did I hear that before oh yeah Carlisle who was beought here by Burke...sorry Michael I couldnt resist, but he changed a losing philosophy into a winning one in my mind. Big Blue as he said the guy Pappa Burke who gave us so many presents! Ha ha

  15. I've always felt that teams that want to improve should trade with winning teams, so I am very happy about Bolland, Clarkson and Raymond. I have never seen any player as confident as Bolland. I don't doubt for a second we'll be in the post season but I enjoy the journey far too much to think ahead to the playoffs. Thank goodness for a full season ahead.
    The future looks brighter to me and I am very excited for the Marlies and our youngest prospects who are doing so well in Juniors. Kids like Gauthier and Verhaeghe and several others are only a few years from fighting for a spot on the Leafs. I really think the Leafs improvement last year and their early success so far this season is trickling down and motivating these young players.
    The Leafs are very determined and I think they will keep getting better. Last year was the start of something good. I love seeing this young team grow and I am thoroughly enjoying the process. C.N.

  16. I felt the Cup coming to Toronto since the day Burke was hired and came into our city with a bang promising to deliver a contender. Each year since, the Leafs have improved, showing glimpses of a team that, I am not afraid to say, has finally arrived – the team that we are watching now – coming back when down, closing out games, fighting for every puck, confident on the PP and amazing on the PK, backed up by two very good goalies, a TEAM of young players none of whom are trying to stand out and take away from their teammates, a winning team.
    Without dwelling on my admiration of the Great Brian Burke (I’ll just say that if we win in the next few seasons I will be one of the people raising his statue in Toronto), I must say that my only worry regarding the Leafs has been that Nonis will somehow screw it up and that the Cup will elude us. This remains my worry, but I must say that so far, with the exception of losing Steckel (the face-off expert and a very serviceable 4th liner) I have liked what Nonis has done. Like most of you here I too hope that he stays true to his promise not to trade away our youth although I remain worried that we may not be able to pull of the big prize without a first-line center and a proper shut-down defenceman. That is the great question for Nonis and I hope the Hockey Gods are with him when he makes those decisions either way when the time comes (and it will come). What Nonis did this summer was truly amazing. Even us believers lost all hope at one point when Kadri and Franson were unsigned and we had no depth on the wing having lost Mac and Frattin. But he pulled the rabbit out of the hat and delivered us a vastly improved team and then went on and signed our best player for another 8 years. Wow!
    Another year of dealing with the crazy cap is coming and now I feel a lot more confident that Nonis will keep us above water. Reimer will walk free after this season if he doesn’t get traded and so will Gardiner and Phaneuf and a bunch of others. Personally, I’d do all I can to keep Reimer but how can you ask a proven starter to stay on as a back-up? Phaneuf is probably getting sick of being the whipping boy in Toronto and how can you ask a proven top defenceman to play for second-pairing money? Good luck Dave Nonis – I believe in you.

  17. I am no less impressed with Carlyle and what appears to be his simple, hard-working and fair approach with the young Leafs. I understand that there are different ways to coach and win but, frankly, I enjoy watching Carlyle’s hockey – I like the surprise combinations (line-matching ‘on the level of crazyness’) and I like the hits and the fights. As I’ve tried to explain to the statistics-obsessed nerds until they banned me from their site – there is no accounting for the pain and fear that players like Orr and McClaren lay down on you, there’s no use trying to quantify the broken ribs and the fear of playing the puck when you know that Orr is coming. These are true intangibles that actually win you games, that grind down the opponents’ bodies and minds and do so over the course of the season. I love our 4th line and I would go so far as to say that it may well be that dependable and fearless goon line that has led the way in Toronto showing the kids how to play their role, how to be humble and how to do their job. Adding McClemment to the mix is the probably as important to the success of this team as acquiring Kessel, Lupul or Van Rimsdyke. What this team has, again, is not just a bunch of great players but a bunch of players who have all bought into Carlyle’s system, a bunch of team-players that have each other’s back and believe (because proven right) that they can win if they listen to the Coach.
    This is still the youngest team in the league and already we have here a team that is gelling, that doesn’t get blown out like they used to in the early stages of rebuilt, a team that beats the teams that it should beat and stands up to the giants, a team that is getting scoring and saves, a team that is used to winning and that refuses to go away.
    Get ready for the Cup run Leafs fans because it is coming, if not this year, then next. But it is coming. This team can do it just like the ’93 team could do it – the rest is up to the Hockey Gods. We’ve been good and we’ve taken more than our share of humiliation and suffering and we worked hard and we did it the right way. I think they may finally smile on us.

    1. Lots to think on in your posts today, leafdreamer. While some would not agree with your assessment of what Orr and McLaren bring, we can't deny they have had an impact and they are part of the Leafs becoming, in recent times, a much more difficult team to play against. And that is important. The Leafs used to be a team no one worried about playing. In fact, teams likely looked forward to playing at the ACC. Some players still might, for personal reasons, but not because the Leafs won't play tough against you.

      I think you're right, that the Leafs are on the verge of a playoff run sooner than later. It's been a while and Leaf fans should have expectations about more than just making the playoffs. Thanks leafdreamer.

  18. Hi Michael,

    I agree with your post and many others here. This is a good team in the making but not yet elite. They have demonstrated that they can win in games that they should win and as you said in a game where they shouldn't have. But we need to remember the 5-1 record is deceiving as they have yet play any higher tier teams nor games that are yet truly matters. That said, it all pointing in the right direction.

    The fact that we are discussion trading away what was once deem key personnel shows how far this team has come. A team that is deep and balanced with some warts that are slowly healing.

    I agree with you on Reimer looking good in both Edmonton or Calgary. I think the fit is there, more so in Edmonton than Calgary. Although it would too early to do such deal, A Tuesday Post Turkey Delirium - Phaneuf and Reimer for Yakupov plus 1st would be acceptable..;)

    1. Your last paragraph is a water-cooler topic for sure, Anon- that would be a huge deal, obviously.

      But you're right, the team has flaws (what team doesn't?) but they are generally playing hard enough and well enough to compete most nights. Thanks Anon.