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Rielly sits as Leafs return to the scene of their most recent Waterloo…and lose.

As I mentioned on Twitter prior to the Bruin game, the Leafs—and their fans—have, as we all know, experienced some crushing defeats over the past 45 years, as we continue to hope (so far in vain) for the day the Leafs can celebrate a championship again.  I’ve posted on some of those moments and defeats here before. Game 7 in Boston this past May was one such game that left a lingering taste in the mouths of many Leaf supporters.  Because, simply, it was a game where the Bruins looked, midway through that final period, like an utterly lost squad.  It was a game the Leafs should have won, full stop.

But we’ve had the discussion before. It’s done.  I will say this, however.  I mentioned before the playoffs got underway that the Bruins were beatable, and the Leafs series proved that.  I did not then—and do not now—have that ‘feeling’ that many Leaflanders used to have simply at the prospect of facing the “Big Bad Bruins”.  The Leafs, in my view, are much improved from when we would go into Boston and too often get pushed around on the ice and on the scoreboard in previous seasons. And, frankly, while they are still a good team, the Bruins are not so big or bad anymore.

For me, they are just another capable team in the Eastern Conference that the Leafs have to—and can—beat on their way to achieving success in the Conference and beyond. Saturday night’s game did nothing to alter my thinking.  The Leafs could have won that contest.  They just didn’t.


I had zero issue with Carlyle sitting young Morgan Rielly against Boston.  We can all see that he is a smart, capable and ultra talented defenseman with an extra gear (which will help). Sitting against a Bruin squad known for its ability to apply pressure on a defense was not a shock.  I don't know if that was Carlyle’s thinking, or if he just wanted to give the youngster a night (or more) to catch his breath after the excitement of making the big-league roster and playing pretty regularly of late.  Rielly is what, a minus 3 on the season?  In isolation that number doesn't mean much.  He has contributed and played some nice hockey already. The Leafs have made their Reilly decision (i.e. keeping him with the big club), and he’ll be fine.  It’s easy to project something pretty special once he gets accustomed to playing against men every night and he has his confidence levels in full gear.

The more interesting question right now is whether the Leafs will release him for junior National team duty in December.  I’m guessing this will depend entirely on how healthy our defense corps is and how important he is to the Leaf defensive rotation at that moment.  If he is not playing regularly, they may be happy to see him take on big minutes in a leadership role for the Canadian team.  We’ll see.


There are so many ‘storylines’ whenever we face the Bruins.  Oh, maybe not quite as many as when Seguin was with Boston, but “the trade” certainly cemented the notion of a continuing rivalry for the next while, at least.

  • Young Doug Hamilton, a much-ballyhooed part (as the draft turned out) in the Kessel deal, played about 25 minutes for Boston against the Leafs.  After being a healthy scratch earlier in the season, he seems poised to take on a bigger role this year with the Beantowners.
  • I guess for many Leaf supporters Rask will always be the one that got away. While we were seconds away from exorcising at least some of that feeling this past spring, there he was again Saturday night, stopping 33 Leaf shots in a 3-1 victory. The pain may lessen if Bernier (or could it still be Reimer?) emerges as what Rask might have been here.
  • To me, the whole “Kessel playing the Bruins” spotlight has dimmed completely. While he clearly struggled in the early days (seasons?) after the trade, he now plays his game against the Bruins as he does against everyone else.  If anything, he is no doubt a bit more pumped up to play Boston. There he was, in the third period, dashing here and there on the power play, dangerous as always. The gorilla is fully off his back.


  • The Leafs played with 7 defensemen Friday night against the Devils; back to 6 against Boston.  Phaneuf played 27 or so minutes against New Jersey in that overtime game but was back to his more normal (for this season) 25 minutes against the Bruins.  I continue to like that Carlyle is trying to minimize the captain’s minutes a bit.
  • I was not surprised to see the goalie rotation evolve as it did this past weekend.  Reimer lost in the rather shoddy team effort in Vancouver, so Bernier was next up.  He drew the offensively challenged Devils and was huge in the shootout win.  The coach gave Reimer the opportunity I’m sure the Leaf goalie wanted in the return engagement with the Bruins.  Reimer was fine—he looked like he does when he is playing with confidence.  I’m not sure I liked the second Bruin goal with Reimer flopping around as he sometimes does, but that’s him.  I was just as unenthusiastic about the rest of the penalty-killing unit allowing Bergeron to stand there and knock the puck home.
  • As much as I appreciate the different things that Mark Fraser brings to the lineup—traits like grit, heart, character, steadiness—he will never be the most mobile defenseman out there.  You win and you lose, I guess.
  • I could not write with any real insight about Jerrod Smithson even if I started doing some research. All I know about him is that he was a dependable player on a developing and ultimately pretty darn good Nashville squad under Barry Trotz for many years. What I’ve seen so far in his Leaf ‘debut’ is what I would have expected. He won a key faceoff in the Boston zone Saturday night that generated scoring chances. He won’t be Bolland and we shouldn’t expect that.  But if he can play helpful minutes and be that ‘character guy’, for now, that’s fine.
  • On that note, I remember penning a piece here a while after the Cliff Fletcher-generated Alex Steen trade.  My question at the time was, "Does anyone miss Alexander Steen?". 
  • Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on the importance of Nikolai Kulemin.  I so enjoyed his development arc in his first few seasons here.  He seemed not quite on his game at times the last couple of seasons (though others disagree, I realize) and has been hurt much of this year.  But if he can be hard on the puck and play a physical game like he is capable of, he can be a factor on this Leaf team, I’m thinking.
  • I won’t make a habit of raising Clarkson’s name, because his history tells us we should have modest/reasonable expectations, despite his new contract.  That is, he remains a hard-working winger who will go to the tough areas, will fight, bring experience and put up some points.  In fairness, the only thing really missing is the points right now (1 assist in 7 games).  Fans may never be happy about the money he is getting (or the term) but if he helps this team advance, who will care about his salary or the cap hit?  My guess is in two months, he’ll be contributing in the ways we would expect, and all will be well.
  • I’m still not certain why we play some of our fourth-line guys 2 minutes a game.  The team could maybe just rent that space out to fans that would pay a pretty penny (and fill the organization’s coffers with even more money) to watch a game from that unique perspective, eh?  Bodie and McLaren each played two plus minutes against Boston.  Every Bruin (excluding a defenseman who was hurt during the game) played 10 minutes, with the exception of Paille, who played between 8 and 9 minutes and Thornton, who still logged more than 7 minutes. Surely a coach has to feel confident that his fourth-line guys can play at some point?  Otherwise, bring in other players.


The Leafs now have a record of 11 wins and 6 losses.  That could be worse, but it could also be a bit better.  We’ve had the out-shot, out-chanced, too many giveaways, "we rely on our goaltenders too much" discussion.  But the reality is every team, especially in the East, has flaws.  Everyone is covering up warts somewhere.  Right now, I see no reason why the Leafs can’t be, as I have said here before, one of the top teams in the Conference. Just take a look at the rosters of the Eastern Conference teams. Are there really any teams that you go, “My God, the Leafs can’t play with those guys”?

I don’t think so.  So I will continue to believe that the team will play better hockey in the days ahead, and will still, for the most part, have some strong play between the pipes.  Have we played a truly outstanding all-around game yet, from start to finish? I don't think so.  Despite that, we are five games above five hundred.

We can score (though not much the past three games), we can kill penalties (though not so much against the Bruins) and we should be tough enough to handle most clubs.

There’s no doubt I see the imperfections but for now, the glass, to me, is half full. But you may feel differently.  Let me know.


  1. I actually don't mind the Leafs playing Boston any more. They weren't even out-shot! ( unless you count the head-shots: also highsticks, boarding and elbows which seems to be a big part of Boston's game) They are beatable but a problem when playing without Bozak, Bolland and on the second game of a back to back. The next one is the same, unfortunately. The December schedule is going to be tough.
    The good thing is that the Leafs have managed to hold on to a good spot in the East and haven't slid. In fact we're seeing some improvement in their 5 on 5 play. Kulemin and Fraser still need some time to get up to game speed after a long time off. I like pairing Ranger with Fraser for the time being. What is it about Ranger? For the most part I'm happy with his play but the few mistakes he makes are very noticeable and on camera, a lot like Phaneuf's. I think it's more bad luck than poor play.
    I did want to ask you if you saw the Coaches Corner when Cherry spoke about Reimer. It was nothing we didn't already know, that Reimer gets the harder minutes ( Boston, Vancouver, Pittsburgh)
    but I'm wondering what you thought. Amazingly Reimer is still ahead of Bernier in save percentage.
    Looking forward to another Hangout soon. C.N.

    1. Hi C.N.- as I've said since the trade this past summer, the Leaf brass wants Bernier to be the guy, for all the reasons I've long cited here. But I don't quite buy Don's theory that seems to suggest the Leafs are hanging Reimer out to dry. Both goaltenders have played well so far for the most part. My issue has always been that, ultimately, both guys need and want to play and when it matters most, only one can. So ultimately this will end with a goalie leaving. If they get more assets for the departing goalie than they gave up for Bernier, I guess it will have been worthwhile.

  2. Many excellent points, Michael. I believe that the Leafs, when on their game, can compete with anyone. The 2nd period of the Bruins game showed that they are capable of playing a dominating brand of hockey but they have yet to replicate such an effort over an entire game.

    It is extremely difficult to beat the Bruins in Boston as they are constantly allowed to throw illegal checks with no penalty calls. Ashton had his nose bloodied, Kadri took a head shot, and Lupul was high shocked and hit in the face just to mention three no-calls. Chara seems to be able to get away with high hits with impunity. It is frustrating to watch and it seems that it will take more effort than normal to beat the Bruins, at least in Boston.

    So much for my rant and on to some of your points.

    I was baffled at the use of the 4th line. If players such as Brodie and McLaren cannot be trusted for more than 2 minutes then it is time for an adjustment. It was evident in the third period that the Bruins top lines were fresher as their 4th liners had produced around 10 minutes of pretty solid play. I believe fixing the 4th should be high on the Leaf's priority list. I think Smithson is a good start. He provides a physical presence, a good defensive effort along with penalty killing skills and most importantly first class faceoff skills. It is important that he is provided with two competent wingers so the 4th line can become an asset.

    I felt that the Leafs missed Rielly's puck moving skills. The duo of Fraser and Ranger seemed slow and tentative and were constantly hemmed in by an aggressive fore check.

    While it is still too soon to comprehensively evaluate the play of Clarkson and Kulemin, their play has been disappointing. They must step up their level of play to allow the Leafs a chance against the elite teams.

    In my opinion Joffery Lupul was the best player on the ice Saturday. Lupul and Kadri have developed a potent chemistry. They provide the opposition with the quandary of facing two scoring lines and thus who to use their checking line against.

    I feel that the glass is at least half full. What strikes me the strongest is that the Leafs have finally developed the depth to overcome inevitable injuries. There is still work to be done but I feel that this Leaf team is developing into a force that can go deep into the playoffs.

  3. Maybe Chara now falls into that 'eminence grise' category of player, Pete Cam- you know, like a veteran star baseball player who usually gets the close ball and strike calls, eh?

    I agree there are some individuals who need to do more in the months ahead. It's a long season, so at least there is time for those guys to kick things up a notch.

    My guess is Rielly will play more often than not, but of everyone is healthy, there will be an unhappy defenseman somewhere along the line. Someone will have to sit. Maybe it will be a game-to-game decision, depending on the opposition? I would still like to see Rielly stand out at the World Juniors, too.

    The fourth line thing is baffling, but needs to be adjusted going forward, for sure.

    Depth is key, as you say. Bolland is a significant loss. He'll be gone so long we will forget he was here. But I think we'll be more than happy if he can make it back. Thanks Pete Cam.

  4. When you have to shorten the bench in the 2nd of back to backs it's pretty hard on players who are already tired and we saw this in the third period. I think if Orr had been available the 4th line would have seen more time than 2+ minutes. He's been, at the least, a very effective checker. I thought this was a good effort by the Leafs and hopefully Bozak will be back before we meet the Bruins again. The leafs have done well not only to hold on but improve a bit. Newer players on the PK just need some time to mesh. We'll have to be patient. C.N.

  5. I'm not sure whether the O'Malley glass is half full or half empty at the moment. The Bruins' game highlights all our strengths and weaknesses.
    On the half full side, we were only scored on when a man short. The second period showed we can dominate. Reimer played another great game.
    On the half empty side, we played most of the game in our end (yet again), our we can't get two lines scoring at the same time, and our forwards often seem to have no idea where their line mates are. It's very noticeable when we play a Chicago, Vancouver or Boston how positionally sound they are compared to us, and how their forwards seem to know where to expect their line mates to be.
    As for individual players, Clarkson has been OK - he could have had a couple of goals against the Bruins which would have changed the game; Kulemin and Fraser both seem like they're easing their way back in (we've missed Fraser's attitude, in my opinion - he knocked a few guys down and we need more of that!); I like Ranger's game so far; Franson's looking good; and Smithson looks like he could be a valuable cog.
    I have to admit, though, that the last few games have started to worry me - we can't keep giving up the first period to the other team and expect to win. And we're not at the level of the top western teams by a long shot. My modest hope is that we can play 50/50 until Bozak gets back.
    There's work to be done!

    1. A realistic perspective, Gerund O'. Lots of good stuff, but noticeable issues that can certainly be dealt with.

  6. I'm glad we got away with two points on this back-to-back. The schedule is not favouring us nor is the officiating. Speaking of which, I'm also glad we got out of Boston without more injuries. I think the difference in that game was the fact that one team was healthy and rested and the other not.

    I love Colton Orr and I think we really missed his energy and ability to play close to ten minutes of hard-hitting, cycle game that he's been bringing lately. He's also a better fighter than McLaren and would have probably won if he had to go.

    What really pisses me off is the nightly presence of Leiweke's son-in-law in the line-up - he brings nothing (he can't play, hit or fight) and cannot be trusted to play more than 2 minutes a night. This may well cost us in the long run and I'm worried about how it will affect the dressing room chemistry - there's no way other players are oblivious to the fact that this pylon gets to play while others who can actually play and are working hard are sitting or grinding it out in the Marlies.

    I've written here about missing Steckel and his face-off ability and I'm very happy to see Smithson in the line-up winning face-offs and being dependable on the PK. Too bad he is being held back by his linemates who can't be trusted to play. Indeed - our 4th line needs to be fixed. I hope Orr recovers quickly and Carlyle comes to his senses and gets rid of the son-in-law. Devane or Broll would really complement Smithson and Orr on the nights we don't need two enforcers and when facing rough and tumble teams like Boston.

    Anyhow, it's just one game against a very good team in their barn and with the Leafs tired and out of synch as a result of recent injuries.

    Also, Reiley is a much better player than Ranger or Liles and he should play but I guess there are cap-concerns and it may not have been the best idea to throw the kid to the wolves who we know where gonna get dirty and mean especially without Sheriff on the ice to police things.

    Kadri, Lupul and Kessel are amazing and I really hope JVR achieves this transition and continues to score and terrorize the opposing defences. We can't afford to lose too many other bodies. Also, it's definitely time for Clarkson and Kuli to start finding their scoring touch. If they were to contribute a point or two each over the next few games and if we manage to not do something stupid (i.e. Clarkson't ten-game suspension) against Buffalo on the upcoming back-to-back we'll be fine.

    1. Plenty of good points in your post, as usual, leafdreamer. Many don't like Orr but as you say, he can finish checks and brings energy along with fisticuffs, as needed.

      We do need a reliable fourth-line however it is constituted, one that can play real minutes as the game wears on.

      If Smithson can indeed provide useful minutes, that would be welcome.

      The Leafs have a reasonable schedule upcoming- we'll see if they can "make kay". Thanks leafdreamer.

  7. Michael,

    What a great post today, thanks for taking the time to pen it. Like Mr. O'Malley, I see this team as half full and half empty. I think that there are good things as well as bad, about the team. Kessel is lighting it up currently. He has been streaky throughout his career, so I expect a string of crappy games from him soon. The goaltending has been phenomenal, out of this world really so far this season. I hope it continues.

    Any idea how much I would have to pay to be on the ice for that 2 minutes of 4th line time? Colton Orr is definitely a better fighter than I am, not so sure he is a better hockey player. And by all accounts, including my own, I am terrible. Unlike leafdreamer and C. N., I find it embarrassing that McLaren and Orr are in the NHL, let alone on the team that I love. There has to be a better option than these two meatheads, doesn't there? Watching the trained bears for ten minutes a game would be, unbearable for this fan.

    I have to admit that even though it took some time, I agree with you Michael. The teams in the East are awful. I mean that, they are awful. The best teams in the East would have a hard time making the playoffs in the West. And as of right now the best points total in the East would have you tied for 8th out West. If the League went to one conference play, I doubt any Eastern squad would finish top ten in the League, maybe top 12.

    Interesting development in the Alexander Steen story isn't it? Right now, I would rather have him in Toronto than Bozak. Would I therefore have to have put up with his previous 6 seasons where he only cracked 30 points twice? Its funny how things work out isn't it. We both thought that Kulemin was going to be a stud for a long time when he was putting up 30 goals, now not so much. Is Steen on a similar path? Don't get me wrong, he has turned into a fine hockey player, he's just keeping some heady company lately. It probably won't last.

    I have always loved players who can play but who are also the ones you would hate to line up against. Chara is one of those guys for me. I love watching him play hockey, the same could be said for Pronger before him. The desire to compete in these guys is so high, no quarter given by either of them. I wish more of the Leafs put forth that kind of effort, game in game out. Remember a bunch of years ago when Chara rag dolled McCabe, a large man in his own right? Impressive size and strength to say the least.

    After a 6-1 start to the season the Leafs have been a mediocre five and five since then. Two really easy games against the Sabres this week, after a trip to visit the red hot Wild. Have to beat those Buffalo's, I think. If they do that, I don't care if they show up in Minnesota. I honestly expect a repeat of the Vancouver and Chicago games.

    I'm not sure about this next one. Am I supposed to be happy that the Leafs were able to play good hockey for 20 minutes against the Bruins or sad, that once again we competed, but lost? It's better than the seven straight embarrassing games of recent memory, but they did lose again, right.

    Finally, when exactly will it be ok to be impatient with this team of mine? It has been a long time between trips to the finals, longer than I have been alive. By a little bit. I am getting too old and grumpy to continue with the never ending patience other Leaf fans constantly preach.

    1. Hi Jim, you know that while we agree on a lot about this organization, we don't necessarily see exactly eye-to-eye on all the questions of the day. But I always enjoy your posts! Today's commentary was especially good, and your acerbic tone always gives me a smile.

      How long must you be patient? I have no answer. I was young but very much alive and passionate for those four Cups in the '60s, but I did not think I'd be having this discussion 45 years later...

  8. Hey Michael,

    Hope you are doing well and the reviews of the eBook are all nice.

    :) - Wish I could buy but can't now - maybe later on in time.

    Onto the leafs..

    Point 1: Cherry says Reimer is being thrown to the wolves - maybe - perhaps probably. But I say so what - if he is going to be a good goaltender, a starting goaltender - he is going to face this kinda competition day in and day out. And how else is he going to get better? Sheltering someone in his stage of development is only holding them back from getting better.

    Point 2: Where the refs bad in the third - yes - but to that I say so what - The more important thing is - what did the leafs do in retaliation to punish the Bs - did they hit back - yes, get chipy - kinda, get nasty - not really, put a facepuncher on the ice to teach the Bs to back off - nope (isn't that what they are there for?), put the heat on - yea but they ran out of gas by the end and kinda gave up (i.e. Phaneuf). I believe it is the job of the coaching staff and the team leaders to bring there team together to get that big push back - like the champs do - i.e. Boston in game 7 and Chicago against Wings and Bs in playoffs.

    Point 3: Reilly should have played that game - I think so but over someone like bodie as the seventh D considering this was fraser's second game back and it is back-to-back - I call that a bad coaching decision. You need a mobile d and fresh legs against the Bs to win most nights.

    Point 4: Kinda missed grabo in that game - like lupul - the Bs always lit a fire in his belly - and he was one Teflon guy - taking the kinda beating he used to and still compete. But doesn't mean he should be back - just that we need a guy who can have guys lean on him physically and he doesn't wilt.

    Point 5: We do need to improve our fourth line - how not sure - that is up to nonis to do the magic - lol.

    Point 6: We need to learn to make better passes as a team - I think that is our biggest weakness - as a group - nobody to me stands out to be great at this - I could be wrong.

    Point 7: Ranger is getting better but next time try and move that guy away from your crease - lol and not fall on the goalie. It upset me in the moment but kinda funny now - treating him like a mature rookie.

    Point 8: Give phanuef a contract already...

    Question to you Michael or anyone else who feels like answering - Do we expect John Scott to face Orr in a tilt on Friday - the first chance they get?

    Also looks like bolland can't even get off crutches for a month - I think reasonably - he is not coming back until after the Olympic break in late feb. - so do we need to get a center or do we hold the fort and ride it out.

    Anon from Scarborough

    1. Good to hear from you, Scarborough Anon.

      I have no problem at all with Reimer (or any Leaf goalie) playing the tough games. As you say, you eventually have to play against the best, whether it's Reimer or Bernier or anyone else taking on the top teams.

      Fair point about push back. To be the kind of team (like you mentioned Chicago in the playoffs this pasts spring) you're talking about will take time to develop. We're not quite there yet.

      I hear you on the Fraser/fourth line/Rielly question. Given that the fourth-line wingers played so little Saturday, Rielly would have been a useful guy to have available Not fully sure, as I said above, what the coaching staff rationale was.

      Bolland will be missed, for sure.

  9. Anthony's MLHS Notes was excellent again. Have we all read it? He sure seems to see many aspects of each game that I am missing. A very thoughtful writer with every detail covered. I hope he will soon be available for another " Hangout" episode. I'd enjoy seeing him again. C.N.

  10. Hi Michael

    I'm leaning towards being half full because we continue to win games we shouldn't - but I'd still rather we were supplementing that with a few more performances when we are obviously the best team showing a lesser one no mercy. The only game I remember watching when we seemed to be unrelenting and superior was - oddly enough - against a Pittsburgh team I expected to take us apart like fried chicken.

    If management was seriously considering allowing Rielly to go off and play junior worlds, I would have expected them to have given Brennan a crack by now. In fact, given the rate at which he's accumulating points in the AHL, it's a little surprising he hasn't been at least given a chance to see if he can replicate it against the big boys regardless. So unless the coach of the Canadian team has a Batphone to direct to Carlyle's Batcave that he hasn't used yet, I can't see it happening.

    The fourth liners - as I have mentioned here before - are enough to give me shingles, so I totally agree with you there. It's a shocking indictment on either (a) our prospect pool, or (b) Carlyle's strategies that none of our youth are better than 2 minutes a night. Alas, I suspect it's mostly (b) and thus no fix will be coming in the near future.

    I'd finish by saying that another reason why I am cautiously optimistic relates back to a discussion we had in the off-season about what we wanted the Leafs brand to be. I said then, that I'd love to see them be one of those teams for whom opposing coaches could never catch a rest, rolling a succession of lines that never let them think "thank God those scrubs are on for a bit". Though we've been stymied by injuries a bit, it's nice to know we could roll out pairings like Kessel-JvR then Lupul-Kadri then Bolland-Kulemin and be tough to match against. We can't do it right now, but we will: if the lads all get fit and the bit players fit in around those pairings, we will be hard to play against most nights.

    1. Your last paragraph is an important one, KiwiLeaf- I well recall our summertime discussions about what we ideally would want to see this Maple Leaf squad become. And it was/is indeed a group that is skilled, fast, tough and hard to play against. The depth is missing in spots. But some nights the goaltending will bail us out. Other nights our stars will outscore the opposition. All in all, not the perfect recipe, but better than the ones we have witnessed in recent seasons.