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Leafs hold off the Devils: do we still need a players' only meeting? If so, who will call it?

There were certainly some things I liked about the Leaf win over Jersey Sunday night.  I thought Rielly stood out and a few guys had some real jump. It was good to see some traffic heading to the net at times.

Bernier was solid again. Gardiner was strong and Phaneuf played his usual role- and key minutes.  A win has to help the psyche. I’m sure you all noticed a Leaf or two that stood out for you against the Devils.

That said, while a win certainly helps, the fact remains the Leafs are not winning games in regulation. They remain a team that is better, I believe, than their record. They need to start taking games to the opposition. But you usually have to walk before you run, so this is a step in the right direction, after a solid effort in Washington on Friday night.

I’m not sure if it has already happened, but if not, I still wonder if we are on the verge of a full-out Maple Leaf “players only” meeting at some point.  (That is one of the usual steps when a team hits the skids, or is just as baffled as their fans about why they are struggling to win games.)

My question today, though, goes beyond whether such a meeting would actually be held.  I guess my real point is: if such a meeting were to take place, who would call the meeting?  Who would speak in the meeting?  Would anyone really and truly listen?

Hey, I get that teams can sometimes get off the rails, as it were, and there are times when they need to get together and hash out whatever issues may be hindering performance on the ice—and togetherness off the ice. Forget the coach, forget the system they are asked to play.  These are the guys on the ice.  They need to get it done.

This much I know, however: these kinds of meetings—whether in the business world or the sports world (or within our families, for that matter)—will generally only be useful and have a long-term, lasting impact if the people who call and conduct the meeting are already well respected and well-regarded.

I think we need to add that, in hockey terms, the individual in question who calls the meeting must also be playing well and working their tail off on the ice.  If not, who is going to listen to someone exhorting his teammates on to greater effort if they are sitting there thinking, “Who is this guy to be telling us how to play…?”

So who is that individual with the Leafs?

I’m guessing who some of you might name or suggest.  And that’s fine.  But my next question then is: if the Leafs already have these leaders in place, are they really leaders if no one is following their cue?

To me these are simple but pretty darned important questions.

Who calls this meeting?  Who leads?  Who listens?  Who actually will respond?  Would a meeting have any impact at all in the long run?

The win may stave off any need for this kind of player gab fest, but for me, the questions remain...


  1. Michael,

    You have raised some very valid questions, after a snorefest of a game, they are welcome. I believe I actually fell asleep for vast stretches of tonights game. I didn't end up missing a thing. The forever boring Devils, played the uninterested Maple Leafs. We should all get paid to have sat through that.

    Are there any true leaders on this team. Nope, not a one. If these guys were considered winning hockey players, other teams would have held on to them. The only ones I can name that has won anything in the League is Lupul, and Bolland. I think what we are talking about today is motivation. I don't expect the coaching staff to do that for the players. If these guys are dedicating every day to the pursuit of the Stanley Cup, what a coach says isn't going to do that for them. I believe that it has to come from the inside, personally. To do the extra set in the weight room, extra time with the skating coach, shooting practice. It doesn't really matter what you do to improve as a player but if you're not doing all you can to improve, someone else is gaining on you.

    I don't think there is a player on the team that would call a meeting and be respected for doing it. The only exception I would make is for Bolland. The only problem is that he isn't playing, so his words would carry very little weight right now. They showed him beginning his on ice recovery process tonight, he is a long way away. For the team right now, he doesn't really exist. I feel this team is just going to continue as it has all year, outplayed, outshot, out performed.

    To me the players, with the exception of the guys from the Marlies and the goalies, seem very comfortable. Some of this has to do with the lack of accountability. Sure the rookies and depth players sit in the pressbox. Would the coach think of putting one of the high profile players in there for 3 games or so? It sure would send a message to the players that no one is untouchable. As a coach I feel turnabout is fair play here. The players are hanging him out to dry, risking his job. There should be consequences for doing less than your coach asks of you.

    While I don't feel that it is the coaches responsibility to motivate professional athletes. I think that the coach must be able to put the players in the best position to win hockey games, as well as being individually successful. Not to mention allowing management to seem like they know what they are doing. The Grabovski situation, as well as dressing meatheads for every game, are illustrations of my point. This staff doesn't do this well at all. The coach seems dead set against doing the things a vast majority of others would do in his situation. Stubbornness for the old ways, I suppose.

    As Colleen mentioned in an earlier post, really am enjoying her contributions to the comments, by the way. The coaching recycling centre has once again landed on Paul Maurice's section of the wheel of fortune. I have no idea why managers in the NHL constantly go to the well of guys who have failed elsewhere numerous times, believing that this time will be different. 13 seasons as an NHL coach, 4 playoff appearances. Look, he's a great coach, but there comes a time when if you're not moving forward, you are moving backward. How did he get demonstrably better since he was fired the last time? Talking to James Duthie, taking quizzes? I would love for the fraternity of the NHL to come up with an original idea. There is a time in everyones life where the young people become strange and different to you. The things that were hip and cool are no longer hip and cool. Either you are able to relate as time goes on, and adapt, or you're not. The NHL seems very willing to continue the same old song and dance. Compete, compete, move your feet, work harder.

    1. Thanks Jim- yes, New Jersey-Toronto games are rarely high excitement contests. The Devils are not what they were years ago, for sure. (Through didn't they make it all the way to the finals just a few short seasons ago??)

      While Carlyle certainly has to shoulder responsibility for his decision-making, I have been of the view that the players need to be held accountable, too. Coaching decisions have an impact, of course. But it's often a bit too easy to absolve the players and dismiss the coach.

      You used an important phrase: the players seem "comfortable". And while you want athletes to be comfortable in the right sense of the word, it's not healthy when they become so comfortable that they don't feel they have to play hard every night to keep their spot. And that's what you're referring to.

      In fact, as I wrote that, it should not just be a question of "keeping your spot". Surely these guys are proud enough to want to be their best all the time. Given their uneven play this season, either the Leafs are not good enough, or they haven't played hard enough.

      As for the coaching carousel, I agree. I don't know why coaches with little record of success keep getting hired. Thanks Jim.

  2. Hi, Michael.
    That's an interesting question. I imagine Phaneuf will expect it's his job but I think it should come from another source. My instinct tells me It's McClement. He's one of the few that has remained solid and works hard every game. He's a leader during the PK and for his line-mates when he's on the ice. Not a loud presence, but intelligent, more down to earth and I would think very respected by his team-mates. Sometimes strong quiet leadership is the type best heard, listened to and appreciated. I'm certain they've all heard enough yelling.
    I'd want Bolland present. He has not been with them during their latest struggles, of course, but I'm sure he's aware and might have a different view on things. I believe he is just a very positive presence.
    My vote goes to Jay. C.N.

    1. That's a great point about McClement. I hadn't thought about him but you're right. And yes, Bolland would not doubt be in the picture. Though (as Jim noted above) he's still out right now, he is one of the few players that teammates might sort of look up to. Thanks C.N.

  3. Thanks Michael, Jim, Wilbur and everyone for making me feel welcome.
    What is it about Bolland? I think he is the only member of the team that lives and plays in the present. (That's really unusual, I sure don't.) There's so much panic when they are one goal ahead and the other team is pressuring. They are thinking too far ahead and not responding properly to the play that's right in front of them. They are so disconnected. You can see they think that next goal is coming and then it does. Bolland sees being ahead in the game as a positive -up a goal -he doesn't think ahead too much and responds to the play in front of him. He just plays. It's so simple to him. It's nice to know he'll begin skating with the team this week, in his special boot. Colleen N.

  4. "I’m not sure if it has already happened, but if not, I still wonder if we are on the verge of a full-out Maple Leaf “players only” meeting at some point."

    I think it has already occurred, after the loss to the Carolina. I think Phaneuf might have let it slip that it happened at the hotel.

    My guess is that Phaneuf called the meeting.

    One of the best things about 24/7 was seeing a little more of Phaneuf. You see him as a peer among the elite of the NHL. He battles against Alfredson and Crosby, "Come on Sid..." And Phaneuf is part of that group. He was on that elite world juniors team Canada of 2005 with Getzlaf, Bergeron and Crosby. He was defending against Ovechkin. He was again named a tournament All-Star as well as being named the outstanding defenceman of the tournament. Where any other Leafs there?

    Another fun thing about 24/7 was seeing Phaneuf's ubber competitive nature as he battles Kessel in Ping Pong. I really do think Phaneuf is the peak or near the peak of the Leaf's leadership core.

    Besides being the Captain, Phaneuf is also also having the kind of year where he is in moral position to speak up. He has been leading by example. We all know Phaneuf does make mistakes, but he is on track for about 35 points and leads the team with +10 when most of the other players are negative. Kadri and Lupul are each -13.

    "But my next question then is: if the Leafs already have these leaders in place, are they really leaders if no one is following their cue?"

    I think Carlyle isn't doing as good of a job of coaching this year.

    Last year it seemed like Carlyle had the team well prepared as was making changes and line matching to get every possible advantage. I don't see that this year.

    Carlyle is making a huge mistake with his 4th line. With Clarkson in the lineup, you don't need a super tough 4th line against most teams. Few teams are deciding to engage Toronto. Orr and Ashton played less than 5 minutes which means you aren't getting full value from your 4th line.

    It's almost like playing a team with only 9 forwards rather than that a disadvantage? of course. On the same night Chicago plays their 4th line 9-10 minutes. Anaheim gives all their guys at least 11 minutes.

    Ryanne Clowe was the toughest guy on NJ, Clarkson is enough to neutralize him, so you could have played a third line with some more offensive skill and a 4th line that was more defensive. I think this lineup could have kept NJ on their heels:

    JVR Bozak Kessel

    Lupul Kadri Raymond

    Kulemin Holland Clarkson

    D'Amigo McClement Ashton

    Holland had two more goals on Saturday. Down in the AHL, the Ice Cap announcers were calling him the most talented guy on the ice

    1. Phaneuf has grown into his role, DP, as Sundin did (gradually) before him. I just wonder sometimes if players are "following", if you know what I mean.

      As for the lineup, I think you speak for a lot of Leaf fans. There are many nights when the opposition does not require the kind of lineup Carlyle is icing. The lines you suggest have appeal. Thanks DP.

  5. It's hard to be too optimistic when playing two average games against average teams becomes cause for calm. Maybe the wheels aren't falling off and it isn't time to panic as if every game going forward will be like the Rangers or Hurricanes games. That's lowered expectations, being satisfied with this rather than what they could be.
    We of course are not in the locker room to know, but to wonder why no one has stepped up. Is it fear of management? Is leadership just not in anyone's DNA? Or are they in fact satisfied with average, and that any whiff of success will get management, media, and fans off their back? If it's the latter of these, then the bug that's been going around the locker room just might be a relapse of Blue and White Disease.
    If the player to step up should that happen isn't the obvious, Captain Phaneuf, than who? My best guess would be Lupul. The question remains, would he have an audience? I hate to say it, right now my gut feeling is that he won't.

  6. There is no question the "bar" remains too low here, Pete. Expectations should be high for this franchise. We have talent on this roster. We aren't the '77 Habs but we have talent. And in the Eastern Conference, we should be among the better squads. Something is a bit off. Coaching is a question, and so is, for me, leadership.

  7. Michael
    As I read your question about the players only meeting, Phaneuf and McClement came to mind as the only likely candidates to call such a meeting and I see the previous commenters have made this case rather well. I also considered Bozak as he's played well when in the lineup but hasn't been there through the toughest stretch and I don't sense he is senior or experienced enough to have his opinions carry any weight.
    The use or non-use of a 4th line has been the subject of much discussion here and elsewhere in Leafland. My son and I were discussing this again yesterday and it was interesting to see the line combinations proposed above by DP in his post. We had a somewhat similar idea:
    JVR - Bozak - Kessel
    Lupul - Kadri - Clarkson
    D'Amigo - Holland - Raymond
    Kulemin - McClement - Ashton/Orr/McLaren

    The reasoning was threefold:
    1. Clarkson has been a disappointment to Leaf fans and himself being put in a checking role. Give him the opportunity to do something with the puck after he battles for it on the boards by giving it to someone who can create a goal like Kadri or Lupul. Or he can help them by being a big presence in front of the net. Who knows, he might even get a chance to score rather than spend his time on the boards. Maybe by putting him in a role similar to what he was used to in NJ, he can create some value for us that we thought we were getting when he was signed. If it doesn't work out, drop him back to the McClement line and replace him with Raymond and Ashton can take Raymond's spot on the 3rd line.
    2. Establish a high speed 3rd (or 4th?) line with the speedy trio of D'Amigo, Holland and Raymond that offers a real offensive threat. I expect Randy may have some concerns about the defensive capabilities of this line but I think they would be sensitive to that concern and would work hard to be defensively responsible. They certainly have the speed to help recover from any mistakes and deserve a chance to make a case for a useful scoring line rather than a non-used 4th line as at present..
    3. By putting Kulemin, McClement, and Ashton on a 4th (or 3rd?) line, you create a good checking line that you would not be afraid to use but which you also would not have to use to excess. This will leave Kulie and McClement more rested for their PK duties. I don't think the decline in our PK stats this year is unrelated to the overwork of these two key components of that duty. If the situation calls for a face puncher, substitute Orr or McLaren for Ashton.

    I understand one reason Holland has been sent to the Marlies is to ensure he gets lots of minutes but I think he has demonstrated he can play in the NHL now and deserves a chance on a line that will get at least 10 or 11 minutes a night

    1. Thanks for chiming in today, Ed. With regard to possible line configurations, I believe you make a great point about Clarkson. And I would add that the coach would have to stick with those lines for a few games to let them mesh and for Clarkson to (finally) get comfortable. We can't expect a line to necessarily click right away. Whether it does or not, give Clarkson a chance over time to grow into a role that works for him and the team.

      I also like the fourth line notion...a group that has speed. Why must a fourth line be so limited? Heck, if we send out guys who can actually skate and make plays, that should give the Leafs an advantage over most clubs in the league.

      Holland needs to play a lot, yes. But he also needs to play here.

      If we have a third line that plays the checking role without having to overextend themselves, as you mentioned, all the better- for them and for the penalty-killing units. Thanks Ed.

  8. I doubt Leaf fans will ever give Phaneuf due credit. ( Honestly, when is name-calling acceptable, anonymously or not ?) No one is perfect but many of Dion's "mistakes" are actually someone else's.

    I think DP is right, that there was a team only discussion before the Caps game. It's not something you want to show up as a story on TSN, it is something that needs to occur more often as long as it stays positive with no blame attached.

    Mirtle wrote a good piece that covers most of what we've discussed here. C.N.

  9. Well they got two points I guess. Pete called it though, they played two average games against less than average teams. The same mistakes were there and once again the goalie bailed them out. Bernier had .947% last night. Look the Leafs have enough talent to win games here and there. The way they play and the odd lineup decisions by the coach pretty much ensure they aren't going to win many.

    I'm sure I heard that a players only meeting was called after the Carolina game. Apparently it was called after the reporters were gone. I have no idea who is in charge in the room but as Dion is captain I would think he would call the meeting in consultation with the other guys who wear letters. I can't remember where I read it but I did read somewhere that on the plane Dion, Jay, Joffery and a couple of other veterans sit in the back of the plane trying to figure out a way to get out of this mess. I hope they get it straightened out.

    1. It would make sense for those guys (Phaneuf, Lupul, McClement) to try and right the ship. The time was right. We'll see about the long-term effect. Thanks Willbur.

  10. Phaneuf's been great this year and he's grown into an amazing captain for this team. 24/7 was a really good window into that dressing-room and it showed us both his commitment to the team and the respect he gets from his fellow-teammates. It sounds like he did call that meeting and that the 'problem' has been resolved. There's nothing wrong with this team other than that they're still young and inexperienced.

  11. NJ was playing its third game in 4 nights, and we were taken to the shoot-out by them. We have one line working, three lines not working, and as long as that's the configuration, expect the average - or slightly less than average - results we've been getting.
    If a team meeting was called after the Canes game, I'd expect Dion to call it - he is the Captain after all, and has been consistently playing tough, relatively penalty-free hockey throughout the year. I honestly don't think there's much the players can do at this point. They've played a bit better since then, but hardly at an elite level. Unlike the MLSE president, it looks to me like October was an aberration.
    I happened to catch the last 10 minutes of the Habs/Black Hawks game on Saturday night, and if that brand of hockey is the yardstick we're to be measured against, we've got a ways to go. As I said the other day, I no longer think this group of players, as they're being deployed, has it in them. Whether it's youth, lack of compete, bad coaching, tension - at the end of the day, they're all just excuses, aren't they? Ticketholders sure aren't being given a discount to watch another rebuilding year, and I don't see why they should be expected to give the team a pass on its continued mediocrity. The next two games will tell us a lot.

    1. I tend to look at things through a similar lens as you, Gerund O'. We've both been following this organization for close to six decades. Are there good young players here that provide hope? Of course. But I can point to several similar instances throughout the '70s and '80s where it looked like we had all this good young talent, young goalies, etc. and we were "this close". In the end, we weren't really close at all.

      When were we close? In the '93 and '94 season under Pat Burns, and through the Quinn years. That's because we had a nice blend of skill and grit and youth and experience- and excellent coaching. We just don't have that now. Thanks Gerund.

  12. Michael I also believe the meeting took place, perhaps as suggested after the Carolina game. Somebody HAS to step up, there must be someone in this group who will drag this group along. Also with regards to Phaneuf, in the game last night he took a run at Jagr and just missed him, it would have sent a charge through the team. In my opinion he has stopped doing this and it was one of the things that forced the opposition to be uncomfortable when playing the Leafs. Also some great ideas with regards to a "speed" line, this would be the third line as has been suggested and Mclement Kulemin Ashton /Orr the fourth. This team needs to get back to initiating the play, when the NJD are dictating the play and out shooting you you know something is wrong. Lastly I too would put Clarkson up with Kadri and Lupul. Funny how we can all see these things, I wonder do the coaching staff.

    1. It's likely Dion has tried to tone down his 'big hits' approach because the coaching staff has told him we can't afford for him to be out of position. But you're right, the occasional thundering check can make a huge difference in the psyche of the opposition. If it creates even a moment of hesitation, it helps.

      As for the lines, yes, while we all would acknowledge we are not NHL coaches, sometimes one does wonder if the coaches may miss what is right in front of them. Thanks purch...

  13. I'm in a great mood today, so I'm feeling optimistic. Who knows, maybe it's just because the Leafs aren't playing tonight?

    What were our expectations at the beginning of the year? Playoffs, then maybe a trip to the second round. Did anyone really expect more than that? I think the early success skewed everyone's perspective, which is why games against the Caps and Devils have become games the Leafs "should" win. But based on what we thought before the season began, those are games we expect to win more than half the time, not games we will win.

    None of this is meant to undermine comments critical of Nonis and Carlyle that I and others have made. There are certainly points being left on the table every week. But now that the Leafs seem to have their "compete" back, I think we can expect things to turn around. Not to the degree of success we were seeing in October, but better than the last little while. A slight improvement is really all it will take to grab one of the wildcard spots. And once you're in, as we very nearly saw last year, anything can happen.

  14. You make a very fair point, Oliver, about expectations- and what most fans were honestly thinking back at the beginning of the season. We can all recognize the challenges facing the team, but, yes, it's OK to be optimistic!

  15. What interests me about your question Michael is it asks who on this team has the respect given a leader? We are of course, mostly blind to what the players personalities are like, beyond what we see on the ice and in brief interviews. And I think it is someone’s personality, as much or more than what we see on the ice that defines whether someone is a leader.

    So, with what we can see, here are some thoughts about who could be part of the Leaf’s leadership group.

    Management’s vote for leadership is shown by who wears the C and A’s. Dion was appointed captain under a previous coach, but I’d wager most believe he should have at least an A. Current assistant captains are Gunnarsson, Lupul and McClement, but only the latter two were mentioned in other posts. Normally, I think it would be expected that this group together would lead a player’s only meeting.

    What about Kessel? He’s the highest paid player. No one has mentioned his name so far.
    How about a triumvirate made up of the top line of Kessel, Bozak and van Riemsdyk? Could the three of them together can pull off a team meeting?
    Clarkson and Bolland are both guys who have a lot of experience and success elsewhere. Does the fact they’ve only been here for half a season mean it isn’t their place to step forward? Plus, one’s been hurt and the other yet to find his groove.
    Bernier and Reimer? The goalies bear the brunt of all the shots their teammates are giving up. Wouldn’t that be an interesting team meeting?
    Longest time in the organization? Kulemin.
    Elder Statesman? Orr, McClement and Gleason are the only ones in their 30s.

    Without knowing these people, we’ve no way to know if someone has the temperament to stand up and get their teammates to dig deeper. Maybe another way to look at the question is not whether there are leaders on the team, but whether there are some unwilling to buy in to what is asked of them.

    Enjoy the blog! Keep up the great work.

    1. It's absolutely true that we have only tiny glimpses into who these players are, and it's impossible for any of us on the outside to really grasp who may or may not be a leader. We are reduced to guesswork. (It's noteworthy that Kulemin is now, as you indicated, the longest serving Leaf in terms of games played...amazing.)

      Are players willing to buy in to their roles? I don't know if that is an issue or not. On off nights, when the team flounders a bit, it certainly can seem like an issue. But this is a young team and you would think that they would be constantly motivated to prove themselves. Thanks Steve.