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Same old Leafs against the middlish Hurricanes…

I’ll start with the obvious:  I have no answers for whatever ails the current Leafs.  Oh, I can speculate about all the things we’ve discussed here for weeks off and on:  the disconnect between the players and the coach seems to be growing.  The coach continues to put, it seems, square pegs into round holes.  There is little discernible leadership.  (I’m referring to meaningful leadership that actually shows itself when a team needs it.)  There is no playoff-proven experience, or at least not nearly enough. No stud centers.  Not enough help for Phaneuf on defense.  Playing a system the players don’t believe in.

But the truth is I have no idea how much any of that is really the problem.  I have a sense those are real issues, but I just don’t know.

We do know this:  Reimer was not the answer on Thursday night. That said, I was hardly expecting him to come off a prolonged absence (punishment?) and play lights out.  It could have happened, I suppose, but is it realistic to expect a guy who has clearly been marginalized to play with a great deal of confidence?

And let’s be honest:  does anyone really think his teammates were any better?  Reimer critics will say he should have bailed them out.  I say, a team that is really a team would have seen exactly the box he has been placed in by the brass (and the coach), and played their guts out for him under the circumstances.

They didn’t, and were full measure for a 6-1 loss against a team that scares, well, no one. (Quick aside; does anyone have a stat regarding how many back-up goalies the Leafs have played over the past three seasons?  It sure seems like a lot…)

And maybe that’s precisely the point.  The Leafs, while certainly capable of playing well at times and loaded with promising talent, scare no one right now.  There is no part of their game (oh, sure, speed, but if it’s not used properly, it’s not especially helpful) that scares anyone right now.  And unless the goalkeeping finds the form that we all witnessed through the first half of the season, the mood around the team could slide even further.

I don’t doubt the Leafs can rebound and play better against the Caps Friday night. They’ve had some good games in Washington in recent years.  I’m sure Bernier will be looking to rebound after two tough losses.  While we aren’t exactly at the point in the season where they can’t afford a loss, you don’t want to go much longer without a) a win and b) much better overall efforts, with each player contributing.

It was only a few days ago that the Leafs had won three in a row (albeit only one in regulation) and fought the elements to beat a good Detroit team in the Winter Classic.  We all can recognize they are capable of solid play.  We’ve seen it. But we also need to see a team that plays a lot better together, and also plays (at least in my view) with a lot more heart.

You know how people often say, “well, such and such a team played a really good road game…”?  Well, we can’t say that about the Leafs on Thursday night.  It doesn't feel as though they should have been very tired after that one, though I guess chasing the play all night could be fatiguing.

The players can’t help but notice things, too.  As we mentioned here the other day, why is Peter Holland talked about as a possible second-line center one day, and then sent down to the Marlies almost the next day?  What message does that send? Maybe the players are confused, too, though I’m not of a disposition to let them off the hook.



  1. Well, they sure scared me! But they scared themselves even more. This was an entire team in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. I don't think in the state they were in they were capable of thinking straight let alone executing. What in the world could put a team into such a panicked state as we just witnessed?
    In one game they've gone from in trouble to in crisis. C.N.

    1. It's so difficult to know what's really going on. The Leafs are no less skilled that most teams in the East. Yet they seem so out of synch many nights. Are we making too much out of this, or are there serious issues here? Thanks C.N.

    2. Michael, I simply think you are conflating good puck skills with skill. The Leafs have some guys with dynamite hands and puck skills, but 2013 hockey is way more than that--its puck possession, puck retrieval and other talents that don't involve scoring on a shootout. Those are hockey skills and the Leaf forwards are absolutely horrid in those departments. Plus, I think it is abundantly clear after nearly 50 games of getting bombarded by scoring chance after scoring chance that this Leaf defence is not particularly skilled at playing defence. Hence, I'd put the Leafs in the middle of the pack in terms of talent.
      As much as I disdain Randy Carlyle, the root cause of our struggles is roster construction.
      A good coach could probably get this team into the 7th or 8th spot (of the weak east--we'd be roadkill in the west), but certainly no better.

    3. Hi Craig- I also sense I'm trying to be hopeful in my analysis. You're right, speed, puck handling ability and vision are part of the skill equation, but not the entire factor.

  2. "The players can’t help but notice things, too. As we mentioned here the other day, why is Peter Holland talked about as a possible second-line center one day, and then sent down to the Marlies almost the next day?"

    There's part of the key...the Marlies. Holland should have been up with Ashton instead of playing Holland with McLaren and Orr in the previous game and then playing Ashton out of position in this game. Neither McLaren or Orr are needed against a team like Carolina. The Marlies don't play until Saturday. This was a chance to play little Spencer Abbott, who plays at a point a game in the AHL. Gerbe is even smaller, but he got a point. Why not a 4th line of D'Amigo or Ashton with Holland and Abbott?

    The players may be tuning him out and Carlyle may be losing the room, but there still the threat of losing ice time to a guy from the minors.

    1. I don't know what to say about the Holland decision, DP. If it's the second round/third round pick thing, I guess they have to consider that if Holand stays with the Leafs.

      But when you are fighting for a playoff position, it seems to me you play your best team. It's not like it's April and they are out of the playoff picture .

      As you say, given Carolina's lineup, the Leafs had no need for fighters in the lineup. It was an ideal opportunity for the kind of fourth line that you referred to. Thanks DP.

  3. I've been saying it for a while now... the players have tuned Carlyle out. And given his bizarre line choices and square peg round hole "systems", it's no wonder. Demoting Holland, benching Gardiner (!), destroying Reimer's confidence, keeping a bunch of pylons on the bench who play about 3 minutes a game, etc etc. This isn't a mini-slump. They've lost what - 20 of the last 30? 22 of the last 24 without a regulation win. The same excuses from Carlyle game after game, blaming the players for lack of motivation and "receiving the game". We're currently proof positive that being good on paper means squat when it comes to being a team on the ice.
    If previous history is anything to go by, and by that I mean the past 50 years or so, this is the scenario that ushers in a new coach. Except... our GM keeps getting rid of skill players and bringing in more "tough" guys. As I said the other day, name one good move Nonis made over the summer. Bolland? Sample size too small.
    The O'Malley glass is nowhere near half-empty these days - it's pretty well down to the dregs.

    1. Ken Holland is an easy name to drop as a GM,I realize, just as Mike Babcock is an easy name to drop as an example of a coach who seems to "get" it. The Wings are not what they once were, but they have had a run of 20 years of very good, consistent, sometimes championship play.

      The Leafs can say they are working toward that, but it's hard to see the signs in their decision-making sometimes, whether at the managerial or coaching level.

      There are some nice young players here, yes. But as I've often said in this space, lots of teams have nice young players. Thanks Gerund. Hang in- and turn that glass upside down!

  4. If Holland's demotion really was because of the conditional pick it would show that Nonis and/or Carlyle are slightly out of touch with reality. But there's no other evidence to support that conclusion, is there? Oh, wait, nevermind.

    The team was terrible. The minutes surrounding the Lupul goal did nothing other than add to the frustration, because once again it looks like rather than simply being an unskilled team the Leafs have an on/off switch (perhaps with the labels reversed).

    I spent most of the game with the same confused/frustrated expression on my face as the coach. The only difference is that one of us was sitting on the couch drinking a Guinness and the other was getting paid millions of dollars.

    Reimer didn't seem to play with any confidence tonight, which as you noted is not particularly shocking. I would feel better assuming there was some sort of malicious intent on the part Carlyle/Nonis to destroy Reimer's psyche and drive him out of town because the alternative is that they did it accidentally through pure incompetence.

    Reimer could be faulted for the 5th goal, but at that point it was over anyway. If he was really on his game he might have stopped one or two of the first four. I wonder if this will become an emerging pattern; an off night for Bernier is a total train wreck, while an off night for Reimer means he won't steal one for you that he might have otherwise.

    No comment on the 6th goal. I was flipping through the guide and saw something on the National Geographic channel about what would happen if rabies mutated to become a highly contagious airborne virus. I switched over during the game because I thought it had a better chance at a happy ending.

  5. Yes, Reimer was standing still on the Stall short-handed goal, but as you note, he was not at his best. On a good Reimer night, he makes some of those saves. Not tonight.

    Your point about endings, Oliver, made me think about the old expression, "it's not how you start, it's how you finish".

    While there can be some truth in that statement at times in sports, the reality is it's how you start and how you finish- and everything in between.

    Question that requires an answer from Leaf faithful: if we are honest, how many games have the Leafs been at their best for a full 60 minutes in a game this season? The answer to that question tells us why we are fighting for a playoff position in a middlish Conference, instead of fighting for one of the top spots. Thanks Oliver.

    1. Answer to your question, Michael - 2. Chicago and Pittsburgh victories.

    2. And I guess the question is, Gerund: is that anywhere near enough after 45 games?

  6. I've often thought that the Leafs don't seem to know how to regain the momentum of a game once it is lost. I expect it has to do with youth and inexperience. Instead of slowing the game down and resetting the pace, as veterans do, they speed up and start chasing. Once a team starts pressuring everything they know goes out the window in a wild scramble until the whistle is blown. Bolland seemed to be particularly good at changing the momentum of a game as well as being a calming influence. What would we give for a few more like him? C.N.

  7. Don't worry about it guys. Seriously, this is just a slump, a few bad bounces, regression to the mean, whatever..... We'll probably lose the next one as well and it'll look like the 18-wheeler falling off the cliff, but ultimately the Leafs will emerge victorious, winning battles, proving themselves, earning some kind off playoff spot and then who knows....

    I like Lewikie's attitude -it's a winning attitude., He doesn't know s*** about hockey but he knows how to win with money like McDonald`s or Walmart or whatever.... It`s gonna be a bitter-sweet victory but the Leafs are gonna win. We do have a winning formula - money. Canada as an example of capitalist success - yeah right - maybe in a dream-world like hockey or soccer.... meanwhile the homeless are freezing to death outside of old Maple Leaf Gardens and nobody gives a f***. The Leafs are gonna win the Cup. What are we gonna do with it is the question. Are we gonna remember the motherfu***rs that died on the steps of the shrine or are we gonna let Leiwike and his crew celebrate like all is good? Are we gonna have a riot? We better....

    1. A playoff spot is very much up for grabs. As I've said, a few wins and the mood around the team can change very quickly. Thanks leafdreamer.

  8. I'm not saying I told you so...but I told you so. This goes back all the way to February!

    Carlyle doesn't adapt, and will never adapt. I'm not giving him the full guillotine though - Nonis should share it for letting Carlyle

    1) dictate who should be signed
    2) dictate who should go and
    3) misuse and refuse to play the skilled players on roster Nonis has assembled.

    I have had my doubts about Carlyle from the very start. It's unfortunate that my doubts are repeatedly being confirmed.

    1. Thanks RJ. Back in September, there seemed to be almost universal agreement (if not support for the reality) that this was Carlyle's team, the roster he wanted.

      If that is the case, then the coach has to take responsibility for the outcome we see, though I certainly agree that General manager is part of the equation. Thanks RJ.

  9. In retrospect this team has been a train wreck from the beginning of the season. I rationalized early on that the lopsided shot totals and the less than stellar play (with the exception of the goaltenders) was mainly due to injuries and suspensions. No more! The rose coloured glasses have been crushed under foot. Changes must be implemented now if the season is to be saved.

    During the 2111-12 season the LA Kings replaced Terry Murray as the team was 13-12-4 and out of a playoff spot. They had been playing uninspired hockey and were looking at a mediocre season. Darryl Sutter came in, made some necessary changes and the team went 25-13-11 the rest of the way to finish with 95 points. This team, which was on the ropes, rebounded to win a Stanley Cup. The coaching change played a large part in that cup victory.

    We have heard a great deal about the Carlyle system and how he and Nonis are bringing in and signing Carlyle type players. To me this is utter rubbish. You should not have to tear down a team to suit a coach. A good coach should be flexible. A good coach will develop a system to fit his players. A good general manager will make damn sure that his coach best utilizes the players he is given. Playing 4th liners 3-5 minutes a night borders on the incredulous. How can a coach justify nailing 1/4 of his forwards to the bench night after night? How can the GM allow it? There are also so many other issues concerning Carlyle/Nonis (that have been covered in the article and comments) that I can only conclude that wholesale changes are a necessity.

    1. It does begin to feel as though the Leafs are pulling against themselves, which never yields good results.

      I know it's a cliche, but unless everyone (or virtually everyone) is on the same page (personnel, "systems", how t teach and communicate with the players, etc.) things won't likely improve. I have not been an advocate of major change, but even when this team has been winning, it has rarely felt like we were playing what should be the team's best hockey. While duplicating the Kings' turnaround would be difficult, it does give pause. Thanks Pete.

  10. Michael,

    In answer to your question about backup goaltenders over the past 3 years:

    2010-11: Jonas Gustavsson (23 games), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (33)
    2011-12: Jonas Gustavsson (42), Ben Scrivens (12), Jussi Rynnas (2)
    2012-13: Ben Scrivens (20), Jussi Rynnas (1)

    1. Thanks Pete- and here's a question as well: how many back-up goalies have we played against in that span? It seems we often do not face the top guy.

  11. Hi Michael:
    Last night's post was very fast. I suspect you had it mostly composed before the game was finished.

    Bulletin: Minus two top players (E. Staal and C. Ward), the Canes overwhelm the Floundering Flagship Franchise from Canada. This team has now Frittered away the Fast start that tempered the early doubts of many VLM Followers. .

    Please find my supposedly unemotional and objective perspective???

    The Good News - I did not have to watch the game on my computer.
    The Bad News - I got to watch this debacle on my flat screen in high definition.

    I viewed the game on "Cane's TV" i.e. Fox Sports South. The Cane's talking heads were in total glee as they celebrated the dismantling of the Leafs and their now 5 game winning streak (they are not that good).
    They and the organization showed real class in recognizing Gleason for his contributions to the team and the community. However, the real meaningful statement was "I hope he finds his game with this original six franchise". That does not inspire much hope. They seem to be quite happy with the addition of Liles and his goal seems to add nice punctuation. As I am writing this, I wonder how the reception is/was for Grabbo, McArthur when they return to ACC?

    I believe that you and your followers have exhausted your ideas and thoughts on what is wrong, and besides they have fallen on deaf ears. However, in my role as external problem solver? I have come up with a new system. It is called the Location System, and I would appreciate any help in providing location information in the posh ACC to replace MLG's references.

    The theory of the Location System is much like that used in football where the Head Coach goes to the press box to get a different perspective. The Locate System goes beyond that as it includes all management and is for dire situations.

    Randy needs a break from behind the bench. First, I thought putting him in Harold Ballard and King Clancy's Box would be a good idea. But, then I was never sure much beyond tiddlywinks went on there. Then I thought put him in the gondola with Foster Hewitt. While Foster must be rolling in his grave over Leaf performances, that should not be wished on him. Then, how about the press box. Well, not so good as someone might forget and ask him a hard ball question,. Well, then how about the stands. This conjures up memories of the "Aints" fans and their paper bags. Finally, the best spot would appear to be the premium seats in ACC which are empty at the start of games and at the beginning of periods. This seems to be when much of damage occurs, and you don't have to watch while you are enjoying a cool one down below. Thus, Randy could avoid much carnage.

    As you can see, it is a difficult decision. Now on to Nonis. For him, I suggest the Lamorello approach. What better way to see what you have inflicted on your coach than to go behind the bench for yourself.

    Well, I cannot leave Leweike out. For him, I suggest the Ted Turner approach. Ted did some wonderful things for the Altanta Braves, but becoming his own Manager was not one of them. Fortunately, he saw the light quickly and brought in people who knew what they were doing.

    Hope this brings a little levity. Maybe like in 1812, the White House will be painted blue after the visit to Washington.

    Keep a stiff upper lip, everyone.

    1. I loved that post, Ralph (RLMcC)- and you know I'm old enough to appreciate all the references. Provided a much needed smile for the day!

  12. I think the problem with the Leafs is that the expectations are greater than the reality of what this team is, a young team with some talent that is 3 to 5 years from being a contender. The goal for Nonis should be to be to build this team into a contender, which is a slow painful(at times) process. In my opinion Carlyle is the wrong coach for this team at this time. The future for the Leafs is their young players who need to be nurtured, and guided, not thrown under the bus by a coach who I think was a good coach in his time, but struggles to adapt to coaching a young team that is growing( we hope) into a future contender. Carlyle needs a team that is a contender, the Leafs need a coach who can teach, and mold them into a team that will be a contender in the future. The primary focus for this team should be to give their young players the chance to play at this level. It is the only way to find out if they are NHL players, if they manage to make the playoffs(doubtful) that would be a bonus.

    The questions I ask is why do you play 2 cement heads who can't skate and chew gum at the same time when you have young players you should be developing, why is the coach trying to make an extremely talented Dman into something he will never be. With the right coaching Gardiner will some day be a great player in the NHL, but he needs the chance to grow, I am not suggesting that they be babied, we all need a good kick in the rear end once in a while. When you replace Gardiner with Fraser in the lineup and then complain after the game that the defense is not moving the puck out of your end what message are you sending to your team.

    I hate to say it but I think Carlyle has lost the room, and I doubt very much they will make the playoffs this year.

    1. You have well articulated what we are now seeing in Leafworld, mrj- a coach that can evidently coach a team that has the pieces to be a contender, but maybe not lead an emerging squad. (Things can change, of course, but Carlyle does seem to be struggling to get "the best" out of this group, at least right now...)

      I too am confused by some of the game-night roster decisions, as many observers have been for some time (really, going back to last season). As was noted above by DP, it was a great opportunity for, say, Holland, Ashton and D'Amigo to play as a fourth line, but the coach went another way. Thanks mrj.

  13. Michael I am afraid that the 18 wheeler is going over the cliff ! I concur with most of the sentiments expressed here, all well put as usual. I want to go back to the benching of Liles and subsequent trade of him. Carlyle never gave him a fair shake at all and when he put him in the line up it always appeared as if he did so in spite of himself. The player played with no confidence and so was set up to fail. After watching him perform last night can anyone tell me why he couldn't have played on this Leaf team? Right or wrong they were determined that Rielly would make the team, another decision that will prove to be shortsighted. Why why why? If he was dominating in games I could see it. Change the management, ownership, coach whatever we still make the same old mistakes. This is another example of trying to force something to work when obviously he wasn't ready. Unless something major happens this will be another lost year. They've lost Reimer as well now as he looks like Liles did when he got to play, frustrating and disappointing

    1. Well said, purch. We all know that if you take away an athlete's confidence his play naturally suffers. You can't play a demanding sport with a piano on your back. Schenn faced it a few years ago. Grabovski faced it last season. Liles has. Reimer is now. It is a terrible approach to player development. How management and the coaching staff don't see the damage they do baffles me. Thanks purch.

  14. Hey Michael,

    it's been a really long time for me since I came on here or commented. However, i'd first like to thanks you for mentioning me with such kind words in your Christmas/new years post. This is a unique site and you are a unique moderator/commenter, 3 cheers for u.

    Belated Merry Chirstmas and A happy new year.

    Now to the leafs.

    For me things have gotten so bad that I have felt it a waste of my time to even tune in - I haven't since the 3rd goal in the rangers game.

    My perspective on this team has gone from interesting, to intriguing, to entertaining, to confusing, to saddening, to hopeful, to disheartening and now finally to depressing - and I question myself as to why I would want to spend 3 hours of my life depressing myself.

    The players are not saints - they are not putting in an effort - it seems they have found an easy way to get rid of coaches that they start to get annoyed with.

    After watching the 24/7 series - I can say by comparison the leafs coaching staff are not good coaches - did u see how babcock talked to his players - even veterns - like they were new it was refreshing to see him get away from clichés and actually talk the game and strategy that made sense with his players.

    Rather than talk to a young team (at least most of the talent is young and growing - the plugers may be older) like Carlyle does as if they are vets.

    I also noticed that a sort of randy's doghouse players club - guys like gardiner, kadri, reimer, d'amigo, and some others - I think liles, were all hanging out and going to dinners together. I wonder if this room is split into camps - maybe along the lines of coaches pets vs. doghouse residents or team reimer vs. team bernier.

    And if watching number 3 and 81 play Ping-Pong is supposed to be team building - I don't get it.

    And finally you can't discount what Nonis has done - he has created a new muskoka five - # 81,3,71,42,19.

    I have been fairly impressed with what Leiwiki has done with TFC and raps, if this is style - so be it - I would like him to clean house in the leafs from management to the player level - how he sees fit - and give me a competitive team in the next 2 years.

    Otherwise what is the point of him speaking such grand words and following them up with that on the ice and off it.

    Keep warm,

    Anon from Scarborough

    1. Glad you were able to make the time to visit and post here today, Scarborough Anon.

      My sense is that your comments reflect what a fair number of Leaf followers are feeling: while there is always hope, it has begun to feel like a season that yet again had promise but no follow up. The players are trying I guess, but real passion only shows itself in spurts. I know there is more to the game than passion and grit, but skill is a given. And every team has a "system". Ultimately, you win with those things but also with desire- and will. Thanks Scarborough Anon.

  15. oh, how these worthless pieces of whatever might get us going for whatever. We are currently going exactly where Screw Carlyle, and whatnot?

  16. I'm not too excited to comment on anything Leafs-related a of late. Basically, we're still suffering Burke.

    1. You may not be alone in losing a bit of your Leaf mojo, CGLN. A few wins would help...

  17. Well, at least we saw a game tonight that was better than I expected to see. Kessel showed some leadership, speaking to each of his line-mates before the face-off and playing very well, and Carlyle actually sent out his top lines in the third instead of expecting a miracle from McClement and a checking line. A step in the right direction? I read a post that said "Carlyle keeps trying to bake a cake with the wrong ingredients and hoping this time it will come out fine". He also doesn't use all the ingredients available to him. When something doesn't work after several tries most of us would change how we're doing things. Randy needs a new recipe but is he too set in his ways to look for one? I'd be just as happy with pie if it's a good pie.
    How many times will we see Ashton with a bloody nose. I do like that kid. C.N