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What one Leaf, for you, has really stood out despite the team’s uneven play in recent weeks? And who needs to step up?

Today I thought I would reach out to fellow Leaf followers with a simple observation:  for any NHL team, even in a season that sometimes feel more like a calamity than a cause for hope, there are usually players who still catch our eye in a positive way.

It may be their tenacity, their willingness to play hard and fight through traffic when their teammates have already called it a day.  It could be their vision and how they see the play developing that catches our eye.  Maybe it’s something as basic as their skating ability—the speed factor that wows us and leads us to project that if such and such a player can ever pull their entire game together, they could well be a factor at the NHL level.

Maybe you’re just flat out impressed with their overall play.  It might be that this is what you expected from them all along—or it could be you’ve been surprised by their good play. Regardless, they have made an impression.

In making your assessment, it can be a gut feel about the impact they are having or just what you’ve seen with your own eyes in following the up and down fortunes of the blue and white this season. Bottom line: 45 plus games in, is there a player that you can say—despite the frustrations of the Leafs not winning a ton in regulation, and not being as high in the Eastern Conference standings as people would like—has made you do a double take?

Who, in your eyes, has been a blood and guts Maple Leaf most nights this season, and is the Leaf that you can say has stepped up amidst the sometimes disappointing overall team play? (You ca nominate a player or two for honourable mention as well...)

In the same breath, who are the one or two guys that need to show more? And what do you, as a fan, want to see from those individuals in the weeks ahead?

As I often say here at VLM, we all see the very same picture differently sometimes, so while I have my own thoughts (in response to both questions- who has caught my eye and who needs to step up) I’d like to hear from you before I disclose my “names”.


One of the favourite "reader reviews" I have received regarding my eBook, "The Maple Leafs of My Youth: what being a Leaf fan means to me", really caught my eye.  The individual who left the comment basically wrote that they sat down in their rocking chair, reading the stories by their fireplace. (To find the comment, by the way, you have to go to the iTunes preview page and click on "View in iBooks".) I guess I was especially touched by that comment, because that's very much the 'feeling' I hope the book will evoke.

I have enjoyed the opportunity, through the book, to share stories of players, moments and special events from my years as a Leaf fan.

Not everyone will read it sitting by their fireplace, of course.  I don't imagine many young Leaf fans spend a lot of time in their rocking chair. But I think those who follow VLM know why the comment meant something to me and what I try to convey when I write about my memories of "the old days". Being a Leaf person is very much about being part of a larger community- win or lose.

Unfortunately the book won't ever be available in traditional "book" form.  But it is now available on so many electronic platforms, those who have the available technology should find downloading the book very straightforward.

For those who might be interested but haven't found the time to check it out, the book is available as an “iBook” on Apple iTunes on an iPad.  If you have an Apple computer, you can also simply download the Mavericks Operating system (I believe it’s free) and read the book right on your computer.

“The Maple Leafs of My Youth” is now available on Amazon Kindle. (You can download a Kindle “app” for free here— )

Here are the direct links to make things even easier:

Click for:

As I've said here before, I really believe if people give it a try, they may just like it.

Thanks to everyone who has supported my writing—and especially “The Maple Leafs of My Youth”. It’s always a nice feeling when I receive a notification that someone has downloaded the book!


  1. Oh Boy! I don't even have to think about this one. Tyler Bozak. Twice injured, twice back and never missed a beat. In fact he's come back better than ever. He's always been so energetic and upbeat.
    Honourable mention to the work-horses, Phaneuf and McClement and also some great kids on the Marlies. Last year I think I would have said Lupul. C.N.

    1. Interesting, C.N.- thanks for kicking off the discussion.

  2. Tyler Bozak: 8 points in last seven games (it was 9 if you count last night's goal) along with some game winners in the shootout.

    He could easily become Pierre Bergeron lite. Good face guy and two-way player, good for 55-65 poinst a year.

    1. There's and awful mistake from being too sleepy...Patrice Bergeron

    2. No problem at all, DP- I knew who you were referring to!

  3. Thjs is a difficult one, Michael. Consistency is not a word that I would use to describe most Leafs this season.

    I was very impressed with David Boland at the beginning and eagerly await his return. He brought grit and scoring to the table early.

    I also appreciate the efforts of Nikolai Kulemin. Injured early, he has come back to provide solid play on the checking line. I would like to see him shoot and score more but he has been a steady responsible defensive forward.

    I was also impressed with the play of Trevor Smith and Peter Holland. Both played hard and I would like to see them return, Smith from injury and Holland from the minors.

    I have also been impressed with two centres who have been asked to assume inappropriate roles. Tyler Bozak has fought back from injuries to contribute scoring, defense and faceoff acumen. Jay McClement has provided grit and tenacity as an 18 minute third line centre. He gives maximum effort every night and is a good checker and faceoff man. He does not score enough to be a 3rd liner but he gives his all every shift regardless.

    A number of players have been disappointments, namely Clarkson, Kadri, Ranger and Fraser but for me Joffery Lupul has been the biggest disappointment. Lupul is one of my favorite players but he has seemed to me to be out of sync all season. I believe he has been injured to some extent most of the season. Hopefully he regains form as the Leafs are going to need his scoring down the stretch.

    The MLHS website has a post with Leo Komorov's highlight video from last season. The Leafs really miss his grit and Nonis should make every effort to sign him over the summer.

    1. You've answered both parts of today's question, Pete Cam. Everyone has mentioned Bozak so far, and you've added Kulemin to the list along with McClement who C.N. mentioned as well.

      Komarov's absence has become a bit of a theme in recent weeks, and with good reason. Thanks Pete.

    2. You have a nice potential replacement for Komorov on the Marlies in Sam Carrick. 21 years old, 6" 207 lbs, 14 points +11 56 Pims

      He has some nice skill to go with the nastiness. I was hoping that might call him up for Boston. Take a look at what we have:

  4. I would have liked to add Holland, Smith, Bolland and Kulemin as well but my list was too long. I guess that shows there are definitely some positives to be found this year in spite of the team's struggles. Maybe we just needed to look closer. Without the injuries this year we may not have seen Smith, D'imigo, Ashton, Lievo, and would not have traded for Holland. Brilliant, Michael! C.N.

    1. Definitely some positives, C.N.- and that includes the young players you mentioned.

  5. If anyone knows he's a specialist 4th liner, it's Jay McClement, yet, despite his offensive 'deficiencies' he has answered the call with effort and consistency (if not the prowess that would have given him a much higher salary before now if effort and responsibility were rewarded as highly as goals). There may be some who would say he needs to give more in the role he has now, but that would be unfair in my estimation. He has played the whole season and exceeded my expectations with quiet tenacity.

    My runner's up are two players that have less time with the team for reasons beyond their control: The first is Bozak, who has made his presence felt in many positive ways this year. I like his effort and responsibility on a defensively, aggressively-challenged first line.
    My second is the recently demoted, under-played Jerry D'amigo... people say he's small, but only like a tiger tank! He's over 200 pounds, if under 6 feet. He's fast, aggressive, responsible and a fine penalty killer. He seems to have gained the trust of the coaching staff more than other 4th liners as his time on the big club has continued (7-9 minutes for a Randy Carlyle 4th liner is pretty impressive, I'd say). Perhaps the call-ups (send-downs) are being cycled thru the Marlies to keep their game fitness level up, while being 'eased into the lineup'. Perhaps this portends a significant trade amongst current Leafs... it may be that Carlyle trusts D'Amigo, Holland and Ashton more than it would appear and they are being 'hidden in plain sight' so that other players will appear more valuable as trade fodder.

    Just musin' there...

    I would have to agree with Pete Cam respecting Joffrey Lupul as someone who seems a bit 'lost' out there in Randy's wilderness... he seems to find himself on the real 3rd line (respecting playing time) not unlike his days in Anaheim, and by playing with Raymond, finds himself on the right side, where he seems less effective. However, he's just my runner up because I think Randy should put him on line 1 and move JVR around sometimes.

    My actual sense of disappointment (not with the exciting plays, rather the seeming disinterest and apparent fitness issues) is becoming noticeable with me respecting Kessel. He appears less engaged than last year and uninterested more often than I expected. My concern is with his fitness.

    I had a phenomenally quick guy on my ball team who relied upon his natural speed and youth who did nothing to maintain that outside of showing up for our games... it worked for a few years but he burned bright and fast, whereas others excelled for longer because of work ethic outside the 'offensive opportunities' that motivate us all. It is this concern that has caught my eye, when I saw Phil's 'mini spare tire' during 24/7 and remember the jokes about his diet/cookie affections.

    To be fair, I seriously wonder (not intentionally being offensive or insensitive) if his testosterone levels are diminished sufficient to account for a different standard for him on the team, or if there is actually more that he could/should be doing to maintain his fitness.

    I hope that he is just caught in the team funk that has overcome many since the beginning of the season and that we will see improvements as we move forward. Hope there's something in the tank when 2/3 of our top line come back from Sochi!

    1. It just seems so difficult to know with Kessel. In the past, I have written here that Kessel seems pretty much to me the same every night. He'll make his dashes, and when the puck is going in for he and his linemates, fans will say he played well. To me, he's a bit like a basketball player who plays pretty much the same many nights, but when the guy's shots go in, people say he had a great night. But all the other elements of his game were exactly the same- or very close.

      So whether we notice certain things about Kessel when his production is down, in terms of goals, I don't know. He can be a puzzle to try and figure out. We all want to believe he cares, as I discussed here earlier this season. And I believe he does. He's just a different individual.

      As for Lupul, I have often thought of him in the past as the guy who really hates to lose. I think that's still the case but maybe where he fits in the current lineup makes it a bit more difficult to play that lead role, I don't know. Thanks, InTimeFor62.

  6. I'll vote for Bozie too. He's been much maligned on sites like Maple Leafs Hot Stove and The Leafs Nation (sites I read fairly regularly, but have no time for their comments sections). Everyone knows he is not a prototypical "first line centre," in that he's not a big guy who controls the play shift in, shift out. However, he has had great chemistry with Kessel (not just in riding Kessel's coattails), and he has been playing some of his best hockey since returning from the last injury. I hope he keeps it up and can silence some more of the bandwagon critics (many in the Barilkosphere are starting to concede that he's deserved a lot of credit the last few weeks).

    As for disappointments, there are, unfortunately,many. Due in part to the hype surrounding his free-agent signing, the exorbitant salary he was awarded, and his own big talk, Clarkson has been a real letdown for us. I read today that he and McClement are two of only four NHL forwards who have played at least 20 games and average over 16 min. of ice to have fewer than 10 points. That's a lot of ice-time in which the Leafs are not scoring, where more offensively talented players might be of greater help in boosting the waning team offence. Perhaps Clarkson could use some more power-play minutes--I think that's where he had a lot of scoring success for NJ. Remember how lethal the Leafs PP was with Sundin feeding Tucker at the goalmouth for easy one-timers? Clarkson will likely be here for some time (no-trade clause and poor play so far would make him tough to move) and at a significant percent of the payroll, so he needs to get going on offence and pick up his compete-level in terms of toughness too. Otherwise, a few games in the press box might be his reward, rather than PP minutes. I agree that Komorov did a better job than Clarkson has as Tucker-type player, although neither he nor Clarkson has managed the kind of offensive results Tucker did. (I always loved watching Tucker play with his crazy eyes looking like Rocket Richard's).

    P.S. Don't rule out a physical version of your book..! There are many ways to self-publish (people can simply order one-off printings per copy through a site), or who knows? Maybe a publisher will take interest if we buy enough digital versions...

    1. Hi Matt- I think it's only fair to credit Bozak for the good he brings. He clearly has the coach's confidence because of all the things you cite. He fits with Kessel and as you say, it's not just he who benefits from that pairing. He can win draws, play the PK and contributes with his hustle which is apparent most nights. No, he may never be the prototypical top-line centre but he does his job pretty darn well.

      I still think Clarkson can find his stride here. You're right, the expectations were high (I always point to Martin Lapointe leaving Detroit for Boston as a comparable) and as a result, we want to see a lot more from him. It can't just be about goals or 'push back'. Fans (and the organization) are looking for both- some production and general testiness.

      Regarding the book, yes, if sales are such that a publisher would take note, that would be rewarding. In the meantime, I mention it here because it is a challenge to get the word out through other means. I hope people will spread the word to friends and colleagues who may appreciate that type of book. Thanks Matt.

    2. My sister has self-published two books and they are both beautifully done. The more printings ordered, the cheaper the price. The printed version of your book would be so nice as a gift for those who, for whatever reason, can't down-load--like my brother. Colleen

    3. Thanks Colleen. Unfortunately, self-publishing is costly- for the author and for those buying the books. I've already been down that road with other projects.

      My intent was to provide something engaging and interesting at a really low cost- thus the eBooks, which fit the bill perfectly.

  7. Michael
    Bozak and D'Amigo were my immediate thoughts on who has impressed and I see that is a common thread in the comments so far. Interesting to note no defencemen have been mentioned so far as making a positive impression with their standard of play. No surprise there but on thinking about it, I would say Rielly has shown potential and Phaneuf has been better than I thought he would be. The rest are disappointments and particularly Gardiner who maybe I just expected too much from at this early stage of his career.

    1. Hi Ed- my guess is most people have not mentioned the captain maybe because he is a "given"- everyone can see that, whether people think he is a number-one guy or not, he plays the hard minutes every night. It would be difficult to complain about his play most nights.

      It's interesting that Bozak may have the most "votes" here today!

      You may be right about Gardiner. We were all so in awe of his talent when he first arrived, we unfairly assumed he would be even further ahead by now. As always, patience will likely be the key with a talented young defenseman- for fans and the organization. Thanks Ed.

  8. Kessel always looks completely wiped after a few rushes. He skates so low like a speed-skater but has a short stride. He has great speed, of course, but I think he could use some work with Barb. Ashton had the same problem before he worked with her., good speed but exhausted after a rush. I wonder why all the players don't work with Barb.
    Too many sites compare Bozak to big top centers and concentrate on what he isn't. He's a lot more than " pretty good at face-offs" but that's all they ever give him. And these are the "experts"? C.N.

  9. Michael,

    The first of your two questions has been one of the more difficult ones I have thought about recently in regard to the Maple Leafs. While I am impressed with the goalies, Kessels' awesome speed and shot, Phaneufs' defensive acumen. Is this not precisely what we should be expecting from these players specifically? I give them credit when it is due, but c'mon, personally I expect these players to do this at the bare minimum. I don't want to get into too many specifics about Kessel, I am hard on him, and I think it's deserved. The team gave up a lot to get him, and gave him a Bentley full of money to keep him here. I noticed the roll around the middle in 24/7. Its a little shameful for a pro athlete to be that fat. He's not an NFL lineman. It does explain the look of death as he makes it to the bench.

    When we get to guys like Bozak and discussing whether or not they are producing enough. He is, can he sustain it against the better centres in the NHL? Those kinds of questions about him remain, and will be a big determining factor as to whether or not the Leafs make the playoffs. Tonight against Boston and Bergeron, will tell us something.

    The guys that have impressed me this year have been D'Amigo, Holland, Smith, Leivo, and Ashton. Far and away the best of this bunch have been Holland and D'Amigo. When they have been given the opportunity, and the ice time, they have produced. No ice time, no production, pretty surprising to no one. The part that has me really impressed is that they have been yo-yo'd in and out of the lineup, AHL, NHL, big minutes, no minutes, skilled linemates, meatheads. They continue to play hard, determined hockey, and have not once voiced their displeasure at how they have been utilized. That is the best thing I can say about them as team mates, and as men. If each of them continues to do what they have done so far, they will be full time NHL'ers before they know it. It can't go unnoticed forever that Peter Holland and Trevor Smith have more points in the NHL this season than David Clarkson. Despite playing in fewer games, with less ATOI in the games they managed to get into. These guys are the best news this season, I am happy that they are Leafs. My only message to Ashton, stop fighting but keep the fight in your game.

    1. I guess that was my difficulty in 'framing' the first question today, Jim. I was trying to get at...basically...who are the players that have really stood out, despite the difficult first half of the season. Now, that may mean, as you say, meeting expectations, or it can mean playing beyond expectations.

      Like you, I expect our "stars" to play like stars most of the time. That's why they're here.

      So this naturally leads us to who are the players who maybe are standing out in a good way; guys who we did not necessarily expect to contribute as they have. And, as you and others have noted today, that leads us to a number of younger players.

  10. I don't know if Phaneuf or someone actually talked to the coaching staff, or one of the coaches, but it appears that Randy has been listening to someone. That's all I hoped for. He mentioned abandoning a checking only third line and playing Jay less so he can be more effective on the PK. C.N.