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After another loss, is there something we haven’t already said over and over about the Maple Leafs?

As the seconds were ticking down on the time clock at (I was going to write the Spectrum, but the Flyers haven’t played their in years) whatever the name of the building the one-time "Broad Street Bullies" play in now, one thing jumped to mind: is there anything, anything at all, that we have not already talked about here at VLM (and I mean over and over and over again) when it comes to the state of the Maple Leafs this season?

Let me be clear:  I had no notion, none, that the Leafs would not make the playoffs this season, though I know that many of you did. I certainly didn’t two weeks ago.  (They still might; my point is that I never thought it would even be a matter for discussion.) I’ve explained my reasons many times before, but in short, the East is a weak Conference and the Leafs, this many years into whatever kind of re-build they have supposedly been in, seemingly had a significantly improved talent base from a few seasons ago. With a new goalkeeper that everyone within the Leaf organization loved more than “the guy we inherited”, how, I figured, could we miss? Great goaltending is often enough to put just OK squads into the playoffs.

So what's happened?

I still think the East is middlish, at best.  I still believe the Leafs have some really nice players. Everyone says the goaltending (except those who want to blame Reimer for his part of the current skid) has generally been exceptional this season.  The first line is amazing, or at least we have told ourselves that.  (And c’mon, it has been pretty good, not to mention exciting many nights.)

But the overall team flaws are still in evidence as the regular season winds down and the Leafs remain a team without answers.

Do you feel like we have seen - and discussed - this same movie before?

We have no fourth line most games.  Some nights we fans don’t even think in terms of someone other than the first line (or maybe a young defenseman) scoring. The penalty kill went missing somewhere along the way.  We play a system (you can try to tell me what it is, but it won’t matter—not if we can’t win battles for the puck…) that the players evidently don’t like, or pretend they don’t understand. Under-performing veterans play regularly while kids dying for a chance to play sit upstairs or fritter away their time with a minor-league team.

Again, I acknowledge that I never saw this coming.  While there is still time to win some games and make a playoff push and maybe get hot at the right time, I’m left asking: haven’t I raised all these points before?

Hey, this is a team with skill, speed, a team that can score in a hurry and look awfully good at times doing it. We said the very same thing a few years ago when Ron Wilson was coaching.

I remember back in the mid and late '70s, the Leafs were a pretty good team. They had skill in Salming, Turnbull, Sittler and McDonald, but some of those guys (like Salming, Sittler and McDonald) were also true hockey warriors. They also had some hard-working role players and legitimate toughness.  Yet they weren't quite good enough because the Flyers worked even harder than the Leafs - no one wanted the puck more than Bobby Clarke - and the Canadiens were simply way more talented.

To win a championship, you have to have the heart of a Bobby Clarke (right)- and a team full of guys who feel the same way.

Why do I raise memories of a team from more than thirty years ago? Because that Leaf team looked promising, too.  Like they were on the verge of something, too.  They wanted to win very badly and checked hard, played defensive hockey under Roger Neilson and fought a ton.  And it still wasn't quite good enough. A couple of years later, the team was re-built yet again and it took more than a decade (and Pat Burns and Doug Gilmour and some gritty teammates) to resurrect the franchise.

The current Leafs have shown us some encouraging traits this season, absolutely.  And at times, it looks like they are on the cusp of something.

But tell me if you put a positive check mark against any of the following:

  • Leadership
  • Evidence of a playoff tested roster
  • True team toughness
  • A team that wins way more puck battles than it loses
  • Strength up the middle
  • A strong corps of defensemen
  • A commitment to defensive play for 60 minutes a night all over the ice
  • Game night roster decisions
  • Effective use of personnel
  • Coaching adjustments between games and in-game
  • A team that stands up for one another
  • A roster full of players who put the team first

I guess what I’m saying is, I haven’t got a thing new to say. Except that, maybe we need a Bobby Clarke, a player who will insist that every player on this roster will be held accountable.


  1. Michael,

    We have talked about these things at length this season. In amongst the discussions about how much we like certain players, some we like a lot, some we like a lot more than that. It certainly seems as though all those games that the Leafs won earlier this year but were outplayed, are coming back to haunt the team now, when a break or two would go a long way.

    So I'm looking through your list of things to put checkmarks beside, and I can't put a lot of checks there. Lots of things on the list are there in fits and starts. Sometimes the team stands up for one another, Kadri and Bolland and Bozak, are good, not great, but good. They have some tough players, and some guys who play tough most of the time. Not enough of the time, I will suggest. Not being in the dressing room, I have no idea about leadership, but there are a lot of veterans on this team, it shouldn't be a problem. Individually we like a lot of the d'men. We almost never shut up about how much we love Gardiner, Rielly, and Phaneuf for the most part. Lots of us like Gunnarsson, I personally liked Franson before Randy had him try to hit everything all the time. We all like that Gleason is a heart and soul guy, blood and guts and all that.

    I cannot for the life of me understand the decision making process that goes into the rest of the things on the list. Peter Holland is a better hockey player right now than Jay McClement, and he may just get better if he played in the NHL. He can do things with the puck other than shoot it off the boards down the ice. He is currently playing for the Marlies. The same thing can be said for others that have been mentioned here as well. There are decent young hockey players in the Marlies lineup, why, someone please tell me, why is Colton Orr in the lineup every game? How in the name of all that is holy, does he help the Leafs win hockey games? Why does the coaching staff keep putting his name on the lineup card? Every game, all season, there has been someone in the lineup that just isn't going to do anything that will help the Leafs win the game. This is solely on the coaching staff, the players don't decide who plays, or how much. There are other examples of this lunacy, Clarkson on the second line for example, McClement getting 18 minutes, Kadri getting 14. I could go on, but I don't really want to.

    This team needs a new direction desperately, no more one dimensional, replacement level players, please. Develop the guys that have already shown they have some skill to be more than waiver claims in the future. No matter how much we liked Troy Bodie, Smithson, FML, and Orr. They are not helping the Leafs win in the present, and they sure as hell are never going to help us in the future. There are real hockey players in the minors who are languishing so that Orr and Bodie get their NHL paycheques, and that stinks.

    1. As you said Jim, individually, a lot of us like a lot of the players. Whether playing some of the "kids" we have talked about here all season instead of some veterans with limited impact would have helped, I can't say for sure. But it would have set us up better for the future, I have to believe.

  2. A lot of X's on that list for me.
    And if Dandy Don Meredith was still with us he would be singing..

    1. Before I check the link, Pep- is it Dandy Don singing, "Turn out the lights...the party's over...."?

      For those too young to recall his great work on "Monday Night Football", that was his signature "song" when he was announcing to the audience that the game was over.

    2. He certainly is Michael. We are showing our age:))

  3. Hi Michael. I'm far too depressed to discuss tonight's game so I'll take a different route.

    We signed three players in the off-season. Two have worked out very well as far as performance goes. Bolland seemed to fit in almost immediately and has played well coming back from such a devastating injury. He had a good game tonight.

    Is it finally time for us to discuss David Clarkson?

    Clarkson was the player every team wanted. The player the scouts loved. The gritty, hard-working guy, a battler in front of the net, top player in the NHL for shots on goal during the playoffs, the difference-maker. What the Leafs got is a fourth line grinder/ enforcer who takes a lot of untimely penalties.

    I can understand it taking some time for Clarkson to adjust to Toronto--it couldn't possibly be more different from a well structured New Jersey where he had a coach that truly believed in him. The high expectations, the panic in the media when he still hadn't got his first goal, the ever increasing amount of white noise that is Toronto seems to have overwhelmed him. Bolland and Bernier have shown the ability to calmly drown out the noise. I don't think that's the case with Clarkson.

    There's still hope that the real David Clarkson shows up next season but I'm not convinced Toronto will ever be a good fit for him. Nor do we want him playing just better than he has this year. The Leafs will need to get 100% what they paid for. C.N

    1. Regardless of whether Leaf supporters believe the team overpaid for Clarkson, there was little argument that he was, seemingly, precisely the kind of player many organizations valued and the Leafs very much needed.

      Like you, I believe he may well deliver more next year then he has this season. While it can sound like excuses, starting the year with a lengthy suspension, adjusting to a new team, injuries and a new "system" have made this a tough year for him so far. He should be a better fit next year. I have no doubt he wants to have an impact. I think the work ethic is there, just not the results. If he can find a comfort zone, he should be a valuable player for us. Thanks Colleen.

  4. Not one check mark on your list for me, Michael. And I'd add another category: a team that plays committed hockey for a full 60 minutes.
    There's really nothing new to say. I'm sure you could go back to posts last fall and find all the comments you'll find after a game like tonight's... or last night's... or the one before... etc.
    We've had season-long problems that have not been rectified - who knows why? I watched Carlyle's post-game conference and it it could have been from almost any month this year - losing one-on-one battles, not strong defensively, "receiving the game", bad bounce here and there, flat for a period or two, etc. And let's be honest - despite the wins, we never really dominated anyone this year. We never found that indefinable quality that sets hockey winners apart from April golfers.
    I know the season isn't over yet, but it's been another disappointing one. I've seen signs of growth in some of our younger players, and we've had a terrific first line, but I've been baffled at everyone's inability, players and management, to address the obvious weaknesses we've displayed since October. Hence my season-long half-full/half-empty quandary. I expect nothing more from the team this year.

  5. Playing a full game where we are flat out better than the other team just hasn't happened much, if ever, this season Gerund- you're right. And we've had this discussion for most of the season- thus my "headline" today!

  6. It would probably be easier to talk about what the Leafs do have than what they lack. They have a great line in Kessel-Bozak-JVR, and top tier goaltending. That's about it. The defencemen are generally not too bad, but they seem excessively prone to costly mistakes.

    In a way I was happy about Giroux's goal. Since it was the saviour in net we can talk about what actually happened instead of some kind of fairy tale about how Reimer can't come up with the big save when necessary. A horrendous neutral zone turnover led to a 2 on 1, Giroux fired a beautiful shot just inside the corner, stopping any momentum the Leafs may have had. It would have been nice if Bernier had made the save, but no one can reasonably blame him for not doing so.

    Several times early in the season the goalie (whether it was Bernier or Reimer) did make that save and the team was able to win. It seems like Leafs victories are almost entirely dependent on whether the goalie can stop a shot that more often than not would end up in the back of the net.

    I guess a positive to take from that is that if wins and losses are only separated by an inch or two the Leafs really aren't that bad. Add another piece or two and we'll soon be on the other side of that equation.

    I apologize for any incoherence in this post. I rushed through it because I have too many things to do today, but I had to vent so I can watch the game tonight in a somewhat positive frame of mind!

    1. There are positives for sure, Oliver, and I think even the most cynical Leaf supporter would acknowledge that.

      As I keep saying, a team is rarely as bad as it may seem when they are losing, or as good as we like to think when they are winning a lot of games. This recent streak could easily have seen the Leafs win a number of games.

  7. I almost feel that the majority of your list (seeking positives) is summed up in the impact of one player upon the roster... when one guy is paid well and does not 'fit in'... the whole roster gets 'out of balance'... players start taking selfish shortcuts and the whole becomes less than the sum of its parts.

    There seem to be rumblings that David Clarkson is not one of the more popular players in the room and I have no insider knowledge about that, but it seems to me that Clarkson was brought in to play a Bobby Clarke-like role on this team. The problem we've seen, is that he missed out on significant bonding time with his mates during the suspension. His, reportedly, heart-felt desire to protect Kessel has not translated into an obvious or apparent increase in his standing on the team.

    With every passing week of the season, I see a player 'doing his own thing' and failing to mesh with the team (just as much as Carlyle is reported to be sticking square pegs into round holes). What I mean is that David seems oblivious to his line-mates efforts and skill sets. I see Mason Raymond working his very quick tail off getting into position for a one-timer and Clarkson, not even noticing or selfishly taking a low percentage shot. With Kadri... same story; with Lupul... same again; with Kulemin and Bolland... he seems to break the cycle they are establishing, more than perpetuating it.

    It is likely that David has been told to 'play his game' but that should be redefined for him... it should mean, quit trying to be 'super you'... just be you and stop trying to prove you are 'protecting us' in ways and at times that don't actually help the team. The extra penalties are not helping this team and seem more selfish than selfless in the context of the incidents that come to mind.

    Clarkson is clearly 'out of esteem' and has been MIA as the guy we thought we were getting as a result. I feel like Bolland is playing more of the Bobby Clarke role and am hoping his return will yet bring dividends... I see him asking Gardiner if the goal was his last night, when it seemed clear he had the shot... just seems the kind of 'selfless' we're looking for.

    1. Great post, InTimeFor62- and I think entirely fair when it comes to Clarkson. Not unduly harsh, just raising things you (and others) have observed.

      I appreciate Bolland a lot. Whether Clarkson can grow into a leadership role in the room, I have no idea. He should be a great fit- operative word for now being "should".

  8. I guess you could group me in with the bunch that would place a lot of the blame for this latest version of the 18 wheeler over the cliff on Reimer. Sure the team has made mistakes and some of the soft goals Reimer let in would never have happened if better defensive work had prevented Reimer being put in a position where he had to make a save. If the Leafs allowed fewer shots and played better defense then we wouldn't be in this situation.

    I think after losing the five games with Reimer in net the Leafs are suddenly in a position where they need wins and playing like they are afraid to make a mistake which only makes its worse with the resulting downward spiral as the pressure to win increases. Clearly the whole team is not nearly as good as I thought they were and while they may be trying to win they simply are not good enough to get the job done. It seems like they have actually taken a step back from a year ago. Wouldn't it be nice to have Komorov now at maybe $1.5 million a year instead of Clarkson? And Phaneuf also starting to look like a major mistake. The Leafs are up against the cap and for the money they are spending they should be a lot better. Clarkson was supposed to be better and a lot of teams wanted him but with the obvious need for improvements on defense why do they spend that type of money on a player they said right from the beginning was not there to provide offence. It has to make you wonder what they are thinking?

    I remember the Leafs from the 70s for the most part as underachievers. The fact is they never got the job done. Pretty much exactly what we have today with players that I expect to be better. I still remember playoffs in the 70s (which were actually pretty rare events) where I was so disgusted I turned off the television and went for long walks. The fact is they never really did much except for 1978 when they upset the NYI but then returned to form in the next round losing 4-0 to the Habs But it wasn't just the 70s where they were underachievers. That 2nd round win in 1978 was the only 2nd round win they had in the 25 years after the Cup year in 67. Pretty depressing when I start to think about it and I guess it will be over now for another year.

    1. I'm sure you're not alone when offering your assessment of the Leafs, Alton.

      Regarding the '70s, I think I understand what you're saying, but I guess I recall things a bit differently. I did not see them as under-achievers. I rather saw them as (much like today) a one-line team (Sittler, McDonald and Thompson back then) with one star defenseman (Salming) along with the talented but mistake-prone Turnbull. They had Palmateer in goal (toward the end of the decade) and some willing fighters/pluggers.

      In my mind, they went as far as they could. They were nowhere near being in a league with Boston, Philadelphia or Montreal. So they pretty much had that one playoff upset win you noted, and simply couldn't match-up against really good teams in the playoffs.

  9. Jerry D'Amigo is up from the Marlies so hopefully will provide some energy-on the ice not the bench.

    We need more than the two goals a game we've been getting. I have a feeling Bolland will contribute again.

    Raymond in his interview stated that all teams need a fourth line that can contribute to be successful this time of year.

    I just wish Phaneuf could play on the right where he's much stronger. I don't understand, with a D of left-hand shots, why he's paired with the only right-hand-Franson-even on the powerplay. We've seen with Lupul that Randy just doesn't get it. Some play much better on their off side. " Giving players the best chance to succeed "is Randy's motto but we don't see it in his decisions. (that's my coaching complaint for the day)

    It could get very ugly tonight if it's a loss. Blaming Carlyle for everything makes as much sense to me as blaming any one player. We all know and have discussed the things we don't like about Randy and I believe some of his methods need to change, but the Leafs have also seen some success with him behind the bench. I don't think he's better or worse than most of the other coaches in the NHL.

    I don't like bullying in any form and certainly not from a mob of 18,000. A " chant " tonight is not something I want to see. C.N.

    1. Coaches of course have responsibility for under-performance but so do the players. (The vast majority of players we expect more from have a fair bit of NHL experience.)

      No system should be beyond an NHL player's ability to perform within it, because it always comes down to willingness and work ethic regardless of the system. Yes, coaches do need to put their individual players in the best position to help them succeed, but that can be a cop-out for players, too.

      Carlyle has infuriated a lot of fans, but can we name the last Leaf coach that didn't. I've said here before that Leaf fans were upset with Quinn all the time, it seemed- and those Leaf teams were pretty darn good, always playing for something in the spring and a few bounces from getting to the finals in 2002. But it wasn't good enough for many fans.

      So as fans, we are chronically unhappy. Maybe that's fair- at times. In this case, many are baffled by Carlyle's roster decisions and I get some of that. But as you say, is he any worse a coach than most of his colleagues? I don't see many Hall-of-fame coaches in the league right now, though there are some with good reputations. Thanks Colleen.

  10. Hi Michael:

    Either inadvertently or adroitly you have created a list of what makes a championship team. While this post might have been better timed when they were eliminated it is one of your best. It is exceedingly difficult to place check marks. However, most people do not feel that the lineup needs to be blown up.

    Putting on my 'ideal systems hat', I see your list (with additions as appropriate) as being the job specs for the team's General Manager and Coach. Leweike could use this list for recruitment of all applicants to the New Order, including Nonis and Carlyle.

    Each applicant would:
    1. define what the item means to them,
    2 how the Leafs responded to each item this year,
    3 what this person did to accomplish this list either this year, with Leafs or with another team,
    4 how they propose to accomplish/fix each item.

    Based on their written and verbal response, Leweike should proceed with establishing the 'New Order' based on an annual review of team results on a well-defined basis like most successful businesses.

    In my view, there should be no long term contract just like the Dodgers, Torrmy Lasorda (20+ years of one year contracts). With the value of MLSE even though a private company, surely an incentive/option program can be established which would make the Maple Leafs one of the best places to work in the NHL.

    Failing all that, maybe they should just make Holland/Babcock an offer they can't refuse.

    While I say some of this with tongue in cheek, I believe Toronto fandom's long history of support deserves the best.

    While Leaf Nation agonizes tonight, I will be watching the Gwinnett Gladiators (ECHL) where my 9 year old granddaughter and her classmates will be singing the national anthem.

    1. First and most importantly, Ralph (RLMcC), I hope your granddaughter has a wonderful time tonight. What a memory!

      You raise so many good points-to just comment on a couple:

      -I, too, feel the Leafs should always go after the best hockey people (GM and coach) they can find. I don't think Nonis fits that category, though I don't doubt he is a good hockey man. I just think they should always look to attract the very best, wherever possible. (Holland/Babcock would be top choices, of course.)

      It's interesting you mention one-year contracts. I've long been fan-fatigured by these absurd contracts (look at what the Tigers just paid for Cabrera, saying they were "afraid to lose him"- my answer is, let him go and find the next young, eager, healthy Cabrera...). In hockey, DiPietro, Luongo, those long-term deals always end in misery for all concerned, except for the player's pocket book. How often do we hear in sports that teams have to try to move "bad contracts".

      I would absolutely love to see the Leafs institute a rigid "we never pay more than three years" on a contract policy,. Sure, we'd lose players, but as long as this was the absolute best hockey environment (and it should be) in the world to play in, I believe some players would still sign on.

      If not, build with youth, like the Tampa Bay Rays, rebuild constantly, and when they get old enough to complain, let them go. Make it a point of pride to be a Maple Leaf. The ones who really appreciate what it means to represent the Leafs will never have to leave,

      No player needs more than a three year deal, not when you are offering 5-10 million a year. That's financial insanity. When you make that much, the "short career" argument is a joke. Thanks Ralph.

  11. Hi Michael, no check marks for me either. As I watched the Leaf game I also tuned in to the Raptor win that clinched a playoff berth for them. Even though it wasn't one of their better games, at least 3 or 4 times I stated to my wife that the heart and hustle on the Raps was what makes them easy to cheer for. You could count on 3 fingers how many games in which they were totally outplayed and certainly never out worked. Derozan and Lowry are stars but not super stars, they all play as a team and for one another. Talent alone is not the biggest issue with the Leafs, Montreals lineup is no better than Torontos but they haven't played as inconsistently the Leafs. As you say there are no elite teams in the east save Boston. I even think that if the Leafs could get in and play Pittsburgh they would give them a run. I am still hoping they get in, after this harsh winter I need some spring hockey!

    1. I have no doubt, purch, that if the Leafs make the playoffs, they will be trouble for somebody. For all the traits I noted in my checklist today, and all the flaws fans can't help but notice, they are capable of playing well enough to upset a number of teams in the playoffs. There's nothing like spring playoff hockey in Toronto- we were reminded of that in Maple Leaf Square last May.

  12. After the loss tonight against the Wings it really looks like the Leafs are done. Again there were some pretty bad calls from the officials so maybe the old line about it all working out in the end isn't quite true. Leafs have not had much official luck for the last 10 games at least. Aside from that Rielly looked pretty good tonight so he is the future and they have to keep Gardiner as well. I still see the Leaf fortunes changing but only if they keep the young prospects. Now given this season is a loss they should start playing the young kids on the team like Holland and Ashton and give them some actual minutes because the guys who were supposed to do the job have disappeared. At this point I am just hoping for some luck in the draft lottery.

  13. There is always a certain bit of luck involved in hockey. When a team is down and no longer playing with confidence, luck seems to vanish. We've seen so many pucks hitting posts, strange bounces in front of the Leafs net, questionable calls (why did Kadri get the lone call for defending himself in Philly?) and mistakes that shouldn't happen. To me the Leafs at times have lacked the sort of confidence that wins games. This team is much better than the mistakes we've been seeing lately. Whether this lack of confidence is youth, leadership, or confusion about systems employed, it's anyone's guess but they are playing not to lose.

    Another game filled with mistakes with no luck in sight. If there is a positive in this game it was Rielly. He really stood out. C.N.

  14. Michael, I just want to add something. Winning games isn't enough to build confidence. Mistakes are typical when confidence is low but meltdowns whenever you are close to attaining a goal is the most damning evidence of a lack of confidence in a team or individual--a sign that, in spite of however hard you've worked, you don't deserve to win. Mistakes abound, an unconscious effort to end up exactly where you think you deserve. I'm no expert, though I've read quite a lot about it. Many of us have discussed it here. It hasn't been addressed in a way that works and, if it isn't, this is what we will continue to see--year after year. C.N.

    1. Your point speaks to an environment that doesn't create an atmosphere where a team "knows" it's going to win.